The Dune Movies’ Controversial Fremen Language Changes Explained

Ryder was learned enough in Arabic to see what terms had been retained. “Lisan al-Gaib,” the Fremen term for a Messiah, to cite one example, sounds like “lisan makhfi,” the Arabic phrase for “hidden tongue voice.” Ryder also noted that “Muad’Dib,” the Fremen term for a desert jerboa, is similar to “mudaris,” an Arabic term for a teacher. The word “Madhi,” used often in “Dune,” is derived directly from an Arabic word used commonly in Islam. Ryder also pointed out that “Kwisatz Haderach,” the Bene Gesserit term for a Messiah, is derived from Hebrew. 

The use of Arabic in “Dune” invites a popular interpretation of the work. The desert planet of Arrakis becomes the deserts of the Middle East, and the Fremen refer to Middle Eastern natives. House Atreides and House Harkonnen become the colonialists who have historically invaded the area for centuries. Naturally, the Spice, a resource needed for travel, becomes a metaphor for crude oil, a resource needed for travel. “Dune” is a story of religious manipulation, exploited people who fight back, and the dangers of Messianic thinking. “Dune” was also weirdly timely in the early 2000s when the United States began invading the Middle East and fighting decades-long conflicts there.

In Herbert’s sequel, “Dune Messiah,” Paul Atreides, now both emperor of the galaxy and the Fremen savior has instigated a jihad that killed billions. The word “jihad” is used a lot in Herbert’s books, but it is absent from Villenueve’s film. Instead, they use the more general term “Holy War.” 

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