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Cosmos and Islamic censorship



Like many other channels around the world, National Geographic Abu Dhabi (the Arabic version of Nat Geo) broadcast the first episode of the long awaited remake of Carl Sagan's Cosmos, after more than 30 years, hosted this time by the famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. And just as I expected, the channel was not honest while dubbing the first episode for its Arabic speaking viewers. They, quite clearly, intentionally removed or edited out certain parts that did not conform to the Islamic faith, or might have caused controversy in the Arabic speaking world. Their translation was also quite poorly made, and was fraught by minor, and some major, mistakes.



Here are the 7 major differences (that were most probably done intentionally) in Nat Geo Abu Dhabi's version, compared to the original one, in their order of appearance in the original episode:
1/ "Your god is too small" in Bruno's part - sentence removed.
2/ "At a time when there was no separation of Church and State" - voice distorted and inaudible (intentionally or just a technical glitch, can't be sure)
3/ "We are made of star stuff" - scene removed.
4/ "for more than 100 million years, the dinosaurs were lords of the Earth, while our ancestors, small mammals, scurried fearfully underfoot" - "our ancestors" was removed.
5/ "This is a good example of the extreme contingency, the chance nature of existence" - translated into some nonsensical mumbo-jumbo ("this is a good example of the danger of nature to survive", what does that mean?).
6/ "We humans only evolved within the last hour" - translated as "we humans only existed..".
7/ The birth of Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad on the Cosmic Calendar - scene removed.

Quite surprisingly, they didn't remove the sections related to the origin of life, its evolution, and its spread from water to land. Apparently, Nat Geo Abu Dhabi has a problem with evolution only when it relates to our own species. The section which starts with the fossilized footprints, and goes on to speak of how we stood up and looked up at the stars, was also kept as it is, but then there was no explicit reference to our evolution in that scene.

I was of course focusing on stuff related to evolution, secularism, and such. But there were many other translation mistakes, most of which quite minor, but one big mistake I noticed was that they translated "centuries" as "decades". They actually did that three times! Once in reference to Jupiter's red spot, once in reference to how long we had this new cosmic perspective (intro to Bruno's part), and another when referring to how long we've been using the scientific method (right before Carl Sagan's part at the end). One other mistake is when they said the age of the universe was 14 billion years (13.8 billion years in the original version, and according to the latest studies).

There may be other changes I haven't noticed or simply forgot to mention. Overall, the channel's stance seems more progressive than most (religious) institutions in the Islamic world, if only for the fact that they kept scenes concerning the evolution of life, and scenes promoting the scientific method as our most powerful means to explore the universe. But for a channel supposed to represent science in the eyes of Arabic speakers, especially with the already poor scientific content in the Arab media, most of which is tainted by pseudoscience (scientific miracles in the Koran and such), it was quite dishonest to censor what little information the Arab viewer might get about our own history and evolution, as revealed by modern science. This is reminiscent of the, no less scandalous, news report by Aljazeera concerning the discovery of Ardi, a few years back, where they claimed that the discovery had "disproved" Darwin's theory of evolution!

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