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.