War Against Voldemort = War on Islamofascism?

A retired US Army Special Forces Lt. Colonel sent me this editorial from a London writer printed in the Christian Science Monitor today. The article struck me as an important point of reflection during the release of Warner Brothers version of Order of the Phoenix.

The way Andrew Roberts describes the war — as a piece in the century-tested pattern of English-speaking nations combating fascist nations successfully as allies — gives it a resonance with the war against Voldemort as we see it in The Order of the Phoenix. The media, the government in denial of the threat, and the man-in-the-street don’t want to fight the war with the Dark Lord and resent very much those who insist on fighting it.

The problem with the analogy? The Wizarding World is turning on heroic, brilliant Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter. The English speaking world has turned on George Bush and Tony Blair, easily lampoonable figures. (Is a George Bush that much different than an FDR? As different as the press of 1942 is from the media of 2007?) We find it impossible to see ourselves as anyone other than members of Dumbledore’s Army or as Christ’s faithful apostle. I’m afraid, the world being what it is, we are much more likely to be screaming for the easy way out of armed conflict against Voldemort or yelling “Crucify him!” One of the dangers of Potter-philia it seems is that we readers just yell, “Hurrah for Harry and our side, the repressed and marginalized!” The texts and culture don’t invite much self-reflection about how much we resemble the bad guys.

Ms. Rowling gives me the impression of being well-left of center politically but her stories are about moral courage in resistance to what is “easy” but “wrong.” If the regime — political and cultural — is left-leaning, then, do her stories foster a hawkish view of the struggle against terrorists like bin Laden? Is that the morally courageous position when the media mavens and most politicians are against this war?

Now, if that is the case, what percentage of Harry Potter Fandom could understand the conflict in these terms, with themselves as real-world players equivalent to the the silent magical majority condemning Dumbledore and Harry as self-important trouble-makers?

Just a thought.

At Stake in the Iraq war: Survival of a Way of Life
Unless the English-speaking peoples step up, they’ll lose the great struggle against radical, totalitarian Islam.

By Andrew Roberts

The English-speaking peoples of the world need to unite around their common heritage of values. And they need to sacrifice their naiveté about the true nature of war – and the losses that inevitably go with it. Otherwise, they will lose a titanic struggle with radical, totalitarian Islam.

The reason they are under such vicious attack – my home city of London came within minutes of losing up to 1,000 innocent people in an attempted nightclub bombing two weeks ago – is that they represent all that is most loathsome and terrifying for radical Islam.

Countries in which English is the primary language are culturally, politically, and militarily different from the rest of “the West.” They have never fallen prey to fascism or communism, nor were they (except for the Channel Islands) invaded.

They stand for modernity, religious and sexual toleration, capitalism, diversity, women’s rights, representative institutions – in a word, the future. This world cannot coexist with strict, public implementation of Islamic sharia law, let alone an all-powerful caliphate.

Those who still view this struggle as a mere police action against uncoordinated criminal elements, rather than as an existential war for the survival of their way of life, are blinding themselves to reality.

Sending signs of surrender

But recent news suggests the blindness is growing. Antiwar sentiment in America is swelling. As key Republicans desert the president, senators are pushing amendments to force the withdrawal of US troops. All this before US Gen. David Petraeus reports on the surge.

Are the English-speaking peoples really about to quit before Islamic totalitarianism has been defeated in Iraq? Are they seriously contemplating handing the terrorists the biggest victory since the Marines’ withdrawal from Beirut? It was that surrender in 1984 that emboldened Osama bin Laden to believe that his organization could defeat a superpower. Surrender in Iraq would prove him right.

As a Briton, I cannot help thinking that if the Americans of 1776 had been so quick to quit a long, drawn-out, difficult ideological struggle, America might still be ruled by my country today.

The new British prime minister, Gordon Brown, has dropped the phrases “war on terror” and “Muslim” or “Islamic” terrorism from the government’s discussion of what Britons are fighting. Car bombs are going off – we just need to find non-threatening ways to describe them.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, meanwhile, English-speaking forces ignore such pusillanimity and get on with the vital job of fighting those who would turn the Middle East into a maelstrom of jihadist anarchy and terror.

We know that Al Qaeda cannot be appeased, because if they could, the French would have appeased them by now. Al Qaeda is utterly remorseless, even setting bombs (detected by authorities in time) on the Madrid-to-Seville railway line in April 2004, after Spain decided to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Fortunately, however, the English have been here before. Thrice. Their history provides a number of apposite lessons about how to defeat this latest fascist threat.

Since 1900, the English-speaking peoples have been subjected to four great assaults: first from Prussian militarism, then by Axis aggression, then from Soviet communism. The present assault from totalitarian Islamic terrorism is simply our generation’s equivalent of our forefathers’ successful struggles against the three earlier fascist threats. But in this fourth and latest contest, victory is not yet in sight.

In researching my book, “A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900” – a coda to Winston Churchill’s classic – I visited the papers of 200 individuals in 30 archives on three continents. While there, I could not help concluding that this struggle against Islamofascism is the fourth world war. And I was repeatedly struck by how often common themes from the four struggles emerged.

Today’s struggle needs to be fought in radically different ways from the last three, of course, but ideologically it is nearly identical. Look at the common factors.

Just as on 9/11, the English-speaking peoples have regularly been worsted in the opening stages of a conflict, often through surprise attack. As Paul Wolfowitz put it at a commencement in June 2001: “Surprise happens so often that it’s surprising that we’re surprised by it.”

Examples include: The 1898 sinking of the USS Maine, the 1899 Boer invasion of Cape Colony, German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II’s right hook through neutral Belgium in 1914, the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, North Korea’s invasion of its southern neighbor, Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956, North Vietnam’s decision to begin armed revolution against South Vietnam in 1959, Argentina’s 1982 invasion of the Falklands, and Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Almost all were sudden, unexpected, not predicted by the intelligence services, and they left the English-speaking peoples at a disadvantage in the opening stage of the coming conflict.

The next common factor was how badly the English-speaking peoples were faring even up to three or four years into the first three great assaults on their primacy. The most dangerous moment of World War I – at least after Paris had been saved by the Battle of the Marne in 1914 – came as late as March 1918, during Germany’s massive spring offensive.

In World War II, Germany’s Adolf Hitler seemed to be winning the war both in Russia and the Middle East until September 1942. And had it not been for the Battle of Midway the same year, the Japanese might well have rolled up the entire Pacific theater. Just three years into the cold war – 1948 – Mao Zedong had won control of China, Hungary’s Communist opponent József Cardinal Mindszenty had been arrested, and the USSR’s blockade of Berlin was in place.

Simply because a victorious exit strategy is not immediately evident in Iraq or Afghanistan today does not invalidate the purpose or value of winning either conflict, as so many defeatists and left-liberal commentators argue so vociferously.

Importance of English camaraderie

The comradeship of the English-speaking peoples during the first three assaults was inspirational. On Aug. 1, 1914 – three days before Britain declared war on Germany, the New Zealand parliament voted unanimously to raise an expeditionary force to join the fight half way around the world, even though Germany posed no conceivable strategic threat to her.

It was a myth that Britain stood alone in 1940. After the successful evacuation of Allied forces at Dunkirk, France, the only two fully armed infantry divisions standing between London and a German land invasion were two Canadian divisions. Although the United States was under no direct threat from the Nazis, she far-sightedly chose to pursue the seemingly counterintuitive policy of “Germany First,” even though she had actually been attacked in Hawaii by Japan.

The massive American contribution to victory in World War II has sometimes been ignored during the present bigoted frenzy of anti-Americanism spearheaded by the BBC and liberal newspapers in my country. Yet it is when the English-speaking peoples stand together that they are victorious, and only when they do not – as at Suez and in Vietnam – that they are not.

President Bush’s foreign policy is denounced as neoconservative because of its reliance on preemption. Yet was George Canning a neocon when he ordered Admiral Horatio Nelson to destroy the Danish fleet at the Battle of Copenhagen to prevent it falling into Napoleon Bonaparte’s hands in 1801? Was Winston Churchill a neocon for having bombarded the Dardanelles Outer Forts in November 1914, before Britain declared war on the Ottoman Empire?

The right of self-protection from such threats is, as the British historian Enoch Powell has pointed out, “inherent in us” since it existed “long before the United Nations was ever thought of.”

By far the most justifiable war in recent history is the one in Afghanistan against the Taliban, the government that hosted and protected Al Qaeda when it killed nearly 3,000 innocent people – and attempted to kill many more – on 9/11.

Today the war there is principally being fought by Americans, Britons, Canadians, Australians, and special forces contingents from New Zealand. Germany has confined its troops to the quiet north. French troops guard the Khyber Pass. Much of the rest of NATO has refused to send significant forces to the region. Once again, therefore, the English-speaking peoples find themselves in the forefront of protecting civilization.

We are told that a future US administration led by President Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama would be keen to reorient foreign policy toward France and Germany, which might indeed be in America’s short-term, passing, commercial interests.

The US should never forget, however, that in those moments when she is looking for true friends, it is the English-speaking peoples who stand shoulder to shoulder with her, not her fair-weather friends.

Above all, however, the American people can take great solace from the fact that they have been in this situation – or something very closely analogous to it – three times before in the last century. And each time, because of their fortitude and their refusal to accept anything less than outright victory, they have prevailed.

* Andrew Roberts is the author of “A History of the English-Speaking Peoples
Since 1900.”

csmonitor.com – The Christian Science Monitor Online from the July 12, 2007 edition


  1. To the UK Muslim who wrote to say I had “infringed upon his rights” and “inflicted harm upon his feelings” (and then spun off on a lengthy diatribe about the crimes of the West and about my ignorance of Islam…), this post was not about your rights and feelings (!) or about the war in Iraq or about the war on terrorism or about Islam.

    FYI: It is about the challenge in reading Harry Potter and recognizing one’s failings, that is, one’s similarities with the bad guys and weak-willed folk in them. I offered the possibility, using the CSM editorial, that if the sitzkrieg and indecision of government in Phoenix against Voldemort (and the all-out war against the alarm sounders in the media) is the author’s invitation to exercise moral courage when “the right thing to do” is not the popular or easy way, it offers us a point of reflection in the current war and the growing opposition to it in media and government. I suggested that the text does not invite this sort of objective self-reflection beyond politics.

    If you have a disagreement with the author of the CSM editorial, please write to CSM on-line. The link in the post will take you there.

  2. Arabella Figg says

    Your thoughts and this essay have merit, John. I’m reminded of the words of Edmund Burke:

    “Perpetrators, collaborators, bystanders, victims: we can be clear about three of these categories. The bystander, however, is the fulcrum. If there are enough notable exceptions, then protest reaches a critical mass. We don’t usually think of history as being shaped by silence, but, as English philosopher Edmund Burke said, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing.’

    We may have disagreements about how to contain terrorism (whatever the source), but contained it must be, or this will not be a world worth living in. None of us can put our heads in the sand or we’re no better than Fudge and company.

    I think Order of the Phoenix is a powerful book, possibly the best of the series. Through an engaging story, Rowling manages to keenly portray the most difficult challenges of our time.

    Oops, my giant kitty, Thudders, just landed in my lap….

  3. Arabella Figg says

    Thudders distracted me and I put the quote above improperly. I should have put:

    The Henrik Hudson School District Library Media Centre provides a model essay for students which ends with the words
    “Perpetrators, collaborators, bystanders, victims: we can be clear about three of these categories. The bystander, however, is the fulcrum. If there are enough notable exceptions, then protest reaches a critical mass. We don’t usually think of history as being shaped by silence, but, as English philosopher Edmund Burke said, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing.’”

    Thudders! Let go of mummy!

  4. Chris Bowes says

    “But Headmaster 5000,000 innocent people have died due to your invasion of Sadamland, the troops used are actively hostile to the locals, your reconstruction “plan” based on ad hoc responses and JIT delivery has failed, the worldwide number of embittered, war trained, potential Death Eater recruits has increased from 5000 to 200,000, and you and your advisors have shown yourselves to be dangerously incompetent,” said Harry. “Maybe so” replied Dumbledore, “But it was the right thing to do.” “Why not get it right then?” asked Harry.
    I suggest that much anti-war sentiment is the rational response of a population that has seen its leaders charging into Iraq when that had nothing to do with Al Queada or international terrorism. And then seeing the incompetence and stupidity of their leaders displayed clearly in their repeated failures.
    To continue to support incompetent fools who have made a bad situation worse is not an effective way to combat extremists and totalitarians. Put a broom through all concerned with Iraq policy to date, get competent leaders, tell people the real situation with regards to our “allies” in the region and create a workable plan that recognises the complexities of the region and freedom loving Americans will support it. Hell, get Henry Kissinger back if thats what it takes.
    Bush and Co have fulfilled Osama Bin Laden’s wildest dreams. On his ordres ome killers with box-cutters knocked down skyscrapers and killed innocents. Since then the West has responded by losing its moral compass and elevating OBL to demi-god status in the eyes of many who have grudges against us. If you want to stop terrorists then consider what other pathways are available, but dont confuse killing innocent people with being effective against international terrorism.

  5. bluemooonie says

    I found this a very interesting and challenging article as well, but I was curious about commenting again on what was “right” versus what was “easy” once more. I doubt there would be so much criticism from the American public/media/rest of the world if we (the US) had only gone after the people who had turned our world upside down on 9/11. I suppose in terms of war typed-stuff, going after those who have gone after you is the “right” thing to do.

    But when it became difficult to find who we were looking for…did we continue to do the “right” thing? Or was it easier to shift our blame to a country and a dictator who the American public already has a negative feeling and bias towards. Some one (having not been responsible for 9/11) not in hiding in the way that OBL was.

    Now I’m not saying I know what the “right” thing to do in this situation is, because my opinions on the matter may also be wrong, but to me it appears that subsequent actions were thought to be more “easy” than “right”.

    On a separate note, I find that it is usually “easy” for most humans to form themselves into discriminable groups (in group/out group bias in social psych and sociology). Most people find comfort in their group, and have positive feelings towards their groups and therefore see the other group in negative terms.

    What irked me the most about the article was the way it almost seemed to turn the world into “English speaking people” and “fundamental Islamists” or some “other” category. Not that I know much about the world, but I really don’t view Germans and French people as being wholly different in personality with me or people I know just because they’re language is not English. To me this just rings of the reminder that the world is not separated into “good people” and death eaters”, or any other duality. There are more differences within people of a certain group than there are between them, and the sooner we realize how similar we are, the more groups can understand each other and get past the biases of superficial groupings.

  6. Oh, I’m so glad that Bluemoonie and Chris Bowes spoke up before me. Because, although I do of course believe we must fight evil, the most important battles are those we fight within ourselves, and to demonize others is extremely dangerous. In particular, “Islamofacism” is a piece of Orwellian newspeak. There is no such thing, and those who fling the word around are, all too often, racist or otherwise driven by fear. The word has been used to justify genocidal policies, in Palestine and now also in Iraq.

    This does not mean, of course, that I am denigrating my own faith or culture. I am not. And I do think there is a very dangerous strain of fundamentalism loose in the world today. But it is not confined to Islam. IMHO, the Christian Zionists, the right-wing Zionists such as Kach, and Islamic fundamentalists like Al-Qaeda and the Wahabists, have a great deal in common and they are all in the same trap. All of them do evil to people who don’t think as they do or believe what they believe. All of them, furthermore, think they know the mind of God. It’s a scary mentality. But it’s not “Islamofacism”, and not all who hold it are Muslims.

    Another problem I have with the use of that word is that it perpetuates a couple of lies. The first is that Islam is basically antisemitic and therefore allied with Nazism. Of course, Muslims (like Christians) believe that they have the whole truth while Jews, their fathers in faith, have only part of it. Antisemitism has also existed from time to time in Muslim countries, but the same is true of the West. And, in general, Jews were traditionally better treated in Muslim countries than they were in Christian Europe – to the shame of us Christians. The second lie this word implies is that fascism is equivalent to Nazism and was defeated in WWII. This, alas, is not true. Fascism was alive and well in Europe at least through the 1980s; and it is not absent from the West by any means. Here is the definition of Fascism: it is a political system marked by (1) a cult of personality centered round a powerful leader, in which (2) individuals are the servants of the state, so that individual human rights are less important that the rights of the state, and (3) the nation defines itself in opposition to other nations/peoples, so that the military has great power in the state, and military aggression against other peoples is not unusual. Sound familiar? Some would argue our own country is heading in that direction.

  7. bluemooonie says

    Mary, you totally said so many things that I feel I am far too ignorant to speak about!

  8. Travis Prinzi says

    This by no means an attempt to take sides in this debate, but here’s an interesting counterpoint to the article above, just for the sake of interest.

  9. Arabella Figg says

    Going back to the point John was trying to make with this post, please see the Edmund Burke quote I gave above.

    When push comes to shove, do we let our fears dominate us when things get difficult and we’are personally endangered? Do we allow subtle evils to merge and grow until an enormous evil towers over us which we can no longer ignore and finally concede, like Fudge, the painful truth, when it could be too late?

    It’is easy to cheer Harry on, the good guy, from the sidelines. But what about when it’s us on the frontlines? Do we recognize when we are accommodating evil because it’s inconvenient? Threatening to ourselves and loved ones? Costly to us? Are we willing to recognize that?

    Do we let convenience be a cop-out?

    I truly believe it’s not the great evils that show our depravity. It’s the way we accommodate and enact small evils. People in Germany rationalized/tolerated Hitler because he improved the post WWI economy.

    These are serious questions and I believe John meant us to ask them of ourselves. What kind of person would I be with the threat of Voldemort coming back, memory still fresh of the last time? Would I want to hide out in denial? I’m a realist and can’t honestly say how I’d act. I’d like to think I’d be courageous, no matter how daunting it was. But fear can undermine people’s best intentions terribly.

    Just some points to ponder.

    Uh-oh, the kitties are rolling on my jigsaw puzzle and the pieces are flying everywhere….

  10. It’s kind of funny, in a way. But this is the one segment of choice that we don’t talk about: the consequences (and, thus, often the rightness or wrongness) of an action are difficult if not impossible to discern until after the fact.

    So, we vascilate between action for action’s sake and total inaction all together. Aristotle’s Ethics posits that right action lies somewhere in between rashness and cowardice (his choice of words for right action in this example are usually translated into “courage” and/or “wisdom”…John, you’re the classics scholar–anything to add/revise here?)

    There are plenty of examples in the books where both rashness and cowardice cause tons of problems. Just a couple of examples: the Ministry’s refusal to admit Voldy’s return; Harry’s “saving people thing”. I guess my point is that we often can only see what constitutes “easy” after we’ve made a choice. What do we do then?

  11. bluemooonie says

    same thing we do from all of our consequences, we learn from them (hopefully anyways!)

  12. PhoenixResident says


    I was looking for an “Alchemical Arithmancy” section on this blog, but couldn’t find it. So this is probably as close as it gets.

    A few weeks ago I learned that a work colleague of mine is a Harry Potter fan like me. Before she left for her first year of law school, she sent me a copy of Mr. Gardner’s “Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader.” I’m about half-way through it, and find it fascinating.

    Being a political science major in college and history nut, I’ve been interested in the Potter World timeline. The year 1945 stands out in the Wizarding World as the year Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald, the dark wizard. In Muggledom, as we all know, it was also the year the Allies defeated the Axis Powers in WWII. (Interesting to note the coat of arms of the Swiss city of Grindelwald at http://www.ngw.nl/int/zwi/g/grindelw.htm. The colors are red, white, and black; and Seven stars represent the area’s seven villages.)

    Okay, here’s where the number Four comes in. On page 82 of UHP, it’s noted that the number Four represents The World: Four Ages, Four Elements, Four Humours, Four Cardinal Points…and later, Hogwart’s Four Houses.

    Speculation time!

    Can Hogwart’s Four Houses (and their general “tendencies,” each with their “good” and “bad” sides and their strengths and weaknesses) be analogous to the “Four Corners” of Muggledom? Roughly: Gryffindor (English-speaking nations); Slytherin (Germanic/Slavic/Asiatic nations); Hufflepuff (African/Indian Subcontinent nations); and Ravenclaw (South American nations). With the battleground of the 20th/21st Century (WWI, WWII, Western Capitalism vs. Eastern Communism) led by the two main antagonists (i.e., northern hemispheric West/East in Muggledom; Gryffindor/Slytherin in Wizarding World)?

    Could Ms. Rowling also be sending the subliminal (okay, maybe overt!) message that we (all citizens of Muggledom) need to get our act together now before an all-out “VoldeWar” takes place, so that in 2017, in our world, “All was well?” (p. 759, DH)

    Also, quick question… If PA, GF, OP, and HBP ran from 1993 to 1996 (per “The Harry Potter Lexicon”), wouldn’t the Muggle Prime Minister be John Majors, and not Tony Blair as stated on page 119 of UHP?”

    Can’t wait to read the remainder of the book!

  13. Greetings – I hope its OK to join in? (and then without waiting for an answer he began to ramble…)

    I am a sucker for the easy option. In this context I am tempted to go for ‘let’s get those Islamofascism b*’s’; my side is right your side is wrong and so on. It is so simple and that simplicity is so alluring.

    Yet a little research reveals that the reality is horribly complicated and not a ‘cakewalk’ (with thanks to Ken Adelman).

    Passively doing nothing and hoping for the best is also tempting but not an option (that said intentionally doing nothing sometimes is the correct thing to do). So where to from here?

    Harry Potter lends itself to so many multi-layered interpretations that I hazard to suggest one below:

    The sorting hat constantly admonishes the four houses to find strength in unity. Right action will only arise if an individual unifies the intellect, the senses, the emotions/basic drives and the intuitive. the trio Harry Ron and Hermione represent this unity, with Harry as Gryffindor/Slytherin, Ron as Gryffindor/Hufflepuff and Hermione as Gryffindor/Ravenclaw. Much as Harry wants to ‘go it alone’ he must not be allowed to do so as it would lead to disaster. Dumbledore possesses the wisdom to realise this.

    Somehow we need to find and elect wise leaders, people aware of the real dangers, people prepared to act in full knowledge of the complexities. Any volunteers?

  14. colorless.blue.ideas says

    I’ve been on travel a lot, so am a bit late to this thread.

    I, too, saw the connection with the current Long War against Islamofascism (or jihadism, or whatever term one may desire to describe a very real phenomenon). Ms. Rowling’s opus does not, of course, limit itself to the current struggle, but, like any good heroic literature, serves to provide encouragement in the struggle.

    John, you wrote, [D]o her stories foster a hawkish view of the struggle against terrorists like bin Laden? Is that the morally courageous position when the media mavens and most politicians are against this war?

    Now, if that is the case, what percentage of Harry Potter Fandom could understand the conflict in these terms, with themselves as real-world players equivalent to the the silent magical majority condemning Dumbledore and Harry as self-important trouble-makers?

    I have been particularly intrigued for some time now on the role the Daily Prophet and Rita Skeeter played in spreading various forms of disinformation, and the similarity to the way much of the current Big Media serve in spreading the narrative they wish to put forth. No doubt unintentionally, Chris Bowes repeated much of that narrative: a combination of falsehood and of misleading statements which stand on a par or above any Skeeter/DP attacks on Hermione or Harry or Dumbledore in the books.

    The differences are also important. Already in the Long War what is known as “information warfare” has been key. This is not really new — Sun Tzu and others noted this centuries ago. What is new is that the West has, over the past half century or so, eliminated many of its defenses against information warfare. Molly Weasley knew Hermione, yet was easily persuaded to consider her to be suspect; how much more so for someone totally ignorant of that young lady. (Consider the “5000,000 innocent people have died due to [the] invasion” meme: totally fails the “common sense” test — and withers upon close examination — but yet there are people who actually believe it.) Yet even in Deathly Hallows, Voldemort never employs information warfare with anything resembling the skill of al-Qaeda and other jihadists.

    I’ve rambled enough. In summary, I think that there are some principles found in Harry Potter which apply to the Long War against jihadism, but I believe these are less allegorical than they are generally applicable to any such struggle against evil.

    “Arabella Figg” appropriately cites Edmund Burke’s maxim. I fear that in too many cases it is worse than that: “good men”, instead of doing “nothing”, are persuaded to feel good about themselves and morally superior to those resisting evil. As a result, they end up actively supporting evil.

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