Saturday, October 27, 2012

Eid Mubarak, Mr. Bond

Earlier this year, James Bond escorted
Her Majesty the Queen to the Olympics in London.
The Muslim community in Britain celebrated Eid-ul-Azha on October 26. It was also the 50th Anniversary of James Bond movies. The latest, Skyfall, was released to mark the anniversary.

It may not be a coincidence that the first James Bond novel was received in the same year when Sir Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower directed their secret agents to topple an unfavourable government in Iran.

Creative artists can sometimes assimilate a deeper current in the lives of their societies, and this may have happened to Ian Fleming. The secret agent created by him can be seen as an embodiment of the complications embedded in the post-colonial vision of the West, and perhaps also some of its apparent self-contradictions. Moreover, the continuous evolution of the famous spy also seems to be consistent with the evolution of that vision, and the present resurrection is a candid example.

In the new century, a burning issue for Great Britain has been whether it should see its participation in the much-needed action against terrorists as "a war on terror" (as believed by the American allies), or whether terrorism should still be regarded as a mere "crime" and dealt with accordingly.

The twenty-third official adventure of James Bond seems to be addressing this issue (and the high-point is the speech delivered by M to a group of decision-makers, where M ends up reciting lines from Tennyon's poem 'Ulysses').

It is beside the point whether this was actually the intention of the team who created this film. Being a creation of several minds, even a one-off film is a mystery that could be explored forever. The complexity increases where the film involves a legend that has been evolving for half a century and has brought out 22 predecessors.

As such, the surface of a popular film's narrative can always be scratched to reveal something about the collective consciousness of its parent society. What may have always lurked beneath the surface of the 007 legend has perhaps come out most succinctly in the 80-second "official teaser trailer" of Skyfall (embedded below).

James Bond: pride of a wounded empire,
or apprehensions about the future?

  • "Country?" "England."
  • "Gun?" "Shot."
  • "Agent?" "Provocateur."
  • "Murder?" "Employment."
  • "Skyfall?" "[Silence]."
  • "Skyfall?" "Done."
  • "Some men are coming to kill us. We gonna kill them first."

Is this how the British patrols stationed at Suez Cannal thought in January 1952 when they shot down 49 Egyptian policemen and invoked the wrath of the natives ("Some men are coming to kill us. We gonna kill them first.")? Were these the very words that rang in the mind of the CIA officer Kermit Roosevelt in August 1953, when he saved his job by stirring up riots in Iran that claimed 700 civilian lives and toppled a liberal democratic government ("Agent?" "Provocateur". "Murder?" "Employment.").

The role of Western powers in the post-colonial era has generated many controversies (not to mention outrage and criticism). Skyfall might be one of the most useful resources for anybody looking for a well-rounded and honest answer, befitting the dignity of a former world power that has been known for its "sense of fact".

Nevertheless, the answer is disturbing. It gives a basis for asking: Was the immortal James Bond born out of the pride of a wounded empire, or does he stand for apprehensions about the future?


  1. Greetings,

    Thank you for this post which raises some very deep questions. Film is amazing in how it is revealing.

    All good wishes,


  2. "The surface of a popular film's narrative can always be scratched to reveal something about the collective consciousness of its parent society."

    Indeed. The world's your oyster, infer anything. The former world power will nonetheless continue churning out 'meaningful' movies and Mr. Bond will keep hitting home-runs in our hearts!

    Can you do much about it?

    1. What makes you think I want to do something about it?

  3. It most likely did.'They are going to kill us we must kill them first.'By saying this Roosevelt got his opportunity to kill those people.' By stirring up the riot in Iran,he saved his job,successfully murdered so many people and toppled the government. Imperialists were always looking for opportunities to destabilize any country which ignored them. They have done this all along and continue to do it. They go as missionaries learn the language and in the process find the ins and out of what they want to know.

  4. Probably the answer to your question is NOT either/or -- maybe it's neither/nor or most likely YES to both choices you offer and much more. At any rate, I've not considered these serious implications yet could never excuse James Bond & creators for creating something so heavy with bloodlust & other lust...

    Nor can I find any respectable reason a Queen would want such an escort--especially in such times and given who/what she represents to her nation and the world?

    I DO like the reminders of consensus literature with the deeper analysis of possible interpretations you offer...

  5. Regarding another popular writer, J. K Rowling, how can she not anticipate her young earlier Harry Potter fans would read her new "adult" and (even for adults) innappropriate and book...After a few chapters it's going back to library. Yet, glad to see she's trying to help disadvantaged kids.

  6. Ranu,

    I agree with your take on the darker side of our same time, I'm praying, living, believing that we can all act differently and beyond our worst leadership and histories. We must all find out and know that often our nations' leaders and former leader-heroes/culprits simply don't represent us who seek peace, liberty, equality any more.

  7. Mr. Khurram,
    I have enjoyed reading your blog a great deal and am always delighted to find an individual who appreciates the complexity of Iqbal's though, which I have no doubt that you do.

    Sometimes, asking the right question is getting half the answer. Asking some basic questions such as what does the contemporary creation of James Bond allow Western nations to do. How can this idea of 'agent provocateur' be used and what actions can be justified by creation should lead us to strongly consider the post-colonial intervention motives implicit in this creation.

  8. Hey Mr. Shafique,
    I have enjoyed reading your blog a great deal, and I am always delighted to find another individual who appreciates the depth and complexity of Iqbal's thoughts, which I have no doubt that you do.

    Sometimes, asking the right question is getting half the answer. Asking ourselves what does the contemporary creation of James Bond allow Western nations to do, and how does this concept of 'agent provocateur' be used and the actions that this creation justifies should lead us in the right direction. If we are honest with ourselves, which we seldom are, we should be able to see the post-colonial interventionist motives implicit in this creation. I am not denying that this is sole one, but it is certainly there.

  9. Hi Khurram,
    This 23rd installment attempts to re-originate Bond, as we see the title M getting back to a man, a very very young Q and a black Moneypenney getting the desk job. I was wondering whether you could answer these questions of mine.

    1. Do in any of Ian Flemming's works or earlier films, we find a mention of Skyfall and Bond's parents? If not, then why this sudden idea inspired by the origins stories of Batman, Spiderman blah blah?

    2. Did we ever see Moneypenny, M and Q getting their respective posts?

    3. Did we ever see a Bond movie that doesn't have an almost superpowered henchman who traditionally gets killed even after the main villain?

    Counting on your knowledge and memory