Are moderate Muslims vocal enough?

Question: Are moderate Muslims vocal enough?

Barrett: I’m not sure what “enough” would ever be. You know my view of it is, as my view of most of these things, that it is very complicated. Muslims in this country are not responsible for what Muslims in the streets of Cairo or Damascus say, or Baghdad say or do. At the same time it would be reasonable for them as people who have some connections, even if only through shared belief systems, to have something to say about it. So you know to what degree should Muslims live in good, honest, mainstream lives in this country? They might be secular Muslims. They might be devout Muslims who go to the mosque every single Friday for Juma prayer. But what should they be saying or doing about horrible events elsewhere? What should they be saying or doing about the rare occasions when horrible events are visited upon this country – say 9/11? Well I mean there’s no one clear answer. I mean certainly they should be addressing that. They should be asking questions about whether there are sub movements within their religion that are troubling. They should be asking questions about whether those movements are present in this country – probably more as an intellectual matter than as a source of action and immediate danger, but they need to be aware of it. They need to discuss it. They need to debate it. They need to answer people’s questions from the outside in a way that’s not reflexively defensive, and sort of like, “How dare you ask a question that has any critical edge to it about my religion?” Because at a time when people are fighting over religion, such questions are going to be asked. At the same time, as I say, it’s critical for non-Muslims not to assume that a doctor in Cleveland, or a business man in Los Angeles who happens to be Muslim is gonna have all the answers for, you know, the chaos in the Middle East or in the, you know . . . or in South Asia. I mean because people are blowing themselves up in Islamabad, what do you want the guy, you know, who’s selling cars in Los Angeles to do about that? He’s being an American who happens to be Muslim. So it’s very complicated, and the stories that I tell in my book are designed to bring some of those tensions to the surface and explain them. So you have an African-American preacher who . . . in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn, who preaches about kind of the old time religion – about why it’s a good thing that Islam punishes certain infractions with very extreme, ancient sounding punishments – cutting off of hands, stoning, that kind of thing – who preaches against Israel; who talks about conspiracies against Islam and Muslims and so forth. And I try to explain why is this man doing this? Where did he get these ideas? And is he . . . Because he preaches these very unsettling, troubling ideas, is he an entirely good guy? An entirely bad guy? Where did the ideas come from? How did his experience in the Nation of Islam shape this? How did his experiences in Saudi Arabia where he went for training give him some of this vocabulary? And I try to show you that this is a unique American mixture of ideas; that the guy, when pressed, will actually . . . This imam will back off and say, “Well I don’t mean a lot of that literally. When I talk about Islamic values and Islamic law coming to rule in this country, I mean it the same way my Christian brothers do when they preach about the coming of the kingdom of God.” Oh okay. So suddenly it sounds very different. Still you have the question, “Imam, why are you preaching that way on Friday? And does it really help your poor and not very sophisticated inner city congregation to hear you preaching that way?” But the answer is not so simple.

Recorded on: 12/4/07

A mechanic in LA who happens to be Muslim can’t answer for flag-burning protestors in the streets of Islamabad.

New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

Surprising Science
  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.

New study finds the egg may actually 'choose' the Sperm

Here's the first evidence to challenge the "fastest sperm" narrative.

popular
Keep reading Show less
Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Keep reading Show less