Is Shinzo Abe the Voldemort of Asia?

If one wanted to find a real-life political parallel to J. K. Rowling's villainous Lord Voldemort, there are a few obvious choices: Hitler, who shared with Voldemort an obsession with racial purity; Stalin, who, like the malevolent Heir of Slytherin, relied on vast, shadowy intelligence networks to protect his power; and maybe even Putin, who -- apart from an abundance of nose -- bears a striking physical resemblance to the Dark Lord.

But few Harry Potter fans/keen political observers would put Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe high on the list of Voldemort stand-ins.

Except this guy: the Chinese ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, who on Thursday likened Japan's growing militarism (and, by extension, Abe, himself) to the most nefarious villain in the miscreant-rich canon of young adult fiction:

"In the Harry Potter story, the dark wizard Voldemort dies hard because the seven horcruxes, which contain parts of his soul, have been destroyed," Liu wrote in an op-ed for the Telegraph. "If militarism is like the haunting Voldemort of Japan, the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo is a kind of horcrux, representing the darkest parts of that nation's soul."

To be fair, Liu's colorful literary references may be little more than an effort to characterize China-Japan relations in terms that Brits can easily grasp -- what better way than to invoke the work of Britain's "most influential woman" (who, incidentally, beat out Victoria Beckham and Queen Elizabeth II for that honor).

Still, it's a heavy metaphor. But, for the sake of argument, let's look at the parallels. If Japan's militarism is really Voldemort, then its heyday was during World War II, when Japan invaded northeast China and cut a wide swathe of destruction, the memory of which still stings the Chinese public consciousness. Japan's subsequent defeat could be likened to Voldemort's: While He Who Must Not Be Named all but disappeared after the bloody First Wizarding War, Japan's post-war constitution renounced militarism, ending the threat of Japanese military aggression.

Liu's argument that the Yasukuni shrine (which commemorates 14 Class A war criminals, among other war dead) is a horcrux "representing the darkest parts of that nation's soul" is pretty on-point. In Rowling's books, Voldemort's quest for horcruxes is an effort to reclaim and rebuild his former self, in all of its wicked glory. But while Abe has long had nationalist leanings, it's a leap to say that his Dec. 26 visit to the shrine symbolizes his government's evil revival of Japan's militaristic past.

How far can this metaphor go? Are the disputed Senkaku-Diaoyu islands the Deathly Hallows -- making the wizard who possesses them immortal and invincible? Does that make Shintaro Ishihara, the right-wing former mayor of Tokyo who tried to nationalize islands, a Death Eater? Are Japan's revisionist history textbooks, which whitewash its role in war atrocities, not unlike the propaganda produced by the Ministry of Magic under Dolores Umbridge? And is Japan's constitutional prohibition on its military engaging in offensive operations similar to Voldemort needing to obtain a body, before he could regain his former power? (Abe's pushing for that constitutional revision, but it hasn't happened yet -- which means that, in the wizarding world, we've barely reached book four.)

Perhaps it's not surprising that Liu characterizes Abe's political aims as a battle "between good and evil." But is he referring to the evil that lies within all of us? Or, to paraphrase Harry's own words, that "neither [Japan nor China] can live while the other survives, and one of [them] is about to leave for good."

Wait, does that make China Harry Potter?

TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images and Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images


Egypt Adds Puppetry to its Enemy of the State List

It has been said already that the Egyptian government's increasingly zealous campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood has reached absurd heights. But it's one level of ridiculous to pin terrorist attacks already claimed by a group of Sinai militants on the embattled Brotherhood; it's quite another to investigate claims that the group transmitted coded messages via a puppet.

But that is exactly what happened when Vodafone officials faced investigation on Wednesday following a complaint that accused the company of using such a ploy in a recent advertisement. The advertisement, which was posted on the company's Youtube channel last Friday, features Egyptian puppet Abla Fahita, an Internet star in recent years. The character is a widow often seen milling around the house in pajamas and curlers with a phone to her ear, gossiping with friends.

But this screwball housewife act becomes much more insidious when placed under the microscope of Ahmed "Spider," a Hosni Mubarak supporter, little known rap singer, and famed conspiracy theorist responsible for the claims. Spider has been known for nutty theories before and first presented his Fahita hypothesis to the prosecutor general, who reportedly went on to refer it to the state security prosecution (other accounts refute that the prosecutor general referred the case further).

The puppet code he was presenting was striking in its complexity: the cactus in place of a Christmas tree signaled a threat, made more specific by the ornament on top which symbolized a bomb, and Fahita's search for her deceased husband's old phone line was deduced as a sweeping reference to intelligence plots. The four cactus branches are also, according to Spider's cryptographic expertise, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood's "four-fingered salute": the Rabaa hand gesture that was displayed by demonstrators last year in support of deposed Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi. The complaint seems to have been prompted by Amr Mostafa, an Egyptian singer, who said that Vodafone's slogan, "The power is in your hands," was a message sent by the British company that encouraged Egyptians to protest against Mubarak in 2012.

The ridiculousness behind the accusations need hardly be expounded upon, and the debacle was quickly picked up by Twitter under the hashtag #FreeFahita in English.

Late Wednesday, journalist Khairy Ramadan hosted Fahita for an on-air exchange with the puppet's accuser himself.

"I am a mere comedic sarcastic character," Fahita said via Skype. To no avail, though: Spider continued his crusade with a vow to jail the puppet.

It hasn't been an easy year for satire in Egypt. In 2013, the country's most famous political joker, Bassem Youssef, had his contract terminated for allegedly mocking the country's military leadership. But, if the latest puppet witch-hunt is any indication, it seems enthusiasts of dark comedy won't be wanting for long: the Egyptian government is proving to be the most inventive satirist of them all.