Thursday, March 8, 2007

Scientists Take on Climate Change

"Confronting Climate Change: A Scientific Expert Panel Report"

Written by an expert panel organized by Sigma Xi, the scientific honor society, and sponsored by the UN Foundation. The Academy eBriefing is an overview of the issues covered in the report, which provides a road map for preventing catastrophic global warming and for responding to inevitable changes in Earth's biosphere. Brief video interviews with the five lead authors of the report, and slides from the event, are included.

Complete coverage here

Highlights

Climate change is reality and some of its results are now inevitable, but a new report offers a road map for mitigating and adapting to its effects.

Allowing the global average surface temperature to rise more than 2°C to 2.5°C over the next 100 years would sharply increase the risk of catastrophic events. Greenhouse gases now in the atmosphere have already committed the planet to a rise of about 1.5°C.

Climate change will lead to major crop failures, more extreme weather events, and make environmental refugees of tens of millions.

Responding to climate change requires intelligent policymaking and sustained investment in appropriate technology, which could both avert disasters due to climate change while simultaneously boosting living standards worldwide.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Global Warming and That Inevitable Doom


by Tika

I cannot say that I was born an optimist, but I am neither a cynic. I am opinionated and suspicious, which helps me a lot when I have to do my science. With global warming, I am no skeptic. I champion the reasoning that we humans are at fault; science dictates this.

I remember when Al Gore ran for president. Of course he lost unfairly: there was some malfunction of some sort in Florida, which did the deed to his great disappointment. This of course they say this is unfounded, but it is my opinion.

So nowadays former Vice President Gore goes around with his Mac powerbook, talking about how global warming is to us like a frog in a cup of water that is about to boil. Like the frog, we just sit there, waiting, until its too late. A hand takes the frog out of the boiling water or we die. He titles it: "An Inconvenient Truth".

We are of course doomed from the start. The earth goes round and round the sun with a catch: as long as the sun keeps on burning. But as all burning goes, it will burn out, and the earth will stop turning. We have 4 billion years until this happens; the earth is only about 4.5 billion years; life has evolved on earth for 3.5 billion years; our species is about 250,000 years old. We sit on top of the earth like the frog in the cup of water; it's ok.

Humans have become one of the greatest species on earth because we have found ways to push this thought of doom far away from our minds. We grew prosperous and we multiplied; we are now 6.6 billion in total, older than the age of the earth itself.

We've made our presence known here on earth by taking in most things we cannot give back. We are part of nature, but we have fooled ourselves to thinking that we have grown apart from it. We feel comfort in the burning of the sun, though finite, it is to the individual human life infinite.

We are doomed; this is natural we say. Species have come and go here on earth, because the earth is limited from the start. So we just sit.

But a couple of days ago, the smartest people of the lands, and some of the most powerful bunch got together saying enough is enough. They have finally felt the temperature rising; the water has been not quite lukewarm for sometime now. It is natural, but we have made it that way, with probability above 90 %. Sure, numbers are just one way to say this truth.

It is a giant leap to agree on the idea that we humans are in fact a formidable force of nature. But to go against such a formidable force takes much more than a leap. It takes an ingenious effort on the part of both scientists and leaders of the world to go so far; a great revolution in our science and humanity. We just hope that we move fast enough before our cup boils over. It is no longer convenient to be skeptical, unless we all accept such a fate to be our inevitable doom.

**Illustration obtained from http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.city.sendai.jp/soumu/kouhou/emailnews/ecolife-e/images/TokoroYukiyoshi.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.city.sendai.jp/soumu/kouhou/emailnews/ecolife-e/&h=600&w=425&sz=92&hl=en&sig2=-juZreEyQBO2tXT6nCKXsg&start=2&tbnid=mELYDxuqwI2YaM:&tbnh=135&tbnw=96&ei=-wfQRaKfG4yuaaCD0ZYC&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dglobal%2Bwarming%26svnum%3D10%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:en-US:official%26sa%3DG

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

New York News About Jakarta Flooding

From The New York Times:

“We have to be alert for diseases like typhoid, those transmitted by rats and respiratory infections,” said Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari. “Hopefully, there will be no dysentery.”

He urged people to try to keep clean to avoid spreading disease. “We know
it’s hard for the residents under the circumstances, but they have to,”
he said.


Note how the reporter confused the Health Minister's Gender to be a "he" when in fact she is a "her". Yes, Newspapers get lots of things wrong all the time, even The New York Times.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Jakarta Floods

by Tika




Its flooding season again folks. Seem like its getting worse. Most of my life growing up has been spent outside of Indonesia, but I did manage to spend some time in Jakarta during my awkward pre-teen years. That was some years ago: the 1980's.

Whenever it rained, I would really have trouble getting the "bajaj" man to take me home from school. The bajaj is now an almost extinct, if not already gone, three wheeled mass transportation vehicle made of very thin metal structure. I say it is a motorized open air tri-cycle masquerading as something other than itself: a minature car-jeeplike vehicle with a canvas roof.

The older the bajaj you ride on, the more a passenger would have to hold on to something, or just pray, for fear of being ejaculated from her seat as the motor causes it to vibrate a lot. You can't step your feet onto the passenger feet platform, since it gets very hot when the bajaj starts its motor a good while.

So in the bajaj, you always feel like you are floating on hot vibrating steel with only your bottom supporting you, since it is only on the seat the bajaj is well protected from the heat of the motor. You can hardly see where you are going since your vision gets blurred from the vibrations.

I would wave for the bajaj, always dripping wet since during downpours is about the only time I would ride the bajaj. During non-storm days, the other mass transit vehicle I choose to ride is the mini-van-bus.

To go on to this mini-van-bus, known throughout the parts as the "mikrolet", you have to stand by the street, wave your hand when you see an ongoing one about to pass you by. If there were space for you, it would stop momentarily. A hand would try to grab you onto the doorstep. It would start moving again even though your whole body isn't fully inside yet. You are lucky if there are people behind you so they get to be the last one hanging on.



Anyway, during rainy days, I have to stick to the bajaj since the mikrolet is always packed making it impossible to get a spot there. Yet, it is almost as hard to get one bajaj to take me home. There would be several empty ones passing me by. But, once I told the bajaj driver man where I wanted to go, he would shake his head out of some fear of being drowned in a sea of rainwater.

Yes, the road to my house is always flooded during rainstorms, up to knee length high in some parts during really bad days. So the bajaj man would mumble a definite no and just whiz on by, splashing some more muddy rainwater on my already dripping wet school uniform.

But some bajaj men are more adventurous and they would take me in for triple the "usual" price. To ride the bajaj, you have to bid the price for a ride. This is why I try not to ride the bajaj since the other more preferable mass transit vehicle had a fixed price per distance.

So I would eventually get one bajaj to take me home. I would be just glad to be out of the downpour and be finally in an acceptable almost rain-free-chamber. I would have an umbrella during rainy days, but it is just too flimsy to help me out during downpours.

Dripping wet inside the bajaj, with some splashes of rainwater still coming in from the open air space I call the window, we would start to move. I would have my umbrella open and stick it out of the window to get some protection from these oncoming splashes of rainwater.

We would be moving very slowly over the standing rainwater, which is good since the slow movement causes less vibrations of the bajaj. One other good thing about the rainwater is that it has helped to dissipate the heat from all over the bajaj so I can actually rest my feet on the bajaj floor.



We finally get to my street with the really high standing water at its crossing. Amazingly the bajaj manages to zigzag through and actually find shallow parts to pass us safely out of the flood.

So here I am, many-many years later, able to stay intact after going through the many floods of Jakarta. But I'm sure many people went through even worse ordeals.

I had several classmates who are always absent during bad rainy days in Jakarta. At first I thought it to be some joke, since before I lived in Jakarta I was a resident of a trouble free and idyllic utopia called Ottawa, Canada. The teacher would holler their names at the beginning of class and some student friend would shout out "house is flooded!". The teacher would nod and move on down the list.

With more people and more settlements being built all over Jakarta, it's no wonder that the flooding is getting worse. Not to mention climatic changes due to greenhouse effects that has made rainy and dry season in our country even more chaotic.

This is of course just my biased and non-expert opinion. But I am not one to say that Jakarta people have not tried to work this out. It is a complicated ordeal to have to go through. I am sure people have been trying to think of a way out of the mess they are in. I think it is more of the lack of science than the lack of motivation to solve the problems of the flood.

I now live in New York City and sometimes, parts of the city can get flooded during bad rainstorms, which last only a day at most. But in Jakarta it is different. We have never ending tropical rainstorms during rainy season, lasting many-many days.

In an overpopulated city such as Jakarta, this is no easy problem. You have less money and less people to think and work on this problem. It's a tough job to have to get done. But I am optimistic than someday, Jakarta people will find a way to deal with the problem and make some new science the world has yet to learn from.

My utmost respect to all the Jakarta people for their resilience, perseverance and their never-ending hope in going through this storm.

***UPDATE. We just recieved news that our sister's house is flooded all over up the the waist. Our brother is trying to pick her up right this moment. It must be about 11 PM at night there when we recieved word. I remember visiting our sister's house last year. She was so proud of her home, however tiny it really was, because she just finished some little rennovations in her only son's room. I was so proud of it too. I dedicate this story, my attempt to tell my love for the city where I was born, to her family and to all those Jakarta people whose homes and lives are severely affected by this tragedy.

(*images taken from KOMPAS Newspaper, THE JAKARTA POST Newspaper and GOOGLE image search)

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Delusions Take Two: Why religion is Not the Root of All Evil

by Tika

Answering a friend's comment on a previous post:

"... Religion isn't all bad - and Dawkins does I think admit that."

By this book I do believe that Dawkins think that religion is all bad. He states in the chapter "What's wrong with religion":

"Fundamentalism religion is hell-bent on ruining the scientific education of countless thousands of innocent, well-meaning, eager young minds. Non-fundamentalist, 'sensible' religion may not be doing that. But it is making the world safe for fundamentalism by teaching children, from their earliest years, that unquestioning faith is a virtue".

In the last chapter, he argues that if we put rationality and science in place of belief in God and religion, we can make the world a better place. For simple people, he packages this new technology as "atheism". I'm for solving problems, especially if they involve human lives. So this should be good, right? But has rationality and science been really that good? Will it actually work, or will it just end up the same or even worse?

This is where I think Dawkins starts to let his guard down and suffers from a spontaneous attack of tunnel vision. Scientists can start to suffer from this when they begin to believe that they have arrived at a "final answer".

First, how do you make everyone become atheists? There is no simple way. Communists, socialists, environmentalists, religious people have done this before, force people to do and think as they do, many times. They were only able to come up with the technology of violence/persecution to get people to "follow".

The problem with religion (also communism, socialism, etc.) is not so much because of its 'dogma' or of some 'unquestioning faith', but more because of some claim that their way of life is the best for everyone else. Arguing that atheism is the best for everyone is not much different from arguing that Islam is the best religion and everyone should believe in Allah or be killed. Though Dawkins argues that he does not know of any atheist who would venture to act in such a lethal way. Well, perhaps because modern atheism is very new and unpopulated. Plus, most atheists now just don't think to make everyone atheists. But times are changing.

Yes, science probably has not done much to make people more belligerent. Though, you know, suicide bombers won't even exist without the aid of science. The Nobel Prize is based on the science of explosives. Who even invented the nuclear bomb? Should we put to jail all the physicists because they are making "the world safe for" the innovation of better bombs?

As for rationalism, I do not have to argue much since it has been used to foster 'evil' several times in recent history. Note World War II, The Vietnam War and the War on Terror (the two last ones is based on the 'rational' idea of democracy and civil liberties. Bush has made this quite clear.).

Dawkins has not been fair at all in his book when he describes the Koran as justifying more bad than good:

"... Islamic scholars, in order to cope with the many contradictions that they found in the Qur'an, developed the principle of abrogation, whereby later texts trump earlier ones. Unfortunately, the peaceable passages in the Qur'an are mostly early, dating from Muhammad's time in Mecca. The more belligerent verses tend to date from the later, after his flight to Medina".

Here I say he becomes more of a judgmental cynic than a scientist by neglecting the extensive scholarly literature on the history behind Islam and the Qur'an. I hesitate to use the word 'racist' for Dawkins. But he is treading on thin soil.

First, none of the earlier Meccan passages of the Qur'an, that became the core foundation of the Islamic faith, was ever 'contradictory' or replaced by more belligerent ones. Most of these passages where short and highly poetic verses and dealt with individual spiritual enlightenment without society. The 'belligerent' passages came in parallel to the social upheaval following those initial passages of revelation. The wars between separate religious, political and tribal Arab factions started following the migration of Muslims to Medina. In addition to passages regulating acts during wartime, the population of Muslims under Muhammad grew immensely. Hence, most of the passages in this era dealt more with Islam within a social context and is the starting point of the actual practice of the Islamic faith into the communal act of religion.

Even with these later passages, there was never any thought of contradiction in them amongst the Muslim scholars. They all agree that they came through revelation from God to Muhammad in response to changes in Muhammad's society. Hence it is natural to have one passage coming prior to a certain event be 'edited' by a passage coming after the event which gave light to new data. What is contradictory is the interpretation of these passages by Muslims of different views, such as Bin Laden and myself.

So in response of another statement by the friend:

"... in my mind there is incredibly little dialogue in organized religion. Monologues rule ..."

I can only refer to my own religion to answer this.

If you read about the history and 'evolution' of Islam as a religion and a political empire, you will see that there was constant dialog between Muslims having different ideas about what is considered the 'truth' and the 'best' for their society. When the Prophet Muhammad died, there was confusion among the Muslims as to who was to replace Muhammad as leader in guiding them to the 'the right path'. They had a group of most respected men convening on this issue and through critical discussion and consideration of those to be led, they finally elected someone without resorting to violence.

Sure, generations after (I believe 3 generations of rulers) the population of Muslims became very large and encompassed a vast geographical landscape, and it was hard to consolidate different opinions since they had no more advanced technology to deal with it. Islam, which fostered egalitarian ideals, was something very new and unpredictably, perhaps due to its egalitarian ideals, became a great technology to mobilize large groups of people when compared to other ideas already developing around the time of Muhammad's revelations. But the larger it gets, the more problems it encountered. How is egalitarianism to be fostered when there were just so many people with such different historical, cultural, political background and ideas? So there were very bloody wars. Most were perpetuated because of political issues, less so of religious dogma. Religious dogma was used though to mobilize groups of people very efficiently in different ways using different flags of the many different Muslim ideas. Doesn't this sound very familiar lately?

Dawkins makes another disservice unto himself when he talks about the burka as a symbol of women oppression in Islam. He neglects the history that pre-Islamic women wore the cloth over the head as a symbol of honor and class. Only women who were masters of the house and who did not work in the fields wore these 'hijabs'. The hijab was not a common practice in Meccan woman at the time. Muhammad's wives co-opted this practice as a way to symbolize this honored status following migration to Medina and more repeated encounters with these women of the hijab cultures during the explosive growth of Islam. Naturally, a lot of Muslim women '"choose" to wear the burka because they want to emulate Muhammad's wives elevated status in society. You see here how this historical narrative changes the meaning of the burka from most western ideas of it?

He totally neglects discussion of Islam as embraced by the largest Muslim populated country in the world: Indonesia. He totally neglects the positive effect of religion in any society as something just 'delusional' and can easily be replaced with rationalism and science. Indonesia is one of the most successful Democratic Nation of the developing world. Women are not required to wear the Middle Eastern hijab according to Indonesian law, but a lot of women choose to do this in "modern" cities such as Jakarta, not in smaller more conservative older Islamic societies such as my father's birthplace. A lot of women in a handful Indonesian cities are advocating the requirement of the hijab in their local law through democratic means. Literacy in primitive illiterate Indonesian societies was promoted through the spread of Islam and the recitation of the Qur'an. And still through modern times, Indonesian Muslims regard Islam as the medium of enlightenment and most Indonesian Muslims are driven through this faith to pursue science around the word. The saying goes: "look for knowledge even to China" as a metaphor for the promotion of critical scholarly discourse amongst Muslims. Islam was never spread through the sword in Indonesia. It became a part of the way of life for many Indonesian societies because it was able to assimilate into the local culture and mythology in a peaceful manner.

First, Dawkins defines Islam based on the idea that it grew without a complex history of its own and then draws a preconceived notion of Islam based on his own ideas of religion through his own religious upbringing. Islam definitely is not the Christianity of Dawkins's childhood and it has its own complex history depending where and when you are defining 'Islam'. That is why I feel it irresponsible on his part to talk about religion in such a generalized way: labeling a person as either atheists or not, and then synthesize from this sterilized data an evolutionary narrative and scientific logic behind religion and faith to come up with such a simplistic conclusion of human society. It is very irresponsible on his part as an evolutionary biologist to neglect the value of local diversity of human populations in order to define a more robust understanding of the workings of nature.

Well, I can go on and on, but most of Islam history (not Indonesian though) comes from my recent reading of the book "No God but God" by Islamic history scholar Reza Aslan. Other stuff is just based on my own background as an Indonesian Muslim and from my understanding of science.

So what I think is flawed in Dawkins's thesis is the idea that faith in God exists without an underlying social and historical construct. Because of this, he truly believes that human society will be better of without God. But in reality, it is absurd to think that science and rationalism is immune from this underlying social construct that might shift such 'good natured' ideas into something 'evil'. Islam is a 'good natured' idea, but some people made it into something evil, not so much because they are evil people and that Islamic teachings are mostly 'bad', but because Muslims were critical enough and varied enough in history and local social structure to have differing points of view. Unfortunately, in various cases, Muslims are not able to resolve such conflicting differences of opinions without violence.

Dawkins would snicker at this attempt, but when he said that:

"... the Koran is like a pick-and-mix selection. If you want peace, you can find peaceable verses. If you want war, you can find bellicose verses",

my mind wanders to the days when Darwinian evolution was used by a belligerent man to move masses of people to exterminate and massacre the unwanted. Because of this mess, evolutionists have to step down time and again: no, this is not what "real" evolutionary science is. Well, we Muslims are fighting the same problem with people who try to use Islam as their flag to foster violence and 'evil'. Who's to say that science and rationalism is and will be immune to the vagrancies of human society?
"Moderate Muslims" are not mute as Dawkins imagine. We are fighting this battle everyday of our lives.

I'm not trying to disavow rationality and science. I choose to study science because I do believe that it can solve many problems. And many Muslims that I know are driven to do science because of their Muslim Identity. But to use it in a way that neglects human ideas as a product of its society and history is just naive. And to be doing this when you are a scientist is just irresponsible.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Am I Delusional?

by Tika

What is the difference between science and religion? Are they compatible with one another? Personally, people, both scientists and religious people get confused when I say to them: yes I am a Muslim but I am also a student of science and evolution. Some people get hostile when I mention that I study Darwin's theory of evolution. I remember receiving death threats because of this link to evolution. Mind you, the threats that I got were not from strictly religious fundamentalists (I have no connection to these people), but from scientifically educated people of my own religion and nationality.

Dr. Richard Dawkins, in his book "The God Delusion", also a senior student in my laboratory along with my mentor, say that it is not possible for me to be both. Dawkins goes further by implying that you can only be an atheist if you are a scientist.

So whom should I appease? Dawkins, my professor, my mom, the guy who sat next to me in the bus, who? Dawkins say that I have to make up my mind or then I am just a hypocrite. But of course he suggests that it is up to me to decide and that I should not base my life philosophy on trying to appease everybody. Incidentally, his book implies that he prefers my admission as an atheist or else I do not deserve to be a scientist or an intelligent human being. Oh my. What would Da Vinci say?

I am sure that in reality, most people are as ambivalent as me about their life philosophy and it changes all the time. But I think, most people just don't think too much of it because it is just too hard. So they just go about appeasing people just to get away from trouble. A catholic man might in his heart question the thought of being an atheist, but he probably still goes to this priest for counsel if there is some problem he cannot handle. He does this just because he was brought up that way. Is he a bad person? Is he delusional?

I say this is reality. Reality is that many people don't go around about their lives with the philosophy "I am an atheist" and "I am an devout Muslim" all the time, though most of us try to think we should pick only one of this overarching identity because it just seem better idealistically. Do you think that you are a devout Muslim when you have pain in your tummy telling you that you have to run and do your daily routine in the bathroom toilet? I don't think so. You don't really think of anything, your tummy just was hurting, you must do something about it, you act as a biological animal.

I agree with Dawkins that if you are a scientist you have to be an atheist. But I go further by saying, only if you are doing science. Other than that, the question is open to debate. So since people get confused when I say that I am both a Muslim and a Science student studying evolution, I will change my statement to: I am both a Muslim and sometimes an atheist according to the situation I am in.

If I am waiting for a biological experiment to give me results, I don't think that some supernatural power, unexplained, is the cause of what I get from my experiment. I have to be an atheist when I am doing this or I will just not be able to talk about my results. If I am a Muslim when I do this, every time I get a result, I can only bow down to pray and say, "God is Great". This is not practical if you want to make some scientific statement about a problem.

But when I have some problem and am alone in the dark, with no data to guide me so that I can make some rational statement about my problem, I turn to Allah, since this is what my mother taught me to do. So I am a Muslim, not an atheist during these times.

Sometimes, a problem requires me to use all the many aspects of my identities. Not just as a scientist/atheist, a devout Muslim, I am also a mother, a biological entity, a student, a teacher, a sister, an aunt, and this list goes on. I don't believe in an overarching identity based on some abstract philosophy that guides you through life. You have to take on your multiple identities that probably became part of you as you wander through life, and just see how they intermingle with one another inside of you to make you. You are different from the guy who sat next to you on the bus, from your mom and sisters not only because of your genes, but also because of your experiences that result from the intermingling and the generation of new identities. You are even different from yourself one second from the next.

For me life is process, things change. You can be an atheist scientist one second in your life, a Muslim the next second and a mother in another. This is what life is all about. The immovable atheist or Muslim or mother might criticize me for being ambivalent, or in harsher terms, hypocritical. But my only answer to them is: this is reality. Many people think the ambivalent state of life is a problem that must be "solved". I used to think that way also, but now I just say that it is part of the reality of living your life. Some Muslims such as myself may term this as the true "Jihad" in becoming a true human being.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Question of Indonesia, Islam and the Modern World

by Tika

The vapid version of this post has appeared in the Dec 19, 2006 issue of The Jakarta Post.

The Question of Indonesia, Islam and the Modern World

Yes, the issue of polygamy is very hot nowadays in Indonesia since the recent second marriage of a very prominent Islamic cleric many thought led an exemplary purist family life.

I am a Muslim, non-antagonistic, pacifist stay at home mom, with side job as evolutionary biologist, and I say: in the modern world, where humanity have progressed to the point that women are free to be a self sufficient, free thinking feeling human being, insistence of polygamy is a violation of human rights.

Yes, they did it back then, some 1500 years ago: polygamy. Some 100 years ago, women in America did not have the right to vote either and slaves roamed the earth. If ever any Islamic law was put into place to deal with this issue, it was to curtail the number of women men were allowed to marry. Before, there was just no law to anything.

History notes that the prophet himself was married to only one woman most of his life, a remarkable feat in the days when most men would marry hundreds in addition to several hundreds more uncertified extramarital sexual exploits, without question. History has also noted that he loved his first wife most dearly and there was none other like her after for him.

After the passing of the prophet's most beloved wife, he did marry many women, but it was unlike his first marriage. There was no law telling him that he should marry only one woman and most women did not even have the chance to think and question. Everyone did it. Life was much too hard for women back then to have a chance to have a say in anything. And I daresay, that most women 1500 years ago in the deserts of Arabia would prefer to be married to a good man with many wives or even just a self sufficient man with many wives as opposed to being alone and vulnerable to the lusts of dishonorable men or destitution.

But that was 1500 years ago. Women are free to think and choose in our 2006 world and it is not a sin to reject a man's wishes if she feels that she is being violated by the act. The problem is, many Islamists try to impinge the rights of women who chose not to be in a polygamic relationship by saying that she is not a true Muslim. And many Muslim women just accept or keep silent because they are afraid to be judged in such a dishonorable way.

Many Muslims would very much like disagree with me, but besides everything, I do feel for the cleric and his two wives and their children. Being in the judging eye of every Indonesian must not fare well, especially for the children. I sympathize because I am a parent. As a Muslim and Indonesian and a parent, I say that having an opinion is important but it is more important to remember that with the current state of the world nowadays, it is better for Indonesian Muslims to support than argue with one another.

I was rummaging the bookstore for a wonderful book I think an Indonesian friend of mine should have. I read this book many years ago in a college course called "the rise of the west". This book is titled Candide, written by the great French writer and philosopher Fran├žois-Marie Arouet, better known by the pen name "Voltaire", some 300 years ago. It is a satirical tale about the life of an honest and plain but beautifully physically featured young man name Candide who discovered, after multiple torturous experiences culminating in the Inquisition, that the world is not the best of all possible worlds and people are entitled to question the acceptance of such blind faith.

I think most Indonesians have never been exposed to this kind of literature. It's a shame because it is a must read for one to understand how the modern word came to be. This revolution of thought came to be known in the history of the west as the "Enlightenment". Indonesia has never been through this history. We came to the modern world from tiny huts to nano-technology without any knowledge of the history that happened in between. Unfortunately such a gap in-between makes the discovery of nano-technology bland in Indonesian hands.

Anyway, I found the book and was on my way to the check out counter when I came upon a horrid title "The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion". It was displayed most honorably in the new non-fiction rack in one of the largest bookstore chain in the United States of America. Yes, this book was paraded freely nearby the entrance of the bookstore in the middle of the most pluralistic cities in the world: New York City. Yes, there is this issue called freedom of speech in American Law, but I question many times why this type of freedom of speech is called 'racism' if the labels are put around.

How this came to be I sure know why but I never seem to be able to feel bland about it. Life following 9/11 in America has made me really understand how Rosa Parks and many felt in 1955 America, being told everyday by some bus driver to sit in the back of the bus because they were just a disagreeable marginal lot of American society that needs not to be heard or seen. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, an unknown seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama, became the venerable black woman who stood up for freedom and the rights of all Americans when she refused to give her seat to the white man. Muslims all over the world are now sharing her burden.

Most Americans probably do not know any Muslim person. They would take such writing that throws blame to a group of disagreeable people with no connection to their own without question because they want others to blame. Yes, many Muslims take the name of Islam to help Americans blame some more. And Americans, or just people anywhere who always wanted to blame many Muslims, took the state of the world nowadays as fuel for their cause. Ours is not a much different world from Candide's Inquisition.

So why am I writing all this nonsense? You know I should be thinking about what to write on my most recent scientific finding on the evolution of my favorite microbe, or mop the floor, or read to my three-year-old boy. These are many other interesting tales to be told yet I write about nonsense. I write because I am part of the mess and I am bombarded constantly by the result of this mess everyday.

My grandmother's name is Khadijah, the name of our prophet most beloved wife. Candide was one of my favorite books in college and I talk about Darwin in Graduate School. I live in New York City and was witness and victim to the fall off the two towers. My young cousin in a small West Java town quit his job as a engineer to pursue his idealistic dream: opening up a school so that future generations in his small town can have a chance to study and learn from people in places such as the United States of America.

He prays five times a day, if not more. He grows the signature "beard" on the chin as symbol of piety many male Muslims believe to uphold. He lives in a very humble house where I can find our grandfather's old Dutch written book of colonial Indonesia in addition to a giant picture of the Ka'bah hanging prominently in the living room.

I write because I am the gap in-between. I write because I have a vision that someday Indonesian Muslims can all be literate about Candide's adventures and understand Darwin's treatise on the law of science in the history living things while still able to proudly showcase a giant replica of the Ka'bah in their living room without some group of know it all people telling them that they can't and should not be able to. Those who like to defame my Muslim identity for their own agenda call people like me "apologetics" and a Muslim one at that. I have no need to apologize. I write the truth.