Bram Stoker and Terrorism

Previously, on Occidental Jihadist [imagine TV narrator voice], I discussed the character Abraham Van Helsing in the novel and play Dracula. Let’s go once more to the vampires’ well, this time to examine a striking line that shows up in both Bram Stoker’s book and Steven Dietz’s stage adaptation. The former has this phrase, uttered by Dr. John Seward in regards to his sanitarium inmate Renfield: “a strong man with homicidal and religious mania might at once be dangerous. The combination is a dreadful one” (p. 87). The latter condenses Seward’s observation to “homicidal mania and religious fervor would be a dangerous combination” (p. 20).

With my academic and work background, when I first saw that line during rehearsals for the stage play I assumed that Dietz, writing in 1995, had inserted it as a comment on Islamic terrorism–which in its modern incarnation was quite active in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1983 Hizbullah Shi`i suicide bombers, with Iranian assistance, blew up two buildings housing American and French military personnel, killing 307 in total. In 1993, Sunni terrorists under the direction of Khalid Shaykh Muhammad set off bombs under the World Trade Center, attempting to bring at least one of the towers down. They failed, but killed seven people and injured hundreds. These are but the most notable of Islamic terrorist/insurgent activities prior to 1995.

Then I dug out Stoker’s novel and, as noted, found a very similar quotation. But in his time, religious terrorism of any kind was virtually unknown. He was writing right in the middle of what historians of terrorism call the Anarchist phase, which lasted from the 1880s to the 1920s. Violent anarchists were active mainly in Europe (especially Italy, Spain and France), although one did assassinate US President William McKinley in 1901. They truly embodied what Alfred told Bruce Wayne (regarding the Joker) in The Dark Knight: “some men just want to watch the world burn.” They hated all political structures, and hoped to bring them all down. But if anything Anarchists were irreligious–indeed, even anti-religion, as many of them were Marxists.

Most likely, however, Bram Stoker was taking a jab at the Crusades. The 19th century had seen the the enormous popularity of Brit Sir Walter Scott’s novels such as The Talisman, The Betrothed, Ivanhoe and Count Robert of Paris, which “painted a picture of Crusaders who were brave and glamorous, but also vainglorious, avaricious, childish, and boorish…. The worst of them were the brothers of the military orders, who may have been courageous and disciplined but were also arrogant, privileged, corrupt, voluptuous, and unprincipled” (Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam, p. 65). Crusader-bashing was a favorite approach of Enlightenment writers, and this carried on well into the 19th century–both in Europe and in the Middle East, as Riley-Smith unpacks in his informative but slim volume.

But in the 21st century, with the Crusaders long since turned to dust like Dracula, 77% of transnational terrorist groups wage jihad in the name of Allah. So it’s clear where dangerous homicidal and religious mania resides today–and it’s not in Christianity. In this regard, Stoker has proved all-too-prescient.

When the Good Guy Doesn’t Suck

Over Halloween I was privileged to play Dr. Abraham Van Helsing in the Steven Dietz stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, put on by the River Arts District Playhouse in Rome, Georgia. Nerd that I am, I did quite a bit of background reading on the character. And before stowing all that resource material in my study, why not share what I learned?

Van Helsing about to unleash a crucifix of whoop-vampire!

Forget the action figure portrayal by Hugh Jackman in the 2004 Van Helsing movie. The protagonist of the novel, as well as most 20th century films and movies, was a scholarly professor and doctor who checkmated the nefarious Count with knowledge, faith and leadership–although he didn’t hesitate to lop off heads, if need be (as he did with Dracula’s three evil vixens).

Van Helsing was both a man of Christian faith and a scientist. His friend and former student, Dr. John Seward, calls him “the most advanced scientist of your day,” and “a philosopher and a metaphysician” who “knows more about obscure diseases than anyone in the world.” Unlike anyone else in the novel or play–all Church of England, or Protestant of some kind–VH is Catholic, and deploys distinctly Catholic weapons against vampires: consecrated bread (wafers) and a crucifix, in particular. He also quotes Scripture quite a bit–mostly Psalm 62 (when confronting Dracula), although a bit of 1 John 1 in the conclusion. In his “sermon” to Seward, Jonathon Harker and Mina Murray, VH calls them to “a steadfast belief in science” as well as “a fierce reliance on faith.” As a Missouri Synod Lutheran, I mused early on that an indeterminate “faith” avails little or nothing; I also noted that not once in the stage play is Jesus Christ mentioned, although the crucifix stops vampire Lucy, and even Dracula himself, dead in their tracks (pun intended). Perhaps Steven Dietz, who adapted the play from Stoker’s novel in 1995, didn’t wish to appear too Christian. Still, the play leaves it clear, although not as much as the novel, that Abraham Van Helsing is a staunch Catholic Christian and that that faith is at least half of what enables him to lead the defeat of Dracula and his minions.

Count Dracula, is of course, the main attraction of the novel and the play. Evil always steals the show. But the excellent actor who played Dracula in our production confided to me, backstage one night, that the play should probably be entitled Van Helsing; not only does the Dutch doctor drive the action (see Garcia, “Van Helsing as the Moral Driver in Stoker’s Dracula“), but he speaks directly to the audience several times, explaining what is going on. VH serves a role similar to Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings: he has more knowledge than anyone else, but doles it out sparingly so as to protect others; he forms the “fellowship” which defeats the primary evil character; while kindly, he also possesses something of a short fuse; and, as mentioned, he sometimes acts as narrator. Indeed, Van Helsing’s “semi-deified role” is that which “carves the moral and religious reasoning that moves the plot forward.” He is “the anti-thesis to Count Dracula” (all quotes from Garcia)–although one might just as logically maintain that it is Dracula who is the anti-thesis to Van Helsing, since the former is evil while the latter is good (albeit exasperating).

Along with the aforementioned description, Seward also refers to Van Helsing as not just friend but as “master.” This is symmetrical to the relationship between the pathetic Renfield and Dracula. The mad Renfield has been bewitched by Dracula and yearns for his coming to England, although just how this happened is never explained in the novel or the play. Renfield several times asserts that “my Master is coming,” and of course eventually invites him into the sanitarium where he is locked up–only to have his “savior” kill him. Contrast this with the Van Helsing/Seward relationship, in which the former saves the latter (from the vampire Lucy), as well as from Dracula, and eventually helps him achieve his personal and professional independence, if you will–as well as comforts him after the death of his dear Lucy.

Van Helsing proves an enduring figure of interest to folks enamored of the horror genre, as shown not only by his many epigones on the screen (both large and small), but by the publication of fiction books about his life both before and after the events of Dracula. In 2004 Allen C. Kupper published The Journal of Professor Abraham Van Helsing, which purports to tell how VH became a vampire hunter. The same year The Many Faces of Van Helsing came out, edited by Jeanne Cavelos and consisting of 21 short stories about the domineering Dutchman, both pre- and post-settling the Count’s hash. Cavelos’ “Introduction” is particularly insightful. Van Helsing represents order to Dracula’s chaos (in this respect, he is thus Batman to the Joker–if the latter literally drank the blood of his victims). “As Holmes is to Moriarity, as ego is to id, Van Helsing is to Dracula” (p. xii). She points out, rather brilliantly in my opinion, that Van Helsing is the archetype for Carl Kolchak of one of my favorite shows from the 1970s, Kolchak: The Night Stalker; and that Van Helsing’s faith-based and scientific sides were split into Mulder and Scully of The X-Files (p. xiii).

Finally, playing Van Helsing and studying him reminded me of the Aldous Huxley novel The Devils of Loudon, which I read many years ago. The book is about the (alleged) mass demonic possession of nuns at a French monastery in the 17th century. Huxley points out that “no man can concentrate his attention upon evil, or even upon the idea of evil, and remain unaffected. To be more against the devil than for God is exceedingly dangerous.” Crusading against that which we hate, rather than defending and promoting that which we love, has become all too common in the modern world. Abraham Van Helsing reminds us that we need both sides of that coin.

But that it wouldn’t hurt to carry a crucifix, as well.

Islamic Eschatology or “Ghostbusters:” Which Makes More Sense?

October 2020 proved a horrible month in France–not because of Halloween, which is only slowly becoming celebrated; but because of two horrific Islamic terrorist attacks. In the first one, a French schoolteacher was beheaded by a Chechen Muslim; in the second, an as-yet unidentified Muslim killed three people at a Catholic church in Nice, one of them by decapitation. (For background on the popularity of this mode of murder for Muslims, see my article “Beheading in the Name of Islam.”) Both sets of killings were allegedly sparked by incessant Islamic ire over the (in)famous Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Islam’s founder.

In early November a Tunisia-based terrorist group called “al-Mahdi” claimed responsibility for the murders at the church. For those new to my site, the Mahdi is the “divinely-guided one” of Islamic traditions (Hadiths, alleged sayings of Muhammad) who will come before the end of time to make the entire world Muslim, mainly by conquest. This group is believed to have ties to ISIS and/or al-Qa`ida, which makes sense, since both organizations are eschatological themselves–although the former (as I spell out at length in my book Ten Years Captivation with the Mahdi’s Camps) is more overtly so.

“Somebody’s comin’….whoa oh!”

Not to be outdone, the Iranians weighed in via regime spokesman Hujjatollah Muhammad Mousavi, who sermonized that when the 12th Imam al-Mahdi returns, he will not merely lop off a few infidel Christian heads; oh no, he will full-bore “annihilate the peoples of the West.” (Twelver Shi`is of Iran, Iraq and a few other places believe that the Mahdi has already been here, in the form of the 12th descendant of Muhammad through Ali’s progeny–and that he will return as the End Times Mahdi. Sunnis believe that the true Mahdi will emerge into history as a great Islamic warlord, but that he has not yet come to earth.)

So we’ve got that to look forward to. When I went to the annual Mahdism conference in Iran in 2008, I heard the same sort of fulminating–as I wrote about in an article in The Washington Examiner, “The Importance of being Mahdist.

In a related story from earlier in 2020, an Iranian professor and former government official said that the Americans never made it to the moon: only after the 12th Imam comes will space travel to other worlds be possible. It’s not clear who will have the technology to do this, since he will also have wiped out all the Westerners with their spaceships. But on the plus side, Imam al-Mahdi will get rid of all diseases–so finally we’ll be able to take off these damn masks.

The contention that “the 12th Imam will wipe out all Westerners” reminded me of the classic scene in Ghostbusters where Louis Tully, possessed by the Keymaster, Vinz Clortho, tells the NYC carriage driver that “you will perish in flames, you and all of your kind!Gozer, Vinz’s boss, does share some characteristics with the Hidden Imam. The former is an ancient deity worshipped by the Hittites and other contemporary cultures which periodically reappears in history from a nearby parallel dimension and destroys entire civilizations with a “Destructor” minion based on a particular civilization’s cultural icons; the latter is a small child who disappeared, in the 9th century AD, into a nearby parallel dimension and will reappear at some point, now post-puberty, and destroy entire non-Muslim civilizations. Who’s to say whether Gozer or the 12th Imam is more fictional–or which one makes more sense?