An old sci-fi film may explain why Pakistan has long been haunted by extremism

An old sci-fi film may explain why Pakistan has long been haunted by extremism
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The collective mindset of a nation is a powerful thing. Mostly built with various political and historical myths, it determines how a nation thinks as a whole.

Mindsets are often weaved from narratives invented by the state. This is mostly done to keep a nation intact as an ethnic, religious or geographical whole, or as a singular national and ideological entity.

The narrative in such a case is conceived to build a collective mindset which would inherently supplement and fall in line with the state’s policies, without much resistance.

Nevertheless, sometimes such a mindset, after it trickles down from above (the state) and is then fully absorbed by those below, becomes a domain of the people.

So much so, that even when the state decides to change the narrative to suit its newfound needs, it struggles to make the people shrug off the old mindset. Because after decades of propagating the narrative, the mindset that it produced becomes powerfully ingrained in the social, political and spiritual DNA of a nation. Eradicating it or replacing it with a new narrative and mindset becomes an extremely tough task.

This is exactly what has happened in Pakistan. And this is why the current government and the military establishment is finding it difficult to implement those parts of the National Action Plan which seek to transform the collective mindset which was propagated by the state to make Pakistanis believe that they, as a nation, were a bastion of belief, surrounded by enemies who were plotting to destroy their faith.

Today, with an unprecedented military operation against extremists in full swing, the state and government of Pakistan, however, have somewhat struggled to change a collective mindset which almost automatically generates numerous “apologetic” voices whenever the military takes action or whenever the militants retaliate.

Such voices are the outcome of the mentioned mindset. This mindset still cannot fully reconcile to the fact that the militants weren’t, after all, faithful soldiers out to purify Pakistan and defeat its many enemies.

Ingrained beliefs

How can they not be? It doesn’t matter that over 60,000 Pakistani civilians, soldiers, cops and politicians have perished in the country’s long-drawn conflict with religious militancy. The mentioned mindset still hasn’t come to terms with the fact that rampaging militants, chanting faithful slogans and flexing their flags, guns and bombs, are not quite out to make Pakistan a mighty bastion of faith.

It is thus correct for many observers to suggest that Pakistan’s recent battle against extremism cannot be solely won through the barrel of a gun. Because one of the most powerful facilitators of the internal security situation we are faced with today is more psychological in nature. It’s that prevailing mindset which is yet to fully comprehend what’s at stake.

What’s even more disconcerting is that many such facilitators from this mindset are probably not even aware of how they might be helping extremism to continue flourishing, even if some of them believe otherwise.

Such a phenomenon was captured rather brilliantly in the classic 1956 film, Forbidden Planet.

In the sci-fi genre, the film is sometimes placed right alongside director Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, as being one of the most intellectually rich sci-fi films. The Forbidden Planet takes place in the 23rd century where a spaceship is sent from Earth to a planet that is 16 light years away. The ship is launched to find out what happened to a space probe that was sent to the planet 20 years before. 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 entity, the crew of the spaceship finally figures out that the entity 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 elusive entity which is slaughtering the planet’s inhabitants is indeed the expression of his own subconscious mind and/or the manifestation of what German psychologist, Sigmund Freud, called “the id”.

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

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.

Maybe our Jekyll is simply refusing to realise that the evil Hyde is actually an extension of our own selves. Laying within us have been illusions of bravado and a macho worldview that has no room for any grey areas. These are the imaginary notions of the self that fuelled a collective mindset which now has become difficult to replace with something that is quite the anti-thesis of what we were once programmed with.