When I first read this poem in college, as an English/American literature student, I thought Robert Frost was being overly cynical, the pessimist that he was. But now, I can’t help but agree with him. One look at the world today and anyone with a sensitive heart and sensible mind is able to grasp the full meaning of this poem.
I see the fire and I see the ice all around me. On one end of the spectrum is desire, greed, a race to take over the remaining natural resources of a dying planet, and on the other there is a lack of sympathy, empathy and sensitivity towards those who suffer as a result of this greed. There is hatred, and the feeling of “otherness,” an us-versus-you sort of attitude whereby Adam’s offspring manage to alienate each other on the basis of race, belief, caste and color.
I am told by those who are apparently much wiser than me – that I shouldn’t fret over it, as the world has always been in such a mess. Yet I am immensely disturbed that such hatred, such division and discrimination exists between the children of Adam, born of the same parents, yet scattered, divided into race and class, with the elite with all their vested interests and the poor and mediocre caught in the complex web of war, suffering, pain, poverty, hunger and famine.
I cannot help but be agonized by the fact that the majority of children in this world are deprived of the privileges and comforts which are the birth right of each and every child, something each child is entitled to. While every parent, in turn, is entitled to the comfort of knowing that their kids will not go to bed hungry or afraid. If my children are safe and sound surrounded by comforts, then why shouldn’t any other child have the same privileges?
In a world torn apart by war – proxy war, cold war – I see most of the miseries of the world arising out of such wars, which have been waged in the name of fake glory and false security threats . I have often wondered, particularly as a psychologist, as to what drives people to join the armed forces. I mean, other than the obvious higher, nobler causes – serving one’s country, honour, etc, and the benefits offered to men in uniform; is there any other underlying, intrinsic drive or motive, that compels men to enroll in a profession which might be deemed by some as excessively risky, with the risk actually exceeding the benefits which the job has to offer? Some people, however, may enlighten you thus: its the instinct to kill (Killer Instinct!) Its what lies in man’s basic, or rather, base nature.
Oh but I disagree! Man was created for better things. To create, rather than kill. Killing might become a necessity in the everyday maintenance of law and order, or peace, stability and self defence, but other than that, to deem it a part of man’s nature or instinct, is surely insulting humanity.
According to Allama Muhammad Iqbal, the Quran considers man to be “essentially good and peaceful,” and holds a certain worldview in accordance with this belief in the essential goodness of mankind. In its second chapter, the Quran mentions the conversation which took place between God and the Angels when he informed them of his plan to create mankind:
And when God said to the angels: ‘I am going to make a Viceroy on the earth,’ they said: ‘Art Thou creating one who spills blood and disturbs the peace of the earth, and we glorify Thee and sing Thy praises?’ God answered, ‘I know what you do not know.’ 2:30 – 34
In his paper ‘Islam as a Moral and Political Ideal,’ Iqbal presents the worldview of the Quran in light of the above mentioned ayah. The Quran depicts man as having more control over his environment, his surroundings and in fact, his own destiny than any other religious, ethical or political system. Islam presents man as inherently pure and innocent, as opposed to the doctrine of “Original Sin” propounded by Christianity:
“Islam teaches that evil is not essential to the universe; the universe can be reformed; the elements of sin and evil can be gradually eliminated … the seemingly destructive forces of nature become sources of life, if properly controlled by man, who is endowed with the power to understand and to control them.”
The message conveyed by the Quran is that there is struggle in the environment, there are obstacles on the way, but man has been given the will and volition to overcome these obstacles. If only he can find it within himself to rise to the challenge.
“… the Islamic view of the universe is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. … Islam believes in the efficacy of well-directed action; hence the standpoint of Islam must be described as melioristic—the ultimate pre-supposition and justification of all human effort at scientific discovery and social progress.”
The problem arises when scientific discovery begins to be aimed at destruction rather than progression of Humanity. If we take, for instance, nuclear energy. The purpose of its discovery and formulation was to provide an alternative means of energy production, which was less costly, and less harmful to the environment if it was kept within controlled conditions. Greed and ambition, however, led it to be converted into the monster known as the atomic bomb, which charred and scarred the face of Humanity in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the second world war.
Nevertheless, Islam, as a moral and political system does not see Humanity disintegrating into Fire and Ice, but rather, has great hopes for it. Evil exists, Ambition exists, Hatred exists, Pain exists, Suffering exists, but the ultimate goal set by Nature for Adam’s progeny is to resist the temptation, to brave the storms, and create a new world out of the ashes of antiquity. To grow, to progress, to live up to its potential.
We have the will, we have the power, we have the tools. Now it is up to us to either continue to accept and be complaisant with the living hell which we have allowed our world to evolve into, or to refurbish it, heal it and to convert it into a Garden of Eden, much like the one we left behind.