Clear Arabs from “Dune” – Inkstick

First of all, let me say that I love “Dune”.

I have read Frank Herbert’s books several times over the past 30 years. I first read “Dune” along with “The Prize” by Daniel Yergin, the most comprehensive real-world historical account of the political economy of petroleum. These are books that shaped me and led me to my current career as a security and energy specialist. They have also influenced my work as an author of fiction and games. I even had the honor of writing for the role-playing game “Dune” with many other accomplished game writers. My academic and professional background, as well as my Palestinian-Algerian heritage, have been assets for the work and noted by some publications in the gaming industry. My inclusion has enriched the game and was well received by the community, not as a sensitive reader, but as an author and creator.

Needless to say, I was very excited to see the new adaptation of the movie “Dune” despite having near zero representation of the Middle East or North Africa (MENA) in it. screen or behind the scenes. I was not disappointed with the film itself. It was beautiful and well-crafted, with booming music, political intrigue, and epic wide-shots on a scale that brought many other sci-fi franchises to shame. Without reservation, I recommend people to watch this movie in the loudest and largest theater it is safe to attend.

The sophisticated visualization of the novel’s often impenetrable characters shows that director Denis Villeneuve and his team know their predominantly American audiences are often immune to subtlety and subtext. But by erasing the Arabs from “Dune,” they threaten to undo all that hard work by undermining the anti-colonial message at the heart of the story.

– Stilgar: “You are strangers. You come here for the spice, you take it without giving anything back.

– Paul: “It’s true.”

“Dune” is Arab and Muslim and Middle Eastern to his bones.

Clearly inspired by the culture of the Amazigh peoples of Algeria and Morocco, even taking their name from their language, the Fremen are only a small part of the deep MENA roots of the “Dune” universe. The whole framework uses Islamic concepts and several Arabic sayings are common throughout the Imperium. The Quran is referenced as one of the basic religious settings texts and even European coded characters, such as Gurney Halleck (played by Josh Brolin), are considered religious. In the book and film he repeatedly cites this quasi-Islamic / Christian writing and the Islamic concept of a Mahdi or religious savior is universally sown by the Bene Gesserit. Herbert himself has often referred to how Islam and Arab culture influenced his work, and Spice is a not-so-subtle petroleum substitute. The occupation of Iraq for oil turns into the occupation of Arrakis to control Spice by changing just a few vowels.

In fact, one of the most famous lines of the 1984 film adaptation is Paul’s rallying cry “Long live the fighters!” In the book, it is heard in the Arabic-inspired language of the Fremen of Chakobsa as “YA HYA CHOUHADA”. The expression comes directly from the Algerian war of independence against the French. Only a few years before the publication of the first book “Dune”, Arab and Amazigh freedom fighters returned from exile to Algiers, having won their freedom after 130 years of brutal occupation. Several newspapers reported that Algerian leaders were greeted in the streets with deafening chant, which is more correctly translated as “long live the martyrs” in Arabic. Herbert clearly took note of it and included it in his book.

Although the recent adaptation of “Dune” is a deeply American film, as an Algerian, I find something very French in the fact that the director Denis Villeneuve makes a film imbued with our culture and our images but devoid of ‘Arabs. Maybe Rami Malek was too busy on the Bond film for a cameo? That there is no Arab in this film with a speaking role seems almost unreal, but not if it is understood as a conscious decision.

Lady Jessica: “These people have been waiting for the Lisan al-Gaib for centuries. They see you, they see the signs.

– Paul: “They see what they have been told to see.”

Arabs are political.

We don’t choose to be political, but our existence is troubling in white-controlled media and entertainment. Instead of reckoning with decades of exploitation, colonization and militarization of the Middle East by Western powers, it is easier to make us bad guys – fanatics with unreasonable demands and a strange religion.

In “Dune”, despite much of the setting steeped in our culture, Arabs cannot be heroes, so we have to be erased. Arabic has become such an easy shortcut for villains in film, that even a “visionary director” couldn’t imagine us as anything more.

Arabic has become such an easy shortcut for villains in film, that even a “visionary director” couldn’t imagine us as anything more.

As for the other people of color in the film largely casting (spoiler alert), they almost all die for the benefit of Paul and his mother. Duncan Idaho. Dr Yueh. Shadout Mapes. Liet Kynes. Never. Multicultural pawns sacrificed for the queen and her son, the future king. Strangely, this fits very well with the intention of the author of Frank Herbert. The Atreides are colonizers at heart. Despite their more courteous and civilized demeanor, they are really no different from their Harkonnen cousins. Just as the spice is a resource that the Atreids wish to exploit, so too are the Fremen. Power, wealth and control prevail over all considerations of respect and freedom for the colonizer. The only significant difference between Harkonnen and Atreides is that the latter also wants to control how they are viewed. They wish to plunder, but they also wish to be loved. We see it today when the occupier demands gratitude from those he occupies, claiming that he is bringing education or human rights to dark lands when whatever he wants, c ‘is more power.

– Baron Harkonnen: “Arrakis is Arrakis, and the desert takes the weak. My Desert. My Arrakis. My Dune.

Why is this important?

After all, Javier Bardem may be one of my favorite actors and I’m sure he will play an outstanding Stilgar in the sequel to “Dune”. And maybe Denis will read this essay and choose one or two Arabs in speaking roles. Oscar winner Rami Malek would make an excellent Feyd-Rautha, not to mention F. Murray Abraham who would kill him as emperor. Perhaps Tahar Rahim, nominated for BAFTAs and Golden Globes as Fedaykin Otheym. With a second and possibly a third film on the way, there’s plenty of room to cast these incredible actors and, more importantly, hire Arabs and MENA people behind the screen. An Arabic speaker in the writing room or on set would likely have avoided many of the mangled lines of Arabic that made it into the final product, let alone enriching the film as a whole. So why even bother to mention that the Arabs were erased from the first installment?

As I mentioned earlier, critical media analysis is not a valued skill in much of America. It is not a bug, but a characteristic of our culture. In the United States, reading between the lines, disentangling nuances, or finding the deepest meaning in the media is seen as snobbish and hypocritical. This is something the filmmakers seem to understand given their efforts to translate “Dune” from dense cerebral text into an emotional and visual experience.

But this lack of understanding of the subtext means that we are vulnerable to reactionary and backward elements in our society. Right-wing fascists and libertarians in America mistakenly interpret satire and criticism as sincerity with almost comical regularity. Even “Dune” has followers among fascists today, despite the property’s message of colonial evil and the uplifting tale of how charismatic rulers often lead their followers to disaster in pursuit of their own glory. For these fascists, they consider the depictions of conquering tyrants and galactic genocide to be not only good, but necessary for their supremacist ideals. They don’t want Arabs or any other person of color in their “Dune,” although their limited inclusion as sacrificial pawns would likely be seen as a positive for them. Withdrawing the Arabs from “Dune” presents the fascists with a straightforward narrative, which caters to their preferences rather than outright rejecting them.

The difficult questions of how to admire “Dune” on screen when there are no Arabs in his Arab images cannot be ignored. Without the Arabs, the Arabity of the film becomes just another stolen resource to enrich the coded noble houses in Europe. Instead of a critique of the damage done to humanity and our environment by rapacious colonialists hungry for power and hegemony, history is more easily overthrown and co-opted by the very forces it was meant to shame and shame. charge.

Khaldoun Khelil is an energy and international security specialist at the Middle East Institute. He writes fiction and games as a hobby.

About Wesley V. Finley

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