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Skyfall and Realism

John O’Sullivan concludes a review [1] 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 [2] 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.

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6 Comments To "Skyfall and Realism"

#1 Comment By TMC On December 2, 2012 @ 8:27 pm

FWIW, perhaps a germ here for an edgy, spy-v-spy screenplay? Israeli conflict with Iran looms in the background, etc.

“WASHINGTON — The CIA station chief opened the locked box containing the sensitive equipment he used from his home in Tel Aviv, Israel, to communicate with CIA headquarters in Virginia, only to find that someone had tampered with it. He sent word to his superiors about the break-in.

“The incident, described by three former senior U.S. intelligence officials, might have been dismissed as just another cloak-and-dagger incident in the world of international espionage, except that the same thing had happened to the previous station chief in Israel.”

#2 Comment By Bob Mitchell On December 2, 2012 @ 8:45 pm

Maybe it failed because the people were less receptive to Islamism than they are now. People change. Also there is little evidence that China is at all uncomfortable working with radical Islamist rulers whereas those rulers typically do not want to work with US so it would certainly be in China’s interest to see more radical (especially anti-Saudi leaders) in power. I don’t understand you can think that China wouldn’t jump at the possibility of pushing the US out of the Middle East at the risk of possibly riling up their tiny Muslim population that they would have no compunction of crushing like a bug.

#3 Comment By Cornel Lencar On December 2, 2012 @ 10:07 pm

Mainly, the Arab world, as any average Joe, wants justice, or, to be exact, a just system. Now that is a too loaded word to play nice cut, we vs. them movies…

#4 Comment By Jack On December 3, 2012 @ 7:25 am

I’ve always wondered why people talk seriously about Bond movies, which are about as serious as Batman. Of course, one Bond gave us a villain who was generally seen as a parody of Rupert Murdoch, but Batman also once gave us a villain who was generally seen as a parody of Donald Trump. When they came out originally (back when critics took movies seriously as being about something other than the aesthetics of violence) critics often justified their tolerance of Bond by saying he was a parody. But not so long ago, I read one of those “send us a question” forums where the questioner asked if Robert Maxwell had been a spy as alleged by a noted journalist. The reply was in essence that he wasn’t really a spy because he didn’t engage in James Bond type activities. So the parody of a spy became the essence of a spy to some. Never assume that Hollywood can produce something so ridiculous that no one will take it seriously.

#5 Comment By Charles Cosimano On December 3, 2012 @ 5:39 pm

It is largely forgotten that the Germans tried it again in the second war and had a modicum of success in recruiting. Both Gamel Nasser and Anwar Sadat were active spies for the Germans in Egypt.

#6 Comment By Bob Mitchell On December 3, 2012 @ 11:41 pm

Right because they played up the anti Semitism as opposed to the Arab nationalism. Don’t think the PRC isn’t taking notes.