Well, this is not going to be about Mary Shelley’s novel ‘Frankeinstein or the Modern Prometheus’ written in the early years of the 19th century when the author was only 19 years old. In those days, educated young people could leisurely spend cold winter evenings in literary and artistic creation and there was no goggle box to stultify young people’s intelligence with stupid TV serials on a daily basis.
As everyone who borrowed a book on Greek mythology and read it at the age of 12 still remembers, Prometheus was punished by Zeus after he stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to men. Hence, the brave hero stands for liberty, knowledge and progress. Similarly, Percy Shelley’s wife, Mary, gives full liberty to her hero, Doctor Frankeinstein, to defy God and create a new man, also called Frankeinstein, who becomes monstrous after he is rejected by his creator and chased away by society. One of the first romantic novels remains a valid reference in our assessment of the tremendous capacity of men to both create wonders and spread havoc in today’s world.
We certainly owe the extraordinary progress made in the fields of science and technology over the last two centuries in the West to the period of Enlightenment which encouraged men to re-think the world without having to be submissive to the hypothesis of God and thus to transfer divine qualities to men. It was rather up to legislators to set up laws and create the type of men they want to.
We can do anything
In a press column, our compatriot, Mr Maubarakamad Boodhun, expresses deep concerns over the imminence of a Third World War and informs us that the head of the Ahmadiya community has written a letter to the US President in a plea to spare the world an apocalyptic remake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Indeed, this kind of concern could have been sparked off at the beginning of March 2012 when the US Senate asked one of the heads of the army whether a military intervention in Syria could be considered. General Martin E. Dempsey replied: ‘We can do anything.’
This sentence underlines a key feature of modern Western culture. Maybe it has something to do with the way civilizations develop in different regions of the world over centuries. All civilizations do not subscribe to the idea that men can do whatever they like in this world.
Perhaps it all started from the time when the « pagan » world began to give way to monotheist religions. Note that the term ‘pagan’ was invented by the ‘main’ religions, understand monotheist religions, to qualify beliefs and practices which differ from them. By the way, note that the tacit principle underlying the principle of ‘religious freedom’ according to the same ‘main’ religions is, in fact, unlimited rights to proselytise, to be smarter than God and snatch away people from the ‘religion’ they were born in and convert them so as to be able to boast about being ‘the fastest growing religion in the world’.
Pagan gods intervened in an already existing world to replace chaos by order. Conversely, the god of monotheism creates the world himself out of nothing, ab nihilo. He denies the pre-existence and validity of what was there before and exhorts his followers to carry out his plan ruthlessly, destroy and re-create. That was before the Enlightenment gave the divine right of moulding a new world to man himself.
I can do everything
Leaders of totalitarian regimes throughout the twentieth century also drew their inspiration from the principle according to which men could create new types of society, orientate science as well as determine the behaviour of individual members. Thus the head of the police force in Stalin’s days would threaten opponents, dissidents and intellectuals with the terrible things he could do to them. « You don’t know me yet. Not only the Gulag or Siberia. Everything. »
In a bid to pursue the realization of its Manifest Destiny written in its Constitution and to force down democracy down the throat of its enemies, the US government entrusts its soldiers with the task of « doing everything » to carry out their mission. Left to themselves to survive in a violent environment in the heart of darkness in Africa, in the jungle of Vietnam or across the desert plains of Afghanistan, men become monsters.
Last year, in March 2012, Sergeant Robert Wale of the American army in Afghanistan ran from house to house and slaughtered 17 civilians, among whom 7 children, and set fire to their bodies. Remember the massacre of 600 Iraqis by American forces to avenge the brutal death of three of their soldiers.
In 2011, Anders Breivik, a Norwegian youth, decided that the only way to warn Europeans against the danger of Islam was to gun down 77 young leftists in Oslo who were insufficiently aware of the Islamic threat.
Similarly, the ‘us and them’ theory recruited a new disciple who stepped in to fill the void left by the fall of Communism in the late 70s. Petrodollars from the Middle East came flowing into the pockets of correligionaries in Europe, Africa and Asia, and emissaries were sent to create, not only for themselves, but for all the others a world according to their own vision.
This vein of radicalism engendered uncontrollable elements who assumed the double role of defender and upholder of justice just as their European counterparts had done before. When 3 soldiers and 4 civilians were shot down in Toulouse, France, last year, a train blown up, the Taj hotel in Mumbai set on fire and occasional terrorist attacks are carried out in different countries, the mind is conditioned by the same kind of thinking as in the case of the American General who stated that the American Army could do ‘everything’. Leitmotiv: In the case of America: asserting the all-mightiness of American military superiority over all the rest; in other cases: to avenge ‘our brothers’ in Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, Afghanistan and so on. It looks like this kind of view will go on as long as « enemies » are depicted as ‘deadly threats’ to their own security.
The question is: if radically negating everyone who does not comply with one’s laid-down rules of conduct were to carry on, will not someone or other, somewhere in the world, some day do the thing that could tilt the world into real chaos all around and is this a calculated risk? Our « supermen » on both sides abide by the well-entrenched idea whereby the limits of human conduct can be ruthlessly pushed off to achieve their chosen aims. History is replete with examples of what men, godmen and monstermen are capable of. Everything. Atomic bombs, chemical weapons, suicide bombings and unmanned drones, you name it.
As our compatriot, Mr Boodhun, nobody wishes for a remake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We all value life for ourselves and our children. The question is what individuals, civil societies and their governments among the major players and in smaller multi-ethnic countries can do to stop being exclusive of ‘others’, to drop the supremacist theory and the imperialist mindset. Given the overall fragile construct we live in, all we can hope for is that self-restraint is soon enough brought back to the world’s main stage so that we can keep looking forward to maintaining a world where men will not lose all sanity and wisdom to the point of reaching out for the day of no-return.
* Published in print edition on 16 August 2013