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Skyfall and Realism

John O’Sullivan concludes a review of Skyfall with an odd comment:

Standpoint editor Daniel Johnson tells me that historical research has confirmed that the plot of Greenmantle was rooted in real attempts by Imperial Germany to rouse the masses of the Muslim world against the British empire. Yet it is still oddly topical today. Mutatis mutandis – i.e., Chinese, Russians, or even North Koreans in the role of Kaiser Wilhelm – Greenmantle is a plot waiting to be ripped off for the next Bond movie.

It’s true that Germany and its allies tried to stir up the Muslim colonial subjects of its wartime enemies during WWI, but what goes unmentioned here was that these efforts were almost complete failures. Peter Hopkirk wrote a popular history of the German and Ottoman attempt to turn Britain and Russia’s Muslim subjects against them, and it makes for interesting reading. This part of the history of WWI should also teach us that the Germans and Ottomans badly overestimated the effectiveness of pan-Islamist and caliphalist appeals to most Muslims, which should warn us against doing the same thing.

If what we want is greater realism, replacing Wilhelmine Germany with Russia or China in a new version of this story would be one of the last things one would want to do. (Putting North Korea in this role would be like giving the script of Die Another Day to the writers of 24.) Unlike Germany in the early twentieth century, Russia and China have strong internal political incentives to discourage Islamic militancy rather than to stoke it. As it happens, they aren’t the states currently aligned with the leading exporters of the most severe and militant forms of Islam.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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