Monsters of the id

FOR some reason, a few movies stay in the mind long after the credits have faded from the screen. Often, this has nothing to do with artistic merit, but is due to something triggered deep in the recesses of the subconscious.

In my case, one such film is The Forbidden Planet. Released in 1956, I saw it when I was 12 or 13, and it has stayed with me ever since. A science fiction story, it is clunky when compared to today’s slick, hi-tech films, but the central theme continues to resonate with me.

Basically, it’s about an expedition from Earth in the 24th century that travels to the planet of Altair IV to investigate the fate of an earlier spaceship that had gone missing there 20 years ago. When the expedition arrives in the planet’s vicinity, it is warned by Dr Edward Morbius, a member of the earlier team, not to land.

Disregarding this warning, the ship descends to the surface, and is then subjected to several mysterious attacks by an unseen agency. It turns out that this sinister power is actually the outward manifestation of Dr Morbius’s psyche amplified by a machine created by the race that inhabited Altaira thousands of years ago. In fact, the aliens were wiped out overnight by this very force.

A member of the crew, attacked by this malign force, mutters “monsters of the id” before falling dead. I think it was this notion of the subconscious projecting a powerful external force that has remained stuck in my mind all these years.

The existence of the id was first postulated by Sigmund Freud in his structural model of the psychic apparatus; the other two components were the ego and the super-ego.

According to Freud, the id is a “set of uncoordinated instinctual trends” and is where the basic human drives reside. The id is “the dark, inaccessible part of our personality … we call it chaos, a cauldron of seething excitations … filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organisation”.

The Forbidden Planet went on to become a cult classic, and some have compared it with Shakespeare’s The Tempest in which Caliban, a deformed and malign creature, serves Prospero, master of the island. Surely the similarity between Caliban and Taliban is not a mere coincidence.

In our case, the Taliban and all their extremist clones and allies exist and prosper because of the sympathy and support they receive from our society, our culture and our faith. Are the Taliban then not the monsters of our collective id?

Instead of the fictional alien technology that magnified Dr Morbius’s dark passions, our electronic media serves as an echo chamber that amplifies some of our basest instincts. Our dislike of foreigners is on constant display in our TV studios, as is our smug sense of superiority over those who do not subscribe to our faith.

All these sentiments are reinforced by our educational system where the curriculum is full of negative images of the ‘other’, the outsider who seems to threaten our security. In reality, though, by feeding the forces of extremism, it is we who are the biggest threats to our security.

The ‘monsters of the id’ that are today devouring our country have been unleashed by us, or by the forces that are supposed to be protecting us. Survey after survey indicates how we are sinking further into isolationism and self-destructive xenophobia.

After I wrote last week about our last place in a BBC popularity survey, several readers emailed me to say that basically, they did not care what the rest of the world thinks of us. Nor did the Taliban when they destroyed the famous giant statues of the Buddha at Bamiyan over a decade ago. Thus, when they were toppled a year later, no tears were shed, even in most of the Muslim world. Many believers felt they had soiled the image of Islam by their violent and irrational behaviour.

The point is that being international pariahs carries a cost. An American senator recently proposed that all aid to Pakistan be cut off following the 33-year prison sentence for Dr Shakil Afridi for his role in detecting the presence of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.

This online news item was followed by several posted comments, presumably by Pakistanis, welcoming this move because they were convinced that an aid cut-off would enable Pakistan to stand on its own feet.

Really? In the 1990s, when we were subject to all kinds of sanctions, hardly any American aid flowed into our coffers. I do not recall any heroic attempts at self-reliance in that decade.

Things just went from bad to worse. We did not pay our taxes anymore than we do now. Our population growth rate did not fall as a result of the aid cut-off. And the military continued to drain our meagre resources.

We need to be connected to, and be respected by, the rest of the world for a host of reasons. It’s easy enough to beat our chest and announce that we don’t care what the world thinks of us.

But in global markets and international capitals, reputation matters. Just as we would not like to do business with a person we mistrust and dislike, why should we expect other countries to deal with us?

The truth is that like it or not (and many Pakistanis don’t), we need the world more than it needs us. Apart from meeting our chronic budget shortfalls, we ask for help whenever natural disasters strike. We need US support when we apply for assistance from the IMF and the World Bank. We require access to foreign markets for our exports on favourable terms.

While the ‘go-it-alone’ brigade is forthright in its condemnation for everything western, it has yet to inform us about the alternatives.

China has made it clear that while it is willing to give loans and aid for specific projects in which it is interested, it doesn’t have much cash to spare to underwrite our profligacy. Saudi Arabia has been similarly blunt.

So unless we are willing and able to shut down the mechanisms that amplify our “cauldron of seething excitations”, thereby caging our monsters of the id, we will go on destroying ourselves and alienating the rest of the world.

The writer is the author of Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West.

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Comments (40) Closed

Jun 09, 2012 05:01pm
Everybody has to take what is called the "Mirror Test". Look in the mirror and ask who is the man/woman in the mirror. Then look down at your little son/daughter next to you and ask if they will answer the same question in the same way when they look in the mirror at your age. If the answers are consistent, then you have a viable state! Best wishes.
Jun 09, 2012 04:37pm
Right on the money. However, I have to disagree that getting aid western or non western is good for Pakistan as not much of it trickles down to masses. Most of it goes back to bank accounts of Generals, Politicians, Bureaucrates and Elites. Yes, it will be difficult to balance budget but at the end most Pakistanies will survive just fine.
Marvin (Edmonton, Canada)
Jun 09, 2012 03:28pm
Dear Mr. Husain, This is my first comment ever on Dawn. Your article is very analytical and full of harsh truth. I access Dawn website to read ONLY your article because you have been writing unbiasly and truth...most Pakistranis are not in favour what you write but my feeling is that you are opting to write truth because you care for your country....God Bless you. Marvin
Osman Rashid
Jun 09, 2012 02:54pm
That's all that this is; just empty words.
Jun 09, 2012 02:18pm
Brilliant. Now if only every person in Pakistan can read this in their language of choice, Urdu or whatever, AND understand it AND buy into this there is some hope.
Agha Ata
Jun 09, 2012 01:51pm
I am speechless!
Jun 09, 2012 01:34pm
we always see the parliament for making better policies, whether, they are having the onus of amending laws; all the policies are made by executive and bureaucracy...if we want to see Pakistan a stable country, we shall have to crystallize bureaucracy.. and one thing, i just want to repeat of Sir Syed's, he said," you can hygiene the society by a commitment of 'being sincere with one' and this one is not an other but you are." so, to be gentle and sincere with our self we can bring wave of change in Pakistan.
Jun 09, 2012 12:48pm
Dear Mr. Husain, your article defies logic. You know why ? Every word reeks of exemplary logic and your country denies and defies the existence of such logic.
Jun 10, 2012 12:53am
Husain Sahib has always been there. Unfortunately very few people in Pakistan can speak English. Even fewer can make sense of anything.
Jun 09, 2012 12:39pm
Dear Hasan, 100 %correct WHY DID IT TAKE SO LONG TO COME OUT? Where were you 20 years ago?
Jun 09, 2012 10:55am
In that great tragedy, arch-villain Iago provokes Othello: “Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, Is the immediate jewel of their souls: Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he that filches from me my good name, Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed.”
Jun 10, 2012 11:06am
Get to know us better by reading more views from Pakistan... and not just by overly self-critical liberals. Think from our shoes about what we've been through since 1979 when Russians invaded Afghanistan. Read about Dr. Afridi's case from a neutral mind... what motives he had for what he did, and whether same actions would've been tolerated in USA. We're not as abnormal as we're painted to be...
El Cid
Jun 16, 2012 11:32am
@Dr Hussain: Agree with you. Your examples are right on.The author appears to over look that power counts. Victory matters. The world respects the 'truth' that flows from the barrel of a gun. Propaganda overcomes truth in the common mind. Might and power equals 'truth'. Winning is far as the World is concerned: “If you win, you need not have to explain...If you lose, you should not be there to explain!” “It is not truth that matters, but victory.” “The victor will never be asked if he told the truth. ” ? Adolf Hitler, Hitler's Letters and Notes
El Cid
Jun 16, 2012 11:12am
"A fact in itself is nothing, It is valuable only for the idea attached to it, or for the proof which it furnishes"—Claude Bernard. "It is not the facts which guide the conduct of men, but their opinions about facts; which may be entirely wrong. We can only make them right by discussion"--Norman Angell.
Jun 09, 2012 03:12am
We will sell ourselves at the best price we can get to the highest bidder. The russians, the chinese, the americans, the eu, darn it even the indians will bid for services. After all we do have a choice strategic location and a large well trained force to offer.
Jun 09, 2012 03:36am
One of the hardest thing to do is to change someone's menaltiy. No matter what you write people who have been brainwashed for decades will conitnue on believing what they believe and will imagine conspiracry theories of their own. Even quite literate people think like this in pakistan. However the picture is not that rosy on the other side of border or for that matter USA. One quick look at the comments posted on TOI or yahoo gives you the feeling that they are suffering from the same delsuions. However they have something to show for it. We have nothing to show for our delusions.
Jun 09, 2012 03:44am
Wow!! Fantastic imagery and amazing articulation
Jun 09, 2012 04:00am
Quite a few Pakistani journalist, the present company being an exception, are fond of declaring a) that Pakistan is better off if they do not take western aid / assistance b) that Pakistan's geo-strategic location forces other countries to accommodate Pakistan and therefore Pakistan is vital to the world. Thus, they display a sense of being indispensable, and declare their ability to hold the world at ransom. Such bravado seems misplaced, and Mr. Husain seems correct in his assessments.
Jun 09, 2012 04:36am
very well writen sir,but the society is on a sucidal path .majority of them is still in a denial mode.they can not read what is writen on the wall.but keep on awakening this poor nation sir,hope one day you will get your reward .may Allah be with you.
Jun 09, 2012 04:52am
You are so right, but they wont understand it. We as a nation have lived in a fantasy land since its iception but have crossed all sence of reality in the last 20 years when it comes to ojectively evaluate our strength and weakneses. I dont know why we collectivley dont understand the concept of cause and effect. Shab
Ram krishan
Jun 09, 2012 04:57am
Well said Mr. Hussain . As usual your writing makes sense and these words need to be printed in Pakistani National language for average person to read . I read Dawn every day because it is a good paper and provides information on all topics. In today's Dawn i find that 4 women somewhere up north of Pakistan had their throats slit for dancing at a wedding and about 9 persons killed in a bomb blast in Peshawar. These event surely do not give a good name either to Islam or to Pakistan. Please keep it up your good writing.
Qamar Sabzwari
Jun 09, 2012 06:51am
Pure literature. But how to turn it around, sir?.....................Mega changes but how, from where we have reached?
Cyrus Howell
Jun 09, 2012 07:38am
The Forbidden Planet. Add The Creature From the Black Lagoon and Invasion of the body snachers (around 1956-58).
Cyrus Howell
Jun 09, 2012 07:44am
"Intelligence is the ability to see things as they are". For most of the day we operate by the corollary of this statement. Ignorance is the desire to see things the way we want them to be regardless of facts. We all do it at least some of the time. I find that people who do not understand what is happening to them build conspiracy theories. The bricks used are their worst fears.
Cyrus Howell
Jun 09, 2012 07:48am
"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored" -- Aldous Huxley
Haji Ashfaq
Jun 09, 2012 08:02am
What a realistic article - as always of Mr Irfan. Comparison between Caliban and Taliban is fascinating ! 'Go-it-alone' has never been the remedy for our seriously ill economy.I doubt the international community would ever come to help us in case of natural calamity because they have seen what had we done with that Cash n Kind help. The creater of 'Go-it-alone' monster has vanised with disgrace and the Monster also, having 'Dual Nationality'. Ardheshir Cowasjee had once written an article about 'reputation' quoting Shakspear - crying for reputation of a 'Person' as well as of our country.
Jun 09, 2012 08:05am
What a beautiful mind Mr Hussain. It has compelled me to look for his book. Amazing clarity and connection.
Haji Ashfaq
Jun 09, 2012 09:46am
Lucky You - cyrus Howell.
Jun 09, 2012 06:29pm
If Dr. Afridi wants to come to the U.S., please let him. What a gift he and his family would be. Pakistan should be proud of him. What courage this man had to do what he did. Also, your government has taken a doctor away from a country that, I would think, badly needs its doctors. Pakistan may hate my country (America) but around me, when Pakistan is mentioned, I see anger, of course, but also puzzled expressions. No one can figure you out.
Jun 09, 2012 09:22pm
Brilliant. Now if only every person in Pakistan can read this in their language of choice
Jun 09, 2012 10:10pm
I have written to Irfan Husain on his email address and said the same thing. Actually, I have written to many good journalists like Irfan to publish their thoughts in Urdu daily newspapers where the common Pakistani (Aam Admi) can read the truth. He only reads and hears the propaganda and lies of the craven Mullahs and the military supported alleged journalists who only know how to spread hatred, fear and tell the Pakistanis how great and faultless Pakistan is. None-the-Less, people like Irfan Husain are doing yeoman service to Paksitan.
Jun 09, 2012 10:11pm
BRAVO!!! Sohaib.
Jun 09, 2012 10:13pm
I second that.
abdul kajeer
Jun 09, 2012 10:58pm
Exceptionally good article, please limit your writings to this topic to reform pakistani thinking1
Rajeev Nidumolu
Jun 10, 2012 12:18am
There are 3 countries( North Korea, Burma &Iran) which do not care what the rest of world think of them . Some people in Pakistan want to join this grouping . Look at what happened to this group
Dr Hussain,Australia
Jun 10, 2012 12:38am
Dear Irfan, world does not go for logic and ethics to decide anyone's reputation. Saudi's still enjoy privileges in world commerce and business despite having one of the worst social and moral standards in the world. No one would judge France, or Belgium for their imposition of dress codes for women of a particular religious background. And world would never cry for 50000 female infants killed in India every months for their gender. So what you are recommending for Pakistanis is a futile pursuit. Improvement is desperately needed in our moral and social outlooks, but should not be intended to appease the world, but for our own good.
Jun 10, 2012 12:50am
Excellent comment! We really do not have any sense of causality. We are influenced from early childhood by a doctrine that must defy logic to exist.
T Ahmed
Jun 10, 2012 02:21am
Words can be empty or they can carry meaning. The words in this article carry meaning. Your comment, by ignoring what is being said and simply passing judgement, is hollow and empty.
Jun 10, 2012 03:26am
Great article, as always.
Irfan Husain
Jun 10, 2012 09:51am
Thanks for writing.