“Behold! Allah is not ashamed to propound the parable of a mosquito, or even of something more lowly. The believers know it is the truth from their Lord, but the disbelievers say, ‘What does God mean by such a comparison?’’” (Holy Quran 2:26)
Across the country, you will see the billboards, the television channels, and both print and social media abuzz with the frightening news of a possibly fatal mosquito-borne epidemic of dengue. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 16 580 confirmed cases and 257 deaths in Lahore and nearly 5000 cases and 60 deaths reported from the rest of the country have occurred through this recent epidemic alone.
Yet the public reaction, despite government efforts to raise awareness, has been moot. Given that it is the ramshackle and informal encroachments where squatters are letting mosquitos germinate, the public apathy is even starker. Hygiene in these urban zones is horrific, and the stagnant pools of wastewater lying everywhere are offering ample breeding grounds for an agent of death. But mosquitoes do not discriminate between rich or poor, young or old, human or animal. Their appetite is insatiable, and as humans all over the world have yet to realize, the dominion of mosquitos on this is earth is near-absolute.
As Timothy Weingart’s brilliant new book Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator vividly portrays it, man is by no means the apex predator or master of the earth that he pretends to be. That title is in fact held by the 110 trillion mosquitoes that whir across the entire planet (barring a few remote islands).
Mosquitoes are the leading agents of death, having massacred 830,000 humans in the past year; while the incredibly violent race of man only came in second-place by murdering a paltry 500,000 fellow men. By way of contrast, the third-placed snakes tallied less than 50,000 fatalities.
The war between man and mosquito, as Weingart has richly described, is the defining war of the earth – and man has generally lost. Of the estimated 108 billion humans that have lived on earth in the past 200,000 years; 52 billion – a staggering half of all humans that have ever lived – died from mosquito-borne illnesses such Malaria, Yellow Fever, West Nile, and Chikungunya, among many others.
Indeed, the arsenal of mosquitos is vast, comprising numerous bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens for which they act as a vector between species which cannot muster any single adequate defense. The natural forms of resistance which human bodies have attempted, such as sickle-cell anemia, are in fact ticking time-bombs for our own demise, except that they have offered enough respite for people to live long enough to reproduce before ultimately succumbing nonetheless.
Yet man is a newly-arrived species in the arena where mosquitos have remained the unquestioned and undefeated champions. Mosquitos identical to those we see today have roamed the earth for 190 million years, and have carried malaria for 130 million of those years. In the age of the dinosaur, the titanic beasts did not have sufficient immunities against the viciousness of mosquitos, and so were continually decimated until their herds thinned completely.
It is theorized that, by the time of the asteroid’s fall which ultimately annihilated dinosaurs, 70% of all dinosaur species were already extinct or endangered by the violence of the mosquitos, and the asteroid was therefore a mere knockout-punch in a wider extinction process. The remains of the most terrifying beast, Tyrannosaurus Rex, give the tell-tale signs of malaria-induced deaths, and highlight just who the true rex of the world was – and still is.
But Mosquitos are not so much the kings of the earth as they are its queens. It is only the female mosquito that bites, and her unassuming size belies the thirst that she has for continued blood requirements to germinate her eggs. Mosquitos rarely travel more than 400 meters from their place of birth, and live between 1-3 weeks. Yet they have come to span virtually the entirety of the earth.
Any effort by humans to ascend as a species has therefore only been a mild inconvenience to an uninterrupted tyranny that continues wholesale. Yet what is perhaps most repulsive about the rule of mosquitos is the realization that they do not play any constructive role in the global ecosystem as other insects do. They do not pollenate plants, as bees or wasps do. They do not aerate or renew the soil, as beetles or worms do. They do not ingest waste, as cockroaches do. They are not even the primary diet of any animal species. Their only purpose, it seems, is to drown all other species in the sea of annihilation.
As surprising as it sounds, human history has been largely shaped by the mosquito. By way of example, Malaria surrounded the capital of Ancient Rome, keeping them safe for all invading armies, thereby cementing their lasting influence on Western civilization. Yet when Rome grew from 200,000 residents to 1 million, the city encroached on malarial swamps, and mosquitos swooped in to decimate the city, killing 2000 people a day near the fall of the empire.
By way of Eastern example: Genghiz Khan, great conqueror of the world, succumbed to wounds from decades on the battlefield – but it was his exposure to malaria that reduced his immune system for him to so succumb. In fact, all world leaders from Sikandar-e-Azam and Hannibal onwards have contended with mosquitos being far greater killers than other invading or resisting human armies – until the present day.
In the world media, episodes such as the Zika virus have drawn fleeting attention to the unrelenting domination of mosquitos. But things may be changing. Large institutions such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are diverting larger amounts of funding towards malaria research. In addition, scientific breakthroughs such as CRISPR genetic engineering allude to the inception of lasting malarial resistance.
Yet it is staggering to see the global apathy, not to mention that of Pakistanis in the midst of a dengue outbreak, in light of true nature of power and violence on earth. Humans really mustn’t direct violence at one another when a greater danger lurksin our midst. For all the war-mongering insanity that is prevailing in neighboring New Delhi’s fascist government, or the anarchy rampant in Kabul on the other side, Pakistanis should know that the enemy has long entered our border, not to mention our very homes.
A far greater public health effort must be made, both in our country and elsewhere, to galvanize people against the one and true nemesis of mankind and all other species. Our history has been shaped by mosquitos to a degree we scarcely comprehend. The world would be unrecognizable to us if mosquitos did not rule over us. And yet, they are omitted from the glories and dramas of history.
However, the Quranic revelation does point to the singular truth: “Behold! Allah is not ashamed to propound the parable of a mosquito, or even of something more lowly,” (2:26). It is for us to marvel at such layers in revelation.
The writer is the Director for Economics and National Affairs at the Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS). He can be reached at email@example.com
This article was originally published in The Nation and can be accessed at https://nation.com.pk/15-Sep-2019/dengue-and-world-domination