The creations of Mary Shelley and that of Lord Balfour – are there lessons to be learnt?

Wednesday, 3 April 2024 00:28 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Lord Balfour

Mary Shelley

The creations of Mary Shelley and Lord Balfour; the former being fiction and the latter being played out in 4K ultra-HD resolution today, are separated by time and space, but offer lessons for the enquiring mind.


Lord Balfour’s creation

The vote taken on 29th November 1947 to create the state of Israel, was rejected by all Arab States. On 30th November, the very next day, the first phase of the Arab-Israeli war began and ended with thousands dead and the forcible expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homeland.

World leaders refused to accept the ominous beginning as a harbinger of darker, more dangerous times ahead.

Many, many years of continued war, with millions of lives lost, were only interrupted by phony moral handwringing. Crocodile tears were on full display, while the invasion of a neighbouring country and the well-documented slaughter at Sabra and Shatila were allowed to continue. The slow but deliberate carving out of additional ‘occupied land’ in the name of buffer zones were – even though illegal – for all practical purposes, sanctioned. Those who colluded to create the state of Israel, continued to wear blinkers.

Maybe it is post hoc rationalisation. But Lord Arthur Balfour words ‘… it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…’, ring hollow and deliberately disingenuous – a flimsy sugarcoat on the bitter and deadly pill concocted to rid a nation of people from their birthright.

Today, however, it is no longer possible to shroud the many atrocities. Maybe, it is the pure power of social media, or maybe King Jr. had been right all along. ‘The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.’

For whatever happy conflation of circumstances, those who schemed to implement the 1917 Balfour Declaration, are today squirming publicly at the brutality and barbarity that continue to besiege that battered population of Palestine.


Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Frankenstein: a work of fiction is the result of a wager between friends and has captured the imagination of generations since its publication in 1818.

In Mary Shelley’s fictitious narrative, Victor Frankenstein (Frankenstein is the name of the scientist and not of his creation) crafted the creature to assess and demonstrate his scientific ability. But very soon Victor understood the very basic nature of his own creation and is forced to watch helplessly as all he holds dear is slaughtered and killed.

“Alas! I had turned loose into the world a depraved wretch, whose delight was in carnage and misery; …” Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein

It is the subsequent tribulations of Victor, trying to exert control over his own creation and ultimately failing in the attempt, that infuses the story with such timeless fascination on a canvass of universal moral tenets.  


The moral dilemma of today

Yet, times have changed. Western powers are no longer able to hide and deny the daily brutality. The parlour tricks that took the sting out of the Sabra and Shatila massacres are no longer tenable in the age of Tik Tok. {Aside} Attempting to ban Tik Tok will not, no longer be able to bottle the genie.

Just like Victor Frankenstein, world leaders are learning that they are no longer in control. Blinken’s not-so friendly words, Chancellor Scholz’s outright warning; even while standing next to the Israeli PM, even a Security Council’s resolution, no longer seem to have the capability to restrain. Biden can no longer pretend to portray Netanyahu as his boo.

Unable to control his creation, Victor ultimately dies a miserable death while the creature escapes. Whether it keeps its ‘stated’ intention to stop the killings, or continues on its merry path, Mary Shelley declines to offer nary a clue.

Historian and Army General Thucydides wrote in the 5th Century BC that, ‘… when we are talking about the human plane, questions of justice only arise when there is power to compel….’. I pray that the Guardians of the Moral Universe, those who have the power to compel will, at least attempt, to match the moral conviction of Victor Frankenstein.

The author is a Maldivian writer and essayist. Writing in both Dhivehi, his native language and in English, he writes mostly on matters of economics. He is the co-founder and co-editor or the Maldives Economic Review Some of his writings, from a career spanning 2 decades, are being collected in his blogpost

Recent columns