...but after watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix this afternoon, I could not help but draw a number of parallels between a few exchanges in the movie, and the present political climate surrounding the war on terror.
It should be stipulated that anything written here is entirely speculative and most likely coincidental. The purpose is not to imply any overt or even subtle intention by Rowling, rather to point out how an idea can be turned on its head when juxtaposed.
About 45 minutes into the film, Harry and his classmates are subject to their new 'Defense Against the Dark Arts' instructor, Dolores Umbridge. Umbridge was recently appointed by the pusillanimous Minister of Magic (Cornelius Fudge). Her role at Hogwart's is to not only teach a watered-down version of the class, but likewise to play down the fears of Lord Voldemort's return (which the ministry denies) and act as a shill for the Ministry of Magic, helping to whitewash the perceived threat.
The wonderfully sardonic, condescending and controlling Umbridge, played by Imelda Staunton, embodies every shameful ounce of Democratic obfuscation and denial when it comes to the war on terror. She contains elements of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Jack Murtha, and John Edwards in her persistent and eager desire to reduce any hint of danger to mere misunderstanding or hyperbole, seeking to silence dissenters (Through the implementation of torturous quills, if necessary).
Here is the exchange:
Dolores Umbridge: Your previous instruction in this subject has been disturbingly uneven. But you will be pleased to know from now on, you will be following a carefully structured, Ministry-approved course of defensive magic. Yes?
Hermione Granger: There's nothing in here about using defensive spells.
Dolores Umbridge: Using spells? Ha ha! Well I can't imagine why you would need to use spells in my classroom.
Ron Weasley: We're not gonna use magic?
Dolores Umbridge: You will be learning about defensive spells in a secure, risk-free way.
Harry Potter: Well, what use is that? If we're gonna be attacked it won't be risk-free.
Dolores Umbridge: Students will raise their hands when they speak in my class.[pauses]
Dolores Umbridge: It is the view of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge will be sufficient to get you through your examinations, which after all, is what school is all about.
Harry Potter: And how is theory supposed to prepare us for what's out there?
Dolores Umbridge: There is nothing out there, dear! Who do you imagine would want to attack children like yourself?
Harry Potter: I don't know, maybe, Lord Voldemort!
What of this dialogue? Simply - the language immediately drew me to similar comments, attitudes and positions taken up by war opponents. From the initial denial of al Qaeda's presence in Iraq, to the nonchalant denial and even apathy for the consequences of an American pull out.
For proof, here is a quote from the liberal DailyKos:
"With the Keystone Cops of Al-Qaeda embarrassing themselves in the UK and President Bush's commutation of Scooter's sentence embarrassing us all, this was a revealing week in the "War on Terror". This combination of operational incompetence and administrative injustice demonstrated the limited physical menace presented by terrorists and the very real corrosive threat to our way of life engendered by the specter of "terror" and effected by those who claim to protect us."
In short: we are a greater danger to ourselves than they are.
That certainly rings of ignorance-loving bliss, no?
Now this shorter exchange between Harry and Umbridge is perhaps more telling:
Dolores Umbridge: You have been told that a certain dark wizard is at large. This is a lie!
Harry Potter: It's not a lie! I saw him!
The telltale sermonizing is present; reinforcing the party line and attempting to re-direct reality toward specious faux existence.
Again, it is far too easy, but sufficient to turn to Daily Kos for the parallel:
The Pentagon has lost the Iraq War but it seems they are fighting a focused PR War. It is Iran and Al Qaeda now at almost every turn. Our soldiers are blown up by Iranian weapons and the killers are almost exclusively Al Qaeda. The BBC reports on one helicopters attack in recent Operation Arrowhead Ripper ( how scary!) where the US claimed a victory over Al Qaeda. It tested the truth of the US report.
Or perhaps more aptly, John Edwards' denial of a 'War on Terror':
"By framing this as a war, we have walked right into the trap the terrorists have set — that we are engaged in some kind of clash of civilizations and a war on Islam."
Now, Julia Turner of Slate wrote in 2005:
But close reading of the book suggests that Rowling's motives are more authorial than political. She's not using Harry to make points about terrorism. She's using terrorism to make points about Harry. Rowling culls the scariest elements of modern life and uses them as a kind of shorthand, a quick way to instill fear.
Ms. Turner's analysis was bent toward the use of terrorism to reflect government's harsh and heavy-handed reaction. This may have been true of Rowling's earlier works (or maybe not). Regardless, I have found this latest screen adaptation of her work to be less argumentative. The message is clear: The enemy is gathering strength and waiting for the moment to strike. We can either stick our heads in the sand, or take action to defeat the dark, violent ideology of the malcontents.
As Turner wrote:
"Reading the Half-Blood Prince today, Rowling's references to terrorism don't feel cheap. They feel terrifying. But how will they read in 50 years?"
Update: NRO's the corner says Gordon Brown is Cornelius Fudge.
Update: Whims Rhyme says
Dolores Umbridge is an overperforming character and the conflict focus isn't prioritised carefully, resulting in some mayhem in the viewer's chronological walk through the film - it gives people the 'is it Voldemort or Umbridge being the bad ass?' kind of feeling.
The only few wonders here are, was how did Rowling able to come up with so much information and imagination that could create a whole new separate world of England altogether, where soccer was replaced by quidditch, education was made into magic education(fun), politics were revised into Ministry of Magic and institutions with leaders of tremendous power, a whole new save-the-world concept and a big-bang kind of war to end the entire story.It's stupefying. After all, Rowling is one of the richest ladies in the world.
Update: A viewer's MySpace page gets it... sort of:
It is fun yet it presents to us the themes at work in today's politics. Rather thanaccept a truth that will change your entire reality, Minister Fudge prefers to deny this truth and instead conspires to besmirch and demonize those who insist on the truth until it is almost too late.
That Harry and his fellow students cling to this truth is admirable. Their love of truth made them prepare themselves for Lord V's onslaught.
Who has not met the tame but catty Ms. Umbridge? That studgents' rights are taken away decree by decree are very scary given our own Patriots' Act, warrentless wiretapping and Guantanamo prisoners. Shall we send them to Azkaban?
Great books are those whose themes are timeless. Truth vs. denial, sacrifice for the common good, and an inner struggle to not become what you battle. All in a kid's book. Harry, how will it end?
Update: Blogger QueerVisalia totally, ahem, misses the mark:
The manipulation and politics of the Ministry of Magic clearly frustrated me because it's so obvious that people in power or positions of authority can too easily turn blind eyes to the truth for the sake of their own personal goals and agendas. Ahem. Bush. Ahem!
Update: James P. Pinkerton writes in Detroit News:
"When kids see "Harry Potter," they should be thinking first about defending their country, and their civilization, against evildoers wielding weapons of mass destruction. After that's taken care of, they can then worry more about carbon dioxide"
...and he compares Cornelius Fudge to Neville Chamberlain.