Tuesday, 10 February 2015

What Do the Ebola Virus, Sharks and the Middle Eastern Conflict Have in Common?

by Sophie Parekh

What do the Ebola virus, sharks and the Middle Eastern conflict have in common?

Anyone in my TOK class is groaning and thinking ‘She’s just taken two current affairs topics to get me to read it, but she’s going to spend seven eighths of the article taking about sharks.’ Now that’s where you’re wrong. These three things actually have something in common.


Stomach-churning, mind-numbing, foot-rooting fear. The kind of fear that pulls your eyes open in the middle of the night and freezes you there for what feels like hours on end. Admittedly, that got a bit poetic but you catch my drift.  I should probably explain myself now…

By the Middle Eastern conflict, I’m referring to the one between an extremist minority from each of the two main branches of Islam, the Sunnis and the Shias. It is important to stress, of course, that the vast majority of Sunnis and Shiites in the region coexist peacefully  because too often the peaceful majority is blamed for the actions of an extreme minority. This video explains the history of Shia and Sunni Islam very succinctly:  

As the video makes clear, tensions between certain members of each group have been going on for ages (that’s the technical term by the way - ages) and this mutual antipathy has been subject to some awful media manipulation.  Although most Muslims in the region are Sunni (about 80%), the majority of the populations in both Iran and Iraq are Shia. It’s fairly similar to the Catholic vs. Protestant situation in England in the Middle Ages, except this time, they have far more destructive weaponry. 

To an atheist, such as myself, the differences in belief between Sunni and Shia do not seem unbridgeable; however, the governments of Saudi Arabia (Sunni) and Iran (Shia) seem to think they are and each has been responsible for funding terror organisations that seek to destroy the other. For example, ISI (Islamic State in Iraq) are Sunnis who are partially funded by Saudi Arabia. In 2010, during the civil war in Syria, in which certain fanatic elements among the rebels tried to make an Islamic state there, ISI also tried and so became ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). ISIS already had a firm grasp of Northern Iraq and tried to expand their empire into Syria. ISIS were, and are, at war with pretty much every other Muslim rebel faction in Syria and are so violent and brutal that even the fanatics of Al Qaeda thought it was a step too far and withdrew their support! The current crisis in Syria and Iraq is explained very clearly here:

On to sharks! Gosh, that sounded a bit too enthusiastic… Anyway, in case you didn’t know already, sharks are pretty damn awesome.  They can hear a fish thrashing in the water from 500m away, they have a ‘sixth sense’ to detect electrical impulses of potential prey or the Earth’s magnetic fields and they have no bones; instead, their entire skeleton is made of cartilage. There are around 450 different species of shark, ranging from the dwarf lanternshark (21cm) to the whale shark (13m) and they’ve been around for millions of years, even preceding the dinosaurs. 

But sharks are disappearing. 11,000 every hour. 

That’s a heck of a lot. And why don’t we do something? Because sharks aren’t fluffy like snow leopards or loveable like elephants and people still think that sharks are the source of all evil in the ocean because . . . Jaws. Thanks Peter Benchley. Most of them are so shy you wouldn’t even see them and the ones that aren’t pretty much only live around Australia and Africa, but everything there wants to kill you anyway so its nothing new.  But sharks can be cute!

Look at this zebra shark, its adorable.  I don’t see why China has to slice the fins off 11,000 sharks every hour and throw them back in the water alive so they die of drowning and/or blood loss so they can have something gelatinous to put in their soup. You heard me, shark fin doesn’t taste of anything - the only reason it is used in soup is because of its texture. If you want something gelatinous, why not use jelly?! To give you an idea of how many 11,000 is check out this link.
I think people are so scared of sharks because they know next to nothing about them and the fear of the unknown is a big ‘un. I could go on about sharks for a heck of a lot longer, but I fear I might get a bit overexcited. So, we arrive at Ebola. Oh, I’ve put these things is size order. That was definitely intentional…  Anyway,  I digress.  The current Ebola outbreak is not the first one of its kind, contrary to the current media manipulation.  Its spread by infected fruit bats, who are eaten by monkeys, who are then eaten by humans. Yum. Its quite clever actually because Ebola has managed to cross the species barrier which is pretty hard to do, so in a way it should be commended, but then again, killing thousands of people isn’t very commendable at all. And people are absolutely terrified. “I’ve got a bit of a cough…” “It’s Ebola!!!!” Um, I don’t think so.  The world has gone Ebola crazy there’s a ton of parodies on YouTube, the media’s gone mental and everyone coming in from West Africa into the UK is tested extensively. Definitely worse than bird flu.

The thing that is worrying about Ebola is not what it is, but where it is. It has managed to prevail in pretty much the back of beyond, where primitive beliefs in witchcraft and suchlike are rife. The general populace in countries like Zaire, Guinea and Sierra Leone lacks essential understanding of disease and its prevention and so is unable to comply fully with the appropriate measures to stop the spread of Ebola - often due to religious reasons. Usually, the women of the family tend to the dead, washing the body and so on, but now in places where the disease it prevalent it has become illegal for anyone to touch the dead, apart from trained officials wearing the appropriate protective clothing. 

Also, bats and monkeys are delicacies in West Africa so getting people to stop eating them is a big ask. In tackling Ebola, all I can think to do is educate. Educate people about disease, because it's not their fault that they don’t know.

Finally, a conclusion. Of sorts. I know I said at the beginning that the thing that binds these three things is fear, but that isn’t quite true.  As well as fear, these things have been subject to intense media manipulation and a lack of education which is why I’m sharing this information with you, in an admittedly rather rambling sort of way. Knowledge is a very powerful weapon indeed, and education is the act of imparting knowledge and thus, education is of vital importance. 

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