Isaac and Ishmael

I was watching the West Wing episode, Isaac and Ishmael, Aaron Sorkin’s response to 9/11. It was the first time I saw it.

I found it protective of Muslims and sympathetic to the backlash American society was having on them. But I also found it, for some inexplicable reason, pro-Israel when it didn’t have to be — with Toby Ziegler telling a story about a Jew in a Nazi concentration camp and a student posing rather posed question about “a society that has to just live every day with the idea that the pizza place you are eating in could just blow up without any warning” to which Sam Seaborn gives the obvious answer.

The episode also oversimplified the solution to terrorism from extremists, with Josh Lyman saying ” You want to get these people? I mean, you really want to reach in and kill them where they live? Keep accepting more than one idea. It makes them absolutely crazy.”

In the end, I had to ask, what did 9/11 have to do with Isaac or Ishmael, the fathers of today’s Jews and Muslims? It’s an analogy — but hopelessly forced and obtuse.

16 Responses to “Isaac and Ishmael”

  1. ovidiu Says:


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  2. Josh Lyman Says:

    So, you’re asking what the conflict between judeo-christian history and ideology (Isaac) and muslim history and ideology (ishmael) has to do with 9/11?

  3. Geek T-shirts Says:

    I’m just wondering where you’ve been for the last 5 months.

  4. David Says:

    Scrappygoo seems to be down.

  5. saddam Says:

    Tim, Your blog is dead…are you taking sleeping pills?

  6. Saurabh Says:

    Hi Tim, How have you been? Are you there on any of the community websites like myspace or orkut? I’ve joined a radio station here as an executive producer for their drive time shows.

  7. emporia Says:

    Hello, are you dead?

  8. jeffrey Says:

    a society that has to just live every day with the idea that the pizza place you are eating in could just blow up without any warning” to which Sam Seaborn gives the obvious answer.
    This seems to be refering to what happened in the year 1999, when the Sabaro fast food pizza place was blown up, 30 were killed and up to 50 injured in Jerusalem. I was living in Israel at the time, this was totally awful.
    I was also in Israel during the 911 crisis, I was amazed to see that the arab networks in Israel showed this as a victory, as the fundamentalists partied the streets of gaza, yet the remainder of the Country was saddened by this horrific act.

  9. manda Says:

    are you going to update :\

  10. rema Says:

    what does Ishmael and Isaac have to do with 9/11?
    any wayz if you cant handle the thought of being blown up at any time. LEAVE! ALL YALL JUST LEAVE.

  11. frank Says:

    i agree

  12. maureen Says:

    the thing is, i don’t think it’s an analogy at all. i think it’s a mistake to infer that.
    i think the point is simply how long the conflict between islam and judeo-christianity has been going on. it’s nothing new - it’s had thousands of years to become incredibly complicated and entrenched. that was pretty much the point of the episode after all - how complex it has all become, how few things are black and white.
    i think it’s a pretty legitimate point, and not forced or obtuse at all.

  13. Na Says:

    I only watched this episode for the first time this year too. I think it would have had a different effect on me, as I live in Australia. I actually thought the episode was very poignant, putting together a range of views and expressions about an event - that surely the writers, directors and actors were doing their very best not to put too much of their own personal feelings into the debate. (Not that it felt restrained, but too much emotion would have destroyed any chance they had at creating a healthy source of debate). And I think the whole Ishmael and Isaac thing was good; a nod to the whole ‘what in the world are we doing to each other’ question. As for being protective of Muslims - in Australia, there has been a *huge* backlash against our Muslim community, and we need more people reminding us that the Muslim community is like all other communities. There are a few bad apples in a barrel full of good ones. Though again, being so far away from 9/11 does create a different perspective on things.

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