Thursday, April 3, 2008

Ben Ladin as Sauron

So, I was lying on the couch last Saturday evening (a bit past six pm on Sat. March 29th), letting the over-the-counter cold medicine do its work, when I came across something both surprising and appalling. Not feeling up to watching something with subtitles and no longer having access to Book TV, I was switching back and forth between the four cable news channels (as opposed to the two I usually watch), when I caught a Tolkien reference on one of them. Fox News, which I rarely watch, was running some kind of special designed to stir up fear and trembling in the viewers, one of those Are-You-Scared-Yet?/We-Can-Make-You-Scared things. This particular one was called "JIHAD USA: HOMEGROWN TERROR" and was looking at the phenomenon of copycat attacks and would-be attacks by people who have no connection to al-Qaeda. Rather than drawing what would seem to be the obvious conclusion -- such hairbrained plots are a predictable side-effect of the war, and our conduct of the war, and unpreventable in a society as heavily (and irresponsibly) armed as ours -- they had a pundit (whose name I unfortunately missed) who saw the whole thing in terms of a Tolkien analogy:

"ben Ladin is the Lord without the Rings".

Granted, this is not an exact quote and I missed the context that had led up to this remark, but if I understood him rightly he was claiming that Ben Ladin was like Sauron, holed up in his lair, but that he'd sent the Rings of Power (jihadist doctrine) out into the world where they were working his evil (inspiring terrorist plots).

Like I said, appalling.

I consider this the down side of Tolkien's permeation of our culture: he now has admirers across the board, from the white supremacists who are forging evidence that he was sympathetic to their cause (a fraud exposed by David Doughan in a recent issue of AMON HEN) to, well, this guy.

Gah!

--JDR

current audiobook : JOHN ADAMS by David McCullough (still)

9 comments:

Aelfwine said...

"...one of those Are-You-Scared-Yet?/We-Can-Make-You-Scared things. This particular one was called 'JIHAD USA: HOMEGROWN TERROR'."

Indeed, Fox is wasting valuable scare-time on jihadism when it should instead be following the rest of the MSM in making sure everyone is sufficiently panicked about global warning.

"if I understood him rightly he was claiming that Ben Ladin was like Sauron, holed up in his lair, but that he'd sent the Rings of Power (jihadist doctrine) out into the world where they were working his evil (inspiring terrorist plots). Like I said, appalling."

What exactly is "appalling" about this? Did Sauron not seek the defeat of the West through his agents, including the Rings of Power? Does Bin Laden not seek the defeat of the West through his agents, including jihadist terror cells?

John D. Rateliff said...

"Indeed, Fox is wasting valuable scare-time on jihadism when it should instead be . . . making sure everyone is sufficiently panicked about global warning."

This brings up a good point: the real problem of We-Can-Make-You-Scared stories like the Fox News one cited is that they blur the line between real threats we shd be concerned about, like Climate Change, and a faux-crisis like the current 'Hispanic Panic',* not to mention that they crowd out the important stories they shd be reporting instead (like the cascading sequence of population collapses of various fish, seabird, and other aquatics, or the mass extinctions that are already underway**).


"What exactly is 'appalling' about [comparing ben Laden to Sauron]? Did Sauron not seek the defeat of the West through his agents, including the Rings of Power? Does Bin Laden not seek the defeat of the West through his agents, including jihadist terror cells?"

Tolkien himself was adamant in rejecting all attempts to identify the beings in his stories with real-world people, contemporary or otherwise, and affirmed in 'On Fairy-Stories' that appreciation and understanding of fantasy depended on keeping it firmly distinguished from the real world. So, to make such an identification is profoundly to misunderstand and misappropriate Tolkien's works.

Sauron is an incarnation of Evil on a transhuman scale; no actual human being can begin to embody pure evil in that way -- not a serial killer, not a mass murderer. I'm told bin Laden is a loving father; Hitler painted beautiful landscapes and adored dogs. Each remains all too human in a way that Sauron, or Morgoth, is not. That's what makes their crimes so staggering; cannibalism is horrific in a way that a predator eating prey is not.

Thus, the pundit's attempt to mythologize and allegorize terrorists is thus both inept and reprehensible.

--JDR


*how did we ever get so afraid that many Americans would seriously advocate building a Berlin Wall a thousand miles long to fence out a neighbor we've been at peace with for 91 years?

**anyone in college today stands an excellent chance of outliving the last rhinoceros, for example.

Aelfwine said...

You're reading far more into that metaphor than I do, and far more, I think, than your report of it supports. Certainly no one is saying that Bin Laden is Sauron, only that he is like Sauron in certain ways. Tolkien rejected the notion that the Ring represented the atomic bomb; but he did not reject applicability of notional characteristics of the Ring to objects and issues is the real world. And that is all this pundit has done. (Do you honestly think Tolkien would have seen nothing Sauronic in Bin Laden?)

The reason that people are more concerned about terrorism than the climate and extinction issues you list is simple: terrorists really are operating in the world, and really are killing lots and lots of innocent people, pretty much every day. Those are demonstrable realities. The other issues you think we shoud all be equally (or more) concerned about are either unproven, or not something it has been demonstrated we can do anything about, or have been going on for millions of years. (There is also the widely recognized fact of the politicization of science that makes alarmism emitted from the UN and Al Gore far from credible.)

As for the border: we are a nation of laws, not men (not even scientists and pundits). Those laws have been violated on an epic scale. Turning a blind eye to this fact, or otherwise accomodating the lawbreakers, means: 1) the people that obeyed the law feel like chumps (so much for "liberal" notions of "fairness"); 2) we all of us are forced to reward these lawbreakers in the form of public education, health care, welfare, etc., etc., through taxation; and 3) it encourages the disregard for law generally.

(BTW, since you are sensitive to such issues of application: the Berlin Wall was not designed to keep people out, it was designed to keep people in.)

Aelfwine said...

P.S. Anyone in college today also stands an excellent chance of outliving thousands if not millions of victims of terrorism worldwide.

Aelfwine said...

P.P.S. Anyone in college today has already outlived millions of species that have passed into extinction in the long, ever changing history of life on earth.

John D. Rateliff said...

And today, it's "Run! Polygamists!"

But that doesn't alter the point that the initial piece, from what little I saw of it, was a bad piece of manipulative journalism hyping a next-to-nonexistent threat. And much as I dislike seeing Tolkien hijacked for such unseemly purposes, it's a flip side of his mass acceptance by our culture.

re. millions of extinct species: yes, the vast majority of species that have lived on this planet in the last three billion years are now extinct. And the majority of people who have ever lived are now dead ('gone to join the Great Majority', they used to say). The latter fact can't be used by, say, Pol Pot to justifying killing a million people on the theory that they'll all die eventually anyway. The former can't be used to glibly justify wiping out most of the forms of life currently on this planet.

--JDR

Aelfwine said...

"The former can't be used to glibly justify wiping out most of the forms of life currently on this planet."

Indeed not! And that of course was not my point. Remember the context: you wondered why people are more concerned about terrorism than they are about the other issues you listed, and I said that it was because terrorism is a much more clear and present danger than the others, not because the other issues were of no concern. Nonetheless it is quite natural that, all things being equal, people are more concerned about threats to people (including themselves) than they are threats to animals, and about present threats than future (and unestablished) threats.

"The latter fact can't be used by, say, Pol Pot to justifying killing a million people"

Indeed not! But surely you don't mean to equate the deliberate killing of millions of people by other people, with the extinction of species, even when contributed to by man? Every human life is precious; but there is no analogous moral imperative to preserve each and every species that happens to coexist with man (which would be quite impossible anyways; though naturally I find it appalling to hasten a species' extinction for no reason other than sport or profit: appalling, but, I stress, not nearly so threatening to mankind as terrorism).

Pol Pot of course had (and has; yes, Mr. Chomsky, I'm looking at you) plenty of apologists in the West to justify his mass-murdering ways for him.

Indiana Douche said...

It is the same type of idiots who had that website called: "Twotowersprotest" or something like that. They were taking Jackson et. al. to task for daring to name the second LOTR movie "The Two Towers". Saying it was somehow linked to the WTC towers falling. The mind boggled.

It's people failing to make the distinction between fiction and fact. Or refusing to.

Aelfwine said...

I agree that it is stupid to criticize the title "The Two Towers". But I don't see how that has any relevance here. The pundit drew an analogy between Osama bin Laden and Sauron. The analogy is apt, at least in the terms reported here. All analogies are inexact -- love is not a rose, women without men are not fish without bicycles -- but that doesn't mean that all analogies are invalid. Not even analogies with fictional characters.