A few days ago, I read a strange story on Al-Arabiya’s website about someone who revealed himself to have a troubled relationship with reality.
The story was about former Canadian Defense Minister Paul Hellyer, who used an interview with a Russian TV station to confirm the existence of extra-terrestrial beings that “have been living among humans for thousands of years.”
The man—who we must remember was once in charge of military aircraft, ships and troops—said that “there is an association of extraterrestrial beings who are keeping a watchful eye on what humans are doing, but that association does not intervene in our affairs.”
The minister emphasized that he had himself met with the leaders of that alien association, who he said “expressed their disappointment over the behavior of human beings.”
We might pardon the Canadian minister on account of his age: He is 91 years old. But we shouldn’t pardon Iran’s FARS news agency for its recent report saying that documents leaked by Edward Snowden had revealed that since the end of the Second World War, the US government has been dominated by extra-terrestrial beings formerly associated with the Nazis.
Their report went on to say that the aliens had helped the Nazis build submarines, were welcomed to the US by President Eisenhower, and that to this day they are working with the US Air Force in Nevada.
The reference to aliens in Nevada reminded me of an old joke by the late Kuwaiti actor Khaled Al-Nafisi, who said he had seen underwater cities in Japan where the residents used little submarines instead of cars. Famously, one of his competitors—comedian Sa’ad Al-Faraj—believed his statements to be true.
We all know that stories of such fanciful worlds and of aliens walking among us don’t come from thin air. They have been around for thousands of years, and new ones have been created in living memory. Even during the Cold War, the isolation of the “atheist” communist world and the “Christian” and capitalist West from one another led to wild speculation in a similar vein.
Perhaps one of the most unique writers of the Cold War era was Eric von Daniken, who in the late 1960s wrote Chariots of the Gods. In that book, he details the “early visits” extra-terrestrials made to Earth, and speculates that everything we regard as “modern” technology was in fact known in ancient civilizations—and that aliens had brought humans this technology. He claims there is even evidence of early extra-terrestrial intervention in human affairs to be found in our planet’s many holy books.
Von Daniken’s work became an international sensation, and he even inspired people in the Arab world to write their own books on the subject. The late Anis Mansour—who was once a writer for this newspaper—was perhaps the icon of that trend in the Middle East, especially after he wrote his book, Those Who Descended from the Sky.
It’s no secret that the US government and NASA, its space program, have carried out scientific investigations into the existence of life on other planets. Yet, clearly, the debate about whether or not aliens walk among us has not yet been settled.
For people who love fanciful stories and fantasy books, the lack of solid evidence is a perfect thing to exploit to get attention and, perhaps, fame. But for scientists, that ambiguity raises questions that must be answered through challenging inquiry. Between the two extremes lie the rest of us, caught between two realities—or two falsehoods.