Orientalism, Salafism and Sci-Fi in the World of ‘Dune’ — with Haris Durrani

Orientalism, Salafism and Sci-Fi in the World of ‘Dune’ — with Haris Durrani
At an awards screening of “DUNE” / Nov. 22, 2021 in London, England / Tim P. Whitby /Getty Images for Warner Bros
I grew up in a post 9/11 America and I’m Muslim. As a kid reading Dune, it was just an amazing thing to see a fully-realized science fiction future in which Islam was taken seriously.

Author and historian Haris Durrani speaks to New Lines’ Faisal Al Yafai about representation and religion in the classic sci-fi novel “Dune” and its recent film adaptation. With the distinctly Islamic far-future setting of the story, the film’s strong performance at last month’s Oscars has reinvigorated long-running debates about how non-Western cultures are portrayed on screen. Chief among these criticisms is the accusation that the lead character is glorified as a “white savior.”

Haris Durrani has a different reading. He contends that the story’s Islamic influences go deeper than mere set dressing and that despite its many issues, the story reflects a much more nuanced critique of colonialism and messianic authority — one deeply rooted in author Frank Herbert’s surprisingly sophisticated understanding of Muslim theology.

Yet still, Durrani says, there is a lot to criticize. He points out that despite the Middle East-inspired setting, none of the major characters is portrayed in the film adaptation by actors from Middle Eastern backgrounds. It’s symptomatic, he argues, of Hollywood’s long-running reliance on Orientalist tropes and preconceptions. But a new generation of Muslim science fiction writers may be poised to finally change that.

Produced by Joshua Martin

Sign up to our newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy