The novel “1984” is a classic text in style, plot, and content. It mainly speaks of dystopian science and political fiction (Bowker 56). The novel is set in Airstrip One, a province of the superstate of Oceania (Bowker 56). Individualism and independent thinking are highly persecuted by the government. The discrepancies are made worse by the leader of the ruling party, Big Brother.
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The leader enjoys a powerful cult-like following and unlimited resources, which are used to crush any rebellion (Mount 148). George Orwell, the author of the novel, gives a startling and haunting illustration of how people can be alienated from their freedom of thought. Many of the issues he addresses in the novel have come to pass in modern times.
In this paper, the author compares Big Brother’s government with the modern regime of Saddam Hussein. The aim is to provide insights into how denial of independent thinking affects societies. The author also objectively provides a framework for a better understanding of dictatorship.
Analyzing Saddam Hussein’s Regime from the Perspective of George Orwell’s “1984”
Iraq under Saddam: A Brief Background
Saddam was the fifth president of Iraq. He rose to power in 1979. However, in reality, he had unofficially been in power for several years before (Dyson and Raleigh 53). Under his regime, many people died as a result of his brutal actions and policies. Majority of these people were surprisingly Muslims.
There was no end to his brutality in an attempt to gain complete control of Iraq. For instance, he had forty of his relatives murdered because they did not support his leadership. He denied people the right to participate in political rallies and national decisions. Allegations of prostitution were commonly used to intimidate opponents and to justify the beheading of women (Dyson and Raleigh 53).
Saddam was the major cause of rifts between his people. He divided the society according to political affiliations. He openly expressed his hatred for certain tribes, especially those that openly opposed his leadership. For instance, in a period of one year, he launched a campaign of terror and killed more than 100,000 Kurds (Eman 79). The people lived in fear. They had no option but to support the ruling coalition. Supporters of the regime were given privileges, such as freedom of movement and participation in politics.
George Orwell’s ‘1984’
In order to make a comprehensive comparison between Saddam’s and Big Brother’s regimes, it is important to start by understanding the plot of the novel. Winston Smith is the main character. He is a member of the middle-class outer party. He lives in Airstrip One province (Orwell 5). The man works at the Ministry of Truth as an editor. His job involves rewriting records and photographs to conform to the state’s ever-changing version of the truth. However, although he works for the ruling party, he secretly abhors its leadership.
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It is for this reason that he secretly writes a journal criticizing the party and its mysterious leader, Big Brother (Bowker 56). He is later joined by Julia. The latter is a young woman who maintains the ministry’s machines. She confesses her love for Winston and her shared loathing of the party (Orwell 154). They take extreme precautions to hide their love affair. They do this by renting a room on top of an antique shop. The two believe that they cannot be spied on as the room has no telescreens.
Winston is so pleased by this that he cannot help from murmuring out loud, “no telescreens!” (Orwell 122). However, in spite of the extra precaution, they fall prey to O’Brien. The latter is an agent of the Thought Police. However, he is posing as an agent of the Brotherhood Party, which opposes the ruling regime. The two are arrested and tortured. They are only released after betraying each other and professing their love for Big Brother (Mount 149).
The portrayal of Big Brother’s regime in ‘1984’
Under Big Brother, the society lives in abject poverty, hunger, disease, and filth. During the civil war, a large portion of the city was ruined by atomic bombs and self-serving Oceania rockets. A small part of the town was rebuilt by the government, including the ministerial pyramids (Mount 150). Discrimination on the basis of party affiliations is clearly seen in this regime.
The ruling party divides the people according to their social status and support to the regime. Members of the inner party live in different parts of the town. Their neighborhoods are clean and serene. They have access to luxury commodities, such as wine and foodstuffs, which are denied to members of the outer party. The latter group is only allowed access to low-quality luxuries, such as loosely packed cigarettes and oily gin (Orwell 216).
Life for members of the outer party is made unbearable by the government. The situation is clearly captured by Winston when he says that “one’s heart would sicken of discomfort and dirt” (Orwell 76). The people are only provided with synthetic food and are denied access to crucial services. For instance, it takes a special meeting and the approval of a committee for a glass window to be repaired. Such procedures take long periods of time. In most cases, they end up coming with disappointing decisions.
Outer party members are constantly monitored by the government. Consequently, telescreens are installed in their houses to monitor their every move (Mount 148). The move is informed by the thinking of the government that the middle class is the source of all troubles and revolutions.
Another social group that is clearly seen in the novel is the proletariat. Their lives are characterized by extreme poverty. The government uses alcohol, pornography, and gambling to control them (Bowker 60). According to Orwell, the lottery is the major reason why most of the Proles continuing living (109). The group is also subject to a certain level of scrutiny by the government. However, individuals are not expected to be particularly patriotic. In addition, there are no telescreens in their houses.
Generally, the living standards of people in the country are pathetic. Poverty affects the general populace at an alarming rate. The ruling party believes that paucity is a necessary sacrifice in order to win the war that Oceania is currently involved in against other superpowers (Mount 147). The society in the novel is manipulated by the ruling regime into accepting and doing what the state wants. For instance, in one of the rallies, a speaker convinces the people to redirect their hatred from Eurasia to Eastasia (Bowker 54).
In the Ministry of Truth, photographs and public archives are altered to hide the evidence of persons who have either being arrested or eliminated from history by the government (Bowker 54). The dictatorial regime also uses the telescreens to manipulate the population regarding the current state of the economy. It is done by grossly exaggerating production figures to portray an ever-growing economy. As a result of this type of manipulation, Winston concludes that “the object of persecution is persecution” (Orwell 332).
Similarities between the Regimes Overseen by Big Brother in “1984” and Saddam Hussein in Iraq
As stated earlier, most of the issues addressed by Orwell in this novel have happened in modern dictatorial regimes. For instance, a critical comparison between the scenes in “1984” and Saddam Hussein’s rule reveals a lot of similarities. Some of them are highlighted below:
Thirst for power
In both cases, the leaders of the parties are ‘drunk with power’. Saddam Hussein named entire cities, airports, and neighborhoods after himself (Zeidel 203). He even went ahead to erect a military arch in Baghdad in his honor. In learning institutions, learners were forced to memorize songs with lyrics depicting Saddam as their savior and god (Zeidel 203). Big Brother is not any different.
The scenario in Iraq is clearly evident in the novel. Big Brother personifies the inner party. His ever-present face is constantly depicted in posters and telescreens. The pupil is brainwashed by his omnipresence. As a result, children turn against their parents. They report them to police working for the Ministry of Thought if they showed any resistance towards Big Brother (Bowker 56).
Another similarity that is quite evident in both dictator-driven societies is the prevalence of war. Both regimes use war to achieve a number of objectives. In the novel, the state of Oceania is constantly involved in a war with an unclear and shifting enemy (Davison 336). The government makes people believe that they are in danger.
However, the truth is that most of these wars are fabricated. Big Brother uses the situation to control the opposition and maintain his authority. He cultivates a culture of fear and hatred among the people. According to Orwell, the citizens are led to believe that war is peace (21).
In Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraq is constantly involved in the war with neighboring countries and other external superpowers. In a period of twenty years alone, the country goes to war with Iran, Kuwait, and the United States. To a large extent, the aggression towards Kuwait was justified. However, it could have been avoided (Mylroie 125).
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Saddam used to fear for war to control his country. In spite of killing and executing his own people, the dictator was able to win elections undisputed. Many historians and scholars maintain that this was a result of election irregularities. However, others argue that it was because Iraqis believed that Saddam was the only leader who could win the war against Iran (Eman 79).
Torture and execution of rebellious leaders
Torture and execution were used to eliminate any uprisings and opposition. Saddam Hussein constantly persecuted those who dared to oppose him. His family members and other relatives were not spared (White 291).
A clear instance of his wrath towards opposition is seen in the attempt to assassinate him in the town of Dujail. In response to this threat, he ordered the arrest of more than 140 men who were of fighting age (White 291). The men were never seen again. The whole town was bulldozed and women and children exiled to a southern desert camp.
Big Brother was also ruthless when dealing with opposition. He used the Ministry of Love to torture all those who plotted against him. A case in point is when Julia and Smith are arrested. They are taken to the Ministry of Love for questioning (Orwell 7). Here, Winston is tortured using electric shocks. O’Brien tells him that it is only through controlled manipulation of perception that he can get cured of his insanity (Orwell 344). One is left wondering where the ‘erased’ persons disappear to.
In some cases, torture and execution are used as the most efficient way of imposing conditions on the general population. It is also clear that dictators use public apparatus, such as the police, to achieve their selfish interests. In the case of Big Brother, the leader uses the Thought Police to monitor society. His actions bear similarities to Saddam’s use of a specially trained police force to deal with any form of opposition.
Constant surveillance of citizens
In both cases, the privacy of the inhabitants is violated. In addition, they are denied their freedom of worship and association. For instance, the residents of Oceania live in houses equipped with two-way telescreens. The screens allow state agents to spy on the households at all times. According to Orwell, the telescreens could only be dimmed but not shutdown (4). Thought officers interact freely with the populace. The aim is to spy on any subversive elements in society.
Saddam Hussein’s regime is identical to the one in Oceania. It regulated the formation of political bodies. In addition, it monitored their undertakings (Eman 79). In addition, people who were deemed to be poor were segregated from those who were rich. They could only move from one region to the other with permission from the government. Any citizen who received money from abroad was also closely monitored (Eman 80).
The positive goals of the leaders
Most acts of dictatorship are largely negative. However, at times, there are traces of positivity in them. At times, the leaders act in good intentions. For instance, when Saddam Hussein took over power, Iraq was unstable and leaders were regularly persecuted (Mylroie 127). It is only through the use of extreme force that he was able to finally regain control of the country.
As a result, he saved more lives compared to what could have happened under continued uprisings (Schiffbauer and Shen 82). By waging war against Kuwait, Saddam was able to control the oil prices. Consequently, he helped the country to rebuild itself after the war with Iran (Mylroie 127).
Big Brother’s positive attributes can be seen by taking a critical look into his actions. It is a fact that he oppressed his people and made them languish in poverty. However, in doing so, the party was able to fund the forces involved in the war against Eastasia and Eurasia. In addition, by redirecting society’s anger towards different countries, the leader was able to stop the enemies from forming allies. As a result, he averted an organized war against Oceania (Davison 336).
It is clear that the scenarios predicted by George Orwell in “1984” about an individual’s failure to fight for their rights of thought finally came true in modern Iraq. The effects of an oppressive regime on economic, social, and political structures of a nation are seen. Regardless of whether Orwell’s work was based on mere fiction or prophecy, the book should serve as a warning to modern societies. People should be aware of what could happen if they failed to defend their rights in society.
Bowker, Gordon. Inside George Orwell: A Biography, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Print.
Davison, Peter. “Orwell & Marxism: The Political and Cultural Thinking of George Orwell.” American Communist History 9.3 (2010): 335-337. Print.
Dyson, Stephen, and Alexandra Raleigh. “Public and Private Beliefs of Political Leaders: Saddam Hussein in Front of a Crowd and Behind Closed Doors.” Research & Politics 1.1 (2014): 50-69. Print.
Eman, Ibrahim. “Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge, Said K. Aburish.” Digest of Middle East Studies 9.1 (2000): 77-80. Print.
Mount, Ferdinand. “Orwell and the Oligarchs: George Orwell Memorial Lecture.” The Political Quarterly 82.2 (2011): 146-156. Print.
Mylroie, Laurie. “Why Saddam Hussein Invaded Kuwait.” Orbis 37.1 (1993): 123-134. Print.
Orwell, George. 1984, New York: Plume, 1983. Print.
Schiffbauer, Marc, and Ling Shen. “Democracy vs. Dictatorship.” Economics of Transition 18.1 (2010): 59-90. Print.
White, Ralph. “Empathizing with Saddam Hussein.” Political Psychology 12.2 (1991): 291. Print.
Zeidel, Ronen. “Joseph Sassoon, Saddam Hussein’s Baʿath Party: Inside an Authoritarian Regime.” The Middle East Book Review 4.2 (2013): 201-204. Print.