TCS Daily

Hollywood, War and Moral Clarity

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - November 20, 2002 12:00 AM

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the delightful if somewhat dark film based on the J.K. Rowling series of books on the young wizard, his friends, and the magical world of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The Harry Potter series provides a brilliant fantasy epic for both children and adults. But Harry Potter has done more than that. It has mirrored, with surprising detail, the various political debates that currently occur at home and abroad regarding the war on terrorism.

Harry is a brave, decent and determined young wizard, who was almost killed in his infancy by the evil Lord Voldemort, also known as "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named." As Voldemort's moniker indicates, other witches and wizards are terrified to name Voldemort directly - so great was his power, and so horrifying was his rampage and determination to kill those who stood in his way. Harry, however, refuses to refrain from speaking Voldemort's name, and believes that to fear the name is to fear the man and his power - a failed strategy that would lose the fight against evil even before it begins.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the first book and movie in the series, Harry and his friends break a number of rules and conventions established by the faculty of Hogwarts in order to carry the fight against Voldemort - a practice they continue in The Chamber of Secrets. Additionally, Harry shows in this latest movie that he has a special ability to understand the language of snakes. Snakes are associated with Slytherin House in Hogwarts - the house that has produced every wizard to have ever gone bad, including Lord Voldemort.

Like Harry, the current United States government has been forceful in denouncing evil and terrorism by name, and in explicit terms. While some have argued for an examination of "root causes" of terrorism, have misnamed terrorists "militants," and have even employed the aphorism that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," the United States has argued that there is no excuse for the kind of murderous fanaticism that encourages the killing of innocent civilians for the fulfillment of political goals. While some are baffled by the language of the terrorists, this current White House understands the truly deadly nature of that language. Understanding the terrorist language is aided by websites like MEMRI, which is dedicated to helping translate virulent and hate-filled screeds promulgated by Islamo-fascist fundamentalists against the United States and its allies.

Like Harry and his friends, the U.S. has been willing to defy certain established and traditional "rules" to achieve the larger end of fighting the evils of terrorism. Most of these rules involve various diplomatic conventions that tend to diminish the vigor of the war - rules making a fetish out of coalition building, for example, or rules that set arbitrary and incoherent restrictions on preemptive military action.

Indeed, the Harry Potter series seems to mirror current events even more clearly as the series progresses. As TCS contributing editor Glenn Reynolds points out, in the fourth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the argument conducted between Harry and Professor McGonagall on one side, and Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic on the other, eerily replicates the arguments that have been conducted between the United States and what Reynolds refers to as "purblind Eurocrats" over the proper way to conduct the war on terrorism:

"Look, I saw Voldemort come back!" Harry shouted. . . . "I saw the Death Eaters! I can give you their names . . ."

"You are merely repeating the names of those who were acquitted of being Death Eaters thirteen years ago!" said Fudge, angrily . . .

"You fool!" Professor McGonagall cried. "Cedric Diggory! Mr. Crouch! [naming two people who had died at Voldemort's hand] These deaths were not the random work of a lunatic!"

"I see no evidence to the contrary!" shouted Fudge, now matching her anger, his face purpling. "It seems to me that you are all determined to start a panic that will destabilize everything we have worked for these last thirteen years!"

Harry couldn't believe what he was hearing. He had always thought of Fudge as a kindly figure, a little blustering, a little pompous, but essentially good-natured. But now a short, angry wizard stood before him, refusing, point-blank, to accept the prospect of disruption in his comfortable and ordered world -- to believe that Voldemort could have risen.

Reynolds argues that Harry Potter seems to resemble George W. Bush, in that the warnings of evil issued by each are mocked by journalists, and that each person is underestimated in some way. One can even take that idea a step further: The arguments Harry Potter finds himself in over the issue of evil and how to fight it are not only taken up by the President of the United States, but are part and parcel of the overwhelming popular American approach to the fight against terrorism.

Certainly, too much should not be made out of this convergence between art and life. After all, the Harry Potter series was developed prior to September 11th and the war on terrorism. And there is, of course, a clear distinction between fiction and reality, and never should the two be so haphazardly lumped together that a clear distinction is blurred.

But there is little doubt that the popularity of the Harry Potter series and the popularity of George W. Bush after 9/11 share something in common: People yearn for, and respond positively to, moral clarity in the face of evil.



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