The Return of the King’s Message to the Men of the West
|In the previous post I mentioned an article that was posted on a now-defunct online magazine. Here is that essay. It originally came out in July 2004.|
In the climactic scene of the Academy Award sweeping film The Return of the King, the final installment of The Lord of Rings trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel, the returning king Aragorn exhorts his troops as they are about to face the much larger force of Mordor. My high school students call this rousing speech “the Braveheart speech” from its similarity to a speech given before the Battle of Stirling Bridge in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart film.
The men of Middle Earth are in a life and death struggle with the forces of Sauron, Lord of Mordor. Sauron is an unseen, satanic leader of Mordor, the land “where the shadows lie.” It is a smoky, hellish wasteland whose principal occupants are the ghoulish, semi- human Orcs. Sauron’s goal is to take over Middle Earth, destroy or enslave mankind (and related creatures like Hobbits, Dwarves, and Elves), and bring the lawless autocracy of evil to the known world.
The battle is on two fronts. There is the spiritual or mental front, represented by the so-called Ring of Power, which the Hobbits Frodo and Sam are trying to bring to the volcano Mt. Doom in Mordor so it can be destroyed. If Sauron gets the Ring of Power, he will have power to bend anyone to his will. The challenge faced by the two Hobbits is to take the Ring to Mt. Doom undetected by Mordor security forces.
Then there is the more typical battle. Orcs have invaded and taken over various parts of Middle Earth. The men, mostly of the western lands of Rohan and Gondor, are making a last-ditch effort to fight off the waves of Orcs sent to them. A detachment led by Aragorn, the unrecognized but rightful heir to the throne of Gondor, has reached the gates of Mordor. They are vastly outnumbered. They can sense the evil presence of Sauron and his allies. But they also realize that they must fight. If they lose, not only are they killed, but their whole way of life will be obliterated and the civilization of Western Middle Earth will be for naught.
The film portrays the showdown in front of the gates of Mordor differently from the novel. The difference is due to the theatrical medium. Like Shakespeare’s Henry V before Agincourt or Gibson’s William Wallace before Stirling Bridge, the troops are rallied by a speech:
Hold your ground—hold your ground! Sons of Gondor—of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. The day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bands of fellowship—but it is not this day! An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the Age of Man comes crashing down—but it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear in this good earth—I bid you stand! Men of the West! (Walsh et al.)
Even as late as October 2003, the month before the film’s release, the director and screenwriter Peter Jackson was tinkering with the film. This speech almost certainly was written for us men of the West—in Europe, the Americas, even postcolonial Africa and Australasia—with September 11 in mind.
Although the actual modern Islamist attacks may have started with the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968 or Meir Kahane in 1990, or the 1993 World Trade Center attempts, or any of a number of other incidents; we were made clearly aware of the Islamists’ intentions on September 11, 2001. We began to understand that they hated us and wanted to destroy us.
We learned that the name Osama had become the second most popular name for Arab boys (Muhammad is still number one). (Simon) We saw celebrations in Palestine, Egypt, Afghanistan, and even among some Muslims in the United States.
We were made aware that the battle we have become engaged in is not like any war the West has been actively engaged in since World War II. Like the war between West Middle Earth and Mordor, it is a battle for the future of civilization. If we had lost World War II, the world would have been plunged into barbarism and lawlessness. So will it be if the Men of the West do not stand up to the Medieval Islamists raging against us today.
While the focus of the Islamists is on the United States and Israel, we know that they are attacking the West everywhere they can. The last real Crusade ended in 1291. Western culture has moved on. The culture of the Islamists has not.
A good illustration is what happened in France. Until the recent headscarf controversy, France had been very tolerant, even fearful, of its Muslim minority. It had supported Libya and Iraq. Still, in 1994 Al Qaeda attempted to hijack an airliner and fly it into the Eiffel Tower. Why France? France was an imperial power in the Near East and North Africa in the nineteenth and twentieth century. But even more than that, France under Charlemagne put a stop to the Moorish expansion into Europe in A.D. 778.
The Spanish may think they are safe since they voted for a party less supportive of the War on Terror. They are deceiving themselves. Spain has been a bone in the craw of Muslims for six centuries. It is a major civilized nation that was once Muslim and now is not. The “moderate,” Westernized Muslim writer Akbar S. Ahmed tells us a South Asian Muslim character in a 1973 Pakistani novel says, “All I can remember is that I was leaving Grenada…I’ve been uprooted.” (Islam Today, 229) Here is a character half a world away with no ethnic or even historical connection to Spain or Moors—but he mourns the loss of Grenada, ruled by a tiny Muslim minority until 1492.
Osama’s “message to the world” was on September 11. Why that date? September 11 was an important date in the Habsburg-Ottoman War of 1683-1697. In 1683 the Ottoman army with Arab, Tartar, African, and Asian Muslim allies would penetrate into Europe, into the West, to the farthest extent in history. The army laid siege to Vienna, outnumbering its defenders about four to one. September 11, 1683, marked the “high water mark” of the Muslim penetration into Eastern Europe. On September 12, the Turks and their allies were attacked by the Poles and driven back.
The war continued with the Ottomans gradually losing ground. The last battle of the war, the Battle of Zenta, was won by Austrian allies on September 11, 1697. After that, the Turks sued for peace, and a treaty was signed two years later. September 11 is a significant date. (We should likewise declare that September 11, 2001, will be the farthest penetration of Islam into the Americas…)
We know that virtually all Muslim states are authoritarian. Osama’s goal is to restore the Caliphate of Baghdad—the medieval monarchy ruled by ruthless Muslim law and made famous by The Arabian Nights. Mordor in The Lord of the Rings is a caricature of the totalitarian state. The armies of Orcs as they assemble and march in the film are meant to echo Fascists. Indeed, Tolkien began work on the trilogy during World War II. Jackson’s depiction of Mordor with echoes of fascism also takes some images from Islam—especially Modor’s towers with two points at the top which resemble minarets with crescents.
The concepts of justice and human rights which form the basis of many Western governments are alien to most Muslim cultures. At best, non-Muslims are Dhimmi, second-class citizens with few rights. The same “moderate,” Westernized author of Islam Today complains for pages when Muslims are disrespected but then justifies Islamic governments and customs that imprison and execute Muslims who convert to other religions.
Columnist Dennis Prager calls the current extremist movements—whether Ba’athist, Shi’ite, or Waha’abi—“Islamic fascism.” Indeed, that is what it appears to be. Perhaps they hate the West because it refused to be conquered, because it has prospered materially, or because since the Middle Ages it has overshadowed the lands of their religion. Perhaps they are offended because of weakening Western morality. This I grant them, though such things as honor killings, abductions and forced marriages of Dhimmi women, kidnappings, killing all prisoners, polygamy, and special treatment of Muslims under the law all appear immoral to most Westerners.
From our founding we [Americans] have believed that we have a mission to better the world. And for this we are hated. We are not hated for our power; we are hated for our values and our sense of chosenness—just as the never-powerful Jews have long been hated for their values and their chosenness. (Prager)
It is interesting that anti-Western Arab propaganda from whatever sources uses the terms Zionist and Crusader. Bin Laden has even used the term Zionist Crusader—a ridiculous oxymoron in the light of history. There is no Crusade; there is a jihad. And the West is the target.
A spokesman for Al Qaeda says they have the right to kill four million Americans. (Graham) What kind of system derives those kinds of “rights”? There is nothing those “rights” have in common with the rights mentioned in the American Declaration of Independence. If they think their God grants them this right, then they indeed are invoking a very different God from the God that the signers of the Declaration invoked. Theirs is a very different way of life. What are we going to do, Men of the West?
Our way of life is at stake. We may not win every battle. Terrorists may try to do more. There is a lawless horde eager to destroy us and our way of life. The week of the terrorist attacks, Yossef Bodansky, author of Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, was one of the few people in America who had written anything about Bin Laden. He was interviewed by National Public Radio. His interviewer asked him, “Is there anything the West can do to satisfy Bin Laden?”
He replied, “Pack up and move to another planet.” (Simon)
Osama himself said that his goal is to cause the “disappearance” of “the infidel West.” (Zuckerman) We have already seen that “infidel” means not only American or Israeli, but Filipino, Greek, Korean, Buddhist, Hindu, whoever they think is in their way. As Zuckerman writes:
This is not simply a war against America. These killings are not about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal or American actions in Iraq and Afghanistan—they’re not even about Israel. They are a tactic in a war to claim the world for a perverted version of Islam. It is not what we do, but who we are—and we are in the way as these misguided men seek to restore a new unified Muslim umma (community), ruled by a new caliphate, governed by Islamic law, and organized to wage jihad against the rest of the world.
This is a lot like what Sauron was trying to do with the Orcs of Mordor. The men of Middle Earth were in their way. What would the men of Middle Earth do? What will we do? Are we going to give up this day? Are we going to dissolve our relationships, our laws, our lands? Let us declare with Aragorn that this will not be the day!
Osama is not that different from Sauron. The question is simply like the one Aragorn posed to his troops at the gates of Mordor—do we have the resolve? Will we hold our ground? Will we appreciate the things we hold dear? Aragorn and Peter Jackson were not just speaking to Gondor and Rohan; they were speaking to us—the Men of the West.
Ahmed, Akbar S. Islam Today: A Short Introduction to the Muslim World. New York: I. B. Tauris, 1999. Print. [Note: The quotation is from the revised edition. I believe I originally read the first edition. It is possible there are differences.]
Graham, Alison. “Nuclear Terrorism Poses the Greatest Threat Today.” Wall Street Journal 14 July 2003: A10. Print.
Prager, Dennis. “Dear American Soldier in Iraq.” American Legion Magazine March 2004. Print. Reprinted at https://archive.org/details/americanlegionvo1563amer1.
Simon, Scott. “Bin Laden Bio.” Weekend Edition Saturday 15 September 2001. Web. http://www.npr.org/features/feature.php?wfId=1129483.
Walsh, Fran et al. Return of the King. Screenplay. Los Angeles: New Line Productions, 2003. Print. Posted at http://www.imsdb.com/scripts/Lord-of-the-Rings-Return-of-the-King.html.
Zuckerman, Mortimer J. “Looking Evil Right in the Eye.” U.S. News and World Report 26 July 2004: 84. Print. Reprinted at http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1171826/posts.