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Smokers’ Corner: With, within, without

January 06, 2013

Over the decades, the 1956 science-fiction film, ‘The Forbidden Planet,’ has been elevated by film critics to be a vintage Hollywood sci-fi classic.

In the sci-fi genre it is sometimes placed right along side director Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ as being one of the most intellectually rich sci-fi movies of all time.

‘Forbidden Planet’ takes place in the 23rd Century where a spaceship is sent from Earth to a planet that is 16 light years away to find out what happened to a space probe that was sent to the planet 20 years ago.

On reaching the planet, the captain and crew members of the spaceship find a scientist and his family who tell the investigation party that an unknown force had destroyed the probe and killed the inhabitants of the planet.

After facing attacks from the same unknown force/entity that is largely invisible, the spaceship crew finally figures out that the force is actually the subconscious manifestation of the scientist himself, triggered by a machine invented by him.

The scientist continues to deny this until he is finally convinced that the shadowy entity that is going about slaughtering the planet’s inhabitants is indeed the expression of his own subconscious mind and/or the manifestation of what German psychologist, Freud, called ‘the id’.

The film’s plot has always fascinated me; especially when I have wondered whether the unprecedented spats of violence by religious extremists that have been haunting Pakistan for years now, may be physical manifestations of our own collective subconscious.

This might also explain the inexplicable state of denial or silence that we as a nation usually fall into every time some entity goes on a killing spree in the name of faith.

May be our Dr Jekyll is simply refusing to realise that the despicable, chaotic and evil Mr Hyde is actually an extension of our own being and not some alien force unleashed across our Land of the Pure.

It is as if the figurative demons of hatred repressed deep within our sub-consciousness have suddenly leaped out to become a horrifying, tangible reality.

Laying latent in us have been awkward fantasies about gallant military takeovers and bloody revolutions based on rotating myths of bravado and a worldview that has no room for any grey areas.

Such a state of mind has given birth to a cringing mindset radiating a somewhat delusional sense of chauvinism, patriotism and ideological self-indulgence, but one that also comes attached with a persecution complex and an obsessive-compulsive need to deny and deflect one’s own failures.

Though most of us are only willing to exhibit our quivering religious/sectarian and ‘patriotic’ biases in the shape of the usual knee-jerk rhetoric on the internet and the TV, it won’t be all that wrong to suggest that most of what is harmlessly spilled out as patriotic rants in cyber space or the media, has now found its physical expression.

These are the physical manifestations of the demons of hatred most of us have been nurturing in our minds; demons fed by decades of ‘education’, propaganda or mythical tall tales of bluster and glory that have only ended up conspiring to isolate the Pakistani nation from reality.

We have been carved out and crafted (by the state, the clergy, the media and the class room), as a people who are on a divine mission to safeguard faith from its many (largely imagined and demagogically concocted) ‘enemies’.

We think of ourselves as being the chosen people and (thus) are quick to deny and hide most of our own failings by claiming that, No! These failures do not stem from our bloated perceptions about ourselves.

Instead, to most of us these failings are due to any number of diabolic forces named and numbered and then wrapped in the usual deflective clichés that are spontaneously spouted out by preachers, politicians and patriots out there: i.e. the lingering residue of ‘colonialism,’ malicious designs of ‘anti-Islam/anti-Pakistan forces’, American tinkering and intervention and, of course, democracy, liberalism, secularism…

The truth is, on most occasions than not, it has very much been us and us alone who have brought this country to its knees.

The inflexible, intolerant and gun-totting strain of the faith that was glorified from the 1980s onwards gradually began making a number of us believe that what we had (peacefully) been practicing as our religion before this was perhaps wrong.

We began to doubt our faith the way it was. The crises turned itself into a daunting dilemma of identity. Subtlety in matters of faith went out the window. The new Pakistani society started to judge this subtlety as a sign of weak faith. Consequently everything according to us and our faith became loud and pertaining to sheer exhibitionism.

Our faith’s spiritual dimensions were clipped away and it was made to freeze and lose its evolutionary and progressive spirit. It then became just another political and social ideology. A lumbering dogma.

Such a dogma means nothing spiritually to an individual. But it does detach him from the progressive and evolutionary character and body of the faith. Add politics to this mixture and you have a disaster in the making.

The violence that this country faces today in the name of faith is not very different from the violence that our state, politicians, media, and text books have instilled in each one of us.

Indeed, when we sit quietly looking in horror at images on TV of the carnage caused by a suicide bomber on our soldiers, policemen, politicians and common civilians, isn’t this a deep, dark reflection of all that was instilled and nurtured in our own heads?

That is, the idea of faith not as a spiritually, intellectually and morally enriching path, but as a demagogic, politicised weapon to retain social, political and economic power. The power to exploit.

The day we finally realise that God alone has the wisdom and right to determine and judge the level and status of one’s faith is when we may finally reign in the monster that is largely a horrendous and unwitting manifestation of our own self-righteousness and religious biases.