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End of the world

Rafia Zakaria | 13th Dec 2012

Karachi

There are only eight days left. According to the ancient Mayan and Hopi Native American calendars, the world is supposed to end on December 21, 2012. You may choose not to take this seriously; after all, the ancient Mayans themselves perished centuries ago and the Hopi were exterminated by the white colonialists.

If these civilisations couldn’t see their own end, you could argue, it is quite unlikely that they were now accurate about the official date of the world’s demise.

Suspending your incredulity you could also entertain the proposition for just a moment and evaluate it against recent events.

Meanwhile, ice caps melt into swelling oceans and typhoons swallow up lives without ceremony. One reminder came just last week when Typhoon Bopha hit the island of Luzon in the Philippines killing over 500 people. In what could be seen as a sign of a doomsday, the storm returned to hit the Philippines again five days later, slamming into another island and killing hundreds more.

Be it the climate or war or just the hankering for havoc, doomsday predictions are being taken ve­ry seriously in Russia. In that co­untry, the “minister for emergency situations” issued a statement that “he knew for certain that the world was not going to end on December 21”. His sentiments were echoed by the country’s chief physician, a top official of the Russian Orthodox Church and several lawmakers. One legislator even proposed that those spreading the rumour that the world would end on December 21, 2012, should be prosecuted from December 22.

The Russians need the reassurance; the national and international media have reported panic buying in Russia of matches and other items that people believe might help them survive the end.
Authorities in France have had to shut down access to the Bugarach mountain in the south of the country to prevent a rush by those who believe that the mountain can ensure they are the lucky few spared at the end.

In the US, the theories and consequent inquiries of those preparing for the end by hoarding weapons and stocking bunkers have been significant enough for Nasa to issue communiqués debunking the prediction of the impending end of the world on December 21, 2012.

The Mayans did not just pick any date for doomsday. The winter equinox of 2012 is supposed to be the date that the planets, including the earth and the sun, will align in a straight line. Such an alignment, it is argued, will cause events like quakes and volcanic eruptions.

Others argue that the alignment will tip the earth’s magnetic field, consequently causing a lot of things to go awry. Many people believe the hype; a Reuters survey of nearly 16,000 people in 21 countries found that at least 10 per cent of people believe that the world will indeed end that day. Another poll conducted by Ipsos said that one out of seven believes that the world will end in their lifetime.

If you’re finding the hype hard to dismiss you could take refuge in science, in the reassurance of Nasa scientist David Morrison who pa­tiently explains on YouTube why such fears are unfounded. You­Tube, however, is banned in Pak­i­s­tan. Given these peculiarities in the Pakistani context, the assessment of the end of the world takes on a markedly different flavour in the land of the Indus. 

With case-specific calculations, it makes sense to assume that in countries where life is good, where people get jobs, don’t starve and can vaccinate their kids without fear of espionage taking place, the frenzy makes sense making the possible closeness of the end scary news.

The lack of end-of-the-world fever in Pakistan, generally an avid fan of fears and conspiracies, may then be explained by a particularly Pakistani dubiousness about the value of the world’s survival.
Those Pakistanis that may have worried are simply exhausted, too worn out by the vagaries of daily small and regular world endings to spare the emotion to be afraid.

The end of the world, predicting it, debating it, fearing it and imagining it have, after all, been a fa­vo­u­rite topic for centuries, and the fact that these words are written and read are in themselves prove that doomsday dates have come and gone.

But if doubt still evokes phantasmagoric images of the final moment that could be just nine days away, then indeed there is not a moment to waste between now and December 21, 2012, the day that some believe the world will end.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy. She can be contacted at rafia.zakaria@gmail.com By arrangement with Dawn

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