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The Next Weapon of Mass Destruction: Select Agents

David Langness | Oct 12, 2016

PART 3 IN SERIES Pandemics and Pandemonium

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Oct 12, 2016

PART 3 IN SERIES Pandemics and Pandemonium

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Religion must be the antidote for all illness. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 3, p. 157.

Do you know what a “select agent” is? Here’s a hint: James Bond is not involved.

A select agent is shorthand for Biological Select Agents or Toxins (BSATS), the deadly, virulent bio-agents and viruses that science currently recognizes as severe threats to public health and safety. These biological organisms or chemical toxins can cause great harm or potentially lethal diseases. You can find a list of 82 select agents here. On that list, you’re likely to come across some dire threats to humanity you’ve never heard of before.

In the United States, the federal government, the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Agriculture run an agency called the Federal Select Agent Program (FSAP), which oversees and regulates the possession, use and transfer of select agents. They inspect every research facility that handles select agents; assess the security risk of people who work with these toxins; and develop and implement the regulatory guidelines for their handling and use.

Who handles select agents? Typically, academic research labs and pharmaceutical companies do, primarily with the goal of developing treatments, cures and antidotes to the diseases they cause.

hazmat-suit-cdcBut when an envelope filled with a powder claimed to be anthrax or some other pathogen shows up at the office of a politician, for example, you’ll likely see FSAP staffers on the news, dressed in hazmat suits and dealing with the suspected select agent. (How’d you like to have that job?)

Why all the caution with these select agents? Because many of them now have the potential to be synthetically produced by individuals in small laboratories with commercially-available equipment, and then to become weaponized.

Even amateur biologists in home laboratories now have ready access to the equipment and knowledge necessary to produce synthetic select agent pathogens. With a modicum of knowledge and formulas readily available online, they can construct these man-made infectious agents and disease materials from scratch, through the manufacture or adaptation of readily-available DNA and existing cells. This has led to the increasing recognition that terrorists, extremists or rogue governments might carry out acts of bioterrorism using synthetic select agents, or even certain zoonotic viral agents obtained from animals and plants. This isn’t just speculation—select agents like ricin have already been used in terrorist attacks and assassinations, for example.

At this point you’re probably asking yourself: Why am I reading about this frightening subject on a website about the Baha’i Faith and the human spirit? Here’s the answer: because human ingenuity is unlimited, and because we have reached the point where national governments cannot completely control the international production of bioterrorism weapons of mass destruction, we need a new, universal global mechanism for regulating the spread of viral threats to humanity. We need that universal mechanism not only for biologics and toxins, but for conventional and nuclear weapons, as well. We need that universal mechanism to keep the entire world safe. A disparate collection of national governments can no longer ensure the world’s security—it’s that simple. Only a transnational, universal governmental authority can handle transnational, global threats.

You can examine the blueprint for that universal mechanism in the teachings of the Baha’i Faith:

…the people of religions find, in the teachings of Baha’u’llah, the establishment of Universal Religion — a religion that perfectly conforms with present conditions, which in reality effects the immediate cure of the incurable disease, which relieves every pain, and bestows the infallible antidote for every deadly poison…

Similarly, with regard to the peoples who clamour for freedom: the moderate freedom which guarantees the welfare of the world of mankind and maintains and preserves the universal relationships, is found in its fullest power and extension in the teachings of Baha’u’llah.

So with regard to political parties: that which is the greatest policy directing the world of mankind, nay, rather, the Divine policy, is found in the teachings of Baha’u’llah…

So with the other parties: when ye look deeply into this matter, ye will discover that the highest aims of those parties are found in the teachings of Baha’u’llah. These teachings constitute the all-inclusive power among all men and are practicable… – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 304-306.

That “infallible antidote for every deadly poison” which Abdu’l-Baha describes involves the Baha’i prescription for the unity of humankind. It recognizes that banning one weapon of mass destruction will not solve the problem, since the problem exists deep in the human heart. Instead, the Baha’i teachings call for a complete “re-spiritualization” of the world’s people, by doing away with prejudice and war; by uniting the nations into one global system; by instilling a new spirit of love and harmony in us all:

Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Day Star of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth…

Exert yourselves that ye may attain this transcendent and most sublime station, the station that can ensure the protection and security of all mankind. This goal excelleth every other goal, and this aspiration is the monarch of all aspirations. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 288.

“…ensure the protection and security of all mankind,” Baha’u’llah wrote, referring to the light of unity that “can illuminate the whole earth.” Ultimately, Baha’is believe that no treaty, enforcement agency or single national government can fulfill that critical function. Only one thing can: a unified world. We can try to protect ourselves from select agents and other weapons of mass destruction in many ways, but as long as hatred exists; as long as war and strife dominate our actions; as long as injustice prevails, nothing but unity can truly protect us.

Next: How Climate Change Could Make You Sick

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  • Lisa New
    Oct 13, 2016
    Thank you, David, for this post that shares the Message that has inspired my life's work: you can see a snapshot of it here -
    There is nothing that I would love more than to help the Faith in its work, through global collaboration where local language and data formatting issues are dealt with in order to collectively prevent harm and provide help following the Baha'i Principles, inspired by Divine Spirituality through acknowledgement of Baha'ulla'h. I offer a novel consultation Formal Language that is also an epidemiological tool to help collaborators to integrate and evaluate knowledge, and an semantic ...web artificial intelligence support tool to help close the gap between Baha'i Principles and the real world.
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