The age of reason had crossed its prime. It was bordering on senility when Pervez Hoodbhoy decided to breathe life into it. The following adrenalin rush was encapsulated in his talk hosted by The Second Floor cafe on Friday.
‘Rationally Speaking’ was a methodical session covering two varied subjects - The Eqbal Ahmad Centre for Public Education and the perils of Karachi’s new nuclear power plants. However, the mathematician in him managed to sum the two in a neat formula.
The Eqbal Ahmad Centre for Public Education, a web-based learning programme that takes inspiration from the life and works of Eqbal Ahmad, aims to set in motion a process of unlearning and starting afresh with a clarity that comes with scientific reason. The simplest things are often the most difficult to understand. In a time where communication is layered and marred by conspiracy theories, religious and political divides, reasonable thought has taken a backseat. Dr Hoodbhoy’s empirical point of view cut through the greys of what-ifs and so-what.
Spurred by a kinetic reaction that had less to do with physics, he placed emphasis on cutting through a murky oblivion of ignorance and addressed the unsaid version of nuclear energy. He brought to light the perils of the upcoming nuclear power projects that are offered to the world in a misleading manner.
This screen grab is from the website being run by PeaceNiche for the Eqbal Ahmad Centre.
Coasting along dangerous shores
The nucleus of the session was the perils of the upcoming nuclear power plant at Kanupp. The nuclear reactors being used are made in China - the colloquial joke associated with the former statement was robbed of its humour when Dr Hoodbhoy pointed out the problems. As he went on to specify facts, such as the fact that the design is untested, the logistics became chilling.
“The plant on Hawke’s Bay is something we will regret,” he claimed. “You cannot evacuate Karachi, where will the 20 million people go?” Clearly the special discount offer that we are signing on needs a fine print section highlighted in bold.
Home is where the radiation is
“The events at Fukushima were a 1-in-a-100-year occurrence,” Dr Hoodbhoy pointed out. Citing disasters from Chernobyl and Fukushima Daichi, he emphasised how disastrous will be this project in the making. “In Pakistan, we don’t have enough details on seismic activities,” he added.
A city like Karachi, which is prone to terrorist attacks, is over-populated, is divided in terms of communication and is spread across a vast area, will almost be instantly toxic if any sort of malfunction happens, Dr Hoodbhoy warned. The contamination in Fukushima due to the disaster has manifested itself in the local population’s genetic structure. The extremities of such a situation, he asserted, can be gauged from the fact that the locals were at one point not allowed to leave the affected area.
It’s all elementary
The talk concluded with the hope that comes with alternate energy solutions. Local and cost-effective energy sources, such as gas, solar energy and even Thar coal reserves are safer, viable solutions, he suggested. “We have alternatives to nuclear energy: gas, solar, hydro electric power,” he listed. “There is a whole range of energy options we have yet to explore.”
These alternatives remain unexplored and Pakistan continues to suffer from political and economic constraints. The mere presence of these options adds little to the proverbial silver lining.
Binaries of reason decoded
“Sir, is it true that the Big Bang started in Makkah?.” When a student from The Islamia College, Peshawar, asked this question, he was unaware of what he will set in motion.
Hoodbhoy asserted that his question had been a catalyst that eventually led to the Eqbal Ahmad Centre for Public Education Programme. The project is a bilingual website that aims to cut through the grainy pixels and out of tune forms of communication - television and radio, both driven by their blind driver: advertising that has managed to create an epileptic mix of sounds and images. Those who listen and watch are confused at best or are thrown into an alternate reality removed from all forms of rational thought.
His project, hence, focuses on using the clear binaries of networking. Developed and designed by PeaceNiche, the project itself has Ahmad’s contemporary Noam Chomsky, and some of the most renowned academics, cultural critics, writers and thinkers of our times on board. Its mission statement reads like an elementary formula — basic and essential.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 12th, 2014.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ