Online Event About Evolution for Arabic Readers is Shut Down
Hackers appear to have shut down an online event organized by Arab scientific organizations and designed to explain the concept of evolution to Arabic readers.
At least one opponent of the event is celebrating its demise with a sarcastic cartoon showing an event organizer consulting a psychiatrist. Evolution, particularly the idea that humans have evolved from animals, is a sensitive topic in Islam, and the concept is banned from many textbooks in the Arab region or else treated as an unproven theory. (See a related article “Do Human Evolution and Islam Conflict in the Classroom”?)
Earlier in December, 14 Arab-run science websites and Facebook pages—all dedicated to translating scientific articles into Arabic—started an event called “What Do You Know About Evolution?” Facebook allows page managers to host such events to allow interested writers, video producers, artists and readers to connect online. But the event was mysteriously cancelled on December 8. It is not completely clear if the event was hacked or if opponents of the event made a potentially spurious complaint to Facebook. (Complaints to Facebook over inappropriate language or images or the authorship of a page can result in an event or a page getting shut down pending an investigation, which can take months.)
The event and an accompanying social media campaign was originally suggested by the “Jordanian Path of Knowledge” (JPK) website and its founder Anas Dbaeen. He and many other Arabic speakers want to use science and its tradition of relying on evidence and testing theories by experiments to promote critical thinking in the Arab world. To do that, they are translating scientific literature into Arabic.
“The only way to make progress in the Jordanian society in particular, and the Arab one in general, is to start a revolution in translation and transfer knowledge from credible and trusted scientific sources,” said Anas Dbaeen, a fourth-year engineering student at Mutah University, and the founder of the JPK page. “Science is the only way to erase the current thought, and the ignorance infiltrating our society, and catch up with the developed countries, ” Dbaeen added.
Organizers described the online meeting point as the “biggest scientific event in the Arab region.”The Jordanian Path of Knowledge worked with 13 other pages (a complete list is at the bottom of this article) to create the event. Volunteers run all the pages and translate articles on scientific, social and historical topics from reliable sources to compensate for the low English proficiency in the region and to spread knowledge on controversial topics that are rarely discussed in Arab curricula.
The “Real Sciences” was one of the pioneer scientific initiatives in this event,” said Omar Merivani, a translator at the Iraqi Translation Project. “They translated essays explaining the applications of the theory of evolution starting with a video produced by them and explaining the role of evolution in the genesis of white complexion.”
The reactions towards the event as it proceeded were mixed. The majority of opinions expressed were welcoming. But there were some repeated objections from people who didn’t want evolution to be discussed.
“Within less than 72 hours of launching the event, 345,000 people joined it,” said Dbaeen “and the number hit 365,000 before the sudden cancellation.”
The participating translators and their fans were surprised to be notified that the JPK page had cancelled the event at 10 p.m., Amman time. The page administrators had no intention of cancelling the event—it’s possible an administrator’s page was hacked.
But like a scientist who wants hard evidence, Dbaeen is not leaping to conclusions about the cause. “We still do not know how it happened,” he said. “We wrote to Facebook asking for the reason.” Until then, Dbaeen removed all the other administrators from his page to try to block hackers and to not to lose a page followed by more than 46,000 fans.
Some groups that had organized opposition to the event cheered the cancellation, and declared it a victory against the supporters of evolution, an idea they described as “superstitious.” The opposing page that published the cartoon accused the event’s organizers of cancelling it because they have no answers to questions that had been raised and said the 14 groups with pages supporting evolution had been paid to spread suspicious activity and “pseudoscience.”
“This is not true,” replied Dbaeen on hearing this, “We are all volunteers, most of us are university students, and we pay from our pockets to keep this initiative alive.”
While it was still going on, the event published more than 200 translated articles, info-graphics, and short documentaries. More are still being translated, despite the event’s halt. All the material is still being published on the private websites of each one of these translating projects.
“This is our mission, and we do not care about marginal things,” said Dbaeen. “Nothing will stop us. We are working on 10 articles now, and we are looking to produce our own documentaries someday, we are studying such an idea now.”
The Facebook pages of the organizations that arranged the event are:
Jordanian Path of Knowledge; Syrian Researchers; Egyptian Researchers; Scientific Researchers; Libyan Science Club; Scientific Saudi; NASA in Arabic; Iraqi Translation Project; Moutarjam; Real Sciences; I Believe in Science; The Theory of Evolution; The Moroccan Scientific Community; The Aliens.