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End of the world


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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.

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Rafia Zakaria is an attorney and human rights activist. She is a columnist for DAWN Pakistan and a regular contributor for Al Jazeera America, Dissent, Guernica and many other publications.

She is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Beacon Press 2015). She tweets @rafiazakaria

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (17) Closed

Atif Dec 13, 2012 01:29pm
Gee Mr. Ash seems like you have taken this article wayy too seriously.
vbozata Dec 15, 2012 08:06am
Yep, he end. See the details here:
khan Dec 12, 2012 04:27pm
I am in favor of the world ending on 21st Dec. I have an exam the next day and I am sure I am going to flunk it. At least this will save me the hard work
thtrwer Dec 13, 2012 04:25am
i belive it
Lim Dec 13, 2012 01:52pm Why the world wouldn't end according to NASA.
Hasan MD Dec 14, 2012 07:35am
No Dear, Imposible! we are waiting for Imam Mehdi Ajf.
Ranganath Dec 14, 2012 07:28am
I have or Company's Annual General Body Meeting! Dont have to answer anybody if world ends :))
Jason Dec 13, 2012 10:20am
I have an exam on that day as well hahahahhaa
raika45 Dec 12, 2012 11:01am
Due to time difference.Dec.21 in the East is 20 in the west.So which time factor were the Mayan's thinking about.If it is theirs, then don't worry folks we have one extra day to live it up.
Asad Saqi Dec 14, 2012 05:03am
World will not end untill the arrival of Amam Mehdi and Dajal. So many things to happen. Its end of world for person who dies. So much suffering and pain in this world. Rich getting richer by drinking blood of poor. Prophet Muhammad told many things which will happen near end of world and 90 % things already happen. so world is near to end but not on 21 Dec. So enjoy December with coffee and dry fruits :)
Shehz Dec 12, 2012 06:13pm
No where in the Mayan scriptures do they claim that the world will end; the Mayans were obsessed with astronomy, sun, moon, etc., hence all their palaces and pyramids were aligned with the planets. Specially marked structures were constructed that lights up once a year on winter and summer solstices, is just one of the many examples. Every civilization has a calendar, rituals, and cycles. Today we have cycles called weeks, months, and a year. what happens after the 365 day cycle? Does the world end? No, people celebrate and a new cycle begins we call a new year. Similarly, this 5125 year Mayan cycle, or 1872000 days is the end of a cycle. There will be celebrations at Chichen Itza this year and a new cycle of 5125 years will commence.
Parvez Dec 12, 2012 07:11am
You are always a treat to if it all ends on the 21st we can still look forward to one more article from you.
Alexander Callum Hamilton Dec 12, 2012 07:18am
For God's Sake the Mayan calendar was never meant to predict the end of the world it was mean to say the end of a cycle it has been going on for years and the events leading up to doomsday that is rubbish as well where is the scientific evidence in the end of the world I don't see a planet or comet in the sky solar flares cant kill us so wheres the evidence
Imran Dec 12, 2012 02:47pm
Chill man, it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.
ash mirza (USA) Dec 12, 2012 05:38am
The world will end by Dec-21-2012 I don't think so, before the world end, HE will send (Jesus) Hazrat Eisa (A.S.) but so far Hazrat Eisa has not landed on this earth. and as per Hadith there are so many other sign before the world end......... Sincerely, Ash Mirza (USA
Guest63 Dec 12, 2012 09:38am
Only Heavens Itself ( The Almighty ) knows the EXACT TIME , No one else even his most confident Angle ( Jibrael ) Nor his most unusual creation humane creation ( prophet Essa Bin Mariam PBUH) Nor his most beloved Messenger ( Mohammad PBUH ) for whom he created the Universes Could know , the rest is Just Hollywood Fictions and wishful thinking . YET when it comes to individual Human being , his or her death is a proto type Model of The End of his or Her world . in Year 1999 , Top IT Companies made Billions of US$ playing on the hype and fear themselves created in the first place , about the date change from 1999 to year 2000 ( Y2k phobia ) all around the Globe in every sphere os the human life ....We all know , what happened then on the stroke of Mid night 1999 ! NOTHING Except , every company small or big , made millions and Billions ....... So is this case in question . I would agree that average Pakistani for whom there is No electricity , No gas , No clean drinking water , no education , no nothing to live the daily life even in the shadows of the Bombers and kidnappers , its already dooms day every day
Capt Dan Dec 13, 2012 04:19pm
"According to the ancient Mayan and Hopi Native American calendars, the world is supposed to end on Dec 21, 2012" Are you sure they didn't get tired of writing down dates I mean I don't see in the writings where they say ends. I think they just found no reason in writing any more down. According to you guys Quick Books ends in 2099. Why because that is the end date someone preset on the calendar / So we will not be using accounting after that. Oh well. Go on have a nice tall glass of Jimmy Jone's Juice. And the rest of us with give thanks to natural selection.