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Radical Islamism and Frank Herbert's Dune:

WARNING: This post contains spoilers for Frank Herbert's classic science fiction novel Dune.

Frank Herbert's Dune is one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time. And, as famed sci fi writer Orson Scott Card points out, there are many parallels between the plot of Dune and the rise of radical Islamism in the real world:

There was considerable irony in Dune's use of Arabic culture and language as the explicit basis of the "Fremen," the desert dwellers who become the source of Paul Atreides power and, when he unleashes them, the scourge of the universe.

Herbert traces the roots of Fremen culture from world to world, and makes it clear that, while the specifics of Islamic belief are never laid out, the customs and culture of these people have been Muslim all along . . .

The emotional core of the novel, then, comes from a T.E. Lawrence-like character, Paul Atreides, coming to dwell with and learning to live as an Arab Muslim, until he is able to lead them to victorious battle.

Paul, being a non-Muslim, treats the idea of jihad as an abhorrent one; he long tries to resist the blood and horror of such a thing, though by the end of the book he has given up and realizes that the jihad will happen and cannot be prevented or even controlled.....

[A] Muslim would not read this book the same way I did. To an Arab Muslim, the Arabic words and names would leap off the page; the Fremen characters would be the ones an Arab reader would most identify with.....

And when, at the end of the book, the Arab jihad is triumphant, this reader — [if like] Osama or another of his ideology — would not only feel great emotional satisfaction, he would have the blueprint for his own future.

Because the Fremen in Dune triumph, not just because of the force of their arms or their courage in battle, but because they control the only source of the "Spice," a substance only created in the complex desert ecology of Arrakis, the planet they control. Without Spice the starships cannot navigate, and interstellar trade would grind to a halt.

The whole economy of the interstellar empire is dependent on and therefore under the ultimate control of the Fremen. Anything the offworlders do to them will hurt the offworlders far more than it hurts the Fremen. The parallel with oil is obvious.....

Remember that Herbert wrote Dune in the 1960s, before the first oil embargo, before any Islamist government was ever formed.

Whether Dune had any causal influence on the rise of Al Qaeda, Herbert certainly did a superb job of predicting the rise and the power of such an ideology. I would be surprised if there were not, among the followers of Osama bin Laden, at least a few readers of Dune for whom this book feels like their future, their identity, their dream.

In other words, Herbert got it horribly right.

Unlike Card, I highly doubt that Dune played any role in influencing Osama Bin Laden or his followers. However, Card is right to note the striking parallels between the jihad in Dune and the later rise of radical Islamism in our world. The parallels are imperfect (e.g. - Dune is the only source of "the Spice," while in our world there are many non-Arab oil producers). But they are there nonetheless.

This leads me to another interesting aspect of Dune: at first reading, many readers (myself included) fail to pick up on the fact that the victory of Paul and the Fremen is a tragedy, not a happy ending. Although they succeed in overthrowing the evil Harkonnens and the corrupt Empire, it is only at the cost of unleashing a religious war that will kill billions. The point is made more clear in the later (and inferior) sequel Dune Messiah (where Herbert notes that Paul's victory has resulted in the slaughter of many more innocent people than the Holocaust). But it is evident on a close reading of Dune itself as well.

The mistake is understandable. Paul and his Fremen allies are brave and sympathetic, while their enemies have few if any virtues. Nonetheless, the Fremen victory ultimately creates far more evil than it prevents. The danger of religious fanaticism and hero worship was in fact one of the themes that Herbert sought to emphasize in Dune. These days, when I reread Dune, I can't help but sympathize just a little with the Emperor, or even the Baron Harkonnen:).

UPDATE: There is one other interesting parallel between the Fremen religion in Dune and the ideology of radical Islamism. While the Fremen think of their religion as god-given, in actuality much of its content was deliberately manipulated by the Bene Gesserit (a powerful political organization in the Dune Universe) for their own purposes. Similarly, as I discussed here, many elements of the radical Islamist ideology can be traced back to European fascist origins, and their rise was partly facilitated by the propaganda efforts of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in the 1930s and 40s.

Dr. Kynes (mail):
One difference between the Fremen and the Arabs is that the Fremen are superb fighters.
9.22.2007 8:24pm
Guest101:

This leads me to another interesting aspect of Dune: at first reading, many readers (myself included) fail to pick up on the fact that the victory of Paul and the Fremen is a tragedy, not a happy ending. Although they succeed in overthrowing the evil Harkonnens and the corrupt Empire, it is only at the cost of unleashing a religious war that will kill billions.


In Herbert's world, the Fremen jihad was a necessary evil justified by the need for the rise of the God Emperor, who would orchestrate the Scattering necessary toprevent human extinction. Of course, there is no parallel necessity in real life, but I don't think it's true that in the fictional world of Dune, the Fremen jihad and the concomitant rise of House Atreides was not, on balance, a good thing.
9.22.2007 8:38pm
Nessuno:
I concur with Ilya that it is very doubtful that Dune had any affect on the founding or development of Al Qaeda for two reasons. First, the intellectual and spirtual roots of Al Qaeda are found in the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in 1928, long before Dune was written.

Second, as this study discusses, an appallingly low number of books are translated into Arabic. Only about 330 books are translated into Arabic each year, about 1/5 of the number that are translated for a tiny nation like Greece. The odds that Dune was even translated into Arabic, let alone read widely, is quite small.

And also from Dr. Kynes above,
One difference between the Fremen and the Arabs is that the Fremen are superb fighters.


This is quite funny and quite true.



9.22.2007 8:41pm
Ilya Somin:
In Herbert's world, the Fremen jihad was a necessary evil justified by the need for the rise of the God Emperor, who would orchestrate the Scattering necessary toprevent human extinction.

I think that Dune and Dune Messiah strongly suggest that it was evil on balance. I regard God Emperor of Dune as a later addition grafted on to the story, one that Herbert didn't anticipate when he wrote the original book. However, your interpretation also has some validity.
9.22.2007 8:44pm
Ilya Somin:
One difference between the Fremen and the Arabs is that the Fremen are superb fighters.

I don't think the Arabs are bad fighters. They're just (usually) badly led and organized - much as the Fremen were before Kynes and (later) Paul, changed things. With good leadership and planning, Arabs can fight quite well, as they did in the Yom Kippur War, for example. However, I will resist the temptation to analogize Sadat's use of artillery to breach the Israeli Suez Canal fortifications in 1973 with the destruction of the Shield Wall in Dune:).
9.22.2007 8:48pm
Laura S.:

life, but I don't think it's true that in the fictional world of Dune, the Fremen jihad and the concomitant rise of House Atreides was not, on balance, a good thing.


Apparently you haven't read the whole series. Paul Atreides consistently expresses horror at what will happen as a consequence of his rise--something which he viewed as fate. A fate he chooses not to resist.

It's Leto II, his son who names himself "God Emperor" who takes the justification further--dubiously I must add.
9.22.2007 9:00pm
Guest101:
Laura,

Actually, I have read the whole series, and I'm aware of the fact that Paul resisted his fate. But Leto makes clear that this was a weakness on Paul's part-- an inability to sacrifice his own humanity for the sake of saving the race from extinction. You can call that claim "dubious," but I don't recall any indication in the book that this was self-delusion on Leto's part.
9.22.2007 9:02pm
Ilya Somin:
Paul Atreides consistently expresses horror at what will happen as a consequence of his rise--something which he viewed as fate. A fate he chooses not to resist.

It's Leto II, his son who names himself "God Emperor" who takes the justification further--dubiously I must add.


Yes, I tend to agree. Just because Leto II THINKS that his policies are necessary to save humanity doesn't mean that Herbert intended for readers to agree. Moreover, the God Emperor's policies, even if they were necessary, may not have been so if not for the destruction wreaked by Paul and his jihad earlier.
9.22.2007 9:02pm
Guest101:

Yes, I tend to agree. Just because Leto II THINKS that his policies are necessary to save humanity doesn't mean that Herbert intended for readers to agree. Moreover, the God Emperor's policies, even if they were necessary, may not have been so if not for the destruction wreaked by Paul and his jihad earlier.

It's been many years since I read the series, but weren't Leto's convictions the result of a prescient Spice vision? I don't recall any suggestion at all that Herbert intended there to be any doubt about the veracity of that conviction. Moreover, the God Emperor book indicated-- retrospectively, of course-- that Paul had foreseen the necessity of Leto's sacrifice even before the Fremen jihad, which would suggest that the Scattering was not made necessary as a result of the jihad, but rather that the jihad was a necessary step to the preservation of the human race.
9.22.2007 9:08pm
Dale C. Wyckoff (mail):
Regarding Bene Gesserit: Much like Nazi Germany the Bene Gesserit, with their breeding program, were interested in genetic manipulation. Eugenics in the extreme.

As Paul, the Bene Gesserit's Kwisatz Haderach, turned around and bit the Bene Gesserit so too does radical Islamism threaten Europe.
9.22.2007 9:24pm
PersonFromPorlock:
I must be deficient but when I read Dune back when it first came out, I thought it was pretty routine; and when I reread it recently, it still seemed humdrum. Not bad, mind you, just undistinguished. Jack Vance, for instance, used to write the same sort of one-man-against-the-world stuff, usually more entertainingly.

What I really suspect is that Dune's cult status comes from it's ecological subplot having caught the rising tide of pop environmentalism at an opportune moment.

As far as Arab or pseudo-Arab warriors are concerned, Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom had had quite a flutter a few years before Dune was published, both as a book and a movie (Lawrence of Arabia). The action in Dune follows Lawrence at least as much as it foreshadows Radical Islam.
9.22.2007 9:30pm
Annonymous Coward (mail):
Certainly my own clear understanding that Herbert intended the complete original as a tragedy in one volume and it was only the necessity to break the original for publication that hid this from the reader who read only book one.

See also Under Pressure or one of its other titles for an early discussion of oil politics and The God Makers for more quasi political speculation on war and politics.
9.22.2007 9:41pm
Laura S.:

Moreover, the God Emperor book indicated-- retrospectively, of course-- that Paul had foreseen the necessity of Leto's sacrifice even before the Fremen jihad, which would suggest that the Scattering was not made necessary as a result of the jihad, but rather that the jihad was a necessary step to the preservation of the human race.

I agree that it plausible for Paul to have seen the same future course of events as Leto, but then that is manifestation of his decision to give way to fate. Consequently, I do not think you can conclude form this that the jihad was not the proximate cause of what happened next.

Leto's rule is described several times as "depraved despotism". Indeed this is why each Duncan Idaho in turn tries to kill him.
9.22.2007 10:06pm
SenatorX (mail):
Lets not forget that Paul was creating the future by seeing it and Leto was smarter than this. Part of his scheme was to not only spread humanity and save it from the inevitable death by machines but to spread humans who a) would never live under a tyrany like the one he imposed again and b) would be immune to others who could see the future.

Interesting to think of the third book as separate from the first two. I wonder if there is any evidence it was "tacked on". I like it so much better than the first two books. Paul was kind of a wussy.
9.22.2007 10:23pm
Daniel San:
Whether Paul's jihad was made necessary by fate or to prevent a much later (and worse) horror, Herbert makes it clear that it was a tragedy. By the end of Dune, we know that jihad engulfs humanity, but for no end but jihad itself. There is no anticipated noble end to war, only death and destruction.

I think the sense Herbert is seeking is ambiguity. There is certainly the exhilaration at the triumph of the heroes and the defeat of the evil and the craven. But the vision of the future is not a vision of hope. And the direction of Paul's victory is the direction of horror.
9.22.2007 10:45pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
I remember on the night the Iraq War started, I kept flipping between the Sci Fi Channel's Children of Dune miniseries, in which a significant part of the plot involved Paul's Fadaykin, and the news channels that were discussing Saddam's Fedayeen. Very surreal.

However, while I think al Qaeda members would probably enjoy the first three Dune novels, I don't think they'd like the later ones, especially Chapterhouse: Dune which features Jews ... in ... SPAAAAAAAAACE!
9.22.2007 10:50pm
JohnEMack (mail):
What strikes me about the Dune series is how dated they seem today. I just finished reading "Sandworms of Dune," which he son finished from his father's notes. It is not really a bad book, and it shares faithfully both the virtues and vices of Frank Herbert's writing: Wild imagination, cosmic sweep, cereal-boxtop characters, stilted dialogue, total lack of feeling for the passage of time, and high seriousness bordering on pretentiousness. Unlike Frank, however, the authors of "Sandworms" do not seem to be trying to make a point. Moreover, Frank had a tendency to rob history and put it into his novels. As Somin points out, the Fremen are based on Arab culture. But the Bene Gesserit ("She will have performed well" in Latin) is remeniscent of medieval monastic culture, the female equivalent of the warrior orders. Liet Kynes is reminiscent of liberal scientism. Choam is reminiscent of the Hanseatic League. The list goes on. Herbert appropriated all of history for his saga. That is what makes his work so fascinating. But in a real world which is accelerating so quickly we do not have even a general idea of what it will be like in 200 years, it also has a strangely dated quality. As Damon Knight put it in the context of A.E. van Vogt, after ten thousand years of chaos, his hero drives down the street in a Studebaker. Sometimes, Herbert's Dune world has a similar feel.
9.22.2007 11:34pm
Kurt9 (mail):
Actually, the whole Dune imperium is based on Arab culture. The emperor and his saudukar warriors seemed derived from Arab culture. Also many of the names of stuff seemed Arab-like as well. The Fremen were simply more Arab-like. Think of the fremen as being bedouin Arabs and the imperium as being "city" Arabs.
9.22.2007 11:53pm
Captain Ned:
I've always read Paul Muad'Dib as someone who saw the Golden Path and knew what needed to be done but could never stump up the courage to deny the Fremen their Jihad. His prescience saw that the Jihad was the wrong path, yet the personal cost to him in stopping the Jihad was more than he was willing to pay. In his return as The Preacher he correctly foretold events, but had passed beyond the point of being able to move the masses to his views.
9.22.2007 11:55pm
Cro (mail):
Paul is a tragic figure. Although a leader of the Fremen, he is appalled at the violence that his movement will unleash. He's horrified by the future of Jihad that he is unleashing. He is trapped in his destiny, and he eventually embraces it. He changes into the role created for him by the Fremen. I think that the turning point is when he takes the water of life. After that, he can't help it. He becomes a prisoner of the future.

"Mua'Dib" sounds a lot like "Mohammed," to me. It seems to me that Herbert is telling the story of Mohammed. He's exiled, he returns to defeat his enemies in Mecca, then his forces eventually maim and destroy the Byzantine and Persian empires. I wouldn't push the analogy too far, but the life of Mohammed is a pretty good story.
9.23.2007 12:35am
Aleks:
Re: I regard God Emperor of Dune as a later addition grafted on to the story, one that Herbert didn't anticipate when he wrote the original book.

Did he even anticipate the events of Dune Messiah (where the Jihad is fully realized) when he wrote the original Dune? You can read the original book by iteslf as the triumph of an oppressed people over brutal tyranny and of the fairly just and decent Atreides over the vicious Harkonnens and the corrupt Emperor. It's only in the later books that the cost of that the larger cost of that victory is explored.

Re: The emperor and his saudukar warriors seemed derived from Arab culture.

You're right: the Emperor was even named "Shaddam". Still, it has more the feel of Byzantium, or maybe of the old Persian Empire (the empror's title is "Padishah", which sounds Persian)
9.23.2007 12:59am
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):

Did he even anticipate the events of Dune Messiah (where the Jihad is fully realized) when he wrote the original Dune? You can read the original book by iteslf as the triumph of an oppressed people over brutal tyranny and of the fairly just and decent Atreides over the vicious Harkonnens and the corrupt Emperor. It's only in the later books that the cost of that the larger cost of that victory is explored.


Paul spends quite a bit of the first book angsting over the cost of his revenge, and clearly notes that his actions will lead to the Jihad.
9.23.2007 1:17am
Thomass:
[quote]Unlike Card, I highly doubt that Dune played any role in influencing Osama Bin Laden or his followers.[/quote]

I have zero proof available that it did, but it would not surprise me in the least to find out later, if more information became available, that it did.

Dune, like Tolkien, IMO appeals to the far right... and I don't mean what we call that in the US... but rather the European, and I would imagine the Arab world, if we used 'right' and 'far right' in their proper contexts (re: rather than to bash Bush or American conservatives)... The key themes they embrace are all thereā€¦

PS
And Paul's self chosen freeman name translates to 'the base',,,re: al qaeda..
9.23.2007 1:30am
Tom.P (mail):
In high school, Dune was my favorite novel for some years and I read it many times (along with the sequels, as they appeared). When I first heard about Al Qaeda, (many years later, of course) it struck me that Paul's Fremen name, Usul, was explained to mean "the base of the pillar", and that Al Qaeda apparently also meant 'the base'.
9.23.2007 1:31am
Thomass:
Oops... just came back to me... 'the base' was his assigned name for time of danger... not his, self chosen, everyday name...
9.23.2007 1:45am
David Sucher (mail) (www):
I read Dune for the first of many times in 1970 and so this statement (from Card) surprises me:
"[A] Muslim would not read this book the same way I did. To an Arab Muslim, the Arabic words and names would leap off the page; the Fremen characters would be the ones an Arab reader would most identify with..."

And "the Arabic words and names" didn't "leap off the page" to Card the first time he read Dune? Herbert hits you over the head with it: vaguely Arab names, deserts/little water, control of a substance which is the key to long-distance transportation, etc etc. It was obvious; it never occurred to me then that Herbert wasn't warning of global resource dynamics coming into clear view. Dune is first and foremost about a planet. It was published in the build-up to Earth Day, (though I don't think it had much influence in creating Earth Day). Herbert was explicitly interested in the transformation of American society into an ecologically-sustainable one, though that word hadn't yet become popular.

But above all, Dune is a story and entertainment, even though it can teach us a lot. I wouldn't look too deeply for its influence on American environmentalism because it's not there; and is it even translated into Arabic? I would assume so but can't find any verification on the web.
9.23.2007 3:47am
Inferior?:
*Choke* Inferior Dune Messiah? Where the very heroes of the previosu book become mired in power plays? Where a 7 year old child convincingly acts as a harem of souls trapped in a child's body and succesfully challenges every idea around him? I don't think so.

Partisanship aside, there is a key to understanding the portrayal of the Fremen, that they were truly oppressed. The Bene Gesserit may have added their twists, but their Sayyadina ritual is something else entirely, and thei live with the hatred born of their persecution. The Muslim world has no such excuse, unless manufactured. That the Fremen, shorn of this hatred (the water cure) become more dangerous than anything before is another twist in the tragedy, that they move from one extreme to another. Do not free a people from oppresion without giving them the tools to succeed and expect success (slaves, Soviet Russia, apartheid to name a few examples).

The later Leto II is more science fictiony because we only know he is correct for having seen the future in a vision, the extinction of humanity. Though the portrayal along the way is entirely human.
9.23.2007 4:04am
PEG (mail) (www):
Yes, the parralels are obvious.

By the way, I wouldn't be so sure Dune hasn't influenced Bin Laden. I read somewhere that back when Osama was a completely westernized spoiled brat, he was a fan of science fiction literature. In particular, one of his favorite authors was Isaac Asimov.

I haven't read anything about him and Dune, but I can't imagine a SF, Asimov fan who hasn't at least read Herbert. And, as the point points out, anyone with a Muslim background (or even a modicum of international culture) would have the parralels with Islam "leap off the page" at him.
9.23.2007 5:06am
Ryan Waxx (mail):

It's been many years since I read the series, but weren't Leto's convictions the result of a prescient Spice vision?


True, to an extent. But remember that prescience in the world of Dune isn't quite the same as the movie cliche.
9.23.2007 5:37am
advisory opinion:
Dune = boring.

Anybody else fascinated by the Warhammer 40k universe? (I mean the backstory and 'fluff', I don't actually play the game.)
9.23.2007 8:50am
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

Anybody else fascinated by the Warhammer 40k universe? (I mean the backstory and 'fluff', I don't actually play the game.)


Yep, I own pretty much all of the RPG source books and have most of the novels. I started reading the first book in the Horus Heresy but haven't had the chance to pick it up for a while. I got "Fire Warrior" for my PS2 very cheap and it's a pretty entertaining FPS and I really liked the look of the game.

I always thought WK40K as a darker sci-fi version of LOTR with elements of Dune and the Eternal Champion liberally added. The thing about WH40K (and its true for Dune and the Eternal Champion as well) is that there aren't any "good guys" in the sense of people that you can actually cheer on because they represent some ideal to strive for, but only an option that seems (correctly or not) to be less awful than the others. The forces they're fighting against usually represent the extinction of the human race (although in the Eternal Champion, so did the protagonist on more than one occasion) with the best they have offer being at least a chance for survival usually under the rule of a tyrant.

I generally prefer stories like Honor Harrington or the Prince Roger series for my military sci fi. They show some pretty admiral characters (who are human and hence flawed) who generally try to do what they think is right who work for systems that while flawed are still worth fighting for and against enemies who aren't monolithically evil.
9.23.2007 11:08am
Redlands (mail):
This discussion illustrates what I always enjoyed about reading Sci-Fi. I stopped trying to explain to friends what could be learned by reading "glorified comic books."
9.23.2007 11:46am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Interesting points. One of the reasons that my favorite (and first) blog is Volokh.com is just this, an in depth intelligent conversation about weird subjects.

I picked up the Arab/Moslem connection at least the last time I read it, which was somewhere around 9/11/01, but didn't connect in the Jihad side of it. Herbert wasn't the only one to use a romanticized view of Moslem Arab culture in sci/fi, so I didn't think it that out of the ordinary. Writers routinely take a real society or culture, current or past, as the basis of their fictional one. I usually take it most often as a literary short cut, so they don't have to work out the details of their own societies. But sometimes, I do see them as comments on those societies.

For example, the Honor Harrington books seem to have primarily a romantic view of the British monarchy and aristocracy on the one side, and something verging on communism on the other. Probably more a 19th century Britain, than anything more recent, given the power the monarch still had.

Most of Dune would seem to be the romantic view that Lawrence made popular. And that is probably where it would have ended, if 9/11 had not occurred, and then our intervention into Afghanistan and Iraq. I can look back now and see the parallels between the Freman war of liberation against the Empire, and Jihad.

As somewhat of a side note, the same overly romanticized view of Arab Islam that we saw in Dune may be at the heart of some of the basic problems we are facing now in Iraq. Lawrence was apparently closely tied to both Winston Churchill and Gertrude Bell, two of those most responsible for the splitting up of the former Turkish empire, and the ethnic makeup of Iraq, and in particular, giving the Sunni Arabs control there. It was the Sunni Arab Bedouins whom Lawrence, Bell, and apparently Herbert, romanticized, and whose Wahhabi fanatics became the core of the Jihad that has brought us to where we are now in the Middle East.
9.23.2007 12:14pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Bruce Hayden: Almost right.

Lawrence was enamored of the Hijazi Arabs--Sharif Hussein and scions. It was St. John Philby, father of 'Kim' Philby, who pushed the Abdulaziz Al-Saud connection.

Hussein's kids ended up with Jordan and Iraq, though, as consolation prizes for not getting to keep Mecca and Medinah.

Churchill and Bell weren't keen on the Al-Saud, but the battles were fought in the trenches between the FCO's Arab Desk and India Office. Philby, reporting through New Delhi, won the war.
9.23.2007 12:37pm
Joshua:
Aleks: Did he even anticipate the events of Dune Messiah (where the Jihad is fully realized) when he wrote the original Dune? You can read the original book by iteslf as the triumph of an oppressed people over brutal tyranny and of the fairly just and decent Atreides over the vicious Harkonnens and the corrupt Emperor. It's only in the later books that the cost of that the larger cost of that victory is explored.

Indeed, this is pretty much how the theatrical Dune movie (the 1984 production featuring Sting and pre-Picard Patrick Stewart) was presented, as a straight good-Atreides/Fremen vs.-evil-Harkonnen storyline. That version barely addressed the long-term consequences of Paul's attempt to harness the Fremen jihad to his own quest to regain power, probably because it was intended as a one-off with no plans for a sequel (which is just as well, considering how badly the movie bombed at the box office, and how barely it scratched the complexity of Herbert's novel).

Even the miniseries Frank Herbert's Dune didn't pay much attention to the repercussions of Paul's alliance with the Fremen - that was left to the follow-up miniseries, Children of Dune (which was actually a condensation of the Dune Messiah and Children of Dune novels into a single production). The first miniseries did present one other interesting parallel to Arab/Islamic culture, though. As Paul assimilates into the Fremen community and proves his skill as a warrior, the Fremen expect Paul to challenge for leadership, in the kind of internecine power struggle Arab rulers have done for centuries. Instead, Paul calls on his supporters to stand together with their rivals, for only united can they defeat the Harkonnen - just as present-day Islamic supremacists seek to unite all Muslims under the single banner of a Caliphate, all the better to wage war against non-Muslim nations.
9.23.2007 1:47pm
Eli Rabett (www):
And so we tip toe around the issue of the Sardaukar, the enemies the Freemen. . .
9.23.2007 2:06pm
advisory opinion:
Thorley -

It's awesome dark, and as you say, very Tolkienesque. And very gothic. And very dark ages. And very 'Holy Roman Empire'. With quite a bit of Roman late antiquity and a fall-of-civilization quality to it.

Like Tolkien, it has an awesome mythology: an Emperor who is worshipped as a God and the last hope of mankind - kept alive on the Golden Throne in a kind of stasis, to whom is sacrificed thousands of psychics daily (because he also doubles as the Astronomican - an astral beacon that guides humanity's starships and navigations in the warp).

It has an Imperium that spans over a million worlds and maintains a totalitarian hold over humanity by spreading the cult of the emperor, the cult of the imperium, and a hatred of xenos.

It has secret organizations within organizations in the Imperial apparatus and a bureaucracy that is positively byzantine.

It has unforgiving xenophobia: genocide of aliens and demons of the warp is official policy.

It has an Inquisition not averse to exterminating entire worlds if a demon or alien infestation requires it.

It has Inquisitors who routinely employ torture, psychic rape, and summary executions when hunting heresy and other forms of demon infestation.

It has neverending war with the Emperor's marine Legions representing the mailed fist of imperial policy (fully half of which became Traitor Legions and turned against the Emperor during the Horus Heresy in an elaborate backstory).

It has god-like Primarchs who head these Legions.

It has Lost Legions whose names are erased from imperial records (the Romans too obliterated the names of disgraced legions).

It has psykers and astropaths whose psychic powers place them permanently at risk of insanity (madness is a recurrent theme).

It has an Ecclesiarchy with Orders Militant comprised entirely of women.

And best of all, it is a pitiless universe with humanity fighting madness, despair, extinction, fervor, death, torture, perversity, and zeal on all sides in what is essentially an amoral universe where values count for nothing except as props to survival.

And this is just the human race (alien races have equally elaborate backstories). No pansy assed Star Trek BS here.. just death !
9.23.2007 2:49pm
SenatorX (mail):
The different roles women play in his books is interesting too. I don't believe the parallels between arabs/freemen carries over to well in the treatment of their women (does it?. Then we have the eugenics and other deep manipulations by the bene gesserit. Even later in the books Leto's whole armies are made of women and he even goes into the reasons why. I wonder what his personal experiences with women were and if he drew from that.
9.23.2007 4:04pm
Spitzer:
The essence of the saga, as I see it, is to tell the story of how humanity can become uselessly opiated by dependency on increasingly capable thinking machines, and the horrid consequences of that encoraching serfdom. But the Jihad necessary to eradicate (so everyone thought) the Thinking Machines caused the death of many billions/trillions of people - a terrible sacrifice. But the story does not end there, because Herbert then reminds us that people still want/need technology, and the religious ban on thinking machines caused humans to turn other humans into biological versions of thinking machines - the Mentats, the Bene Gesserit, and, worse, the Bene Tleilax and the wretched (but necessary) axotl tanks. That is, humanity overreacted to the thinking machines danger, and ended up dehumanizing their fellows in much the same way as the thinking machines had done earlier. In Herbert's world, biological and silicon machines are both dehumanizing, but it is inevitable that people will pursue one or the other, so making the grand sweep of humanity one unending tragedy, veering between one form of slavery or another.

The Golden Path of Leto II allowed for the creation of a via media, but in Herbert's world only a perfect man (the ultimate K.H. in the form of Duncan Idaho) could find a middle path between dependency on thinking machines and dehumanizing fellow humans by turning them into machines.

A great story, even if the characters are stilted.
9.23.2007 4:30pm
Guest101:
Spitzer,

Wasn't it the Butlerian Jihad, which took place prior to the events of the first Dune book, and not the Fremen Jihad, that eradicated the thinking machines? I'm not disagreeing with your point that the dehumanizing effects of reliance on technology (silicon- or carbon-based) is a recurring theme of the novels, but I don't think you're referring to the same jihad that Prof. Somin does in his post.
9.23.2007 4:38pm
Ben P (mail):
I think it would be quite interesting to see the reaction of an Arab Muslim to the Dune Series.

As long as fifteen years ago when I first read dune and the sequals I picked up on a number of the Islamic/Arabic references, and for a long time thought of dune as a semi-equivalent to The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, except where Tolkien drew off of Anglo-Saxon Mythology to create his epic, Herbert drew of a Middle Eastern Mythos.

The topic also reminds me vaguely of an Article I read some time ago but can't find now. It described how young people in china were fascinated with the movie "Rambo" but had attached an entirely different meaning to it than American audiences did.
9.23.2007 4:41pm
Ivan W. (mail):
As for the debate about whether Paul and the Fremen winning was a good thing, here are some words from Frank Herbert himself:

It began with a concept: to do a long novel about the messianic convulsions which periodically inflict themselves on human societies. I had this idea that superheroes were disastrous for humans.

(source: O'Reilly, Timothy. Frank Herbert. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1981.)
9.23.2007 5:03pm
Ilya Somin:
Wasn't it the Butlerian Jihad, which took place prior to the events of the first Dune book, and not the Fremen Jihad, that eradicated the thinking machines? I'm not disagreeing with your point that the dehumanizing effects of reliance on technology (silicon- or carbon-based) is a recurring theme of the novels, but I don't think you're referring to the same jihad that Prof. Somin does in his post.

Yes, that is correct. These are 2 different jihads. We don't really know what Frank Herbert thought of the net impact of the Bulerian Jihad, though it is portrayed more favorably than not in the awful prequel novels written by his son Brian Herbert after Frank's death.
9.23.2007 6:24pm
Nathan S (mail):
I take the interpretation of Paul and Leto II to be one of the central deep points of the Dune saga.

quote:<i>
Whether Paul's jihad was made necessary by fate or to prevent a much later (and worse) horror, Herbert makes it clear that it was a tragedy. By the end of Dune, we know that jihad engulfs humanity, but for no end but jihad itself. There is no anticipated noble end to war, only death and destruction.

I think the sense Herbert is seeking is ambiguity. There is certainly the exhilaration at the triumph of the heroes and the defeat of the evil and the craven. But the vision of the future is not a vision of hope. And the direction of Paul's victory is the direction of horror.</i>

I agree with this general thesis, but disagree on the particulars. Paul first seeks survival, then seeks what the Fremen seek (ecological resurrection), only eventually coming to accept the Jihad as inevitable. There's a passage near the end of Dune where he claims (if I remember correctly) something similar to that all of the time-split possibilities he saw all came eventually to Jihad, excepting only the ones that left him dead in the desert.
However, while he accepts finally this inevitability, he rejects entirely the sacrifice of his humanity and of so much of humanity required by the Golden Path, the only way to avoid long-term human extinction. I think Herbert intends this to be a legitimate decision. Paul values his current humanity and the current lives of billions more than he does the future (by tens of thousands of years, quite possibly) existence of the human race, and in fact he is probably incapable of making that sacrifice. So, he keeps his humanity and dies in the desert.

Leto II, however, has always been alien. His life as abomination prepares him to shed his biological human identity, and perhaps gives him a perspective that allows him to justify the deaths of billions, when it allows him to save the race. I think Herbert too, takes this as a legitimate decision, but much of book 4 (God Emperor) is spent proving that in fact saving humanity may not be all that it's cracked up to be. Sure, there's the overarching decision that I think we totally ought to be believing that long-term, the race needs this, but the terrible necessity of Leto's rule makes the question of whether the existence of the race is worth it a real one.
9.23.2007 6:55pm
Laura S.:
I wonder what our individual interpretations of God Emperor tell us about our individual politics.

i.e., as a liberal not leftist reader, I do not find Leto II convincing--indeed I see him portrayed as having a messianic complex rather than being the savior himself. This a point that Herbert has made outside of the text as well--e.g., in the preface to Heretics.

It strikes me though that the "good of the many" argument that Leto II uses may be more seductive to other readers.
9.23.2007 7:30pm
MacGuffin:
A history of human manipulation of a religious ideology whose adherents believe it is god-given is unique to Islamism?
9.23.2007 7:53pm
KenC:
Personally, I always thought that Dune's "Paul/Brigham Young leading his followers through the desert after the death of Leto/Kynes/Joseph Smith" theme was a pretty good fit to the Mormons, complete with massacre by religious fanatic warriors, Stilsuit/Blessed Underwear, Bene Gesserit/Rainbows, and Spice/Postum. I'm sure Card would agree. We'll have to see about the "conquering the universe part", but I could see Mitt Romney as "Gosh Emperor".
9.23.2007 9:09pm
Anderson (mail):
And "the Arabic words and names" didn't "leap off the page" to Card the first time he read Dune?

Well, this *is* the guy who insists he'd never even read Starship Troopers when he wrote Ender's Game.
9.23.2007 10:02pm
Eli Rabett (www):
As I recall, the original Dune had a lot of TE Lawrence in it
9.23.2007 10:18pm
Xmas (mail) (www):
You really want to scare yourself, you should read Herbert's "The White Plague".

Back on topic, Dune is sufficiently complex that you can read any number of things into it. Unfortunately, I haven't read the book in so long, I can't remember all the nuances.
9.23.2007 10:34pm
Freddy:
Just a little note regarding the names. Arabs refer to families names as Houses,e.g., "House Fred".
9.23.2007 10:45pm
Ryan Waxx (mail):

i.e., as a liberal not leftist reader, I do not find Leto II convincing--indeed I see him portrayed as having a messianic complex rather than being the savior himself. This a point that Herbert has made outside of the text as well--e.g., in the preface to Heretics.


As a non-liberal, non-leftist reader, I agree. Although He was a savior in the sense of suffering for the good of humanity, he was in no way a god himself, and said so many times in the course of the book.

The interesting question is after so many thousands of years, weather Leto II began to believe in his own godhead. I do not think so, since he seemed consistant to the end.
9.23.2007 11:12pm
Justin JJ (mail):
Just to ensure that the pernicious parallel observed here is discredited...

The parallel between the Fremen and a Moslem horde today is superficial, and breaks down on further examination. Herbert very clearly articulates that the Fremen's fighting prowess is a result of the extreme conditions under which they've lived for generations, which have bred a people totally conditioned to survival. Likewise, the Sardaukar survive similarly harsh conditions on Salusa Secundus and produce the same superior, universe-conquering warriors, but without the religious trappings. Several dialogues directly discuss this.

Latter-day Islamism has nothing to do with their ferocity and the success of their Jihad. Their faith serves one purpose only: To tie them to the messiah who appears before them, who doesn't share their faith but learns to manipulate it to take power over them for his own reasons. Like the Sardaukar, the details of their theology a convenient lever by which they're manipulated, not a source of power.

As a minor point, I believe Herbert says much later in the series that the origin of the Fremen was a Sufi sect in retreat. Sufis are almost the polar opposite of Wahhabists and Salafists. Sunni Islam survives as a philosophical sect of Zensunni wanderers. Lastly, it's revealed later in the series that the Tleilaxu also have a descendent religion from Islam.

Herbert's larger point in being so specific about religion was to remind the reader that religions, for all their pretensions to exclusive truth, have and will continue to mix doctrines and practices and even objects of faith; that today's religions are the bastards of yesterday's, and will have similarly illegitimate offspring tomorrow.
9.24.2007 12:12am
Just Dropping By (mail):
By the way, I wouldn't be so sure Dune hasn't influenced Bin Laden. I read somewhere that back when Osama was a completely westernized spoiled brat, he was a fan of science fiction literature. In particular, one of his favorite authors was Isaac Asimov.

I think you're extrapolating from this Guardian article on the subject. I don't think anyone has come forward with any actual evidence than bin Laden was a science fiction fan, let alone that he read Asimov.
9.24.2007 11:45am
Pamelapod:
I'm not so sure about Dune's influence on Arab jihadists, but how about some of the more colorful denizens of American peace rallys? There you may find an anti-globalist, environmentalist, militant anarchist or pacifist anti-war activist cheering the jihadist "resistance" against the American Empire. Some of the loudest cries for peace come from people who seem fascinated by violent jihad.
9.24.2007 1:45pm
Sigivald (mail):
Yeah, but if Spice = Oil, who do the Guild represent, and what about Ix and their "machines"?

(And personally, I don't interpret it as a simplistic "oh, oil's on the way out if only the oppressors will let the replacement technology through" canard - more that that's exactly what any group with sufficient technical ability would obviously want to do to break the Guild monopoly, and just as obviously the Guild would want them crushed, and the Emperor would be ... conflicted.

And none of that analysis even brings in the Butlerian Jihad...)
9.24.2007 2:46pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Well, this *is* the guy who insists he'd never even read Starship Troopers when he wrote Ender's Game.


I don't think there's enough similarity between Heinlein's Starship Troopers and Card's Enderverse to find that statement implausible much less impossible.
9.24.2007 3:39pm
Justin JJ (mail):
Yeah, but if Spice = Oil, who do the Guild represent, and what about Ix and their "machines"?

Herbert was writing about oil at the time, but only insofar as it was the contemporary key resource on which a certain kind of hydraulic despotism depended; the Guild is another kind, having a monopoly on space travel (later broken by Ixian navigation machines, illustrating Herbert's "arms race" theory of evolution). In Dune, Paul recites the general lesson that there are always key resources, and that the fiercest competition for them comes from within one's own species (the 'law of the minimum'). Herbert seemed more interested in how the battle over key resources shaped society, how the ascendancy and descendancy of various groups was tied to that, and not any particular lessons on one or another.
9.24.2007 5:37pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
axotl tanks

A Mad Magazine reference?

Axolotl. (some have it as axalotl) any one remember the correct spelling?
9.25.2007 1:20pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
The Guild would be the oil companies? Or ship/aircraft navigators/pilots?
9.25.2007 1:23pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Here is a different guild working to break the spice monopoly:

Bussard Reactor Funded
9.25.2007 1:32pm
Paulus:
A previous commenter remarked upon the idea of writers pillaging the past for ideas, and another on how Muad'dib can resemble Muhammed. With so many other parallels to Islam (mainly in nomenclature), why does the religion of the Fremen not resemble Islam prior to Muad'dib's arrival?

It appears more similar to a simple pagan or animistic belief system, similar to that of the pre-Muslim Near East, and perhaps pre-Christian Europe and North America. Emphasis on ancestor worship (Fremen Reverand Mothers), as well as mystical connections to the planet itself (Shai'Hulud, water of life). The Fremen have of course long abandoned most of the Zensunni influence by the time of Muad'dib. From this, I would conclude that perhaps Herbert was not predicting future Islamist uprisings as much as re-inventing it's original origins, from the arrival of Muad'dib(Muhammed), to the forceful spreading of their new religion's core ideals(celestial Jihad), just as it began in the 6th century CE.

Writers, specifically sci-fi writers, like to concern themselves with the reciprocity of past events, how the past and future will repeat themselves over and over. Perhaps in this case, it is Leto II who seeks to end this vicious circle of fate (the Golden Path). That of course is my speculation, and only concerning a small part of Dune's overall theme.
9.25.2007 4:48pm
KenC:
I'm with Pamelapod: there's no more natural and obvious affinity in the world, than between those tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving left-wingers, and Islamic fundamentalists.

Also: I thought of another example of the many astonishing parallels between the Fremen and the Mormons: the Fremen keep important material from their ancestors in underground complexes, and so do the Mormons! I wonder, did Frank Herbert ever live in Utah?
9.25.2007 8:54pm