Orwell and Huxley wrote two prophetic novels of dystopia whose concepts are commonly invoked in political commentary as a way of alerting and warning against their possible fulfillment. Though Orwell’s 1984 is the much more heralded, and though we, as European Muslims seem to respond to an Orwellian world, I contend that we are moving towards Huxley’s vision. How we view our world, how we understand where we need to take the battle to will determine how we focus our energies and activism.
In Orwell’s 1984, he envisioned the effects of a coercive state using various methods of control on its populous that was totalitarian to the extent that the masses are duped into believing its truth. The term Orwellian has come to signify some of the elements used in the controlling and maintaining power. The State maintains its power by controlling every aspect of human life by using propaganda techniques to manufacture consent and censoring any facts deemed potentially subversive. It is therefore necessary then to limit access to truth, through banning books and making those that criticise the status quo, disappear. The masses are forcibly chained and their freedom deprived through the combination of both subtle coercion and blatant force. This depriving of freedom is necessary for control because if human beings had the choice they would undoubtedly want and even fight for their freedom. In Orwell’s totalitarian system, for a picture of the future, imagine “a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”
A very different future was conceived by Huxley in a “Brave new world”. Huxley envisioned a world where the dystopia lies in the promise of multiplying false epiphanies. People would be inundated with what he calls soma(recreational drugs) and entertainment that no one will care about the truth because they would be too busy with their submersion in distractions and trivialities. Huxley felt catering to human beings’ instincts and desires will mean that even if there is the potential to get access to the truth, people would not want to change as the status quo is too convenient.. Huxley’s dim view of the human being is that there is no need to chain him, just feed his appetite and ego. He says that “the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”.. For Huxley, opium will be the religion of the masses.
There are clear comparisons to be made in the picture painted by Orwell particularly for Muslims after 9/11. Coercion, double standards, manipulation of facts and false propaganda was and still is a staple of Euro/American foreign policy. Muslims seem to be increasingly targeted, and most Muslims find themselves inheritors of a previous generation coming to terms with colonialism and this seeps through subsequent generations’ psychic filters and informs their deep mistrust of the state.
However, despite this, the world is shaping up to be more like Huxley’s dystopia. We are being nurtured in a heavily entertainment based society from a very early age, a society that numbs the desire to ponder on the existential questions, a society constructed conspicuously on losing yourself to variant forms of intoxicants, in this world there is no longer a need for propaganda or coercion. Whet our appetites enough and watch us drown into a dreary dystopia. In Huxley, we are invited to see the willing inaction of man, his moral compass incinerated by apathy; we see the death of what it means to be Human. In a stark reminder that should really be a haunting admonition for us all, Huxley says
“Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist a prison when the gates begin to close around us . . . But what if there are no cries of anguish to be heard? Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements?”
Muslims are not immune to this sea of amusements and the reality is that most are not. We need to arm ourselves against these drone attacks on our soul by gravitating around real spiritual teachings that enrich us and give us a sense of divine awareness that will instill in our hearts a strong sense of perspective.
The Quran says,“The accumulating (things of this world) diverts you (from the more serious things)“. [102:1]
“Yet [it does happen that] when people become aware of [an occasion for] worldly pleasure or a passing delight, they rush headlong towards it, and leave you (O Muhammad) “. [62:11]
What tended to divert and distract people from the more serious things in the past was severely less than the relentless onslaught of distractions we face today. And if the best generation were warned about passing delights, minuscule compared to ours, than what of us? The political and other forms of oppression are bruises, sometimes nasty gashes and we seem to only be concerned with righting the wrongs of our bruisers when in reality society nurtures a malignant tumour of hedonistic heedlessness in our souls which we don’t care to address enough. We need to create communities that have the strength to fight the glitter that surrounds stimulating entertainment and this needs to be done with wisdom and intelligence. We need to build a strong buffer, an immune system that works to counter the anti-bodies of intoxicants that our modern world offers and this is perhaps the most urgent activism we need if we are to stop sacrificing youth on the altar of “passing delights”.If we lose sight of the essential battle we face in our generation and the generation to come, the battle for the health of our soul and spirit, our fate will begin to inevitably be subsumed under the hellish vision of the Brave New World.