Sunday, September 20, 2009

What Animal Farm Can Teach US( read U.S)

Animal Farm was written during the Second World War and published in 1945. To review a book which has so firmly established itself amongst the greatest literary works of all time would be redundant. What would be far more interesting is to see the relevance of Animal Farm today. The books main ideas about greed, freedom and power are timeless. Reflecting on a book that was set during the most gruesome war of the 20th century may help us understand what we are still doing wrong in the 21st.

Animal Farm is a satire on revolution and its outcomes told through the events that unfold in a fictional farm. The book starts with the telling of a dream. An old respected pig called ‘Old Major’ relates to the animals what he has distilled through his lifetime. He tells them of the in-equality between men and animals. He tells them that man only gives them enough to survive on. Instead if animals were free of man there would be “enough food to eat for all the animals of England.” This promise is filled in the first few weeks after the rebellions success but soon begins falling apart as the pigs begin distinguishing themselves from the rest of the animals. The ideology of ‘Animalism’ is constantly tweaked and twisted to suit the rulers(pigs) who eventually begin practicing all the vices of humans like drinking and walking on two legs. The commandments of Animalism are simplified to the few words like ‘Four legs good, two legs bad’ for the benefit of the largely illiterate class of animals on the farm. This is similar to the constitution of India who’s Preamble is simple as it is superficial. The depth that the constitution reaches is far beyond the masses of this country. The minority educated are left to amend and tweak the laws that govern a majority. This divide between the upper and lower class is exactly what breeds further acts of revolution which keep the cycle moving. Ultimately the pigs who led the revolution grew greedy with power. And if left unchecked the same fate befalls every civilization, present or future.

In the initial stages the author, George Orwell, couldn’t even `find a publisher for his book due to its heavily anti-communist tone. Ironically the book attempts to show that neither communism nor capitalism is much better than the other. An idea that today’s capitalists would vehemently try to refute. The crux of the book attempts to display the corruption that can consume a ‘peoples movement’ if an elected government does not take shape after revolt. The resemblances to past events draw the reader into the book by constantly evoking visions of Hitler’s Nazism and Stalin’s communism. Similarly, the relatively recent overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s Bath party in Iraq by American forces has left both countries struggling for stable Governments. Hamid Karzai runs a heavily western backed government in Afghanistan, but, is facing strong charges of corruption over the recently held elections. The U.S.A is trying hard to spin both Iraq and Afghanistan as ‘victories for democracy’. If these are victories it shows what a state democracy, as a whole, is in. At least in Afghanistan the Northern Alliance was on hand to lend some ‘local touch’ to the demise of the Taliban. But in Iraq there was no such group. Instead the Americans walked in, replacing dictator for dictator. The Iraqi people had very little say in the invasion. Their current leaders sit walled in a city within a city termed the ‘Green Zone’ otherwise known as the only ‘safe’ place in Baghdad. This is why sympathy has developed for Islamic organizations who say the west is attacking Islam and the only form of response is violence. Ironically the revolutionaries in Animal Farm fashion a flag with a hoof and horn set against a green backdrop. Similar to the hammer and sickle representing communism but more relevantly it is similar to the crescent and star of Pakistan (the book was released well before the birth of the Islamic state).