“These people had turned into creatures as far removed as possible from humans. The cerebral cortex no longer plays any role with them. They are only driven by sex or violence.” (Towfik, 95)
Reverse Evolution http://nextgap.com/2014/06/reverse-evolution/
The above quote could be described as a main theme of the novel. A theme that would be very common in the genre of a dystopian society, the theme of dehumanization. Utopia, the novel written by Ahmed Khaled Towfik, was published in 2009 originally written in Arabic and translated to English by Chip Rossetti. A dystopian society in Egypt separates the entire population into two very distinct factions, the very rich, who dwell in the near ‘perfect’ colony that is Utopia, and the extreme poor who live in scum of the earth areas outside the the walls of the Utopian city.
Now, a dystopian society is a complex genre. So many effects that a nihilistic, elitist and nearly hopeless society could have on any one person. Or rather, an entire population of people. What I will be covering, is the nature of dehumanization and how Towfik uses it in his novel. Dehumanization is described as the stripping of a person or group of people of any positive human qualities. Take it as a non-biological ‘Reverse Evolution’ where the mental and emotional state of a human person starts to deteriorate into a lower form. Though, we must figure out what makes each and every one of us human. We as a species aren’t that much different from any primate or mammal that’s a part of the hypothetical ‘Animal Tree’. Though we create for ourselves certain guidelines and questions on what separates us from non-humans. Could it be the way we think and act that make us humans, could it be the morals and ideals we set for ourselves in life that make us more human? Is it the empathy, or connectivity, or our sense of reasoning that make us seem more human? Or could it be the identity we set ourselves as. Well, whatever it may be, staying ‘human’ is a difficult thing to be, especially in the setting of the novel.
Throughout the novel, dehumanization is present in mostly every circumstance, in both the rich and the poor factions. Alaa, the narrator of the Predator parts of the novel, is a patron of the dehumanization principle of this society. “I know them by heart in the way that you know the taste of chicken by heart. No chicken is different from any other and you can feel that you have eaten this chicken before.” (Towfik, 88), quite the patron of woman this Alaa is, isn’t he? Throughout the novel, Alaa continues to vocalize how inhuman the people around him are. Alaa is an advocate of the violent culture that Utopia stands for. The ‘no-consequence’ culture has an effect of invincibility on him, giving him an undeserved sense that he can do whatever he wants and get away with it. And he does.
One of the scenes nearing the ending involves Alaa raping an already sick girl, continually calling her a ‘thing’ and blaming her state of poverty on her own people’s actions (Towfik, 132), despite the novel telling us this wasn’t the case. Alaa also shows us, the reader, that dehumanization works both ways. He carries himself all high and mighty, and yet many of the actions, such as the rape just covered, all non-human to begin with. He acts like he’s on top of the world and yet acts like a disgusting animal in heat that tears away at anything he can get his hands on, who betrays those that helped him, such as his murder of Gabber (Towfik, 143), and the random shooting at the upcoming revolution at the end of the novel (Towfik, 156).
It is through this dystopian society that these people become dehumanized and animal-like. The lack of resources make the poor desperate, completely forgetting their human morals and doing anything, no matter how horrid or beast-like, to survive. The rich however, they are dehumanized for different reasons, as their ideas that they are invincible make them feel like they can do anything, as does Alaa, which excuses them from taking part in rape, drug abuse, murder, and death-worship. Then how do we, in our present day society, prevent dehumanization? Well, I assume the only way we keep us from becoming savages like Alaa and treating others in that same way, is by remembering where we all have come from. We all struggle, but I believe our experiences and how we deal with our stress makes us as human as we can be. We stay human because we stay “human”, or rather, we stick with the morals that don’t cause ourselves or others harm; well at least most of us.