Ahmed Saood was the first appointed president of the Eyebrow Encryption Office, also known as Eye-Crypt. His doctoral thesis, “On Eyebrows: the Networked Infrastructure of Identity and Social Compliance”, propelled him up the proverbial ladder to his current position, at the prime age of thirty-two. His pervasive research on the nationals of the Kingdom of Narrana and its neighbouring countries, made him realise that one’s eyebrows contain a library of information. Investigating further he found that facial expressions predate modes of communication like spoken and written language. Thus making every nuance and inflexion of the eyebrow a barometer of a person’s activity, mood, internalised emotions and thought processes. If the government could develop the right technology and persuade its public to comply, eyebrows could be infused with meta-data that would replace passports, medical records, bank details and official documents.(1)
And so, Eye-Crypt initiated a campaign for the measurement and documentation of eyebrows. All households received a delivery package containing guidelines and instructions for the allowed eyebrow length and shape in ratio to the rest of their facial features. The packages were printed with the tagline, “They should be sisters and not twins”. After shaping their eyebrows correctly, each member of the public was then obliged to report individually to Eye-Crypt, and have their eyebrows scanned and administered with all their personal information. Initially, there was a backlash from the public, but in a short time the convenience of having all their information recorded in one place changed their minds. It was not long before an algorithm was developed to deliver content to eyebrows, in addition to receiving intelligence gathered from them. As a result, Eye-Crypt distributed an endless stream of data, advertisements and social prompts to keep the public sated, entertained and incentivised to spend money. Whilst Saood sat at the helm of Eye-Crypt, he watched as the Kingdom’s economy soared.
One day, while making his way through his ostentatious office, he felt a mixture of exhaustion and relief that it was the time of year that neared the end of Ramadan(2) and preparations for Eid Al Fitr(3) were underway. The interesting thing about Narrana was that its people believed themselves to be religious and conservative. However, they were very easily distracted from traditional religious practice. They believed that God would be satisfied even if they abbreviated the prescribed rituals and performed them listlessly. This made Ramadan a very important month for Saood and Eye-Crypt. Ramadan was the month where the government scanned more eyebrows and delivered more content than any other time of year. And it was Saood’s responsibility to make sure the public adapted the artificial blueprint that he carefully designed. The substitutions were made subliminally; Saood slowly began changing people’s habits by commissioning an almost endless stream of bespoke programming, ranging from soap operas, dubbed telenovelas, variety, cooking and game shows. He injected advertisements that encouraged the purchase of new wardrobes of Jalabiyas(4), and made sure that there was a surge in hotel prices and municipal tax for the millions of religious tourists the Kingdom welcomed every year to perform their Umra.(5) In short, Saood did his job well, the country’s pockets deepened and the higher-ups were happy.
Saood looked up and realised it was night time, and that he had forgotten to break his fast. He reached for a box of dates he kept in his drawer and instinctively picked out seven from the box, as he was told the Prophet used to do. “One more day of Ramadan,” he muttered to himself. One more day of strategically eyecasted shows from three in the afternoon to a little past midnight; One more day of Sufras(6) blotted with starchy, fried and fatty food, a practice that profited food retailers and distributors(7); One more day of women parading their newly bought Jalabiya’s at social gatherings. “One more day,” he reassured himself. Saood's remoulding of Ramadan made Narrana one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Although lately, he had been feeling uneasy. He looked to his right at the door, secured by an eyecrypted lock only he could access. Subtly raising a brow, he unlocked it and walked right into the sterile, air-conditioned white space, suddenly surrounded by the humming machines that powered the archive.
This was the only collection of ancient scripture and hadith(8) left in the world. Saood stood in the glare of the single screen, re-reading the orations and verses on Ramadan. Over the last few weeks he had developed the habit of walking into the archive and reading the texts on Ramadan over and over again, sometimes until daybreak. He knew his insomnia was fuelled by guilt. He had been tormented during his waking hours and sleep. As he stood in the cold room shaking as tears overwhelmed him, Saood knew he had taken things too far. The sanctity of prayer, the patience that complemented fasting, the open roads to pilgrimage, were things that he had placed price tags on and commodified. He dizzied the people of his beloved country into emptying their pockets and living in perpetual debt. And he cheated pious pilgrims when conducting their religious rites. The Prophet spoke plainly about taking care of the world we live in, but the relentless cycle of consumption covered the country and its neighbouring waters with insurmountable debris. All the teachings of kindness and empathy, silence and worship, the choreographed movements of prayer(9) – a practice that mirrored yoga postures – were brushed aside at the whim of governments, corporations and conglomerates. Monetising religious obligations was his sin to bare. However, he realised at that moment, that he was the only person that could right this wrong. He swiped on the screen vigorously and checked his tabs with the Ramadan texts. He held his breath and tapped the “Share With All Eyebrows” button. He rushed out of the archive, reached the computer on his desk and tapped away until he had cancelled all the streaming programmes, advertisements and transmissions that were eyecasted nation-wide. “Ramadan had one last day this year,” Saood thought to himself, and regardless of the repercussions, all the archival material was no longer secret and all the eyebrows’ masters can wake from their trance. Eye-Crypt will no longer have a hold on them, and they will have the freedom to worship in whatever way they choose.