As I was mining deep in the recesses of
I unearthed this gem:
Reporter: Does [bin Laden] have political goals?
President: He has got evil goals. And it's hard to think in
conventional terms about a man so dominated by evil.
Is Osama bin Laden really the Lord of the Rings?
That question ran through my head for three hours, as I watched a
fellowship of brave warriors battle the forces of evil. Was I
watching The Lord of the Rings, or network coverage of the war on
The villains have no political goals, for only human beings can have
political goals. These inhuman forces do evil simply for its own
sake. They are the cosmic principle of evil: dark, dark,
dark. You dare not think of them in conventional terms, lest you be
accused of taking their side.
All that stands between us and this implacable darkness is a small band
of ordinary guys doing extraordinary deeds in their unconventional
hit-and-run style. Always vastly outnumbered, they never lose a
battle and hardly ever a single life. Are they really that
good? Or is it just because they embody the cosmic principle of
goodness? Their devotion to honor, decency, and each other is
exemplary. And they invite us to come back to the theater next
Christmas to see them defend the oh-so-white city, where we all hope to
live peacefully ever after.
If you have seen the movie and followed the war news, you can no doubt
extend the list of parallels.
This is dead serious. How many dead, in Afghanistan alone, the
Pentagon will make sure we never know.
The president's job is to hide the fact that bin Laden does have
political goals. He wants U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia, an end
to bombing and sanctions in Iraq, and no more U.S. support for Israeli
occupation of Palestinian territory. More broadly, he wants to curb
U.S. influence in the Muslim world.
How many American lives are worth losing, to maintain our powerful
influence in the Middle East and throughout the Muslim world? If
that became a matter of public debate, the Bush administration and its
war might be in real trouble.
So the administration dehumanizes the enemy, casting bin Laden as the
dark prince of evil. Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union “the
empire of evil.” But at least he admitted that the Soviets had a
political vision for which they waged cold war. Bush dares not even
go that far. He can only call us to a war against Sauron and the
evil forces of Mordor, a war with no end in sight. If we believe in
his mythic vision, we can not even begin to think about the political
The shocking fact is that most Americans do seem to believe in it.
Have we watched too many movies pitting pure shining good against the
mindless metaphysical principle of evil? Is there a seamless
infotainment web stretching from Lord of the Rings to the nightly
Or does the immense success of Lord of the Rings and all its imitators
point deeper, to the thousands of years that humans have told stories
about absolute good fighting absolute evil? The vast Christian lore
of God against Devil is only one corner of this much vaster, world-wide
legacy of myth and legend -- the same legacy that bin Laden himself draws
on so successfully.
So far, at least, the lure of simplistic myth has worked for the Bush
administration like a charm. A mere hint that El Qaeda might have
political motives sets off panic alarms among the patriotic
citizenry. To raise any political question is to think about
the enemy in conventional terms; i.e., to treat them as human beings, not
inhuman orcs doing Sauron’s bidding. That thought would open up too
many disturbing doors in the public mind. Easier to call it
treason, set the mind at rest, and go to the movies.
This is the peace movement’s greatest challenge. As long as the
enemy is cast as an inhuman force of cosmic evil, we can not raise public
consciousness about alternatives to war. The pro-war forces know
that and count on it to keep the war going. We must insist, over
and over, in every way we can, as loudly as we can, that the contest is
political, not mythic or metaphysical. The victims of this
war are dying in the real world, not the Hollywood dream factory.
We can and should condemn the use of violence to gain political
ends. We can and should debate the validity of Islamist political
principles and goals. Many of us will wholeheartedly oppose
them. But first we must help to stop the killing. To do that,
we must insist that even the people whose principles and goals we most
oppose are human beings, not monsters from Mordor.
Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of
Colorado at Boulder