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Does Islam Prevent AIDS?
An interesting point in case are the twin maps of Africa shown here, one of the spread of Islam, the other the spread of AIDS. Beware of the map that is too straightforward and simple.
Maps have many fathers. One of them is the genie of omission. So beware of the map that is too straightforward and simple. It may very well be obscuring something. For also in cartography, this general rule applies: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. An interesting point in case are the twin maps of Africa shown below, one of the spread of Islam, the other the spread of AIDS. The contrast is striking: where one occurs, the other is absent. Is this proof of Islam's salutary effects? Or do the maps merely demonstrate the power of map-based propaganda?
The message implied by the juxtaposition of these two maps is clear and simple: Islam is the best form of AIDS prevention. These maps first popped up on Pass the Knowledge , the blog of Dr. Bilal Philips. A Jamaican native, Dr. Philips grew up in Canada, where he converted to Islam. He studied in Saudi Arabia and the UK, and currently resides in Qatar. Dr. Philips' supposedly extremist views have gotten him expelled or barred from half a dozen countries. As recently as January 28, his blog re-posted a speech by Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American propagandist of jihad who was killed by a US drone strike in 2011.
These maps, posted mid-October last year , are a lot less inflammatory. For cartography doesn't pontificate with the partisan rhetoric of religious conviction; it merely demonstrates, by the disinterested logic of facts and stats. It makes the message of these maps all the more immediate, irrefutable and convincing. For this purports to be objective proof that Islam and AIDS occupy opposite ends of the moral spectrum.
Where the purity of the one true religion prevails, AIDS has no chance. And where AIDS is rampant, Islam is virtually absent. The traffic-light symbolism underscores that binarity: Red, the color of blood, danger, death (and, in this case, AIDS), is bad; green, a soothing, peaceful, Islamic color, is good. All of which explains why these maps have been so eagerly passed around on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media over the past few months — a mention of the map on Dr. Philips's own Facebook page  was shared over 12,000 times.
Indeed, advocates of Islam could see these maps as cartographic proof of the blessedness of their chosen path — as demonstrated by some of the commenters on Facebook. “Islam makes everything easy for us. ALLAH-HU-AKBAR,” one commenter writes. “It's very clear that NIKKAH [Islamic marriage] is the solution of today's world deadliest disease,” says another. “If we follow the guidance of the Holy Quran and the Prophet (SWA) then we shall never be attacked by such deadly diseases," concluded yet another. But one commenter complains: “I love Allah but these statistics are incomplete! Please provide accurate information.”
It's unclear where Dr. Philips found these maps. There is no earlier trace of them online. The information used to compile them seems in line with freely available data on both the prevalence of AIDS and the spread of Islam in Africa, from the World Health Organization  and the Pew Research Center  respectively — notwithstanding a few important discrepancies. But the main question raised by these two maps is: Do they represent causation (A, therefore B) or mere correlation (A, and also B)?
The answer, it turns out, will please both sides of the debate, or (more likely), neither: It's a little from column A, a little from column B. As with any map crafted to make a point, what we don’t see in these two is at least as interesting as what we do see. But the maps do reflect two incontrovertible facts. First: No region on Earth is as racked by HIV/AIDS as Sub-Saharan Africa: 70 percent of the 35 million people currently living with the disease reside in this part of the world. And second, Africa's northern third is overwhelmingly Islamic. Less than 1 percent of those living in Morocco, Tunisia, and Mauritania are non-Muslim. Fewer than 5 percent of people in Somalia, Niger, Algeria, Djibouti, Sudan, Libya, Senegal, and Gambia follow a faith other than Islam. And at least 84 percent of those in Egypt, Mali, and Guinea, are Muslim.
In most countries south of Africa's Islamic North, Christianity is the majority or co-dominant religion. While the incidence of HIV/AIDS is close to a quarter of the adult population in some of the worst-affected countries there, the reported infection rate is as low as 0.1 percent in Egypt, and well below 1 percent in most of the dark green countries on the second map. So the map seems to reflect a socio-cultural truth: In Africa, HIV/AIDS strikes least where Islam dominates, while the disease rages most in countries where there are fewer Muslims. Figures for both variables tend to wobble according to different sources, because hard data is scarce, and/or it is politically expedient for a particular country to have more or less believers in this or sufferers of that. The figures quoted here, from the Pew Research Center and the CIA World Factbook, are as accurate as one is likely to get, yet will seem too high or too low to some observers.
Those figures are also at variance with the picture presented by these two maps. Granted, the AIDS emergency in Southern Africa is very serious. But the oversimplification presented here seems to serve no purpose other than to underline the basic dichotomy between AIDS and Islam. On the AIDS map, eight countries appear in the darkest red, which indicates that their HIV/AIDS penetration rates are over 20 percent. In fact, while the disease is prevalent in all eight, only Swaziland, Botswana, and Lesotho are in this category — only they should be marked dark red: the map does not adhere to its own legend. And this obscures another relevant fact: South Africa has a much higher number of HIV/AIDS patients than those three much smaller countries put together — 6.3 million vs. less than 1 million, combined -- but its overall infection rate is “only” 19.1 percent. Similarly, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia, and Mozambique, are doing better than the depressingly dark crimson on the map would indicate.
The Islam map works with a different set of percentages than the AIDS map, perhaps to produce the cleanest border possible between the Muslim-majority and AIDS-infested parts of Africa. But by discounting all countries with fewer than 30 percent Muslims, the Islam map severely misrepresents the religion's true distribution across Africa. Cameroon is 24 percent Muslim (representing over 5 million people) — far more than the roughly 2 million Muslims in Eritrea (or 36 percent, according to Pew, and thus should be light green rather than dark green, as indicated on the map). In countries with infection rates high enough to be marked dark red, like Kenya and Uganda, there are also significant Muslim minorities (11 percent or well over 4 million in Kenya, 12 percent or 4.5 million in Uganda). And Ivory Coast — with an infection rate of 3 percent and a 36.9 percent Muslim population — should be light red (instead of dark red) on the left map, and light green on the right (rather than being unmarked).
Despite this attempt to keep the border between both as "clean" as possible, Islam and AIDS overlap in three countries. Nigeria, Chad, and Ethiopia are all painted in the lightest shade of red on the AIDS map, and the lightest hue of green on the Islam map. But of course one might conclude: These countries are all about half Islamic. It makes sense that their other halves are touched by AIDS, but tempered to a lighter red by these countries' "greener" half. The overlap thus weirdly reinforces the idea of a strict Islam/AIDS boundary running through Africa, by suggesting that it runs clean through each of those three countries too.
But that idea doesn't quite stand up to scrutiny. It is Ethiopia, the least Islamic country of the three, that has the lowest HIV/AIDS infection rate (at 1.4 percent). Both Nigeria and Chad are just above 3 percent. Widening the scope beyond Africa further diminishes the reverse-causal link between Islam and AIDS implied by these maps. And while it’s true that North African countries have extremely low HIV/AIDS infection rates, so do countries outside of Africa. Many of these, like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, or the Maldives, are also Muslim. But many with equally small AIDS "scores" are not, including the majority-Buddhist Sri Lanka, largely non-religious Japan, and majority-Christian Hungary.
If equally low infection rates can be achieved in countries not dominated by Islam, then perhaps these maps are confusing correlation with causality. That would undermine Islam's unique selling point as presented by these maps: that the religion's strong injunction against sins (and HIV/AIDS risk behaviors) such as homosexual and extramarital intercourse and (intravenous) drug use are responsible for the much lower rate of infection in Muslim countries. Yet that indeed seems Dr. Philips' point in showing the maps, for he sees AIDS as the just desserts for sinful, un-Islamic behavior: “The punishment of God may come in a variety of different ways. Perhaps the most obvious punishment afflicting humankind in all countries today is the disease of AIDS.”  That argument is not limited to Islam, of course. Many will be familiar with similar sermons from the fire and brimstone end of the Christian spectrum.
But assertions that moral purity is the one and only bulwark against AIDS should not be taken at face value. Taboos on gay sex, extramarital affairs, and intravenous drug use, all particularly strong in the Muslim world, may push those behaviours to the margins, but don't make them disappear. Up to a third of young men in the Arab world have pre-marital sex, as do nearly one in five young women  — a fact so counter to prevailing morals that operations repairing hymens (and thus “restoring virginity”) are common in the Middle East.
In addition, [the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are increasingly becoming a “region of concern” for HIV/AIDS: The number of people living with HIV in the MENA region increased by 73 percent between 2001 and 2012, and new infections went up 52 percent. AIDS-related deaths — 17,000 in 2012 — more than doubled in that interval, even while they dropped 16 percent in the rest of the world.  Although HIV/AIDS may still not be curable, it is treatable. But getting proper antiretroviral treatments to those who require it can only happen if both patients and their families, as well as medical staff, are willing to acknowledge the true nature of the disease. And its causes: The main routes of transmission include sharing of needles by drug users, unprotected sex with prostitutes, or men having sex with other men.
Because of strong local taboos on those "sins," the MENA region has the lowest antiretroviral treatment coverage in the world; only 8 percent of infected pregnant women, for example, receive such treatment. With an HIV prevalence of 0.1 percent in 15-to-49-year-olds, MENA may have the lowest infection rate of any region in the world, but it is also one of only two regions where AIDS-related deaths are still on the rise. “These countries cannot count solely on their cultural and religious values to safeguard their populations against the HIV infection,” warns the Population Reference Bureau in a recent report  on HIV/AIDS in the region.
At least the region's governments have taken note of that message. Most have moved beyond the blunt denial that HIV/AIDS even existed within their borders. Many governments in MENA now actively engage in public health programs to prevent and treat the disease. In Morocco, for instance, the integration of HIV into public health services expanded the number of people receiving HIV counselling and testing from 46,000 in 2010 to 222,620 in 2012, while coverage of services for HIV-positive pregnant women to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission rose from 29 percent in 2010 to 48 percent in 2012 .
As it turns out, these maps do demonstrate a great truth about AIDS and Islam. But it is not the triumphalist message that Islam alone is an effective shield against HIV/AIDS. Rather, it is the more complex warning that while strong morals may have kept the HIV/AIDS toll in Islamic Africa low until now, the correspondingly strong taboos could keep the disease invisible and its numbers rising, against the global trend.
Strange Maps #725
Seen a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Credit: NAOJ<p><em>Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.</em></p>
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.