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End of the world

December 12, 2012

THERE are only nine days left. According to the ancient Mayan and Hopi Native American calendars, the world is supposed to end on Dec 21, 2012.

You may choose not to take this seriously; after all, the ancient Mayans themselves perished centuries ago and the Hopi were unflinchingly exterminated by the incursions of white colonialists in North America.

If these civilisations couldn’t see their own end, you could argue, it is quite unlikely that they were not accurate about the official date of the world’s demise.

Suspending your incredulity you could also entertain the proposition for just a moment and evaluate it against recent events. Under this sort of scrutiny, the Taliban posting job descriptions on Facebook, toxic cough syrup being sold as a cure in Punjab and remote-control birds dropping bombs from the sky, all within a few days, can be read as the sort of things portending the end.

Meanwhile, icecaps melt into swelling oceans and typhoons swallow up scores of lives without ceremony. One reminder came just last week when Typhoon Bopha hit the island of Luzon in the Philippines killing over 500 people.

In what could be seen as a sign of a doomsday sort of destruction, the storm returned to hit the Philippines again five days later, slamming into another island and killing and injuring several hundreds more.

Be it the climate or war or just the hankering for havoc, doomsday predictions are being taken very seriously in Russia. In that country, the “minister for emergency situations” issued a statement that “he knew for certain that the world was not going to end on Dec 21”.

His sentiments were echoed by the country’s chief physician, a top official of the Russian Orthodox Church and several lawmakers of the Russian duma. One legislator even proposed that those spreading the rumour that the world would end on Dec 21, 2012 should be prosecuted by the state starting Dec 22.

The Russians need the reassurance; the national and international media have reported panic buying in Russia of items like matches and other items that people believe might help them survive the end.

Authorities in France have had to shut down access to the Bugarach mountain in the south of the country to prevent a rush by those who believe that the mountain can ensure they are the lucky few spared at the end.

In the United States, the theories and consequent inquiries of those preparing for the end by hoarding weapons and stocking bunkers have been significant enough for Nasa to issue communiqués debunking the prediction of the impending end of the world on Dec 21, 2012.

The US government has put a notice on its website affirming the same point, and reiterating that the world will not end on Dec 21, 2012.

The Mayans did not just pick any date for doomsday. The winter equinox of 2012 is supposed to be the date that the planets, including the Earth and the sun, will align in a straight line. Such an alignment it is argued will interfere with satellites and navigation systems and cause changes in geological events such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Others argue that the alignment will tip the earth’s magnetic field, consequently causing a lot of things to go awry. Many people believe the hype; a Reuters survey of nearly 16,000 people in 21 countries found that at least 10 per cent of people believe that the world will indeed end that day. Another poll, conducted by Ipsos, suggested similar fears; nearly one out of seven people believes that the world will end in their lifetime.

If you’re finding the hype hard to dismiss you could take refuge in science, in the reassurance of Nasa scientist David Morrison who patiently explains on YouTube why such fears are unfounded. YouTube, however, is banned in Pakistan and no one in the country has lately been calmed by American reassurances of any sort.

Given these peculiarities in the Pakistani context, the assessment of the end of the world takes on a markedly different flavour in the land of the Indus. With case-specific calculations, it makes sense to assume that in countries where life is good, where people get jobs, don’t starve and can vaccinate their kids without fear of espionage taking place, the frenzy makes sense making the possible closeness of the end scary news.

The lack of end of the world fever in Pakistan, generally an avid fan of fears and conspiracies, may then be explained by a particularly Pakistani dubiousness about the value of the world’s survival in the first place.

Add to this, the inherent purity of all those living in a land of the self-avowedly pure and you have a doomsday-proof confidence that is far from the pettiness of the impure fretful folk of countries like France and Russia.

Those Pakistanis that may have worried are simply exhausted, too worn out by the vagaries of daily small and regular world endings to spare the emotion to be afraid.

If the above ‘made for Pakistan’ recipes for casting aside the drama over this latest predicted doomsday do not sate your fears then some solace may also be located in preachings from the past.

The end of the world, predicting it, debating it, fearing it and imagining it have, after all, been a favourite topic for centuries of human existence, and the fact that these words are written and read are in themselves proof that doomsday dates have come and gone with the world stubbornly just going on.

But if doubt still evokes phantasmagoric images of the final moment that could be just nine days away, then indeed there is not a moment to waste between now and Dec 21, 2012, the day that some believe the world will end.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.