Monday, October 24, 2005

When the mountains mourn By Amar Jaleel

Was the earthquake a punishment from God or just nature’s way of trimming the population?

Pompeii, a Roman port and a resort in Italy for the sensuous pleasures of the rulers, the rich and the commanders of the world conquering legions was violently jolted by a massive earthquake in AD63. Much of the city of pomp, power and grandeur was destroyed.

The Romans recovered from the shock, restored what was devastated and commenced the life of luxury and lust. Within 15 years the lechers erased the dreadful memory of the frightening earthquake, as if it was a nightmare. One night when the elites, rulers and the generals were immersed in pleasure, Mount Vesuvius, a nearby volcano erupted hell that lit the sky above. Pompeii was completely buried beneath the smouldering lava. Its ruins now constitute one of the major tourist attractions in Italy.

It is generally believed to this day that the earthquake, and then the volcanic eruption was a punishment that God inflicted on the sinners of Pompeii. It is a common belief among the followers of different religions. They maintain that God punishes the wayward, the misled and the ones who go astray. They defy His Commandments and in return are scourged. Natural disasters are always taken in this context by the adherents of the various faiths.

Thomas Robert Malthus, social scientist and an economist advocated that population increases faster than food supply. When the population outgrows food production, the nature steps in and checks the population through disasters such as epidemics, earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions. According to Malthus, only the required number of people survive a holocaust for whom the food is sufficient. All along Malthus had not been able to provide a convincing foundation to his theory. His hypothesis was rejected and turned down by both the physical as well as the social scientists. Medicinal checks on population have proved more effective than the natural checks.

From times immemorial, man has tried his hand at giving some kind of definition to the phenomenon beyond his comprehension. He associates most of the explanations with his faith and belief. He pays no heed to the scientific interpretations for the natural calamities. He attributes a ritual meaning to the solar and lunar eclipses. Man is on the record to have worshipped anything that inspired awe within him. He worshipped oceans because the immenseness frightened him. He worshipped lightening. He worshipped huge mountains. He worshipped volcanoes. He worshipped trees. He worshipped serpents. He worshipped fire. He worshipped rivers. He worshipped the sun and the moon.

Later on when he comprehended what had remained unexplained to him, he abandoned the gods he had worshipped out of his own enigma. His creativity later on induced him for making images of the deities he had never seen, a man with a bull’s head, man with a lion’s limbs, man with a pair of wings, man with several arms and heads, and so on. Of all such images the most revered image is that of Ganesh, a god with the body of a man and head of an elephant.

The scientific age of today has not altered the fundamental thinking of man. He very strongly believes that the volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and rest of the natural disasters are God’s punishment that he inflicts on the disobedient. While respecting other peoples’ faiths and beliefs, let us take an academic view of Pompeii’s devastation.

The rich and the influential who indulged in all sorts of sensuous pleasures were not the only residents of Pompeii. The port resort was inhabited by large number of servants, maids, slaves, gardeners, guards and the foot soldiers who protected the palaces. They were the wretched, insulted and humiliated souls on the soil of the sinners. If God had intended to punish the evildoers, then He, in His all providence, could have saved the poor from the holocaust. Thereby, He would have shown to the world that he punishes the sinners and doesn’t touch the innocent.

In Pompeii’s devastation a large number of servants and the slaves perished along with a handful of debauches. God couldn’t have been that callous. What struck Pompeii were two natural disasters, an earthquake and a volcanic eruption.

I have been constantly listening and reading in the newspapers ever since the devastating earthquake played havoc with Pakistan in the North that the holocaust was God’s punishment for our sins. Man doesn’t desist from attributing his wishful thinking to the Creator. He wants Allah to speak his language. The hundreds of thousands of men, women and the children who perished in Abbotabad, Mansehra, Balakot, Bagh, Muzaffarabad, and the surrounding towns and villages were men of moderate means. Most of them belonged to the lower income group who had to strive for their survival. They did not belong to the coterie of corrupt bureaucrats, funds usurpers, swindlers of banks, and kickback receivers with bank accounts in distant lands. The mountain people were not the drugs dealers. They were clean people with clean conscience.

We have Pompeiis in some of the so-called posh localities in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, patronized and frequented by the rich and the influential. Why would God bury alive the children of the mountain people in their schools for the sins committed by the prosperous evildoers elsewhere in the Pompeiis of Pakistan!



(Dawn Magazine; October 23, 2005)

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