Culture

Middle-earth as the Middle East

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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.

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The Witch-King would be Ayatollah Khameini of Iran who, as a Twelver Shiite leader, resides in both the temporal and mystical realms as does Sauron’s chief strategist.

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Gothmog, the Orc commander of Sauron’s forces in battle, greatly resembles Ayman al-Zawahiri, the active battlefield leader of al-Qa’idah [AQ]—in role and temperament, if not in physical appearance.  

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Lurtz, the Uruk-hai hybrid of Man and Orc, could be Muhammad Morsi, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader who tried to combine shari`ah with Western democracy—and suffered a similar, albeit less bloody, fate.

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The eight Black Riders who serve Sauron under the Witch-King’s direction could be any combination of jihadist leaders.

My nominees are: Khalid Mash`al of Hamas; Hassan Nasrallah of Hizbullah; Muqtada al-Sadr of Iraq’s Jaysh al-Mahdi; Muhammad al-Julani, of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria; Nasir al-Wahayshi of AQ in the Arabian Peninsula; Abu Mu’sab Abd al-Wadud of AQ in the Islamic Maghrib; Jalauddin Haqqani, whose network is named after him; and Hassan Rouhani, the new president of Iran.

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Finally, the Mouth of Sauron can be none other than Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Muhammad’s mouthpiece in the U.S., who like his Middle-earth analog tries constantly to make harsh and totalitarian policies appear inevitable—although Mr. Hooper clearly has a better dental plan.

Now for our side. Gandalf was the West’s master strategist and inspiration, the person solely in possession of the truth of the conflict at any given time. The closest we have to such a leader might be Father Zakaria Botros, a Coptic Christian priest who fearlessly exposes Islam and tries to inspire the opposition.

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Elrond, the venerable Elven leader who takes no active role in the conflict yet advises, might be retired Pope Benedict XVI.  The bewitched and befuddled king of Rohan, Theoden, who rallies from his lethargic spell, finally, to stand up for his people and kingdom, is best represented by the American people writ large (who by and large still slumber; but I am an optimist…).

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And of course just as Grima Wormtongue enchanted Rohan’s king with Saruman’s soporific suggestions, so the American people have been anaesthetized by Barack H. Obama’s blandishments.

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Eomer, the stalwart warrior from the northern kingdom of Rohan who refuses to be taken in by Grima’s false veneer and message, could be Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper.

tumblr_lspkr6RJlZ1qgutswo1_500The stand-in for Eomer’s sister, the courageous Eowyn who with the help of the hobbit Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck slays the Witch-king, must be Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. 

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Senator Rand Paul, who like Eowyn knows the West’s enemies when he sees them, can be Master Meriadoc while the former Congressman Allen West would make a good Peregrin “Pippin” Took—whether he can sing or not.

DenethorThe bold, determined but capricious leader of the frontline state Gondor, the steward Denethor, has a real-world doppelgänger called Vladimir Putin—although the latter prefers vodka to red wine.  

Boromir

Boromir, the noble but flawed hero who continually tells others of the need to confront the evil coming from Mordor with military strength, is most recognized in Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu;  while his less martial but no less determined brother Faramir, the “wizard’s pupil,” can be seen in Dutch politician Geert Wilders.  

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Legolas, the handsome Elf from an allied but peripheral kingdom far away, reminds me of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott; his short but bellicose-as-needed friend, the Dwarf Gimli, has been reincarnated in the less hirsute French President Francois Hollande.

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The most gallant hobbit, Samwise Gamgee, is also the most plain-spoken and most most-scorned: this can be none other than Rush Limbaugh.

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The modern equivalent of Gollum, the old hobbit-like creature taken in by the lure of the Ring, is the Prince of Wales—who, rumor has it, may well have succumbed to the call of the minaret himself.

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And Enza Ferreri, the London-based Italian pro-Western blogger, resembles Galadriel, the Elf Queen of Lothlorien who serves as one of the West’s primary strategists. 

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Astute Tolkien fans will have noticed the absence of two of the three major characters (along with Gandalf) from LotR:  Aragorn, the warrior Ranger who is eventually crowned King of Gondor; and Frodo, the courageous hobbit who carries the Ring of Power to Mount Doom.  Aragorn and Frodo are, by most metrics, the co-heroes of the trilogy. Unfortunately, I don’t see anyone in the Western world that can get closer than a long Elven bowshot to either of those characters. (Feel free to nominate your modern Aragorn or Frodo, below.)

Hopefully, our civilization will soon produce a leader capable of rousing us to “stand, Men of the West!” Eru knows we need it.

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images via fanpop.com / lotr.wikia / villains.wikia / empireonline.com / Elvish.org / fanzone50.com