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Opinion

Doom and gloom long ago

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By M. Salim-ur-Rahman

Nearly three thousand and two hundred years ago the Levant, one of the centres of the civilised world, suffered a series of disasters which laid a great citadel to waste and put an end to the Hittite empire, weakened Egypt and left many cities, big and small, burnt or reduced to ruin in what is now Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. The people of that faraway age, generation after generation, must have felt that there was divine ire in the air for their misdeeds.
Eric H. Cline, a professor of classics and anthropology at George Washington University, has taken a look at that troubled era in a book entitled 1177 B.C. The subtitle that says “The year civilisation collapsed” is a little presumptuous, because civilization was not confined to the Levant. There were cities which belonged to the Indus valley which, by the standards of their times, could be described as fairly advanced. Then there was China. Prof. Cline does not mention them, although Moenjodaro and Harrapa were probably abandoned at a period not distant from the era during which the Middle East was devastated. But more about it later.
The part played in the ensuing havoc by the Sea People is remarkable. They first attacked Egypt in 1207 B.C. and were beaten back. Thirty years later, they returned in great numbers and Egyptians fought them on land and at sea and defeated them, which was quite an achievement. No other country or nation had been able to stand up to the Sea People. The great powers of the day, the Hittites, the Mycenaeans, the Canaanites, the Cypriots and others yielded one by one. The Egyptians, although triumphant, had secured a victory which can only be termed as pyrrhic. Whether it was the battle which unsettled the New Kingdom Egypt, or there was extraneous factor at work also, is something we cannot ascertain now.Salim-ur-Rehman –2-
Who the Sea People were remains a mystery. We know that the Vikings behaved in a similar manner, raiding and looting, terrorising Western Europe’s coastline. But we know where they came from and many other facts besides. As far as the Sea People are concerned, we are clueless. Most probably illiterate, they have left no inscriptions. We have to rely on the Egyptian version of things.
Cline and other scholars have no clear idea of who these invaders were and where they came from. However, we can see their names and faces carved on the walls of Ramses III’s mortuary temple at MedinetHabu. The names of the tribes which made up the combined army of the Sea People, Eqwesh, Terosh, Lukka, Shardana and Shekelesh, sound menacing. They may not be entirely correct because the names of foreigners are quite often misunderstood and mispronounced. Some of the details are particularly interesting: the lack of facial hair is to be noted; they had no foreskin which suggests that they were circumcised, rather odd, to say the least. On page 2 of the book, a group of eight captives is portrayed. They don’t look European and the figure on the far left definitely seems Mongoloid. It is quite possible that the Sea People set out from Central Asia and Mongolia, all the way to the Black Sea, from where they went by sea and land to leave a trail of destruction behind them. It is also likely that various groups of them may have laid siege to Troy (old name Wilusa) from time to time, hence perpetuating the myth that the war against Troy dragged on for ten years. The facts may have reached Homer in a topsy-turvy manner. So if we assign a Central Asian origin to those so-called marauders, they anticipated the bloody forays of Chingez Khan and his hordes by nearly ten thousand years.
The main question remains unanswered. Why was it that so many places existed only as legendary locations? Big citadels like Mycenae and Tiryns in Greece were never lived in again. The Hittite empire and its capital in Anatolia were lost to history, at least geographically, until only about two hundred years ago. Did the Sea People cause so much havoc? The consensus now among scholars is that no single factor can be squarely blamed for the catastrophes. The Sea People did play a part. So did earthquakes, epidemics and famines. It never rains but it pours.
Perhaps something similar happened to the ancient cities of the Indus Valley. Their population was decimated not by barbaric invaders but the invidious climate changes, epidemics and failing crops. Pakistan is dotted with prehistoric sites, mostly unexcavated. No one in the upper echelons cares for archaeology. History to us is only a source of self-glorification.
Let us turn back to Cline’s book which brings a lot of compelling asides to our notice. The battle of Qadesh, for instance, which took place in 1274 B.C. between the Egyptians and the Hittites. It is one of the greatest recorded battles in ancient history. The Hittites had a force of 47,500 men, which is surely an exaggeration. Whatever the actual strength of the two sides was, it is beyond doubt that two big armies were pitted against each other and the Hittites were defeated. Wars are a costly affair and we don’t know how the battle and its cost may have harmed the combatants’ economy. The Hittites, however, did not call themselves as such. Their name for themselves was something like Nesthites or Neshians.
More interesting was the small Kingdom of Mitanni, ruled over by an Indo-European minority. One of their kings was called Tushratta, rather similar to Dasharatha, an Indo-Aryan legendary character. The rulers probably spoke a language akin to Sanskrit. Unluckily, the archaeologists so far have failed to locate Washukanni, their capital. Or take the case of Mursilil, a Hittite King who, in 1595 BC marched over one thousand miles to attack the city of Babylon, burnt it down and forthwith went home, behaving like Nadir Shah or Abdali, who looted Delhi and walked off with the booty.
More delectable, and much more ancient, is an anecdote connected with King Zimri-Lim who ruled ca. 1750 BC. He needed ice for his summer drinks and ordered an icehouse to be built on the bank of the Euphrates. He claimed to be the first king ever to possess an icehouse. He sent a pair of Cretan shoes, a rare item, to King Hammurabi of Babylon, the lawmaker. The pair was promptly returned. Cline wonders why. If in undivided India of old, someone dared to send a pair of shoes to a prince or a rayah it would have been construed as an insult.

 

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Opinion

Religion and Modernity

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By Amir Suhail Wani

“I have always avoided with horror all error in matters of faith”Eckhart

A voice lost to wilderness or the madman’s rubric, any talk of religion, God, metaphysic, values and reality suffers any of two possible consequences. Giving him the advantage of anonymity, a top notch Jamat I Islami scholar pertinently described modern epistemology with all its offspring as the means and instruments of ensuing and securing a revolt against the God and religion. Never before was civilization so shallow in matters of faith and never before a unanimous and collective onslaught was launched against the sacred, Transcendent and divine. A mere mentions of words like “Divine”, “sacred” or “Transcendent” makes people, experiencing the opiedation of modernism, to rise their eyebrows. Any talk of worlds beyond the sensual is termed as intellectual backlog. World has seen, now and then, people rising, out of their intellectual sincerity or otherwise rising against religion and God. But historically they could never enjoy the status of metanarrative, but were always, by virtue of historical entelechy confined to margins of civilization. In post renaissance era world has succeeded, by and large, in constructing a civilisation and culture with man rather than God as its ontic reference. This man cantered civilization has paved all the possible ways for criticism and demolition of religious meta narrative.

 

Let’s come to philosophy first. Modern philosophy, starting with Descartianskepticism and evolving through the stages of Positivism, Naturalism, Materialism Nihilism and Existentialism, modern philosophy seems to have ultimately ended up at postmodernism. The possibilities of future development can’t be ignored nor can it be claimed that postmodernism is an all pervasive philosophical trend claiming universal adherence. But the broader picture of things has unfolded thus. Postmodernism maintains incredulity towards metanarrative and has brought with it a host of questions. Traditionally and even up to recent past man seemed to be unanimous on ontic and epistemic stability of things. But with postmodernism not only have been the institutions of religious and traditional impotence held under scrutiny but the very fundamentals of human existence like language, society and all other institutions of human importance have been deprived of their ontic reference and have been made to float freely in abyss of uncertainty. The case with science has been no better. Being a victim of excessive and inordinate empiricism, the Modern day science has surrendered its inquisitive and rational spirit to sheer scientism.

Ibn Arabi, a classical theorizer of Islamic mysticism noted that “God is a percept, not a concept”. In this single line, the master has resolved an age old question and the problems associated with it. The notion of “conceptual scheme” as it has been adopted unquestionably alike by scientists and philosophers has brought with it an equal number of goods and ills. Man has turned obsessive to reduce everything to his conceptual categories. The human attitude of dividing a problem into subunits, though it has paid heavily in scientific realm, but has simultaneously brought irreconcilable problems in other affairs of human existence. Modern medicine treats biology disentangled from psychology and this piecemeal approach has landed us in an era where we know more and more about less and less. In a sense we know everything about nothing and nothing about everything. Traditionally things were seen associated and entangled in the cosmic Web. Coming back to human methodology of understanding things by dividing them into subcategories and then understanding things in terms of local mental categories has distorted and ruined our understanding of God, sacred and divine. We need to understand that the laws formulated by human mind are refuted within the physical realm itself. Thus the laws obeyed by matter aren’t obeyed by light and the laws applicable to fermions are completely defied by bosons. So within our physical immediacy are instances to cleave apart our ultimate trust in the laws of physics. The unending quest for unified theory in physics might bring further insights in this direction. Thus we need to be careful and watchful to the fact that the laws of matter do not apply to the realm of spirit. Coming back to God who is neither material nor spiritual, neither defined by material boundaries nor circumscribed by contours of space we need to be all the more careful. While we try to understand God in terms of mental categories derived from our physical realm we need to be very cautious that all these categories do not hold true beyond this material universe. Our conceptual schemes, which in the final analysis rest on the categories of mundane material realm are too coarse and inappropriate to conceptualise and theorise the realm of divine, sacred and godhead. At a point where despite all boasting scientific discoveries man is yet incapable of understanding his basic biology and where despite of conquering the vastness of space man is yet to gain a glimpse of his psychological depths any sweeping statements and miscalculated statements oriented towards reduction of divine to categories of psyche seems but a naive affair. The enlightened theologians, mystics and philosophers of the past have explicitly denounced the access of finite human mind to infinite cosmic intelligence. What God has informed us here and there in sacred texts is to contemplate the nature and our own selves. This unbiased contemplation is sure to bring forth some indirect aspects of divine. Though we shall be fully conscious of the fact that within the physical universe and human civilization there are instances which are heartrending, discouraging and at times they run quite contrary to the notion of divine. But the mystics and enlightened men throughout the history have been able to dissect the veil of appearance and have succeeded in looking at the essence of existence. On having this enlightened vision they bowed their heads and understood the essence of these apparent vagaries of nature. Ibrahim, the father of modern monotheism, Buddha a silent contemplator, Nanak, a socially conscious religious purgator amply demonstrate this state of enlightenment. Modern scientific mind is highly welcome in questioning the authenticity of religion, aspects of divine and the apparent chaos that is witnessed everywhere in physical and social landscape. There can be no proper understanding in absence of questioning. Likewise doubt is an essential ingredient of faith. But while one raises questions in atheist or any such frame one must have patience, tolerance and wide sightedness to understand theistic point of view. To dub religion irrational for its simple disagreement with science seems a rather constricted opinion. Religion has been a great architect in shaping the course of human civilization and to unfasten our knots with this perennial source of wisdom, learning, inspiration and exaltation will amount to gross intellectual injustice. The need of hour is not to posit theists and atheists as antithetical but to encourage each to understand the point of other. Maybe in this collective endeavour humanity discovers a paradigm that has still not been thought of.

(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat& mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: [email protected])

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Opinion

Making Kids Sick and Stressed!

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By Dr. Shahid Amin Trali

It is quite obvious that having a happy and thriving child can greatly enhance a parent’s personal happiness and their life satisfaction. But having a low, pessimistic or depressed child will certainly detract from one’s overall happiness. Children are the lovely birds. They are always innocent creatures. Rightly said that God lives there where children live. The smiling faces of our children can be a therapy for any kind of depressions.

Revisiting the past, our childhood was very rich. Life in the past was more social. Children hardly found time in past to be low and depressed. Earlier generations used to spend good time outdoors; playing sports, or engaged in physical activities. But the technology nowadays invites our children and adolescents to sit a lot. Now children are turning more isolated and limited to the world of games and gadgets. The excessive usage of the technology has truly damaged a lot and posing a serious threat to our future. So much so a bigger concern now is that a popular game Player Underground’s Battle Ground (PUBG) is turning more harmful for our youngsters. The Jammu and Kashmir Students Association (JKSA) has rightly demanded to immediately ban the game. The addition to this game has become so serious that our youngsters are unstoppably playing the game and losing a precious time.

 

A good data is available that Interviews with Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and other technology elites consistently reveal that Silicon Valley parents are strict about technology use. A recent research has found children who spend more than two hours a day looking at a screen have worse memory, language skills and attention span. The research, which involved children aged between eight and 11 found that those with higher amounts of recreational screen time on smart phones and playing video games had far worse cognitive skills across a range of functions. One more research has found that an eighth-grader’s risk for depression jumps 27% when he or she frequently uses social media. Children who use their smart phones for at least three hours a day are much more likely to be suicidal.

Using the internet and technology is the need of the time but researchers suggest its safe and proper usage. One study reveals that in 2007, Bill Gates, the former world’s richest and CEO of Microsoft Corporation implemented a cap on screen time when his daughter started developing an unhealthy attachment to a video game. He also didn’t let his kids get cell phones until they turned 14. But the alarming situation today is that the average age for a child getting their first phone is about 10 years. If any kid is alone with the internet, and no one else is around, the technology can be a curse. When our kids use gadgets and access the internet within limits and in safe and public surroundings, the technology can enhance learning and prove a beneficial friend. But a good research is still needed to examine the potential impact of technology on our lovely children. Psychologists need to speed up efforts to show how dangerous modern gadgets and technology can be for our children brains and what limits are there for its right usage.

Today medical sciences have found greater advancements. But it is surprising to mention that the numbers of our children are also found increasing when it comes to anxiety, pressure and conflict among our children. This pressure and conflict is not evolving on its own. As society and parents, we have now become more rigid with our demands. But the life of our children has become more caged and suffocated with those unreal demands. In actual terms we are never doing justice with the upbringing of our lovely kids. There is always a bigger force applied on our kids now. We are forcing our children to get high marks or grades in examinations. We are forcing them to be only the doctors and engineers. We are even forcing a small kid to carry a burden of bags that is even unbearable for an adult. We are forcing them to be locked in a school even when they attain just two years of their age. This pressure on our children to achieve high levels of academic success and being caged is overriding their joys of education and making our kids anxious and depressed.

A study of University of Michigan, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, revealed that children whose parents said they would respond by lecturing, punishing or restricting their child’s social activities actually had lower levels of literacy and achievement by the end of high school. The study offers a useful advice that parents who use punitive parenting practices may unintentionally deny their children the opportunity to learn the very skills and knowledge they require to improve their grades. Even more worse, punitive strategies may increase children’s sense of frustration and aversion to school work.

Societies need to realize the value of development of children in right ways. Why we are that much rigid when we have big flaws in our system. It’s rightly said that we have the brilliant minds joining doctors and engineers at the initial level. Next level with exceptions we have those who do not qualify medical and engineering, they found success in other professions like education, law, management, security, administration etc. Next level with exceptions those who do not fit in these two levels become the politicians and they rule the first two levels. The current scenario proves it right when our youth sensation Dr. Shah Faisal resigned from his prestigious IAS post to and serve big as a politician. Also a good lesson is that we have majority of politicians who are hardly fit for any good post.

It is better to inculcate right values in our children. Parenting is a great and noble task, but it isn’t that easy to bring up happy and a confident child. We must strongly encourage creativity in our children rather than being rigid with them. Our strong focus must be to make our child healthy, happy and productive. We need to be as realistic as possible but don’t thwart the ambitions of our lovely children.

(The author is Assistant Professor, ITM University Gwalior.Educator at Unacademy and Editor in Chief at startupdailytips.com. He can be reached at: [email protected])

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Opinion

BEING AN ALIGARIAN

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By ShabbirAariz

Not so big and not so clean is a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh yet widely known because it is home to an iconic educational institution, the Aligarh Muslim University. Aligarh has some interesting features which get currency and access to places from wherever people come to study in the university. And an Aligarian is the one who is a pass out of the university generally. Generally because there are also some who even after staying for years on the campus, come out as ‘clean’ as while taking the admission. However, being an Aligarian has something of magical and magnetic about it, that can be felt only when one Aligarian comes in touch with another even while being from different socio-cultural backgrounds , having been on rolls of the university at different points of time and different disciplines and yet meet like long lost members of the same family. This may perhaps be true of other educational institutions also but is more expressing in the case AMU. Pass outs from AMU, across the subcontinent on their name plates besides their educational qualification, put a tag as ‘Alig’ with pride. AMU has played host to a cross section of society with means and those without means. AMU continues to remain a less expensive educational institution having benefited unimaginable number of under privileged people across the globe. AMU has shaped the lives of many like academicians, writers, diplomats, soldiers, sports persons, actors and also the leaders who in turn have been able to shape their nation. People with any sense of history consider visiting this university as a pilgrimage also for the reason that the last resting place of its founder, late Sir Syed Ahmad Khan is within the campus. The man who suffered humiliations and resistance from various quarters while establishing it. Some prejudices surface from time to time even now.

Everyone who has the opportunity of putting in time as a student in AMU, has his own stock of impressions and experience to share and plume his memory. I too am not an exception to my share of good and bad experiences while even bad ones with the afflux of time turn to be good too. Some of the features and facts remain common at all times. These include a certain features sounding with alphabet ‘M’, such as Muslim university, Majaz the poet who besides having remained a student in the university, has given an eternal anthem to the university. Also that Asrar-ul-HaqMajaz has remained most south after by the female on campus. And similarly the Maris road in close vicinity of the campus. Matri, a type of crisp biscuit, mosquito with terrible sittings etc form the part of everybody’s memory. Some of the events that are a regular feature, make AMU an institution distinguishable from other institutions. Besides annual Sir Syed day in the month of October, are mushairas and qawalis part of AMU culture. Other than what has been said here-in-above, I have had some memorable experiences of meeting and knowing some legends in their own right. I am sure that if I were not in AMU, I could not have met and known them. To name a few ; a great Urdu critic and satirist , late Rashid Ahmad Sidique, poet Bashir Badar, noted jurist, often consulted by the then prime minister, Mr Misba-ul-hassan, who was our dean in the law faculty.

 

You are never an Aligarian unless you jump from sublime to ridicule. In this line also am reminded of a friend known for playing pranks till this date with whosoever comes his way. Once out of tradition, on return from seeing off a home going friend at the railway station, he pointed to a hotel on our way back and wanted to have a cup of tea with me, to which readily agreed little knowing that the owner ran a brothel too which was revealed to me on his making enquiries of that kind. While negotiating with the owner, my friend sought STUDENTS CONCESSION on the charges for the ignoble act which left the owner furious who in all rage said that the concessions are available in railway and air and not here. My friend shrugged his shoulders and joined me in the street outside.

I will be leaving this write up incomplete unless I mention one AlamBhaie, a student and a class of his own. AlamBhaie was a generous person to my understanding, who always offered to help a fellow student at any level from the vice chancellor down to the level of a bearer least worried about the results of his effort. Alam known to everyone on the campus, was taken lightly and considered an idiot to the extent, the saying about him would go that if idiots had horns, AlamBhaie would be a stag with twelve horns. What an irony! God bless Alam, wherever he is. Yet another area of fascinations and affairs of which some culminating into success while others ending up in a fiasco is an added feature of AMU days and summed up by one poet- student Sabir in his verse;

SABIR ISS ALIGARH NAY QEHQAHOON K SAATH SAATH
KUCH ZAKHAM BHI DIYAY HAIN DILE BAY QARAR KO.

(The author is a senior lawyer and a well known writer and poet. He can be reached at:[email protected])

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