Reviewed by Abdul Hai
Human nature as understood by Islam, is naturally good. Their transformation into something that is unnatural occurs when the environment and greed take hold of them. Their lower selves (an-nafs al-ʾammārah) then further enhances their transformation. Ideologies emerging from the unnatural self will only lead to destruction, although they may start off as something promising. It is then only by divine laws will humans see a functioning social structure.
Animal Farm, written by Eric Arthur Blair under the pen name George Orwell, is a satirical and allegorical novella. It tells the story of a farm called Manor Farm, owned by a careless, drunken, and at times violent Mr. Jones. The animals are frustrated with their human owner. In addition to taking their produce, this owner fails to show compassion or appreciation for their daily arduous work. A twelve-year-old, highly regarded pig, referred to as Old Major, gathered the farm animals one night, while Mr. Jones slept, almost dead, due to drunkenness a few hours earlier. During Old Major’s speech, he pointed out the injustices facing all animals in England.
“Now, comrades, what is the nature of this life of ours? Let us face it: our lives are miserable, laborious, and short. We are born, we are given just so much food as will keep the breath in our bodies, and those of us who are capable of it are forced to work to the last atom of our strength; and the very instant that our usefulness has come to an end we are slaughtered with hideous cruelty. No animal in England knows the meaning of happiness or leisure after he is a year old. No animal in England is free. The life of an animal is misery and slavery: that is the plain truth.”
This speech by Old Major, who died three nights later, formed the basic idea for revolution. In a battle that became to be known as ‘the battle of the cowshed’ the animals took over the farm and chased out Mr. John and others. The animal renamed the farm ‘Animal Farm’ with seven commandments:
“Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy, Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend, No animal shall wear clothes, No animal shall sleep in a bed, No animal shall drink alcohol, No animal shall kill any other animal and All animals are equal”.
Those commandments are meant to represent the basic ideas underlying principles of Animalism, a term developed from the speech of Old Major by the other three pigs, namely Napoleon, Snowball, and Squealer. With this new vision, new energy and unity for a better future for all animals, the animal farm began its self-governance. The animal farm was a dream come true:
“Everyone worked according to his capacity. The hens and ducks, for instance, saved five bushels of corn at the harvest by gathering up the stray grains. Nobody stole, nobody grumbled over his rationales, and the quarreling and biting and jealousy which had been normal features of life in the old days had almost disappeared [and] Nobody shirked.”
The idealistic philosophy of Animalism, which all the animals worked for, began to shatter, as they saw the seven commandments started to disappear from the list one by one and it was ultimately replaced by only one commandment
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.
The most educated animals on the farm were the pigs, they learned to read and write and they understood the socio-political-economic principles to run a functional farm. With the exception of Snowball, whose philosophy of Animalism was the true embodiment of the seven commandments, Napoleon, and his mouthpiece Squealer believed that all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. The condition on the farm starts to change. There is more work, less production, less food, and most importantly a bourgeoisie class of animal emerge: namely the pigs. For Napoleon, Snowball was an idealistic dreamer of all equal principles. In all the meetings Napoleon and Snowball did not see eye-to-eye, thus Snowball needed to be dealt with. Napoleon, with the help of his three faithful dogs, Bluebell, Jessie, and Pitcher, managed to expel Snowball. Now with no one to oppose Napoleon, he began implementing his principle that all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. All the upper-class jobs and duties were allocated to the pigs and all the manual and lower-class jobs were for the rest of the animals. The pigs started to wear clothes, sleep in beds, drink alcohol, and kill other animals. They started to make business deals with humans, inviting them over to their farms for social gatherings. Years passed. Many of those animals who were part of ‘the battle of the cowshed’ have aged or died and only a few can recall the rebellion. There were many new animals, and the farm has been modernised and seemed to have become richer, but only the pigs and dogs are profiting from this wealth. Squealer, once again managed to convince the rest of the animals that the life of the pigs and dogs were most important for the benefit of the farm and the other ‘animals’. The pigs are now in full control of the farm, acting like pure dictators with no opposition. They were like humans, like Mr. Jones. In fact, one evening, Clovers sees something strange and shocking.
“Out from the door of the farmhouse came a long file of pigs, all walking on their hind legs…out came Napoleon himself, majestically upright, casting haughty glances from side to side, and with his dogs gamboling round him”. It was very hard to tell, the difference between humans and pigs, for
“the creature outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which”.
Animal Farm can be read and enjoyed as a fun and witty novel. However, it is also a text that is deeply entangled with socio-political history. It explains without political language the Russian Revolution of 1917. The book centres around a number of themes that transform the farm into a totalitarian dictatorship, namely corruption. As a result, the pigs move away from the idea of animalism towards self-interest. There is also the issue of inequality. Animalism philosophy is based on all being equal, however, inequality becomes the principle by which the pigs rule the farm. Exploitation is another theme. Pigs are the only ones that can read and write and education is only available for pigs and their piglets. Without education, the pigs are easily able to manipulate and spread false information. The pigs are able to manufacture grand lies and narratives and make themselves the source of safety and security for the farm, therefore deception is another prominent theme. Idealism is another theme. The animals internalise the notion that all animals are equal, and as a matter of moral principle, all animals will always do good. This idealism allows the animals to interpret, in almost all cases, the pigs’ deception in a more positive light. Animalism is a political theory in the book, mirroring Communism in many ways. Whenever there is any doubt about this idealism, the animal begins singing the famous song; ‘Beasts of England’. And like all other political theories, Animalism needed to evolve, and this evolution led to a totalitarian dictatorship.
Much attention must be given to the characters in the book since each character represents an idea, and vision and displays behaviours that resemble characteristics that contribute to the making of societies: be it good or bad. It is argued that Old Major represents Karl Marx, Snowball represents Leon Trotsky, and Napoleon represents Josef Stalin. Squealer is said to be the propaganda mouthpiece for the status quo and Boxer, the horse, represents the workers and the general public. There are a few things to take from the book. Firstly, Old Major’s dream is pure fantasy. It is not possible for ideas that emerge from human rationality, in absence of divine guidance, to be the solution to humans finding a workable social structure. Snowball’s proposal to first cultivate the farm animals, and then bring them into a legislative government body to rule is another utopian view. Boxer illustrates the failure of Snowball’s idea, for he accepts Napoleon’s decision despite the ability to understand and analyse the evil of Napoleon’s dictatorship.
In the post-revolution era, the book can take on a more sinister interpretation. In this interpretation Snowball takes the main role- Napoleon is sidelined however, does not disappear from the scene. Snowball retains the theory of animalism but does not extend it to other farms that are different from his kind. Here, Snowball starts the implementation of ‘othering’ and colonisation. Snowball handpicks Napoleon as a leader for every other farm. Snowball makes sure through using many Squealers that Animalism is portrayed and promoted as the only proper way to form a workable and progressive social structure. He keeps Animalism as a reference point for progress and success by supporting and allowing totalitarian dictatorship to exist through Napoleon on other farms. It is because of these conflicting characteristics that Snowball possesses that make him more dangerous and sinister than Napoleon. To achieve independence, the other farms will have to adhere to their values and traditions. It is only with this strategy that they will be able to counter Snowball’s control of their lands and resources.
In this interpretation. Animal farms can be said to represent the Muslim world. Snowball represents the Western power and Napoleon represents the Muslim leaders. Squealer has two functions, one is to represent the mainstream media’s propaganda, and the other is the representation of علماء السوء (evil and devilish religious scholars).
A functioning social structure will never be possible until we return to our traditions and remove those Napoleons.