Saturday, 5 December 2015


An animal rather popular in medieval bestiaries, which repelled its enemies by farting fiery fumes of excrement.  This image is from Douai, Bibliotheque municipale, ms. 711, fol 8r, source here:

The day before yesterday, David Cameron resorted to some strong rhetoric to get his point across:

'These women-raping, Muslim-murdering, medieval monsters, they are hijacking the peaceful religion of Islam for their warped ends.'

Whether or not Cameron's plan amounts to a 'bomb now, ask questions later' approach, his point in this particular statement is incontrovertible.  The horror of Isis’ actions reaches beyond words.

But, perhaps predictably, I take issue with the 'medieval monsters' bit.  On one level, this is because attitudes to violence were so much more complex than this in the Middle Ages.  But that isn't my main objection - after all, when people use the term 'medieval' in this way, they're not trying to be academically accurate, but polemically effective, and that's fair enough.

What I object to is the way that the word 'medieval' recasts a chronological framework in spatial terms.  In other words, Cameron (and so many others who use the word to demonise their enemies), is re-plotting the chronological progress of the past 1000 years on a geographical map.  We in the west are apparently modern and civilised - and those who haven't followed our particular trajectory aren't.  And deploying the 'medieval' card surely only plays into the hands of Isis propagandists intent on describing the 'crusaders' of the west.  Acknowledging that even Isis is a part of our complex, messy, often horrific and deeply problematic modernity is surely critical to any honest or lasting solution

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