Mass internet censorship in effect in the Maldives!

Ironic isn't it? Just a little over a week ago, the President of Maldives Mohamed Nasheed announced his intentions of making Maldives a sanctuary for dissenting writers from countries such as Burma. Now, a week later, Haveeru News reports that the Telecommunications Authority of Maldives has blocked 5 sites under orders from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MoIA).

Officially blocked

Here are the sites declared not-fit-for-public-consumption along with their approximate blocked date:
1. seedhaahithun.com (29 Nov 2008, details)
2. sidahitun.com (29 Nov 2008, details)
3. gospelgo.com (29 Nov 2008, details)
4. raajjeislam.com (13 Mar 2009, details)
5. randomreflexions.com (15 Mar 2009, details)
6. feydhooschool.info (15 Mar 2009, details)

Seedhaahithun.com, sidahitun.com and gospelgo.com were apparently blocked for "promoting Christianity". The reason for blocking RaajjeIslam a few days ago is unknown and according to the media, the MoIA has not offered an explanation. As has been noted by Minivan News and Haveeru News, the website was blocked after they published an audio clip of Mohamed Shakeeb, an Imam at Shaviyani Atoll Foakaidhoo, claiming that he has been threatened by the State Minister of Islamic Affairs Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed. It is interesting to note that the material on the website seems to be ideologically similar to that advocated by the Adhaalath Party, who controls the MoIA, and tame compared to what can be seen at, say, fagudi.wordpress.com. There is no specific explanation given for randomreflexions.com. The feydhooschool.info site was apparently blocked upon request from a "senior person" at the Feydhoo School. I seriously doubt the MoIA has the authorization to block any website under such flimsy pretense.

Mass censorship??

You might have noticed that I used "mass internet censorship" in the title of this post and here is why.

As you may already know, every human readable pretty domain name maps to an address called IP address. That is how computers find each other on a network and on the Internet. For example, the domain name for Dhiraagu is dhiraagu.com.mv and their associated IP address is 202.1.207.33. So when you type in dhiraagu.com.mv, your computer looks up the IP address and tries to access the server computer at that IP address. But an IP address can be shared by many different domains on a single server and this is the standard practice amongst all web hosting services. The Dhiraagu IP address, for example, is shared by around 81 other sites including Bank of Maldives and Bandos Resort. If someone wanted to block, say, Bank of Maldives and placed a block on the IP address 202.1.207.33, then all the other 81 domain names would also be affected and their sites made inaccessible. Please note there doesn't necessarily have to be any relationship or connection between the sites that maybe hosted on a single IP.

Now consider the above mentioned blocked sites, their IP addresses and the number of sites it carries.

- 98.130.196.2 (raajjeislam.com) --> 181
- 67.205.44.193 (simonshareef.com) --> 98
- 66.197.160.197 (feydhooschool.info) --> 589
- 64.71.35.15 (gospelgo.com) --> 9
- 58.137.156.52 (seedhaahithun.com, sidahitun.com) --> 32

That means there would be a total 909 unintended victim sites that fell prey to the mindless blocking of just these few site IP addresses! This has been confirmed been both on Dhiraagu and ROL connections.

While running censorship checks, using lists of Maldivian blogs and websites, a few other websites got flagged as possible victims of MoIA instructed blocking or indirect victims of such blocking.
- souley.org (ROL only)
- gasim08.com (ROL only)
- maumoon2008.net (ROL only)
- mvphotos.org
- simonshareef.com

Souley.org, gasim08.com and maumoon2008.net are all hosted at the popular GoDaddy hosting service and happen to be all on the same server. The server is also host to 5553 other domains hence all those 5553 are under functional censorship as well. It is not clear whether this really is due to censorship of one these three websites (or possibly another I am not aware of) or due to a technical glitch. Given that these sites are accessible under Dhiraagu, it may well be due to a glitch at ROL but I thought it maybe worth mentioning here. (Update: 17/Mar/2009) I've been informed that ROL was indeed instructed to block that IP as well, meaning well over 6000 sites are currently effectively censored! MvPhotos.org and simonshareef.com are hosted on the same server as randomreflexions.com and hence is blocked as well (or possibly has been blocked under instruction from MoIA).

I cannot stress enough the irresponsibility that goes with imposing such unrestricted IP based blocks. I suspect the blame for this mishap rests solely on TAM and the two ISPs.

Future

The Maldivian blogosphere contains dozens of blogs from various individuals, Muslim and other belief positions alike, that do not subscribe to MoIA's views and are pretty vocal in letting their opposition and dissenting views be known. But by no means is dissent limited to personal websites only. The popular video sharing website Youtube contains many videos that promote Christianity in Dhivehi. There is also growing demand for the many thousands of articles, books, videos and lectures on the various theistic and nontheistic positions that are available online for easy reading for the English literate. One thing is clear for the future: Maldives is no longer a mostly homogeneous society where people think and believe the same thing, despite the continuing assertions by the government and the MoIA. Will MoIA continue to block websites, including those such as YouTube?

Breaking free

The Internet is a beast that is hard to tame and a blocked website is just a minor inconvenience at best.
RSS - All blocked blogs and websites with RSS feeds can be accessed using some of the many free web-based RSS readers.
Proxy - Using a proxy might be convenient and might be the best option if the site you are trying to access does not provide full RSS feeds. There are two ways to this: using a web-based proxy service or setting a proxy in your browser.
Tor - Tor is a freely downloadable software that uses a method called "onion routing" to bounce your traffic several times with different hosts on the internet before going to the final destination.

Opinions

Perhaps it is too soon to raise alarm over the MoIA's tightening grip on the internet, perhaps it will be reversed soon. Either way, it is not too early to call for the establishment of clear guidelines and mechanisms for blocking websites, if the government really insists on continuing to stifle opinion. Letting anyone reign per their whims on the sole source of decent information available in the Maldives, to arbitrarily block websites and blackout large sections of the internet, does not seem very conducive towards the new government's promise of a free and democratic society.

Elsewhere on the Maldivian blogs...
- maldives: Maldives to become haven for dissident writers but plagued by censorship
- maldivesdissent: Maldives president blocks websites and crackowns on protests
- ithadu: How sensible is the Islamic Ministry?
- ithadu: From internet to intranet! Democracy?
- duwyduwy: Attack on bloggers
- chopey: Dr. Majeed, Please bless my blog
- majlissexstories - Internet banned
- Bits 'N' Bytes: I condemn internet censorship by Islamic Ministry in Maldives
- MaldivesHealth: In support of RandomReflections
- pizzahouse: A moment of silence...

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Note: Big thanks to Hassan for all the help he provided in running the block checks on ROL and contributing to the mini-investigation. Also thanks to Nattu and Rhipha for the list of Maldivian websites and Millzero for confirming the blocks on Dhiraagu.

Makunudhoo Jinns: The story

Yesterday, I called up a friend in Makunudhoo who is pretty familiar with the mass hysteria (or jinn possession, depending who you ask) that has gripped the students of the island's school for the past month to have a little chat about the events taking place there. Some of the events, including the digging of the school grounds, are missing from here because we had talked about it an earlier conversation which I sadly didn't record. I am posting a transcript of the later conversation here (with permission). It is a translation from Dhivehi ofcourse but I've avoided doing the sort of fancy rephrasing and rearranging that is advocated in Dhivehi translation classes in the hopes of preserving the original as much as possible. The bits inside brackets were added by me to help make subjects and contexts clearer.

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Me: Hey, this is Jaa. You busy?
ZZ: No. No. Excellent time.
Me: I just wanted to get some more details on what's happening in the island. I am hoping to write it up on my blog.
ZZ: Great. Go ahead.
Me: Can you tell me how this happened. Did it happen to many at once or was it just one kid?
ZZ: It was one kid at first. It was about a year ago.
Me: Is it! How does that relate to this event?
ZZ: It happens to this kid every now and then. But it got so serious only this month.
Me: So the kid has fits? Regularly?
ZZ: Yes. There are about 3 or 4 kids in the school that gets fits.
Me: So what happened this time?
ZZ: What happened this time was that one of the kids got possessed, by Jinn. Following that, a boy in Grade 10 said it was happening because of a tree in the school. He said he was going to hit the tree with a ball and went ahead to kick a ball into the tree. When he did that the ball is said to have hit the hand/fingers of a Jinn child and broke it. The boy fell unconscious immediately following that.
Me: I see.
ZZ: The boy's hands were contorted as well.
Me: Uhuh. So that was the first two kids?
ZZ: Those two escalated the situation. There are a total of about 6... err 10, 12 kids now. 10-12 have been admitted sick now.
Me: I see. The kid that this first happened to... you say it's regular... Had a doctor been consulted earlier?
ZZ: They went to a doctor even the first time. They didn't call it a Jinn event then, it was diagnosed as fits then. It is only now this became a Jinn possession. So many kids had fallen sick at the same time so it wasn't believed to be fits.
Me: Newspapers made it seem that this happened to a lot of kids, at the same time. Did it happen that way or was it gradual... one by one... a few at a time?
ZZ: No no. This school is 40 years old. And in this 40 years, about every year or every six months a kid would fall sick. That is fall during assembly. Whether that's because of fainting or something else, it's not known. But since talking to the Jinn (by the fanditha/blackmagic practitioners), it has appeared that the school is also attended by 1000 Jinn children. And that the Jinn parents number to 300,000...
Me: Uhuh
ZZ: And that their kids are not as good at studies as us Dhivehi, us humans. They are taking revenge because they haven't been improving and also because when our kids play ball during assembly, err PE, the ball hits their kids.
Me: How did this spread to other kids?
ZZ: Apparently the Jinns have made a list... those Jinns. So all kids on the list are to get sick and it's been happening that way.
Me: So the first day this happened, a lot of kids fell sick and the second day more kids fell? Is that how it happened?
ZZ: Yes that is how it happened this week... this month.
Me: I see.
ZZ: Yea.
Me: Has any of the kids gotten better?
ZZ: No. None of the kids have gotten better.
Me: But the fanditha is still going on?
ZZ: The fanditha is proceeding very strong. They have now put 150 Jinns into a can and sunk them into the sea... the fanditha men have said.
Me: I see.
ZZ: A psychologist came to the island last night. The psychologist assessed the kids and said it wasn't related to Jinns. But the parents didn't believe that. They say it was caused by Jinns and no treatment by the psychologist will treat that.
Me: I see.
ZZ: So the psychologist had to leave (the island) immediately.
Me: Hehe. I see. Umm. Is there any news if any sort of change, like that of odour, was noticed in the area?
ZZ: This is happening not because of a change in odour. There are no smells. There were a number of trees. Even the affected sick children are saying that something lives in those trees and they see it as their land. So when the tree was cut, those Jinns got furious and many more children fell sick.
Me: But wasn't the tree felled recently?
ZZ: Yes. Things got this bad when the tree was felled.
Me: I see. But why did the tree have to be felled? Didn't one of the kids say things would get better once the tree is felled?
ZZ: No no. Not that because it would release the kids. It was done with the intent of sending the Jinn off. It was assumed that they wouldn't stay there once their home was destroyed and so when the parents requested for the tree to be felled it was done so.
Me: Uhuh.
ZZ: Now the Jinns have moved to the largest "nika" tree in the island.
Me: So how far has the fanditha proceeded? How long is it to take?
ZZ: It is going on full speed. They had a 40 man chanting last night and they are going to do chants tonight too. He (the fanditha practitioner) says he doesn't want to "cure" the kids just yet because he still needs to question the Jinn over certain things. He assures though that he is going to leave only once he "cures" the kids.
Me: Did he say how long he is going to take?
ZZ: He hasn't given a date yet.
Me: So hopefully the Jinns would go away soon? To a nearby island.
ZZ: (Laugh) People have asked for the Jinns to be sent off to another island.
Me: How about the two near uninhabited islands?
ZZ: Not those two islands. People have requested the Jinns to be expelled from the island, to make it so that they are unable to enter the school. People would like a (magic) barrier to be placed around the island to prevent the Jinns from coming in. The fanditha men has now created the wall around around and they have expelled around 300,000 Jinns from out the wall. They say that only a few infidel crippled Jinn remain now.
...
Me: Thanks!
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I made a short post earlier about this incident in Makunudhoo and linked to a few interesting research papers related to mass hysteria in hopes of putting things into a more scientific perspective. MaldivesHealth has since posted on the amusing case of the genitalia vanishing epidemic in Nigeria and more. It maybe true that it really are the Jinns that are at the root of the problem Makunudhoo is facing, yet centuries of (global) experience and amassed knowledge tells us that it is far far far more likely to be a ... :-)

Mass hysteria?

This whole throwing fits and going berserk business in the Makunudhoo School is becoming utterly ridiculous. It has been a month since it was first reported and apparently things have now escalated into becoming a full-on circus complete with clowns and flying elephants. More kids are apparently joining the madness by the day while the health authorities and the government at large seems to have ignored it for the most part.

The fanditha men who are being imported into the island by the worried parents to bring an end to this "supernatural" problem are probably having the time of their life. It is absolutely mad that in this day in age, people could forgo rationality and scientific understanding to attempt to solve the afflictions by letting fanditha practitioners chant and perform silly rituals around an island and go about cutting down trees in the belief that they harbour Jinns. The mentality of attributing anything even slightly mysterious or unexplainable as something within a supernatural realm is self-defeating, non-explanatory and should have been left behind in the past centuries of ignorance. I find it especially amusing that these Jinns always seem to have a knack for stirring a total ruckus in human societies by engaging in petty, retarded behaviour like taking "possession" of a person for "revenge". Then again, all non-existent imaginary constructs have their own unique quirks.

Edit (17/05/2008):
Jinns are mythical creatures lacking evidence and scientific validation. This fact should not be taken lightly because:
a) the role of such a priori beliefs in making people susceptible to and triggering hysteria has been noted in research,
b) the "treatment" being pushed by fanditha men and priests/imams involves reinforcement of those very beliefs that set it off and that has been noted to enhance the outbreaks.
c) the immediate attribution to illnesses to the supernatural delays/avoids proper medical diagnosis in favour of meaningless rituals, which is especially worrying if the illness were to be due to or a symptom of a serious medical condition.

Edit (11/05/2008):
Some interesting papers on the matter:-
- Episodic Neurological Dysfunction Due to Mass Hysteria
- Epidemic Hysteria: A review of the Published Literature
- Possession "hysteria" in a Kenya Tribe

Mars retrograde aai hulhangun iru erun: kamuge hageegaiy

The following goes out to the elderly and all those who aren't versed in English, to all those who are disadvantaged by the sorry state of science in Dhivehi and to all those who were misinformed and deceived. Hope this helps.

(Download the article as a PDF formatted for print)

މާސް ރެޓްރޮގްރޭޑް އާއި ހުޅަނގުން އިރުއެރުން: ކަމުގެ ހަޤީޤަތް


މިލިޔުމުގައި މިބަލާލަނީ ރާއްޖޭގައި ދާދި ފަހުން ފެތުރިގެންދިޔަ "މިއުރީޚަށް ހުޅަނގުން އިރު އަރައިފި" މިސުރުޚީގެ ދަށުން ދުނިޔެއާއި ކައިރިގައި އޮންނަ ޕްލެނެޓެއް ކަމަށްވާ މާސްގެ ދައުރުވުމަށް ބަދަލެއް އައިސް އެޕްލެނެޓްގައި ދެކުނުން އިރުއަރައިފިކަމަށް ބުނެލިޔެފައިވާ ލިޔުމަށެވެ. އެލިޔުމަކީ އޭގައި އެއްވެސް ކަހަލަ ހަޤީޤަތެއް އެކުލެވިގެންވާ އެއްޗެއްނޫންކަމަށްވާއިރު، އީމެއިލުންނާއި ހަވީރު ނޫހުގައިވާ ނޯޓިސްއަކާއި އަދި އަދާލަތު ޕާޓީގެ ވެބްސައިޓް މެދުވެރިކޮށް މިބުނި ލިޔުންވަނީ ފެތުރި ގިނަބަޔަކަށް ކަމުގެ (ސައިންޓިފިކް) ހަޤީޤަތް އޮޅިފައެވެ. ވީމާ މާސްއާއި ބެހޭގޮތުން ފަތުރާފައިވާ ވާހަކަތަކަށް ބަލާލާ، ކަމުގެ ހަޤީޤަތް ހާމަކޮށްދެވޭތޯ ބަލާލަން ޤަސްދުކުރަމެވެ.

"މިއްރީޚަށް ހުނޅަގުން އިރުއަރައިފި" މިލިޔުމުގައި ސައެންސްކަމަށް ބުނެފައި ހުރި ހުރިހާ ވާހަކަތަކަކީ މުޅީންހެން ދޮގެވެ. އަދި ރެޓްރޮގްރޭޑްއަކީ ކޮބާކަން ވަނީ މުޅީންހެން އޮޅުވާލާފައެވެ. ނުޖޫމީއިލްމުގައި ރެޓްރޮގްރޭޑްއޭ ކިޔާއުޅެނީ ތަރިއެއް އެތަރިއެއް ބައިވެރިވާ ނިޒާމުގައިވާ އެހެން ތަރިތަކާ އިދިކޮޅަށް ނުއަތަށް ދަތުރުކުރުމަށެވެ. ނަމަވެސް އެލިޔުމުގައި ހަޤީޤަތުގައި އެދައްކަނީ ތަފާތުވައްތަރެއްގެ ރެޓްރޮގްރޭޑްއެއްގެ ވާހަކައެވެ. ދުނިޔޭން ފެށިގެން އިރާ ދުރަށް ހުންނަ ހުރިހާ ތަރިތަކަށްވެސް ދުނިޔޭން ބަލާއިރު "އެޕަރެންޓް ރެޓްރޮގްރޭޓް"އޭކިޔާ ހަރަކާތެއް އަންނާނެއެވެ. "އެޕަރެންޓް ރެޓްރޮގްރޭޑް"އަކީ ކުރިންމިދެންނެވި "ރެޓްރޮގްރޭޑް"އާއި ޚިލާފަށް ފެންނަފެނުމުގައި ތަރިއެއް އިދިކޮޅަށް ނުއަތަށް ދަތުރުކުރުމެވެ. މިހަރަކާތަކީ އެއްވެސް ހާލެއްގައި އެއިން ޕްލެނެޓެއްގެ ހަޤީޤީ ދައުރުވުމަށް އަންނަ ބަދަލެއްނޫނެވެ ނަމަވެސް ދުނިޔޭގެ ނަޒަރުން ބަލާއިރު ފެންނަ އޮޕްޓިކަލް އިލޫޝަން (ލޮލުގެ އޮޅުވާލުން) އެކެވެ. އެއީ ދުނިޔެއިން ބަލާއިރު އަހަރުމެންގެ ފެނުމަށް ހީވާގޮތް ކަމުގައިވިޔަސް ހަޤީޤަތުގައި ކޮންމެ ޕްލެނެޓެއްވެސް އެއެއްޗެއްގެ ދައުރުކުރާ އެލިޕްޓިކް (ކުކުޅުބިސް ފަދަ ބައްޓަމެއް ހުންނަ) ބުރުގައި ބަދަލެއްނައިސް ދަތުރު ކުރަމުން ގެންދެއެވެ. އަދި ކިއެއްތޯއެވެ؟ ރެޓްރޮގްރޭޓް ހަރަކާތް އަންނަމުންދާތާ އެތައް މިލިޔަން އަހަރެއްވެއްޖެއެވެ. މިކަމަކީ ކުރީޒަމާނުގެ ގުރީކުންނާއި މާޔަން ނުޖޫމީއިލްމުވެރިންނަށްވެސް އެގި ސުވާލުކޮށްފައިވާކަމެކެވެ. މިހަރަކާތަށް 16 ޤަރުނުގައި ނިކްލައުސް ކޮޕަނިކަސް އަދި ފަހުން 17 ވަނަ ގަރުނުގައި ޖޮހަނަސް ކެޕްލަރގެ ހޯދުންތަކުން ފުރިހަމަ ޖަވާބެއް ލިބިގެން ދިޔައެވެ. މާސްގެ ރެޓްރޮގޭޓްއަކީ މިހާރުގެ ސައެންޓިސްޓުންނަށް އާކަމެއްނޫނެވެ.

މިފަދަ ލިޔުމެއްގައި ލިޔެވޭނޭ އެއްޗަކުން ފަސޭހައިން ދޭހަވެ ސިފަކުރެވޭނެ ގޮތަކަށް މިކަން ކިޔައިދިނުމަކީ އުނދަގޫ ކަމެކެވެ. މިލިޔުމުގެ ފަހަތުގައި ހިމަނާލާފައިވާ އެވަނީ ދުނިޔެއާއި މާސް، އިރު ވަށައިގެން ދަތުރުކުރުމުގައި އަހަރެމެންނަށް އުޑުމަތިން މާސްގެ ހަރަކާތަށާއި ދުވެއްޔަށް ބަދަލު އަންނަގޮތް ދައްކައިދޭ މަންޒަރު ތަކެކެވެ. ކޮންމެ މަންޒަރަކުން މާސް އާއި ދުނިޔެއާއި ދެމެދުގައިވާ ދުރުމިނަށް އަންނަ ބަދަލަށް ސަމާލުވެ ތިއްބަވާށެވެ. ނަމަވެސް މިކަން އެންމެ ފުރިހަމައަށް ދޭހަވާނީ ކޮމްޕިއުޓަރ ސިމިއުލޭޝަންއެއް މެދުވެރިކޮށެވެ. ވީމާ ޔުނިވާރސިޓީ އޮފް އިލިނޯއިގެ އެސްޓްރޮނޮމީ ޑިޕާޓްމަންޓުން ރެޓްރޮގްރޭޑް ހަރަކާތް ދެއްކުމަށް އިންޓަނެޓުގައި ތައްޔާރު ކޮށްފައިވާ ސަފްހާ (http://www.astro.uiuc.edu/projects/data/Retrograde) އަށް ގޮސް އެސަފްހާގެ މެދުގައިވާ "Run" ފިތަށް އޮބާލާ ވާތްފަރާތުން ދައްކާ ދުނިޔޭގެ ހަރަކާތާއި ކަނާތްފަރާތުން ދައްކާ ދުނިޔެއިން މާސް ފެންނަ ގޮތަށް ރަގަޅަށް ބައްލަވާލާށެވެ.

މިދެންނެވި ލިޔުމުގައި ބުނެފައިވާ ތާރީޚުތަކަކީވެސް ނުބައި ތާރީޚުތަކެކެވެ. މާސް ރެޓްރޯގްރޭޑްއަކީ ކޮންމެ 26 މަހަކުން ހިނގާކަމެކެވެ. 2003 ވަނަ އަހަރު މާސް ރެޓްރޮގްރޭޑްގައި 30 ޖުލައިގައި ފުރަތަމަ ހުއްޓުން އައިސް ނުއަތަށް ދަތުރުކުރުމަށްފަހު 29 ސެޕްޓެމްބަރގައި ދެވަނަ ހުއްޓުން އައިސް އާދައިގެ މަތިންދަތުރު ކުރާންފެށިއެވެ. އަދި 2005 ވަނަ އަހަރުގެ މާސް ރެޓްރޮގްރޭޑްގައި 1 އޮކްޓޯބަރުގައި ފުރަތަމަ ހުއްޓުން އައިސް ނުއަތަށް ދަތުރުކުރުމަށްފަހު 10 ޑިސެމްބަރުގައި ދެވަނަ ހުއްޓުމަށް ފަހު އާދައިގެ މަތިންދަތުރު ކުރާންފެށިއެވެ. އެންމެ ފަހުގެ ރެޓްރޮގްރޭޓް ފެށީ 15 ނޮވެމްބަރ 2007 ގައެވެ. މިދުވަސްކޮޅަކީ މާސް ފަހަތަށް ދަތުރުކުރަމުންދާކަމަށް ފެންނަ ދުވަސްކޮޅެވެ. މާސް އޭގެ އަސްލު ދައުރުގައި ފެންނާނީ މި ޖެނުއަރީ 30 ހުން ފެށިގެންނެވެ.

އަދި އެލިޔުމުގައި ބުނެފައިވާ ގޮތާ ޚިލާފަށް، (ވީނަސް ފިޔަވާ) މިސޯލާ ސިސްޓަމުގައިވާ ހުރިހާ ޕްލެނެޓެއްގައިވެސް އިރުއަރަމުންދަނީ އިރުމަތީ ފަރާތުންނެވެ. މިކަމަށް ބަދަލެއް އައިސްދާނެ ކަމަކަށް ސައިންސްގެ އެއްވެސް ހޯދުމަކުން ނުދައްކައެވެ. ދުނިޔޭގައި ހުޅަގުން އިރުއަރާނެ ގޮތެއްކަމަށް ހަމަ އެކަނިވާނީ ދުނިޔެ މިހާރުއެނބުރޭ ކޮޅުގެ ނުއަތަށް އެނބުރުމެވެ. ނަމަވެސް ދުނިޔެ އެބުރުމުގެ ސަބަބުންވާ "އެންގިއުލަރ މޮމެންޓަމް"ގެ ސަބަބުން ދުނިޔެ މިހާރުމިއެބުރޭކޮޅަށް މިލިޔަނަށްވުރެ ގިނަ އަހަރުތަކެއް ވަންދެން ބަދަލުނުވެ އެނބުރެމުންދާނެކަމަށް ހޯދުންތަކުން ދައްކައެވެ. އެއަށް ބަދަލެއް އައިސްދާނެ ހަމައެކަނި ގޮތަކީ ވަރަށް ބޮޑު ގިނިހިލައެއް ދުނިޔޭގައި ވަކިގޮތަކަށް ވަކިބާރުމިނެއްގައި ޖެހުމެވެ. ނަމަވެސް މިފަދަ އެއްޗެއް މީންދުވަހަކު ޖެހޭނޭ ކަމުގެ ނިޝާނެއް ނެތެވެ. އަދި ދައުރުބަދަލު ކުރާވަރުގެ އެއްޗެއް ޖެހިއްޖެނަމަ ދުނިޔޭގައިވާ ހުރިހާ ދިރޭއެއްޗެއް މަރުވުމަކީ ޔަގީނާގާތްކަމެކެވެ. އިރުވަށައިގެން ދުނިޔެ ދަތުރު ކުރާދިމާ ނުއަތަށް ބަދަލުވިޔަސް އިރުއަރާނީ ހަމައިރުމަތިންނެވެ. ކައުނުގައިވާ ހުރިހާ އެއްޗެއް ތަބާވާ ޤާނޫނުތަކުގެ ސަބަބުން އެފަދަކަމެއް ވުމާ ވަރަށް ވަރަށްވެސް ދުރުކަން ސައިންސުން ދައްކައެވެ. އިރު ނުވަތަ ދުނިޔެ ހިނގާގޮތް ކޮންމެ ގޮތަކަށް ބަދަލުވިޔަސް އެލިޔުމުގައި ޝަރުއީ އިލްމުވެރިންނާ ހަވާލާދީ ބުނެފައިވާ ގޮތަށް އެންމެ ދުވަހަކަށް ހުޅަގުން އިރު އަރާ އޭގެ ފަހުން އާދައިގެ މަތިން އިރު އެރުމަކީ ނުވާނޭ ކަމެކޭ ސައިންސްގެ އަލީގައި ބުނުމަކީ ދޮގަކަށް ނުވާނެއެވެ.

ވީމާ ސައިންސްއަށް ނިސްބަތްކޮށް އިސާހިތަކު ދުނިޔޭއަށް ހުޅަނގުން އިރުއަރާނެކަމަށް ދައްކާކަމަށް ބުމުނީ ކަނޑައެޅި ދޮގެކެވެ. މާސްގެ ރެޓްރޮގްރޭޑްއާއި އިރުއެރުމާއި ބެހޭގޮތުން މުހިންމު މައުލޫމާތު ކޮޅެއް ދެވިއްޖެ ކަމަށް އުންމީދުކުރަމެވެ.


އިރުވަށައިގެން ދުނިޔެއާއި މާސް ދަތުރުކުރާއިރު އުޑުމަތިން މާސް ފެންނަގޮތަށް އަންނަ ބަދަލު














The Sun rose from the West today

I woke up this morning to find in my email inbox a scan of a document titled "Miureekhah Hulhagun Iru Araifi" (translated: "The Sun rose from the West in Mars"), authored by someone operating under the name of "Abu Osama" and bearing the stamp of approval by the Islaamee Kathakaa Behey Mathee Majlis (pages 1 2 3). I assumed that it was just a chain-mail doing the rounds and went off to run a few errands only to return in the evening to find yet another email in my inbox - this time from a close buddy who had spotted the (same!) article appearing in today's issue of Haveeru Daily (view clipping). It was then that I realized that the document I read earlier was a serious piece of literature produced by someone, or some religious entity, as part of organised religious evangelism.

The document was shock full of factual errors and scientific errors that I just had to take it seriously - especially since these very "errors" acted as the basis for their evangelical argument. Could they have been so scientifically illiterate?! This whole story of the Sun rising from the West and the supposed evidence for it by events on Mars is just ludicrous. I'd laugh my belly off if I weren't so worried about the sheer lack of scientific understanding and the lack of skepticism. Anyway, I'd like to go over the document in question and set the science straight...

Claims in the document
The basic claim in the "Miureekhah Hulhagun Iru Araifi" article is that [1] the planet Mars had slowed down in its trek around the Sun, [2] came to a complete stop on 30th July 2005 and then [3] resumed its trek around the sun - [4] in the opposite direction - [5] in August/September 2005. The document attributes these observations to "Retrograde motion". The document also claims that [6] this encounter meant that the Sun had started to rise from the West on Mars instead of the usual East. It further claims that [7] the same would happen to Earth someday. They then interject a Hadith that claims the Sun rising from the West as being a sign that the end is near and that once it happens no one could repent or achieve salvation. The document also claims, on the authority of religious scholars, that [8] the Sun would rise in the West on Earth once only - for one day only - and things would continue as normal thereafter.

The document then uses these claims as a premise to attempt validate, justify and promote a number of Hadith regarding the end of the world and judgement day to call upon people to stay steadfast to Islam, to repent and to call upon non-believers to the faith.

The document then gives an invalid URL to an article on space.com in an attempt to create a smokesreen to make it look more credible.

Analysis and Explanations
It is important to note that the article presents an incorrect definition of what a "Retrograde" really is. A planetary body is in retrograde motion when it moves in a direction dissimilar, i.e. opposite, to another planetary body within a system. The problem at hand deals with a specific type of retrograde motion that occurs when the motion of planets is viewed relative to the Earth - known as an Apparent Retrograde - and is applicable to all planets that lie beyond Earth in the Solar System: Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Perhaps the best way to understand and help imagine the interactions betweens the planets involved in retrogrades is to watch the simulation available here. Run the simulation on that page and watch carefully how the movement of Earth and Mars in their own elliptical paths results in changes in what we see in the sky - with such amazing things as Mars apparently slowing down, stopping entirely, changing direction and then resuming as normal. They say a picture is worth a thousand words but I tell you, this simulation is invaluable. It is important to recognize that these "Mars retrograde" events are cyclical events that occur once every 26 months and has been taking place since before the earliest humans.

- The article's false claim [1] thus acquires a whole new meaning - it is the apparent behaviour of Mars that we see that is actually slowing down and not Mars itself.
- The dates given in claims [2] and [5] are false - in the 2003 Mars retrograde, Mars reached the first stationary point on 30th July, went through the loop back and reversed direction after reaching the stationary point on 29 September. In the 2005 Mars retrograde, Mars reached the first stationary point around 1 October and went through the loopback till it reached the second stationary point on 10 December and reversed direction again. A nice sketch of the movement of Mars, including the key dates, for both these years is available here.
- As said before, even during a retrograde, despite how we perceive it, Mars never actually stops or moves in any special way other than its usual motion along the elliptic orbit around the sun - thus claims [2], [3] and [4] are false if taken in the literal sense.
- Since Mars never budges from its usual orbit path nor its usual rotation direction, unlike as claimed in [6], there never is even a moment of time that the Sun rises from the West in Mars. The Martian sunrise and sunsets continue as they have been doing for the billions of years it has been in existence.
- The article quite correctly quotes scientists as saying that the retrograde happens for all planets. But the quote is placed out of context amongst the article's drive toward making it seem that Mars switched directions and had the Sun rise from its West. Truth of the matter is that scientists are actually referring to the planets other than Mars that are also affected by Apparent Retrogrades - ie Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune - and does not include Earth in it. However, since Apparent Retrogrades depend on the position of the viewer, Earth would also be subject to the sort of retrograde illusions as Mars if we were to observe things from Venus or Mercury and there'd come a time every year when Earth retrogrades and the entire Earth would seem to wobble a bit as it scurries backward and then forward again. But when talking with respect to Earth, claims [7] and [8] just fall flat.

It is worth noting that one of the main tasks of the article seems to be to suggest that this is a one off event that demands our immediate attention. However, this seems absurd a suggestion given that Mars retrogrades are cyclical events that have even been documented carefully by ancient Greeks and the Mayans and that a good part of humanity has known, predicted and observed it for centuries. What more, we are currently right in the middle of such a retrograde - Mars reached its first stationary point on 15 November 2007 and has been trekking through the loopback all of December and will continue to do so for the entire January till it reaches its second stationary point on 30 January 2008.

Scientifically, there's absolutely no reason to think that Earth will change its direction of rotation or direction of orbit around the sun - hence the direction of the Sun rise - EVER! The angular momentum of earth's current spin would keep the Earth turning the way it does now until opposing forces slow it down to a complete standstill - which happens to be millions of years away. The only scenario where the Earth MIGHT change its direction of rotation is if a there is a collision with a very (very!!) large foreign object such as a very large meteor and that too only under particular conditions that depend heavily on the location of impact and speed of the object - but this act would almost certainly wipe out every single living thing on Earth and so there'd be no point to this issue of Sun rising from West. Another occasion that might allow for the Sun to rise from West - if all you have is a compass - is if the Earth flips the polarity of its magnetic field. The Earth could and IS presently slowly changing its magnetic polarization - so if/when a polarity flip occurs, what is currently shown as "West" on a magnetic compass would then register as "East". But the cardinal directions are NOT defined by the Earth's magnetic field and the Sun would still continue to rise from the same direction it has always risen - the only thing that would have then changed would probably be the compasses to make up for the switch in pole polarity.

After thoughts
I hope the above deconstructs the myth/hoax published in Haveeru and popularised in Male'. It is sad to see that people, especially with the blessings of the Islaamee Kanthakaa Behey Mathee Majlis, engage in fear-mongering and scare tactics to psychologically intimidate people into religion. Surely there are more honest means than this?

Mars has been the subject of many other hoaxes recently and it seems to be able to consistently dupe a lot of people. It is easy to be duped and had for unless one practices healthy skepticism and read up. Meanwhile, go out and have a look at Mars shining bright in the sky - that's what I was doing with a telescope during the 2003 Mars retrograde when the red planet was supposed to be the closest to Earth it will be for years and years to come...

PS: By all means, feel free to send this article to your friends who've been taken in by the hoax.


Time lapse photograph of Mars in retrograde in 2005
Credit & Copyright: Tunc Tezel
(source http://www.sai.msu.su/apod/ap060422.html)


UPDATE (25/01/2007): It seems the exact same hoax article was also disseminated by the Maldivian Islamic political party Adaalath Party on on their website. Sigh.

Intelligent Design on Trial

PBS just recently aired a very good documentary called "Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" profiling the Evolution vs Intelligent Design/Creationism trial in Dover, Pennsylvania in 2004. I recommend watching it to any of you interested in the ongoing battle between the scientific establishment and the religious creationists.

The Dover trial was and is important because it put to test and scrutinized the two mutually incompatible "explanations" for the diversity of life seen on the Earth. It saw some of the arguments against and for evolution be evaluated and had the same done for ID. More importantly, it saw science itself be somewhat questioned and definitions of what constitutes as science be elicited. The outcome of the trial was of no surprise - honest science and truth prevailed as the judge upheld evolution as a valid scientific theory and ruled ID/Creationism as bad science.

Whenever you hear a argument against evolution, do make an effort and read the scientific explanation. After all, the truth stands superior isn't it? :-)

EDIT (19/Nov/2007): The BBC Horizon series had a program in 2006 on the same topic and is an interesting watch too.

Economist: The new wars of religion

This is just a quick short blurb to share an interesting article at the Economist. Titled "The new wars of religion", I think the article maybe an interesting read to some of you especially given the recent religiously motivated bombing in the Maldives and the sudden bold and dramatic highlighting of religion in the Maldivian public life in the past few years. The article is part of a series of articles presented as a Special Report on Religion and Public Life which observes and comments on the events in various parts of the world with a focus of religion and politics. The rest of the special report does focus on several other important issues and angles and is well worth the read.

I am a worried spectator to the growing religious discord on my home soil and elsewhere because I tend to share Carl Sagan's concern that humans may, in their intense religious fervor, wipe out each other (or even the entire animal kingdom) due to mere differences of opinion on each others differing and unprovable claims regarding the supernatural. I think we humans have enough trouble as it is that we don't have to complicate matters further with self-righteous attitudes and treating the other as infidel scum (ripe for killing).

Have a read of the articles and feel free to share your thoughts here. :-)