action in the Middle East became inevitable during the Ides of March, I marveled
at the Sci Fi Channel's sense of timing. On the weekend of March 15th, as
the Coalition of the Willing marched closer to war with Saddam Hussein and
Iraq, the cable network reran its year 2000 adaptation of Frank Herbert's
Dune and premiered the new follow-up miniseries, Children of Dune.
Why is this important? Well, Frank Herbert's 1965 outer space tale of political
dynasties has never been more relevant - or powerful; than on this date. Any
viewer with even the tiniest bit of awareness will recognize that Herbert's
science fiction classic concerns the kind of intervention now occurring in
the Middle East.
For those that need a refresher, the story of Dune and its sequels,
Dune Messiah and Children of Dune, is one of colonialism and
of the noblest intentions gone wrong. Specifically, two great and powerful
houses in the galactic community, the Landsraad (the United Nations?) have
been bitter rivals for years. On one side of this conflict stands the Atreides
family of Caladan and on the other is the Harkonnen family of Giedi Prime.
With an emperor named Shaddam (Saddam?) behind them, these parties squabble
over the right to administer the valuable resources of a barren desert terrain,
the planet called Arrakis (or Dune). Importantly, Dune is the only world in
all of space that produces the important "spice," the fuel, as it
were, that permits space travel in the galaxy and powers the engines of galactic
But the indigenous people of Dune, the desert people called Fremen, are the
rightful inheritors of this resource and the lands of Arrakis and soon see
their traditional values threatened by the new, imperialist custodians on
their world. The Fremen come to view themselves as freedom fighters combating
a brutal regime, but the Harkonnens and the Emperor behind them see these
natives only as "terrorists" and "primitives."
Now examine what has happened regarding Iraq in 2003. Two "great"
and powerful families, the Bushes of America and the Husseins of Iraq are
locked in a dynastic war. Bush the Elder tried to oust Hussein the Elder in
the Gulf War of 1991. Hussein responded in 1993 by trying to assassinate Bush
Sr. Now in 2003, Bush's son controls the office his father once held and wages
war against the family that attacked his papa. Hussein's own two sons are
in the picture too, like Harkonnen nephews Feyd and Rabban, waiting in the
wings to continue this legacy of hatred.
More to the point, America under the House of Bush has launched a battle,
an invasion force, on a barren, desert terrain (Iraq, not Dune). This is a
region of great resources (oil, not spice), resources that power our vehicles
(SUVs, not cosmic cruisers) and keeps our economy humming. Furthermore, the
indigenous people of the battlefield region (Arabs, not Fremen) see the attack
as a religious battle for the land that is rightly theirs to control.
What will be the end result of this military thrust into Iraq? According to
the experts in the FBI and CIA, we should expect new terrorist and suicide
attacks in America, abroad, and in occupied Iraq. One must wonder: what will
we term these new attackers and murderers when they strike? Terrorists.
But, contrarily, the men and women fighting against the powerful, technologically
advanced occupation force will probably consider themselves freedom fighters,
liberating their people from oppressors. Who is right?
The parallels between the imaginary world of Frank Herbert's Dune and America's
war on Iraq point to some truths many of us would rather not face. Is dynastic
rivalry the true motivation behind this war, or is it the control of Iraq's
valuable oil that is the prize? And what's with this "shock and awe"
terminology? Is not the "shock and awe" of 3000 bombs dropping on
Baghdad merely a euphemism for "terrorizing?" How can we deplore
terror on one hand and then use terror in a military campaign with pride?
Of course, lest we forget our cause, Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator.
He boasts a long list of atrocities to his name and most Americans (myself
included) believe that he is hiding dangerous weapons of mass destruction
that must be dealt with in some forceful manner. But Children of Dune
is a reminder of a very important lesson. In that follow-up, Paul - the good
guy of the Dune saga - eventually discredits his own war of liberation,
the very war that brought him to power. He is subsequently replaced on the
throne of Arrakeen by his sister Alia, a repressive dictator every bit as
bad as Baron Harkonnen, Feyd and Rabban. The children of Paul Atreides must
then fight another war of liberation against Alia, once more with the Fremen
as allies, this time to undo the damage caused by Atreides custodianship of
The moral to this particular story is that colonialism, even benevolent colonialism
with the best of intentions is an evil act because it usurps rightful guardianship
of the land and stifles the freely chosen destiny of a people.
No doubt that America and her allies will provide medical care to the wounded,
monetary funds to re-build Iraq and even food to sate the starving people.
I'll even go further in my support. I believe that President Bush's intentions
are honorable and that he will indeed deposit revenues from Iraqi oil into
a trust fund for the rebuilding of the country, not merely turn it over to
Harkonnen, er Haliburton, as some have speculated.
But the fact remains: even if Americans become the most careful, gentle and
kindly custodians of Iraqi lands and resources, there is still a point when
all thinking adults want to control their own fortunes. The Arab world, like
the Fremen society that first believed Paul a savior but then considered his
name "a curse," may some day feel the same way about us. The Fremen,
as their name suggests, wanted to become "free men," and American
custodianship of Iraq, even in the short term, stifles that desire in the
developing Arab countries.
The Sci Fi Channel's Dune adaptations have come at the right time,
much like the Kwisatz Haderach, demonstrating how a timeless science fiction
legend set on alien worlds can nonetheless speak powerfully to human issues
and help us ask important questions about the actions of our government. The
fascinating history of the planet Dune, with liberators turned oppressors,
stimulates the questioning mind and reminds the world to take care and tread
gently in this foreign venture, lest the (sand) worm turn....