“A Poisonous Ideology”

I hadn’t planned on writing anything else so soon after I posted the last one, but I saw the paper on the table and it annoyed me. On the front page article entitled “Our Generational Struggle Against a Poisonous Ideology”, David Cameron is quoted as saying that, amongst other things, Islamic extremists are an imminent threat to British soil which requires an immediate response in a struggle which he envisages will last the rest of his political career. Full article for interest: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/11039214/Our-generational-struggle-against-a-poisonous-ideology.html

I usually refrain from being political because I’m not political, so I make no comment on policy here. What I want to say instead, is that whether or not David Cameron actually said what he is reported as saying or if it’s just journalism doing its thing, I think the article has a great irony to it when it calls the beliefs of certain ‘extreme’ Islamic groups “poisonous ideology” while simultaneously forwarding its own.

The article speaks a rhetoric of fear and dehumanisation which should be so hackneyed and simplistic to anyone who knows any Postcolonial/Race theory that I’m surprised a good journalist could have conscientiously published it. Maybe I give too much credit to journalists’ consciences? A few of the offending sound bites include but are not limited to:

“Warped and barbaric”, a straight up appeal to savagery, aligning the subject with either a lack of or somehow degenerate form of civilisation. The same kind of rhetoric was common in the literature of the empire and the slave trade.

“We face in Isil a new threat that is single-minded, determined and unflinching in pursuit of its objectives”… “Already it controls thousands of minds…”. This is the rhetoric of the swarm, the hive mind which is singular and multiple at once, that which is ordered but uncontrollable. The fear in this metaphor is akin to that of disturbing an hive of hornets and finding inside a mass which is united in will, but unpredictable in action, a force whose power is motivated anarchy. Isil becomes this kind of creature. When combined with the idea of “poisonous ideology”, it is not only swarm but also virus. “Already it controls thousands of minds…” and could infect and intoxicate more is the suggestion. This type of swarming, seething, uncontainable characterisation can be found in other depictions of ‘terrorist’ and ‘militant’ bodies in such works as Black Hawk DownBody of LiesCall of Duty 4Green ZoneArgoZero Dark Thirty, etc. Of course there is no mention made of the group itself being made up of human beings with whom dialogue might be possible.

“this is not a religious war, it is a struggle for ‘decency’ and ‘tolerance’…”. Espousing decency just serves to reiterate the supposed indecency, inhumanity, and uncivilised ‘nature’ or whoever we happen to be staging our ‘[non-religious] war’ against. Furthermore, ‘tolerance’ itself is an horrible word which is based upon the dominance of one belief system over another. To tolerate is to allow that which is tolerated to exist on the proviso that the tolerators have the power to destroy it at any point. Crucially, the tolerated is never a body on equal standing with the tolerator and it is always the tolerator’s right to renounce their tolerance at any point. The idea of tolerance is a failure of understanding and a renunciation of the pursuit of equality.

It is clear to my mind that this kind of approach to ‘extremist’ groups such as Isil is not conducive to any kind of resolution. To be sure, David Cameron and his government do need a stance and a policy but, as I said before, I make no comment on policy. I do think it would help if they started by not basing their work on a discourse which is so archaic that it belongs in the era when Britain was an empire founded upon the exploitation and subjugation of every other group of human beings it encountered. While it is well known that poison can be used as medicine in the right quantities, I think there are few rhetorics as poisonous as that of empire, colonisation, and the dehumanisation of supposedly lesser races. I think that more than anything, the discourses that this article presents are their own toxin which needs attention before anyone can consider the proposed “poisonous ideologies” belonging to other belief systems.

Just wanted to get that off my chest.

Thanks for your time.



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