In 1978 Hollywood released Halloween. It was destined to become a cult classic with more cinematic lives than Star Wars. This was a ghoulish film about imaginable terror in an unimaginable way. A psychotic murderer named Michael Myers gets loose and reaks mindless havoc. Later he stalks the character of Jamie Lee Curtis in a hospital. In yet another sequel it takes back-to-back films to be thwarted in a plot to kill his seven year old niece. Next, the niece is kidnapped and raped by evil druids, then the shape of Michael returns again to stalk his favorite victim’s son. The finale, ominously subtitled Resurrection, has a group of college kids streamed into cyberspace as they try to escape the killer’s haunted house.

What does all this have to do with the current spate of suicide bombings in Jordan and Iraq? Consider that in 1978 the Shah was still in power, Saddam content inside the borders imposed by the British after World War I, and Anwar Sadat had recently surprised the world by making peace with Israel. No Bosnia, no Kosovo, no Gulf War, no Somalia, not even a Rwanda. Osama Bin Laden was a civil engineering student at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was 12 years old and playing ball on the streets of Zarqa in Jordan.

The link between Hollywood scenarios aimed at teens and suicide bombs targeting wedding guests creates the end of the line for Halloween. Among the victims last week in Amman was Moustapha Akkad, the producer of the series, along with his daughter Dina. Born in Aleppo, Syria, Akkad was one of the first Muslim producers and directors to work out of Hollywood. The Lion of the Desert (1981), in which he directed Anthony Quinn, Rod Steiger and John Gielgud, was a heroic epic about Libyan resistance to Mussolini. In the last decade Akkad was raising funds to produce an ever grander film about the legendary Saladin of the crusades.

The irony is that Mustapha Akkad’s most important film provided a rare glimpse of Islam as Muslims see it. He did as much to promote an appreciation of Islam as al-Zarqawi has done to tarnish it. In The Message, simultaneously directed in English and Arabic, Americans saw Muhammad through the eyes of a Muslim director the same year we celebrated the bicentennial of our country. Anthony Quinn, Irene Papas and Michael Ansara brought to life the birth of Islam. Following the practice of not creating an image of the prophet, Akkad ingeniously used the camera itself for the presence of Muhammad. This film had the backing of Sunni and Shi’a authorities, a rare achievement of unity for a secular venue. This is as close to The Passion as Hollywood gets.

Akkad’s death is shrouded in the same mysterious horror he produced for entertainment. He was not the target of the bombers. He could have been almost anywhere else at the time. Al-Zarqawi, the alleged mastermind of the atrocity, may have died earlier this summer. It may be the Shape fashioned by Al-Qaeda on the internet that haunts prospects for normality and peace in the Middle East. Truth is stranger than Hollywood fiction.

Daniel Martin Varisco