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Jay Currie

One Damn Thing After Another

1/09/2004

Moon, Mars and Beyond

President Bush is setting up to announce a serious and far reaching program to establish a base on the Moon and the send men to Mars. I am enough of a child of the 60's to remember being in a little town in Massachusetts watching the first moon landing. And, out of all of the interviews I've done in the last few years, one of the highlights was to meet Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon.

A few weeks ago Donald Rumsfeld sent a memo which suggested that despite the successes in the war on terror, the root causes of that war were not being addressed. In it he asked,
Does the US need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists? The US is putting relatively little effort into a long-range plan, but we are putting a great deal of effort into trying to stop terrorists. The cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost is billions against the terrorists' costs of millions.
usa today
No doubt he had in mind a direct assault on the madradssas; but the real war is actually won and lost before a family sends its son to learn nothing but the Koran and jihad.

The great adventure of space, the drama and the narrative of technology, courage and the high frontier is the exact antidote for the brutal medievalism of the madradssas. If you are a little Pakistani or Syrian or Palestinian boy your imagination will be engaged, your dreams captured by the sheer beauty and power of space exploration. And, deep down, as the mullah villifies the Great Satan, you will ask why there is no Islamic space program.

Here is the great opportunity America, and the West at large, needs to help shove the Islamic world into the 21st century. As I write India, the second largest Muslim nation in the world, is quickly becoming an information and technical economy. Its programmers and techs are hauling the long dormant Indian world toward the forefront of the world's real opportunities for wealth. Much the same thing is happening in China. It is not happening in the Islamic world.

A Moon base and the manned exploration of Mars is a multi-decade project. It will require resources from around the world. And somewhere within the billions that will be spent there needs to be a few million to create interest in the Islamic world. Partially this can be done simply with lots of free literature in the relevant languages. Websites, interactive games and little plastic models can all play their part. But, more ambitiously, there is no reason that there cannot be schools set up which, while Islamic in religious preference, focus on training the very best Islamic students in the basic sciences, math and languages needed to be part of the new space program.

The key thing here being to invest enough money so that admission to "Space School" is a real, rather than statistical, possibility. It is the sort of program which needs to start very early. The objective could be to offer a real alternative to the purely religious education of the madradssas which would equip its graduates to play a role in the 21st century world. In essence it would offer the village parents a choice for their children.

Much of the funding for the current, jihadi driven, madradssas has come from Saudi and other Gulf states eager to either export Wahabbism or, more cynically, Wahabbis who threaten the regimes of those states. As the bombs go off in the Kingdom the foundations and charities which have engaged in this activity are pulling back their funding lest they be accused of funding terrorism. It might well be possible to convince these foundations to pitch in to help fund the poorer Islamic students at Space School.

There are great practical reasons to go back to the Moon and to get to Mars;but the most important reasons are intangible. This grand human enterprise, this great dream, might well be the lynch pin around which a new, modern and pragmatic Islam is constructed. Not for nothing is the crescent moon the symbol of the Muslim world.