Controversial Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been described as the savior of the Islamic world and as a new Ottoman sultan. But likening him to the wizard Saruman from The Lord of the Rings is novel—as was done earlier this week by a leader in the Turkish opposition party:
“[Turkey has become] a country where headlines and program flows can change with one phone call as if it were Middle-Earth in Lord of the Rings. The [person] who does it is like a Saruman the White who has lost all sense of shame,” Republican People’s Party’s [CHP] deputy Emine Ülker Tarhan said in a written statement on Feb. 10.
Since my two main areas of expertise are the Middle East and Middle-earth, I shall thus follow Ms. Tarhan’s example and complete the slate of leadership analogies between Tolkien’s cast of characters, both evil and good, and that of our own clash of civilizations. The template will utilize The Lord of the Rings movies rather than the books, and not the newer Hobbit ones, for two reasons: 1) more people are probably familiar with the movies than Tolkien’s books; and 2) LotR lends itself more easily to a vast, geopolitical struggle with apocalyptic consequences than does The Hobbit.
Let’s start with the bad guys, and Turkey’s leader as Saruman. This is actually quite accurate, since the original White Wizard was a good guy gone bad—much as Turkey is slowly transmogrifying from a NATO member and secular, Western ally into a neo-Ottoman power dedicated to reviving political Islam in its old domains. (Just keep in mind that the real Saruman would have used a palantir, not a phone, to issue threats.) Gandalf’s former boss, however, only ever reached the status of an evil epigone; far more potent was the ancient enemy Sauron, a political and religious tyrant who demanded that all denizens of Middle-earth submit to his rule for their own good. The only possible Middle East analog of such a powerful figure would be the founder of Islam himself, Muhammad.
One ring to rule them all/one ring to find them/one ring to tax them all/and in indebtedness bind them.
Two weeks ago the Wall Street Journal likened congressional Tea Partiers to hobbits:
The idea seems to be that if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue, and the public will turn en masse against…Barack Obama. The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the tea-party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor.
The trope took off the next day when Senator John McCain (R-AZ) read the article approvingly during debate on raising the debt ceiling. Liberals reveled in this GOP establishment belittlement of the party’s fiscally conservative faction, but that didn’t stop journalists from finding allegedly-offended Tolkien scholars who sliced and diced the metaphor more quickly than Aragorn did the Mouth of Sauron. And like one of the Nazgûl, the issue refuses to die — not two days ago McCain snubbed a call to recant from a Tea Party Gaffer at a town hall meeting back in Arizona.
So the GOP establishment, via the hobbit metaphor, dismisses Tea Partiers as diminutive Don Quixotes; simultaneously, many Tolkien fans and scholars take umbrage at the very notion that hobbits were anything but bucolic deadbeats longing for official Gondorian government subsidies of their mind-altering pipe weed. Neither is entirely correct. (Nor, for that matter, was Senator Rand Paul in calling John McCain a “troll”— a doctor should know that it’s McCain’s debating skills, not his skin, that turns to stone in the sunlight.)
Tea Partiers ARE very much like hobbits — and hobbits are not prehistoric hippies. Despite Professor Tolkien’s admonition that he “cordially dislike[d] allegory in all its manifestations,” various scholars in the last 60 years have employed Lord of the Rings [LOTR] as a palantir through which to view the world wars, the Cold War, environmentalism and Christian history (to name but the most obvious). Why not, then, do likewise for the contemporary American political scene — especially since the WSJ has already set the first foot upon this road? Let us see where it takes us…