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Between Star Wars and Dune: From liberty to jihad in 40 years

The differences between the two epics illuminate the shifting values and priorities of our world
Dune and Star Wars composite photo. (via X, formerly Twitter)
Dune and Star Wars composite photo. (via X, formerly Twitter)

In the desolate desert of Tatooine, a young handsome man emerges from a futuristic cave. He stands alone, gazing at the two suns on the horizon, his face shows hope for changing the world for the better. “A New Hope,” the first installment of the original Star Wars trilogy, hit theatres in 1977. The film tells the story of Luke Skywalker, a boy from a distant and barren star who gets caught up in the struggle of the Rebel Alliance against the Galactic Empire – a dark and dictatorial body wielding power and fear throughout the galaxy, led by the terrifying faceless tyrant, Darth Vader. Along his journey, he will enter a magic order, which will endow him with superpowers and reveal truths that will shake his perception of the world. At the time, “A New Hope” was the most successful film in cinema history, serving as the opening for the “Star Wars” franchise, which Disney continues to cash out to this day. George Lucas, the film’s creator, and one of the most successful filmmakers of all time (also responsible for “Jurassic Park” and “Indiana Jones”), based Star Wars on the 1965 novel “Dune” by Frank Herbert.

In 2021, 43 years after Star Wars, Hollywood released Dennis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the space epic, Dune. This year (2024) saw the release of the sequel “Dune: Part Two,” which garnered astronomical and immediate success at the box office ($494 million worldwide, with $208 million in America). The film tells the story of Paul Atreides, a former prince whose father was murdered in a plot on their home planet after being betrayed by the emperor and joins the struggle of the desert rebels from the planet Arrakis.

As mentioned, Star Wars is based on Dune, and both stories share many thematic parallels. Like Star Wars, Dune unfolds the story of a handsome boy embroiled in the rebels’ struggle against a galactic empire. Like in Star Wars, he parts with a magic order that bestows powers upon him. Like in Star Wars, the hero discovers several things that completely alter everything he thought he knew about the world. But despite the similarities, the two are completely different stories.

The Star Wars saga tells the story of a rebellion against tyranny, about the liberation of the galaxy’s inhabitants whoever they may be. For the rebels in Star Wars, it didn’t matter whether they were freeing people, droids, or hairy aliens. They wanted freedom, peace, and brotherhood. Star Wars narrates the tale of the perfect liberal dream: the aspiration for human unity under the belief that all are created equal, the desire to break free from the chains of an evil empire, and the hope for a better future. Dune presents an entirely different, perhaps even inverted worldview. The rebellion of the “sparrows” against the Empire does not come in the name of universal values; it aims to take control of the natural resources that the galaxy’s aristocracy mine from their star, resources that use to fuel space travel. Furthermore, the rebellion is not aimed at ending the tyranny, but rather at seizing it. It marks the beginning of a holy war by the desert dwellers to conquer the throne of the galactic kingdom and establish a fundamentalist religious order throughout the universe. While Star Wars celebrates liberalism, Dune celebrates jihad.

Islamism and jihadism are a breed of fundamental Islam and the philosophy of German Romantics of the 19th century, with the prominent figure being Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. According to Hegel, the whole is the nation, and the individual is merely an instrument designed to serve that it. Additionally, the essence of the nation is measured on the stage of history where it is required to prove itself against other nations. Hegel advocated for absolute national mobilization for world domination. Hegelian ideas formed the basis of the Nazi regime and are the source of fundamental errors found in Marx’s theory. Indeed, both Nazism and Communism suffered resounding failures in the 20th century, but the toxic ideas of Hegel and German Romanticism did not perish and spread to the Middle East in the second half of the 20th century. These years, filled with revolutions, civil wars, and national struggles, provided fertile ground for Hegel’s insidious fascism, which poured onto the Islamic culture of the Levant. One known as the “Dr. Frankenstein” of Hegelianism and Islam is Sayyid Qutb — a fundamentalist Islamic literary figure who, after a mission to America in the 1950s, swore to destroy what he deemed as a corrupt and decadent culture, and began writing about establishing a global Islamic caliphate. Qutb’s Islamization of Hegel was that he subjugated the historical struggle to the will of Allah, rather than proving the essence of the nation. Thus, he created imperial Jihadism as a universal Muslim ideology.

One might say, jihad? This is a story about decolonization. Indeed, there is truth in that, but it is a narrow and misguided perspective. As known to all, decolonization has become the rallying cry of many leftist circles in the West. According to them, it is the important mission of their generation. Some even hold onto it as a sort of moral cleansing of the West that will metaphysically bring an end to the climate crisis, that they directly associate with the colonialism of the 19th century. Indeed, Dune deals with the rebellion of a desert people of Arab appearance that rise against the white oppressor who comes to seize its natural resources. But as I mentioned before, the rebels’ intention is not only to oust the Empire from Arakis and live in peace, but to become an empire themselves and appoint a religious emperor — “Lisan al-Ghaib” (or Muad’Dib), a fictional counterpart of Muhammad al-Mahdi, who, according to the Shia faith, will return in the apocalypse to establish an eternal caliphate. Their motivation to act imperialistically is no less than that of the oppressive imperial regime. Similarly, what mobilizes jihadists and Islamists is not merely the end of the European conquest of Muslim countries (that was achieved in the 1950s), but the transformation of the entire world, including Europe and the USA, into one Islamic dominion — Dar El Islam.

According to estimates from major intelligence networks worldwide, between 15 percent to 20% of the global Muslim population, which totals around 1.9 billion people, are committed in one way or another to jihadist goals. This amounts to approximately 285 to 380 million individuals. For comparison, the combined population of the entire Western world currently stands at around 893 million people. Those operating under the banner of Jihad — with Iran at the forefront — are currently aligning themselves with a broader anti-Western axis aimed at destroying America, eradicating Western culture, and establishing new or reviving old empires. This axis is represented by China-Russia-Iran. This axis includes approximately 1.65 billion people, and some of the world’s most powerful nations with vast military resources, abundant natural resources, significant economic power, and nuclear weapons. But all these factors will not stop the progressive Western audience from sympathizing with those who seek to subjugate it, labeling anyone who speaks out against the Islamization of the West as “bigots,” and turning violent fundamentalist false prophets who call for jihad, like Paul Atreides, into cultural heroes.

The book “Dune” was released 13 years before “New Hope,” yet in its film adaptation, George Lucas — an expert in identifying the American Zeitgeist — “sanitized” his space opera from any hint of jihadist symbolism because, in 20th-century America, a story that sets a group of fundamentalist rebels who call to establish a religious empire as its protagonists just would not sell. For much of its existence, the United States has been considered a symbol of universal liberalism and democracy. The “American Dream,” characterized by economic prosperity, political freedom, and general stability, attracted immigrants from the bloody Europe of the early 20th century to board crowded ships and sail to Ellis Island. Following them came waves of immigrants from the entire globe, who preferred to leave everything behind and seek an American future. The name given to America was “The Land of Unlimited Opportunities,” and the best-selling product of the capitalist giant was Hope.

The 1980s, during which the Star Wars trilogy became the rich subculture it is today, were the peak of  America’s Cold War with the Soviet Union — “the Evil Empire.” The American order that took shape after World War II was indisputable, and the entire Anglo-Saxon world still remembered how it joined forces against the sheer evil of Nazism and saw itself as “the good guy” and the harbinger of liberalism.

In 2020s America, liberalism is abandoned and frowned upon. The Republican camp uses the word “liberal” as a curse, classifies itself as “conservative,” and supports the implementation of anti-liberal policy both domestically (like in Ukraine) and towards LGBTQ+ individuals or pregnant women. The Democratic camp also abandons liberalism in favor of progressivism. Liberal intellectuals, who once shaped America’s values, are dismissed as “old white men,” while more and more young people prefer the Marxist and sometimes Islamist ideology of Michel Foucault and Frantz Fanon.

Identity politics, which centers the discourse around the speaker’s identity rather than the ideas presented, undermines the essential exchange of freely flowing ideas necessary for preserving a liberal social structure, and cancel culture is increasingly positioned as a social institution of outright censorship of anyone not aligning with the “right” opinion. While liberalism is fueled by aspirations toward the future, contemporary American ideology is gazing at the past. Whether the Republican camp, which seeks to “make America great again,” or the Democratic camp, which cries out for forgiveness from those whom America has oppressed in the past.

In a world devoid of vacuum, the space left by classical liberalism is filled with ideologies that are highly detrimental to the West which apply in surreal cries to “globalize intifada” and the organization of “jihad days” in universities. These ideologies are fueled by those who want to undermine the American order. The West needs to wake up from the current spiral of guilt and self-loathing, realize that the past cannot be changed, and focus on the future. In his State of the Union address, Joe Biden emphasized that the coming years would determine the course of the next 50. America must keep its eyes on the ball, for there are a few empires eager to strike back.

About the Author
Omer Biran is a 4th year student for LL.B. in law with a direct route to M.A. in government. Former columnist / tech reporter for 'Under the Radar'. Research intern in 'The Institute for Policy' and Strategy at Reichman University. Former creator and presenter of the radio program 'The Megaphone' on the University Radio which dealt with protest music in a historical context.
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