August 26, 2002
9:16 AM   Subscribe

Isaac Asimov to blame for "al-Qaida"?
posted by rushmc (28 comments total)
What's in a name? This is the biggest stretch I've seen in ages. What could be more fundamental than, er, "foundation?"

The article does have some interesting discussion of the idea of sf themes leading to will-to-power political extremist-type behaviors.
posted by rushmc at 9:17 AM on August 26, 2002

It seems like more Frank Herbert than Asimov. I read the Dune series and loved them, there does seem to be a parallel. All Hail Our Sublime Padishah Emperor, Emperor of a Million Words, Ruler of the Known Universe, George Bush II!

posted by ac at 9:27 AM on August 26, 2002

Let the book burning begin.
posted by crasspastor at 9:27 AM on August 26, 2002

No, no the US just needs some Sardakaur.
posted by ac at 9:40 AM on August 26, 2002

I always knew that those sideburns were subversive.
posted by thewittyname at 9:53 AM on August 26, 2002

Interesting that it took this long to reach the mainstream. This apparently surfaced last October on Johnson's Russia List and was picked up in Ansible. I stumbled across it via Locus; here's the relevant entry from my blog (November 7, 2001).
posted by mcwetboy at 10:07 AM on August 26, 2002

Slashdot heralds beginning of psycho-history.
posted by jeb at 10:14 AM on August 26, 2002

Hmm * pictures confused American Intelligence ("Intelligence"?) agents desperately reading Foundation to predict al-Quaida strategies... *
posted by Shane at 10:18 AM on August 26, 2002

The CUPOLA of the Mosque of Hon, built in 1840 in the oasis of Gioffra, Libya is a copy of a sailors hat

believe it or not
posted by clavdivs at 10:49 AM on August 26, 2002

Speaking of Great Works of Science Fiction and the Middle East, has it struck anyone else that Dune is an allegory for the emergence of post-Imperialist Arab nationhood? Spice=oil, Fremen=Arabs, Great Houses=Imperial Powers (with an additional possibllity of Harkonnen=Turks/Germans/Russians, Atreides=British/Americans). There's a very strong Islamic theme running through the book, and it ends with a Fremen "jihad" (Herbert's word). Hell, you could even make a vague Paul Atreides/T.E. Lawrence analogy. Thoughts?
posted by mr_roboto at 10:56 AM on August 26, 2002

I've always thought the Catholic church paralleled the Bene Gesserit, or vice-versa.
posted by littlegirlblue at 11:06 AM on August 26, 2002

Does this mean that L. Ron Hubbard is to blame for Scientology?
posted by Pressed Rat at 11:08 AM on August 26, 2002

It should be pointed out that "qaeda" also translates as "base," bringing the translation of "Al Qaeda" frightening close to "baseball."

Bin Laden is clearly patterning his organization after the '69 Mets.
posted by adameft at 11:09 AM on August 26, 2002

Pressed Rat, you have made me laugh.
posted by saltykmurks at 11:31 AM on August 26, 2002

From Dune... the tribal fremen name that Paul Atreides took was Usul, which means the base of the pillar.
posted by GeekAnimator at 11:38 AM on August 26, 2002

Does this mean that Bush is the Mule?
posted by picea at 11:39 AM on August 26, 2002

mr_roboto - you are entirely right. What a great book. Although I don't know about Paul Atreides - that doesn't seem to fit in with the allegory.

Although have you read the later books in the Dune series? It gets really weird, Paul has died and passed into obscurity thousands of years ago, and completely different stuff is going on. And the prequels are awesome, too - can't wait for the new one, only a couple of weeks.
posted by ac at 11:42 AM on August 26, 2002

Bin Laden is clearly patterning his organization after the '69 Mets.

that is a well crafted joke. IMO

i blame omar khayim, him and his 'calculations'. odd friends. he was nothing like Cornel Wilde. IMO

Does this mean that Bush is the Mule?

thats han solos' job.
posted by clavdivs at 11:43 AM on August 26, 2002

If only somebody had introduced him to Robert Heinlein, bin Laden would be trying to have sex with his mother instead of committing acts of global terror.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:44 AM on August 26, 2002

Dune is well know to be (as described in interviews with the author) an allegory about earth-bound resource war. Spice does, in fact, represent oil. And while it was originally talking about the 60/70's oil problems - it certainly appears to have some relevance today. Strange how little things change in 30 years.
posted by jaded at 12:10 PM on August 26, 2002

I hadn't thought about how allegorical Dune could be when I read it, though of course it seems clear now. However, if it really is describing the Mideast, is Israel represented? I can't think of what it would be...
posted by tss at 12:19 PM on August 26, 2002

Israel would be the people of the Arrakeen towns, the folk of the pan and graben...the villages.
posted by ac at 12:29 PM on August 26, 2002

This is interesting. I read the Dune books in the late eighties, sharing them among my jewish friends, and we always saw the Fremen as the lost tribes of Israel, wandering in the desert with Moses. When I was in Israel myself, I remember one of my tour guides seeing me holding the book, and excitedly telling me all these parallels she'd found to jewish stories, as well as her insistence that Bene Gesserit means "sons' bridges" in Hebrew.

I think that, like Star Wars, Dune was created self-consciously out of the myths of many cultures, so it's easy to read into it what you know.
posted by bingo at 1:10 PM on August 26, 2002

Asimov based the Foundation series on The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (or at least was greatly inspired by it). What next? Will Edward Gibbon, majestic historian and great popularizer of the snarky footnote, be declared the mastermind behind al Qaeda?
posted by ed at 1:33 PM on August 26, 2002

For those who, like me, got annoyed by this article and wanted to stop reading, I recommend you finish it, because at the end there are some solid arguments against the whole Asimov connection. Not to mention the fact that the Foundation books disparage cultures that run on oil, that Asimov loved New York, and that psychohistory was based on the study of long-term trends that cannot be altered by specific acts except in the case of the Mule, who has the ability to control the minds of millions of people simultaneously.
posted by bingo at 2:17 PM on August 26, 2002

One should also hasten to point out that in the context of the story, the Foundation didn't actively attempt to hasten the demise of the Empire, it simply foresaw it and took steps to prevent that death from leading to long term chaos.

If Bin Laden is using Asimov as a template, the least he could do is get the particulars right.
posted by quin at 3:06 PM on August 26, 2002

If Bin Laden is using Asimov as a template...

It is a mad, mad, mad world where someone can even type that phrase....
posted by rushmc at 5:39 PM on August 26, 2002

The fact that ...

The first use of al-Qaida in western media was in 1996 in an American newspaper report which identified it as another name of the Islamic Salvation Foundation, one of Bin Laden's jihadi charities.

seems to clinch it for me. This interpretation -- "foundation" in the Western philanthropical sense, rather than "base" in the Western military sense -- was forwarded by Ahmed Rashid, author of the books Jihad and Taliban, carries weight with me. He almost chuckled -- saying roughly, "Osama started out with these widows and orphans funds for the mujahedin. In the beginning it really was a foundation, a charity. Later he began stretching the list of things he offered grants, and that continued to be the structure of al Qaeda: a grant-making foundation for terrorism." (It helped that I had already come to the same conclusion.)
posted by dhartung at 6:02 PM on August 26, 2002 [1 favorite]

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