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The real War between Radicals & Moderate Muslims

Thr real battle is not between Islam and the West but between moderate and radical Muslims. Siddiqui urges Muslims to rescue their faith from hardliners:

In an essay on the “Arabisation” of Islam, Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies at the University of Edinburgh, argues that there is no single Islamist threat. There is no unified vision of implementing sharia . . . the battle is among Muslims themselves; a battle for the very soul of Islam.

Selbourne paints a bleak political landscape and although many might disagree with his tone they will agree with his warnings. For me, as a Muslim, the issue is the conversations that Muslims are not having. Notwithstanding the current fears around terrorism and the power struggles in so many Muslim countries, there is a reluctance, even fear, of diverse ways of thinking and living in Islamic societies. There is also a propensity among many people in Islamic societies to undermine any kind of intellectualism, or critical inquiry about beliefs, traditions and institutions. The willingness to equate modernity with westernisation, and regard only certain cultural norms as the true expression of Islam, ensures a fear and control over people. People are either silenced or threatened.

Generosity and the spirit of intellectual inquiry, once hallmarks of Islamic civilisation, are being eclipsed by a gradual intolerance on so many levels. These are not symptoms of a yearning or a nostalgia, but a malaise that has made Islam appear a social and political anomaly in the eyes of many outside and inside the faith.

How India is split over BJP's Narendra Modi

India's marathon general election appears to have split the country politically into two halves - people who support and oppose Narendra Modi, the controversial prime ministerial candidate of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, writes journalist Madhuker Upadhyay.
Indians sits on benches in front of a hoarding of India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) prime minister candidate Narendra Modi at a shopping complex in Ahmadabad.
This is probably the first time that a general election in India is centred around one personality who is loved and loathed in equal measure.
Mr Modi, who has been chief minister of the western state of Gujarat since 2001, is seen as a dynamic and efficient leader who has made his state an economic powerhouse.
But he is also accused of doing little to stop the 2002 religious riots when more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed - allegations he has consistently denied.
Those who believe in Mr Modi paint him as a messiah, while the non-believers are convinced that he is a divisive figure that India's diverse society cannot afford. They see this split as the vindication of their argument.
'Unstoppable wave'
The believers say there is an "unstoppable wave" in favour of Mr Modi.
A large section of the mainstream media has helped fan this perception, covering his energetic campaign with considerable enthusiasm. Opinion polls have also contributed to the feeling by predicting a veritable sweep for Mr Modi and the BJP, and the decimation of the ruling Congress party.
But many find it difficult to accept that there is a "wave" in favour of Mr Modi, making it a presidential style election in a parliamentary democracy.
They say voting behaviour in India is still determined by caste, class, religion and regional aspirations, among other things.
On an assignment for the BBC Hindi Service, I recently travelled 7,000km (4,349 miles) though nine states and three centrally-administered territories hugging India's vast coastline.
I visited the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and and West Bengal. The centrally administered territories I went to included Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Pondicherry.
In Gujarat, Mr Modi's fief, I found the near-total support for the leader remarkable.
Question Mr Modi's record as an administrator or the much vauntedGujarat growth model which has apparently vaulted it to one of India's most economically prosperous states and you are met with disbelief: "Don't you know it?" his supporters ask. "Haven't you seen it? Are you blind?"
Mr Modi does not need any posters, banners or billboards in Gujarat to prop up his image. His supporters say his work speaks for itself. Many here call him God.
But as one travels southwards from Gujarat, the non-believers seem to gain ground.
Change of mood
Brand Modi, as his image managers fondly call the leader, has reached the street corners of southern states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu. But how much of this awareness will translate into votes and parliamentary seats is a key question.
In the western coastal states of Maharashtra and Karnataka - both once ruled by the BJP - other factors are playing on the minds of voters.
While local issues and strong regional parties in Maharashtra pose a challenge to the BJP, allegations of corruption against the BJP government and caste politics may well make it difficult for the party to do well in Karnataka.
Apart from Gujarat, the only other state ruled by the BJP on India's west coast is Goa. With just two parliament seats, Goa recently saw a political change of mood with the local Catholic church making an open appeal to voters to support secular parties.
Supporters of Narendra Modi at a public meeting in Mathura, IndiaSupporters of Narendra Modi at a public meeting in northern India
On the eastern coast too, the non-believers appear to be in a majority.
Politics in the bifurcated state of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa is generally centred around local issues and politicians. In West Bengal, the regional Trinamul Congress party led by the mercurial Mamata Banerjee is in a strong position.
And the three centrally-administered territories with one seat each may change hands but that would be for reasons other than a pro-Modi sentiment.
Interestingly, the nine states on the coast account for 269 of the 543 parliamentary seats. That's just three seats short of a simple majority needed to win the election.
But as this region does not appear to be in the grip of a "wave" in favour of Mr Modi-led BJP and his 25-party alliance, analysts say to win the election, the BJP would need to win at least 200 of the remaining 274 seats.
So when votes are counted on 16 May, they don't rule out a hung parliament with no party or alliance getting a clear majority.
This is a prospect which will not cheer the believers, and befuddle the non-believers.
Madhuker Upadhyay is a senior independent journalist

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Shifting sands - Russia, Islam and West


SHOULD the West co-operate with Russia to counter the threat of militant Islam? A proposal that both Russia and China should be allies in the battle for Muslim hearts and minds was the most provocative part of this week's sweeping theo-geo-political peroration by Tony Blair. As Bagehot has pointed out, Mr Blair's diagnosis of a serious problem—Islamist extremism—was not very original, and his proposals were not very helpful. But his implied call for a soft-pedalling of confrontation with Russia, so as to form a common front against the jihadists, needs discussing further—not least because there are other figures in Western Europe, especially on the far right, who would broadly agree.

Since Mr Blair was brushing with broad historical strokes, let's do likewise. Over time, the triangular relationship between the Western powers, Russia and the world of Islam has been configured in many shapes. Far from collaboration to deal with Islam, the general pattern has been Russian-Western competition to carve up the Islamic spoils. In the 19th century, Britain propped up a weak Ottoman empire as a counter-weight to the Tsar; Queen Victoria was determined to keep Istanbul Muslim. In the 1920s, Soviet Russia played on Turkish resentment of Anglo-French meddling to establish cordial ties with the Turkish republic. Jumping to the cold war, when American-Soviet rivalry dominated world affairs, the Americans used their Muslim allies to rally fighters to the anti-Soviet cause in Afghanistan. That didn't stop the Soviet Union having friends in Muslim countries, albeit mainly the ones under secular rule.

For a couple of years after 9/11, a different triangle seemed to emerge. Vladimir Putin's reaction to the attack on America was to say something like: "This is all your fault, these Sunni fanatics are a Frankenstein that you Americans created, now let's go and fight them together." And for a short time, the West half-accepted the proposal; it gave Mr Putin a slightly freer hand in crushing the Chechens, and worked with him in driving the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan. But Russia expected things in return (like renewed hegemony over Muslim Central Asia) which the West was not willing to grant, and the honeymoon turned very sour.

In any case, how stable a partner could today's Russia be in dealing with the Muslim world? Over the years, Mr Putin has offered wildly conflicting views about Islam. When a French journalist challenged him over Chechnya, the president replied with a smutty offer to have the questioner Islamically circumcised. But he once observed that in many people's view (although he wasn't qualified to decide himself) eastern Christianity was closer to Islam than to Catholicism: a revealing remark because it suggests the influence of strains of Russian nationalism that regard Islam as a potential ally against an over-mighty West. In the hardest-line Russian nationalist circles, there have always been individuals of Muslim background who endorse this view.

At the moment, the old pattern of Russian-Western competition within the Muslim world is re-emerging. Syria, among many other things, has become a proxy for Russian-Western rivalry as well as the standoff between Shias and Sunnis. It's only a slight over-simplification to say that the West has been drawn into the conflict on the side of the militant Sunnis, while Russia is lined up with the Shias of Iran in defence of the Syrian regime.

Where does all this leave Mr Blair's proposal for a Russian-Western front against fundamentalism? The evidence of history suggests that Russia and the West are unlikely to co-operate in good faith to bring about some desired result in the world of Islam. To be frank, both sides have a record of advancing their own ends by pitting different Muslim factions against one another. But let's suppose that the West were to rethink all its past mistakes in dealing with Islam; would it then find Vladimir Putin a good person to work with? It seems very improbable at a time when Russian power is on the march and prepared to use almost any slogan, from pro-Muslim to anti-Muslim, to expand its influence.

But there is at least a negative point that is worth making. At the height of the cold war, the West was so single-minded in its contest with the Soviet Union that it never stopped to consider what baby alligators it might be nurturing in the Islamic world, especially in the anti-Soviet coalition in Afghanistan. That was clearly a mistake; think how some anti-Soviet jihadists morphed into al-Qaeda. These days, the West may not have much scope, with or without Russian assistance, to achieve constructive goals in the Muslim world, which more than ever before has a mind of its own. But it should at least be careful to avoid doing any more gratuitous harm, to itself or the Muslims.

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    Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States Tricked Into War


    Professor Mahl's excellent monograph helps clear up a historical mystery. As everyone knows, Americans before Pearl Harbor opposed, in overwhelming numbers, entry into World War II. So much the worse for the American public, say some historians, such as the eminent Thomas Bailey.

    Roosevelt saw that the defeat of the Axis was necessary to save the world. Only American entry into the war could secure this goal. The President accordingly had to resort to deception to inveigle America into the conflict. While promising peace, he provokes war. Roosevelt's policy, it is claimed, was vindicated by the Allied defeat of Germany and Japan in 1945.
    Not everyone convinced that isolation from war in 1941 was wrong adopts this bold line. Some historians, such as Dexter Perkins, reluctant to embrace Machiavelli so openly, argue that Roosevelt and the American public were not so far apart as first appears. True, the great majority of the public opposed entry into the war. But the public also favored aid to Britain of a sort that risked war. Roosevelt thus acted to secure what the public "really" wanted.
    As Louis D. Rubin, Jr., has expressed this position: "But public opinion was overwhelmingly on the side of Britain; an opinion poll taken in July 1940 indicated that seven out of ten Americans believed a Nazi victory would place the United States in danger, and so were in favor of assistance to the embattled British" (p. 85).
    An obvious problem with this interpretation is that it ascribes to the public views that quickly generate tension, if not outright inconsistency. People believed, it is claimed, both that the United States should stay out of the war and that the country should adopt policies liable to produce just the undesired outcome.
    Given this tension, would not people be apt to revise their beliefs to restore equilibrium? That is to say, would they not either reject unneutral policies or abandon the resolve to stay out of the war? Certainly, people sometimes hold beliefs that ill comport together, but this problem was glaringly obvious. Were we that stupid?
    Mr. Mahl disposes of our problem through a simple stroke. The polls that showed American support for violations of neutrality were rigged by British agents. "British intelligence had `penetrated' the Gallup organization.... British intelligence officer David Ogilvy later wrote about his days at Gallup: `I could not have had a better boss than Dr. Gallup. His confidence in me was such that I do not recall his ever reading any of the reports I wrote in his name'" (p. 75). By careful manipulation of the questions asked, results could be contrived to order. "In 1940 and 1941, BSC [British Security Coordination] rigged a series of polls...to project the notion that the members of prominent organizations were pro-British, avidly in favor of intervention, and intensely antagonistic toward America First" (p. 77).
    Mr. Mahl's argument seems to me a vital contribution to World War II historiography. Further research is needed, though, to consolidate his thesis. What exactly were the questions asked in the various polls? Had they been phrased differently, would the respondents have answered in a way more consistent with non-intervention?
    The balance of evidence suggests strongly that they would have done so. Although a Gallup poll taken August 1940 showed an "astounding figure" of 70 percent in favor of conscription, Congressional mail "overwhelmingly" opposed the draft (p. 83). Further, a poll sponsored by Robert Hutchins, a strong opponent of the war, showed that only 34 percent of the public favored entry into the war, even if Britain was defeated. (Incidentally, one wonders whether polls still are rigged. A careful examination of the polls that showed a rise in popularity for President Clinton whenever a new act of his malfeasance was disclosed seems warranted.)
    Professor Mahl offers a comprehensive account of British intelligence activities designed to involve the United States in war. The single most striking example of the effectiveness of the British effort is this. Before the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was established, a presidential directive in July 1941 set up a preliminary group called The Coordinator of Information (COI). Not only was this group, which devised the plans for the OSS, organized at the behest of British Intelligence; its head was a British agent. Colonel Charles Howard "Dick" Ellis, an assistant to the principal British intelligence agent in America, Sir William Stephenson, "actually ran [William] Donovan's COI office and produced the blueprint for the American OSS" (p. 194).
    I cannot describe in detail the vast range of episodes which Mr. Mahl discusses. Rather, I shall confine myself to two additional examples of British influence. The first relates to the crucial US election of November 1940. In order to win the war, Britain needed the support of the United States as a fighting ally. But, if the Republicans ran a strong noninterventionist campaign, not even the machinations of Franklin Roosevelt would suffice to accomplish this. "The first peacetime draft law in American history, Burke-Wadsworth, and the Destroyer Deal would not have received Roosevelt's endorsement had a genuine opposition candidate stood ready to make it a political issue in the 1940 election" (p. 164).
    To secure the British goal, then, the Republican candidate had to be solidly in the interventionist camp. How could this be achieved? Mr. Mahl answers his question by pointing to an anomaly: the unexpected surge of support for Wendell Willkie in the months before the Republican convention, and at the convention itself.
    The stampede toward Willkie, the quintessential dark horse candidate, puzzled informed contemporaries. H.L. Mencken "wrote, after watching the nomination: `I am thoroughly convinced that the nomination of Willkie was managed by the Holy Ghost in person'" (p. 156). Our author essays a more down-to-earth explanation. The boom for Willkie was contrived with heavy British support; the banker Thomas W. Lamont played a key role in the endeavor. Whether Mr. Mahl's account is successful must be left for readers to judge.
    In any event, once nominated Willkie enabled the British strategy to proceed apace. Mr. Mahl cites in this connection a telling remark of Walter Lippmann, himself an ally of British intelligence: "Second only to the Battle of Britain, the sudden rise and nomination of Wendell Willkie was the decisive event, perhaps providential, which made it possible to rally the free world when it was almost conquered" (p. 164). Willkie was if anything more interventionist than Roosevelt; non-interventionist voters in 1940 were in effect shut out of the presidential election. The other incident selected for discussion will, I fear, evoke memories of The Starr Report. (May I reiterate what is said elsewhere in these pages: The Mises Review has no connection with that salacious document.) Again the key issue involves the paralysis of isolationist opposition to British plans. Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, a protégé of the isolationist William Borah, ranked among the foremost non-interventionists during the 1930s. He executed a sudden volte-face in July 1940 and supported the crucial Lend-Lease Bill in March 1941.
    Mr. Mahl attributes the change of heart to the influence of Mitzi Sims, Vandenberg's mistress, who had strong ties to British intelligence, and of another woman, Betty Thorpe Pack ("Cynthia"), also romantically linked with him. Our author admits he cannot prove that Vandenberg's relationship with those women changed the senator's views; but his conjecture certainly helps us understand Vandenberg's otherwise inexplicable behavior.
    But is Vandenberg's change in fact a strange phenomenon that requires special explanation? One might object that it is not: if the interventionist view of the wartime situation is accepted, then Vandenberg's support for Lend-Lease responded realistically to grave threats to America's interests. Perhaps, to echo A.J.P. Taylor on Lord Halifax, Vandenberg "heard the call of conscience in the watches of the night." More generally, why need we invoke British intrigues to explain American policy? Once more, will not the national interest suffice?
    The imagined rejoinder fails. It begs the question by assuming the correctness of interventionism. No doubt, Lend-Lease was in the national interest-but only if one accepts the interventionist account of that interest. The point at issue is that only a minority of people in the United States held this view before Pearl Harbor. On the isolationist position, Lend-Lease and similar measures did not serve our interests. Why then were these policies instituted? Mr. Mahl's study gives us indispensable aid in answering this question.
    DESPERATE DECEPTION: BRITISH COVERT OPERATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES, 1939-44 By Thomas E. Mahl, Brassey's, 1998, xiv + 256 pgs. https://mises.org/misesreview_detail.aspx?control=122
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    Heaven on earth by imposing extremist version of religious law by force


    Every religion has a certain group of` people who believe that over a period of time, religion becomes distorted, polluted and misinterpreted as a result of` which, it loses its originality, purity and simplicity.
    These people then make it their mission to revive the original teachings of religion and implement them to reform the society.

    Since they believe that innate human nature leads man to a sinful life; evil must be thus eliminated from the society and people must be led to the righteous path and their wrong doings corrected using coercive methods and severe punishment.

    To implement their religious ideals, these groups struggle to capture state power and then use it to transform society according to their particular vision.

    History has several examples of individuals who, gripped with religious fervour and zeal and desirous of accomplishing their ideas, strove to seize power and implement their agenda. The followers of these religious movements claim to be `rightly guided people,` assigned by God to convert the world into a `religious utopia` so that everyone would strictly follow divine commands.

    One example of this breed is Savonarola (d.1498), the Florentine priest who was a fiery speaker and a religious extremist. He attacked the authority of the church and the spiritual power of the Pope. He condemned corruption and irreligious innovation which he believed had disfigured the teachings of Christianity. In doing so, he won the support of a group of young followers with whom he shared his views of societal change. With their help, he attained the political power needed to implement his religious ideas. He also promulgated a set of laws intended to make a `new Jerusalem` out of Florence. He proposed that exile and capital punishment should be abolished. He wanted Florence to become a glorious, peaceful and prosperous state.

    Savonarola also introduced moralistic laws against sodomy, consumption of alcohol, `immodest` attire and `immoral` practices. Young people who followed him patrolled the street and public places to maintain and monitor a strict check on people, a formula that many similar zealots have also followed.

    After enduring Savonarola for some time, Pope Alexander invited him to Rome but Savonarola refused to oblige him and continued to deliver his fiery sermons. Finally, the Pope excommunicated him and asked the political authorities of Florence to take action against him. Savonarola was arrested, put on trial and condemned to death. He was publicly burned at stake in the city square in Florence; bringing his short-lived religious utopia to an end.

    Another attempt to implement religious ideas was made in Geneva by John Calvin (dl564) who broke away from the Catholic Church and established the Calvinist sect. He was invited by the authorities in Geneva to come and set up a religious utopia in the city based on his religious beliefs and teachings. After assuming political power, he was in a position to implement his religious agenda. As a first step, he exiled people who disagreed with him while those in favour of his beliefs were allowed to stay and observe his laws. In case of refusal, they would be excommunicated from the church, exiled from the city, imprisoned and even awarded the death penalty.

    His legislation included prohibition on feasts, dancing, singing, pictures, statues, relics, church bells, organs, altar candles; `indecent or irreligious` songs, staging or attending theatrical plays; jewelry, lace, or `immodest` dress; extravagant entertainment; swearing, gambling, playing cards and hunting.

    Traders and shopkeepers involved in adulteration or weighed less were severely punished. The Bible was made available everywhere. Laughing during religious services was regarded as a sin. Every citizen was required to thank God before eating, and those who deviated from these repressive laws were severely punished. During the six years of his rule, 150 heretics were burnt alive. Eventually, the citizens of Geneva became fed up of this religious totalitarianism and conflicts arose, Calvin was exiled and the old political, social and religious order of the city was restored.

    [Quran2;256 There be no compulsion in religion. 5:48 If Allah wanted He could have made all of you a single nation. But He willed otherwise in order to test you in what He has given you; therefore try to excel one another in good deeds. Ultimately you all shall return to Allah; then He will show you the truth of those matters in which you dispute. 18:29 Say "The Truth is from your Lord": let him who will believe and let him who will reject (it): for the wrongdoers We have prepared a Fire. Quran;67:2 He Who created Death and Life that He may try which of you is best in deed: and He is the Exalted in Might Oft-Forgiving." 18:7 That which is on earth We have made but as a glittering show for the earth in order that We may test them as to which of them are best in conduct. (Added to original here)]

    In the subcontinent, Syed Ahmad Shaheed and his zealous followers leda jihad movement, the Tariyah-iMuhhamadiyah, and founded an Islamic state in what is today known as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He declared himself caliph and Amir-ul-momineen.

    He introduced strict Islamic laws according to the Wahabi interpretation.

    Those who protested or refused to abide by these severe strictures were severely punished. Eventually tiring of his fundamentalist religious policies, the Pathans rebelled against him and expelled his followers from Peshawar.

    He and most of` his disciples were killed in the battle of Balakot in 1832.
    Extremists are resented because they forbid people from enjoying even simple entertainment and merry-making while enforcing a strict code whereby people are required to remain fearful and remorseful; focusing purely on the life after death. According to them, people should devote their entire lifetime to the salvation of the soul. Instead of thinking about this world, they should regard the next world as their final and permanent abode. Unsurprisingly, most people aren’t willing to submit to this kind of rule, except under duress. Instead of thinking about this world, they should regard the next world as their final and permanent abode.
    Unsurprisingly, most people aren`t willing to submit to this kind of rule, except under duress. 
    By Mubarak Ali - Dawn.com

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    History of World in 18 Minutes


    EBook: Universe, Science & God
    Backed by stunning illustrations, David Christian narrates a complete history of the universe, from the Big Bang to the Internet, in a riveting 18 minutes. This is "Big History": an enlightening, wide-angle look at complexity, life and humanity, set against our slim share of the cosmic timeline.
    0:11First, a video. (Video) Yes, it is a scrambled egg. But as you look at it, I hope you'll begin to feel just slightly uneasy. Because you may notice that what's actually happening is that the egg is unscrambling itself. And you'll now see the yolk and the white have separated. And now they're going to be poured back into the egg. And we all know in our heart of hearts that this is not the way the universe works. A scrambled egg is mush -- tasty mush -- but it's mush. An egg is a beautiful, sophisticated thing that can create even more sophisticated things, such as chickens. And we know in our heart of hearts that the universe does not travel from mush to complexity. In fact, this gut instinct is reflected in one of the most fundamental laws of physics, the second law of thermodynamics, or the law of entropy. What that says basically is that the general tendency of the universe is to move from order and structure to lack of order, lack of structure -- in fact, to mush. And that's why that video feels a bit strange.
    1:31And yet, look around us. What we see around us is staggering complexity. Eric Beinhocker estimates that in New York City alone, there are some 10 billion SKUs, or distinct commodities, being traded.That's hundreds of times as many species as there are on Earth. And they're being traded by a speciesof almost seven billion individuals, who are linked by trade, travel, and the Internet into a global systemof stupendous complexity.
    2:03So here's a great puzzle: in a universe ruled by the second law of thermodynamics, how is it possible to generate the sort of complexity I've described, the sort of complexity represented by you and me and the convention center? Well, the answer seems to be, the universe can create complexity, but with great difficulty. In pockets, there appear what my colleague, Fred Spier, calls "Goldilocks conditions" --not too hot, not too cold, just right for the creation of complexity. And slightly more complex things appear. And where you have slightly more complex things, you can get slightly more complex things.And in this way, complexity builds stage by stage. Each stage is magical because it creates the impression of something utterly new appearing almost out of nowhere in the universe. We refer in big history to these moments as threshold moments. And at each threshold, the going gets tougher. The complex things get more fragile, more vulnerable; the Goldilocks conditions get more stringent, and it's more difficult to create complexity.
    3:20Now, we, as extremely complex creatures, desperately need to know this story of how the universe creates complexity despite the second law, and why complexity means vulnerability and fragility. And that's the story that we tell in big history. But to do it, you have do something that may, at first sight, seem completely impossible. You have to survey the whole history of the universe. So let's do it.(Laughter) Let's begin by winding the timeline back 13.7 billion years, to the beginning of time.
    4:08Around us, there's nothing. There's not even time or space. Imagine the darkest, emptiest thing you can and cube it a gazillion times and that's where we are. And then suddenly, bang! A universe appears, an entire universe. And we've crossed our first threshold. The universe is tiny; it's smaller than an atom. It's incredibly hot. It contains everything that's in today's universe, so you can imagine, it's busting. And it's expanding at incredible speed. And at first, it's just a blur, but very quickly distinct things begin to appear in that blur. Within the first second, energy itself shatters into distinct forcesincluding electromagnetism and gravity. And energy does something else quite magical: it congeals to form matter -- quarks that will create protons and leptons that include electrons. And all of that happens in the first second.
    5:05Now we move forward 380,000 years. That's twice as long as humans have been on this planet. And now simple atoms appear of hydrogen and helium. Now I want to pause for a moment, 380,000 years after the origins of the universe, because we actually know quite a lot about the universe at this stage.We know above all that it was extremely simple. It consisted of huge clouds of hydrogen and helium atoms, and they have no structure. They're really a sort of cosmic mush. But that's not completely true.Recent studies by satellites such as the WMAP satellite have shown that, in fact, there are just tiny differences in that background. What you see here, the blue areas are about a thousandth of a degree cooler than the red areas. These are tiny differences, but it was enough for the universe to move on to the next stage of building complexity.
    6:04And this is how it works. Gravity is more powerful where there's more stuff. So where you get slightly denser areas, gravity starts compacting clouds of hydrogen and helium atoms. So we can imagine the early universe breaking up into a billion clouds. And each cloud is compacted, gravity gets more powerful as density increases, the temperature begins to rise at the center of each cloud, and then, at the center of each cloud, the temperature crosses the threshold temperature of 10 million degrees,protons start to fuse, there's a huge release of energy, and, bam! We have our first stars. From about 200 million years after the Big Bang, stars begin to appear all through the universe, billions of them. And the universe is now significantly more interesting and more complex.
    6:59Stars will create the Goldilocks conditions for crossing two new thresholds. When very large stars die,they create temperatures so high that protons begin to fuse in all sorts of exotic combinations, to form all the elements of the periodic table. If, like me, you're wearing a gold ring, it was forged in a supernova explosion. So now the universe is chemically more complex. And in a chemically more complex universe, it's possible to make more things. And what starts happening is that, around young suns, young stars, all these elements combine, they swirl around, the energy of the star stirs them around, they form particles, they form snowflakes, they form little dust motes, they form rocks, they form asteroids, and eventually, they form planets and moons. And that is how our solar system was formed, four and a half billion years ago. Rocky planets like our Earth are significantly more complex than stars because they contain a much greater diversity of materials. So we've crossed a fourth threshold of complexity.
    8:08Now, the going gets tougher. The next stage introduces entities that are significantly more fragile,significantly more vulnerable, but they're also much more creative and much more capable of generating further complexity. I'm talking, of course, about living organisms. Living organisms are created by chemistry. We are huge packages of chemicals. So, chemistry is dominated by the electromagnetic force. That operates over smaller scales than gravity, which explains why you and Iare smaller than stars or planets. Now, what are the ideal conditions for chemistry? What are the Goldilocks conditions? Well, first, you need energy, but not too much. In the center of a star, there's so much energy that any atoms that combine will just get busted apart again. But not too little. In intergalactic space, there's so little energy that atoms can't combine. What you want is just the right amount, and planets, it turns out, are just right, because they're close to stars, but not too close.
    9:11You also need a great diversity of chemical elements, and you need liquid such as water. Why? Well, in gasses, atoms move past each other so fast that they can't hitch up. In solids, atoms are stuck together, they can't move. In liquids, they can cruise and cuddle and link up to form molecules. Now, where do you find such Goldilocks conditions? Well, planets are great, and our early Earth was almost perfect. It was just the right distance from its star to contain huge oceans of open water. And deep beneath those oceans, at cracks in the Earth's crust, you've got heat seeping up from inside the Earth,and you've got a great diversity of elements. So at those deep oceanic vents, fantastic chemistry began to happen, and atoms combined in all sorts of exotic combinations.
    10:08But of course, life is more than just exotic chemistry. How do you stabilize those huge molecules that seem to be viable? Well, it's here that life introduces an entirely new trick. You don't stabilize the individual; you stabilize the template, the thing that carries information, and you allow the template to copy itself. And DNA, of course, is the beautiful molecule that contains that information. You'll be familiar with the double helix of DNA. Each rung contains information. So, DNA contains informationabout how to make living organisms. And DNA also copies itself. So, it copies itself and scatters the templates through the ocean. So the information spreads. Notice that information has become part of our story. The real beauty of DNA though is in its imperfections. As it copies itself, once in every billion rungs, there tends to be an error. And what that means is that DNA is, in effect, learning. It's accumulating new ways of making living organisms because some of those errors work. So DNA's learning and it's building greater diversity and greater complexity. And we can see this happening over the last four billion years.
    11:26For most of that time of life on Earth, living organisms have been relatively simple -- single cells. But they had great diversity, and, inside, great complexity. Then from about 600 to 800 million years ago,multi-celled organisms appear. You get fungi, you get fish, you get plants, you get amphibia, you get reptiles, and then, of course, you get the dinosaurs. And occasionally, there are disasters. Sixty-five million years ago, an asteroid landed on Earth near the Yucatan Peninsula, creating conditions equivalent to those of a nuclear war, and the dinosaurs were wiped out. Terrible news for the dinosaurs, but great news for our mammalian ancestors, who flourished in the niches left empty by the dinosaurs. And we human beings are part of that creative evolutionary pulse that began 65 million years ago with the landing of an asteroid.
    12:29Humans appeared about 200,000 years ago. And I believe we count as a threshold in this great story.Let me explain why. We've seen that DNA learns in a sense, it accumulates information. But it is so slow. DNA accumulates information through random errors, some of which just happen to work. But DNA had actually generated a faster way of learning: it had produced organisms with brains, and those organisms can learn in real time. They accumulate information, they learn. The sad thing is, when they die, the information dies with them. Now what makes humans different is human language. We are blessed with a language, a system of communication, so powerful and so precise that we can share what we've learned with such precision that it can accumulate in the collective memory. And that means it can outlast the individuals who learned that information, and it can accumulate from generation to generation. And that's why, as a species, we're so creative and so powerful, and that's why we have a history. We seem to be the only species in four billion years to have this gift.
    13:43I call this ability collective learning. It's what makes us different. We can see it at work in the earliest stages of human history. We evolved as a species in the savanna lands of Africa, but then you see humans migrating into new environments, into desert lands, into jungles, into the ice age tundra of Siberia -- tough, tough environment -- into the Americas, into Australasia. Each migration involved learning -- learning new ways of exploiting the environment, new ways of dealing with their surroundings.
    14:15Then 10,000 years ago, exploiting a sudden change in global climate with the end of the last ice age,humans learned to farm. Farming was an energy bonanza. And exploiting that energy, human populations multiplied. Human societies got larger, denser, more interconnected. And then from about 500 years ago, humans began to link up globally through shipping, through trains, through telegraph, through the Internet, until now we seem to form a single global brain of almost seven billion individuals.And that brain is learning at warp speed. And in the last 200 years, something else has happened.We've stumbled on another energy bonanza in fossil fuels. So fossil fuels and collective learning together explain the staggering complexity we see around us.
    15:12So, here we are, back at the convention center. We've been on a journey, a return journey, of 13.7 billion years. I hope you agree that this is a powerful story. And it's a story in which humans play an astonishing and creative role. But it also contains warnings. Collective learning is a very, very powerful force, and it's not clear that we humans are in charge of it. I remember very vividly as a child growing up in England, living through the Cuban Missile Crisis. For a few days, the entire biosphere seemed to be on the verge of destruction. And the same weapons are still here, and they are still armed. If we avoid that trap, others are waiting for us. We're burning fossil fuels at such a rate that we seem to be undermining the Goldilocks conditions that made it possible for human civilizations to flourish over the last 10,000 years. So what big history can do is show us the nature of our complexity and fragility and the dangers that face us, but it can also show us our power with collective learning.
    16:28And now, finally, this is what I want. I want my grandson, Daniel, and his friends and his generation,throughout the world, to know the story of big history, and to know it so well that they understand both the challenges that face us and the opportunities that face us. And that's why a group of us are building a free, online syllabus in big history for high school students throughout the world. We believe that big history will be a vital intellectual tool for them, as Daniel and his generation face the huge challengesand also the huge opportunities ahead of them at this threshold moment in the history of our beautiful planet. I thank you for your attention. (Applause)http://www.ted.com/talks/david_christian_big_history
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