Shared Text: Harry Potter and the Vanishing Jihad

William Kilpatrick argues in Harry Potter and the Vanishing Jihad that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a roman a clef (‘novel with a key’) about the regime’s denial of radical Islam and the war the West is in, like it or not, with jihadists. As someone who has written books on the ‘keys’ to Harry Potter, none of which include Muslim bomb throwers, I rather enjoyed his take, if not for the reasons you might expect.

I find the argument delightful even if I think Ms. Rowling in Phoenix was (a) using Neville Chamberlain’s historical appeasement of the German National Socialists as her model rather than Labour Party denial of the Muslim menace to British liberties and (b) that she was writing the alchemical nigredo of the series. Mistaken as Kilpatrick or I may be, though, about Ms. Rowling having written Phoenix as a topical tract, his use of Harry Potter in ‘Vanishing Jihad’ as a shared text to make his points about Islamophilia and the de facto collaboration of our media and governments with our terrorist enemies demonstrates the Hogwarts Saga can be used to reach a near universal audience in the Public Square.

Two questions:(1) Does anyone out there agree with Mr. Kilpatrick that Phoenix was written as a roman a clef post 9-11 about the media and government denial of the Islamist threat?

(2) Can you think of any other novel that could be used in a column of this sort to make the points that Kilpatrick makes? That is, is there any other book series with such a broad readership that using it as a point of reference would justify the column’s use of it as scaffolding?

H/T to the Deacon for this link!


  1. Actually, a writer styling herself “Bookworm” wrote up the same sort of idea several years ago in The American Thinker. I used it to introduce chapter 15 of Harry Potter & Imagination.

    I don’t think it’s a good reading of Rowling’s political satire, but I’m in agreement, and actually made the point just recently somewhere I was speaking, that this kind of reading shows the “broad readership” of the shared text.

  2. (2) Can you think of any other novel that could be used in a column of this sort to make the points that Kilpatrick makes? That is, is there any other book series with such a broad readership that using it as a point of reference would justify the column’s use of it as scaffolding?

  3. I received this email today from Peony:

    Shared Text Sighting! In the June 2010 Issue of “The American Conservative”, page 34, in the article “How Liberals Kill”:

    “But it is unfair to expect the Hermione Grangers of the human rights industry — Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killing have also questioned Koh’s rationale — to do anything else.”

    (The article is about the justification of the use of drones in Pakistan.)

    If you read the article I wonder whether you think the article is using Hermione to invoke “brilliant thinker” or if the conservative (?) writer is tagging Hermione’s do-gooder, know-better streak (can you say “S.P.E.W.”?) as a hallmark of progressive or liberal knee-jerk social activism a la Ron and Harry’s feelings about her house-elf fixation. Great catch, Peony!

  4. Re: the TAC article, I read the allusion to Hermione as the latter — her painfully-earnest do-gooder know-better streak. The allusion is perfected by the human-rights/ S.P.E.W. connection — and the author’s contention that these Herminone Granger NGOs, like S.P.E.W., are ultimately powerless. They can “raise awareness”, sell buttons, and nag, but that’s about it.

  5. I think this is a case of William Kilpatrick showing us the extent of his projection problems.

    As was said before, the political allegory that Rowling was using was most likely based on individuals, events, and themes from World War Two.

    The reasons why the attempt to turn the Death Eaters into an allegory about Islamic extremist doesnt work are many; but here are just a few of them:

    1.) Many if not most of Death Eaters in the books were part of the political and economic establishmet. Islamic extremists in britain, however, are mostly limited to the ghettos of London and northern England.

    2.) The motivation of the Death Eaters was “blood supremacy”. The motivation of Islamic extremists in the UK is British invasion of two Muslim countries, the ensuing slaughter of literally millions of muslims in those wars, support for pro-Western dictators in Muslim lands, and support for Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. (this, of course, does not justify attacking civilians in London on 7/7.)

    3.) As the books progess, the Wizarding press are made to incline more with the Death Eaters. However, the anti-Islamic hatred is so great in the british media that one can hardly flip through the pages of the sun, the daily mail, the telegraph and a host of other British media outlets without some rabid attack on Islam and the Muslim community (which, by the way, only numbers up to two million in a country of sixty-two million)

    i suppose that we will soon hear about another loon who will claim that Humpty Dumpty was attacked by Muslims.

  6. Interesting discussion. I am not sure why you find the argument delightful, John. Perhaps you can enlighten me? I’m genuinely interested. As far as the article itself goes, I’m not convinced it’s really even a valid reading of Order of the Phoenix. I always understood it more in the frame of WWII. I would say that Zay put it very well in his comments. Additionally, I’d like say that I find Kirkpatrick’s article rather laughable for two reasons. One, he clearly seems to have missed the point of why the Ministry tries to undermine Harry and Dumbledore and would later try to get Harry to endorse them. In short, they did so because, to the general public of the Wizarding world, the Ministry would have come across has having no credibility. Secondly, Kirkpatrick uses some very loaded terms: Jihadist, “cultural jihad”, “Islamic terrorism” and so forth. As far as I know, there is no such thing as “Islamic terrorism” because, as per the Qur’an, Islam is diametrically opposed to any form of coercion. Jihad, additionally, just means “to struggle”. It’s not correct to equate it to “holy war”. Kirkpatrick also reveals his xenophobia by characterizing the immigration of Muslims to England as being the “stealth Islamization of England”.

    In my view, this is just Kirkpatrick choosing to see what is not really there in Order of the Phoenix.

  7. Dear St. Jimmy,

    Thank you for your note. I ytied to respond to your privately but the email address you provided was a sham (, so I respond here though this is not a political forum.

    I enjoyed Kirkpatrick’s argument for two reasons.

    First, it shows how much Harry Potter has become the shared text of the world that discussion of topical issues is done through the filter of this series.

    Second, coming from the political right as it does, it seemed a nice correction to the Fandom lean to the left (i.e., the Harry Potter Alliance lining up LGBT “rights” with genocide in Darfur and children’s literacy as “worthy causes”). It’s good to show the universality of Potter readings across the political spectrum.

    Why is that a good thing? Because it expands the discussion of what the stories mean, witness your own thoughtful response to correct Kirkpatrick!

    As an Orthodox Christian whose faith has been the object of repression and violence from Muslims for more than one thousand years and as a former Marine who served during the Gulf War but not in it (and who has many friends to this day who have fought Islamic terrorists in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan), let’s just say I find your comments about Islam simultaneously laughably ignorant and border-line treasonous. My worldview, incidentally, was largely formed by reading Sufi traditionalists, so please don’t dismiss me as someone who doesn’t know the Koran or the best in Islam; the Wahhabist fundamentalists that are terrorizing the world today, however, are undeniably both Muslims and Islamic terrorists. Denying this is not broad-mindedness or compassionate, but to deny facts, plain and simple.

    Because you provided a false email address, I have blocked you from posting further here. Please find another site more interested in political issues rather than literary discussion.



  8. I think Kilpatrick is engaging in eisogesis. He is taking an issue that consumes him and reading it into the text.

    On the other hand, I think it could be very appropriate to write an article comparing the issue of radical islamicists to the treatment of death eaters in HP. The problem is that he is presenting this as the key to understanding Harry Potter. A more proper use would be to present Harry Potter as a key for understanding the current problems with radical Islamicists.

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