Monday, November 10, 2014

The Novel As Prophecy

George Orwell saw through the rhetoric of the Soviet era and the post-World War II Cold War. His world was an uncertain place, with freedom trying to make a glittering return after years of secrecy and espionage that were necessary to keep loose lips from sinking ships. What if a population could be fooled into thinking that the war footing was ongoing, and the government had to curtail certain liberties for the good of the people? What if people let it happen?

From that background came 1984, a novel that imagined a world in which government exerts absolute control over its citizens, all behind a barrage of rhetoric that is doublespeak and thinly veiled nonsense.

That the citizens would see through the verbiage and put an end to it is a notion that is highly dangerous to a government that would like to exert control and maintain power for the powerful. There are some who see parallels between the world envisioned by George Orwell and modern day Egypt, where the military took over to preserve democracy, only to trample democracy under its heel. Maybe it's better than the Muslim Brotherhood running things, especially if you are female or Christian, but that's a different argument for another day.

The book is still a dangerous collection of prose, even after all these decades since its publication.

That could be why a report surfaced over the weekend that described a student at Cairo University being arrested for the crime of openly carrying a  copy of 1984 in full view of the police.

When asked, the police could only look puzzled. They say they don't know a thing about some British novel that was written 65 years ago. They don't have time to engage in light reading, and would be more likely to get lost in a good thriller than some English dystopian concoction. To the students who say their fellow was arrested, the book has great symbolism, and it is possible that the insertion of 1984 is a little embellishment to better express their outrage over the direction their country is heading.

Authorities have said they arrested the young man for filming the security forces without permission. Sure the man had a book on him when he was arrested, but what would you expect when you arrest a student at Cairo University? The whole world isn't studying off of iPads and some schools are still using physical books.

Did you hear the part that sounds like something out of 1984?

Maybe the book should be required reading for those who would prop up a regime, to get their minds into thinking about what they are being told and what they are doing to protect that regime.

Education, in other words. It's a dangerous thing, that learning, and it comes out of books.

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