Importance of “Narrative” in 21st Century

We can see the word “Narrative” has an increased significance in late 20th century and in 21st century. Or one can say we are living in an age of narrative. The times has changed and it is no more the era of controlling the physical bodies but now there are new methods of influencing and occupying territory. Now in 21st century it is done by the controlling the minds and thoughts of people.

Originally, the term narrative refers to something that is narrated i.e. written or told. It existed previously too but the term has become more popular in the last few years. Production and reproduction of the narratives is a dynamic process which keeps on evolving. For instance around 600 years ago, it was believed that the world existed forever and will remain forever. It was the general narrative of world in the society but Imam Ghazali stood up and rejected the idea. He argued rationally about the existence of earth and human beings. Now a new discourse was formed in the society that this world was once created and will end someday. Similarly, the proposition that the earth is static and sun revolves around earth was rejected and a new discourse was formed suggesting that sun is the center and earth revolves around it. So the narratives can be changed or challenged. As Dr. Nasir Abbas Nayyar says,

“A narrative can be replaced by another narrative. Where there is a narrative, there is or must be another, resistance or alternative, narrative.”

The idea of resistance narrative is of 21st century when common people get educated and began to doubt and question the basic narrative existed in the society and began to discuss and argue about them. Bertrand Russell and his skeptic essays talks about the same thing. Skepticism leads to human empowerment.

Factors that are involved in creating a narrative in society mainly include POWER. Generally the power decides a narrative to be central or peripheral. It is propagated through texts, speeches and talks. For instance a general idea created by those in power is that idleness and leisure is bad and 'Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do.' Those who were rich had all time in the world and they enjoy free time so they constructed such ideas in society. As Bertrand Russell says in his book “In praise of idleness”,

“In the past, there was a small leisure class and a larger working class. The leisure class enjoyed advantages for which there was no basis in social justice; this necessarily made it oppressive, limited its sympathies, and caused it to invent theories by which to justify its privileges.”

To strive for freeing ourselves from narratives we have to work to construct another narrative suitable for us. It is up to human beings to accept certain narratives in society or argue rationally about them.

These narratives are either told or written. As in Islam, Quran is also a discourse as Ghalib had said one and a half century ago:

“Where do exist disbelief and belief except in Sukhan or Discourse.”

One major way of creating a narrative is the use of text or the journalistic discourse. Certain images are created by propagating them through newspapers, books, periodicals, pamphlets etc. For example East India Company hired Max Muller who was a German Journalist to write the history of sub-continent.  So, through his book of history English created this discourse in society that sub-continent has always been ruled by colonizers hence these freedom movements are useless. Similarly, “Coffeehouse of Lahore” by prof. K.K Aziz is the history of writers of Lahore. Such narratives have a very powerful impact on people. As during the cold war when U.S wanted Afghanistan to fight against Russia, they did it with creating the narratives. University of Nebraska designed the academic syllabus which had questions in it like ‘ if you are standing 2 km away from a Russian solider then how much time a bullet will take to open his head?’. Such is the power of narratives.

It is not essential that the narratives are always true but can be fabricated and has fictions elements in it. It can be comprised of realistic facts but not essentially real or actual facts. As M. Hanif wrote about the death of General Zia ul Haq in “A Case of Exploding Mangos” which is based on different narratives that existed in society about this accident.

Conclusively, the modern age is the age of narratives. Power is inherent in human beings and most sophisticated tool of power is creating narratives. We can only be free if we begin to think rationally and stop recognizing ourselves through the eyes of others. Narrative and discourse are such powerful tools that one can rule whole world without even using a single weapon.