Harry Potter and the War on Terror
The Harry Potter series, started in 1997, has become the most widely and wildly popular book series in a generation, if not longer. Needless to say, it certainly reignited a long-lost interest in book-reading. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling writes with a very clear distinction of what constitutes as good and evil. Good has its role clearly defined as the side of Hogwarts, specifically the character Harry Potter himself and his friends and allies. The bad guys, those on the side of evil, fit the stereotype almost too well. They wear black cloaks, they kill, they steal, they maim and they torture, and refer to their evil overlord as ‘The Dark Lord.’ In so doing, they also make sure to incite terror and fear among those they oppose.
Terror and fear is a main component of the series, particularly when it deals with the Death Eaters. Rowling has gone on the record to claim inspiration from the Nazis and their methods during World War II. The Nazis took their inspiration from eugenics. Eugenics mean pure-bred, keeping a bloodline untainted. This goes right in with Nazi, Ku Klux Klan, and Death Eater ideology. The idea that there was a right and wrong breed of people goes as far back as Friedrich Nietzsche.
Like the Death Eaters, the Nazis attacked suddenly, they wore a mark or insignia which became the sign of fear among those they oppressed, they took control of the state and justified their terrorism as the state itself. They believed in a puritan ideology, the ideology that the German race was superior to all others- others would be subject to either humiliation, deportation or death. They were to live solely to serve the state, some were simply meant to die. The pure Germans died too, at least those who opposed such rule and were labeled as traitors.
Back during the late 1870’s, a new militaristic terrorist organization rose to power within the United States called the Ku Klux Klan. This organization believed that only white people were deserving of freedom in the union. Any darker was considered beneath them. Since the United States was founded on immigrants, mainly those from mainland Europe, the Klan believed that the Europeans, with their white skin color, were the only ones who deserved to be free in that country. Those from Africa or the Middle East were beneath them. The Klan was known to have attacked many African-Americans and Jews and their symbol of terror was nothing more or less than a burning cross.
These days, we see much the same thing in today’s increasingly unstable world. In September of 2001, four years into Rowling’s series, the world saw the rise of a violent religious fanatic group called Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda specialized in suicide bombings, not unlike Kamikaze pilots in World War II. They incited fear and terror into the hearts of those it ruled and oppressed. Many who opposed this ideology were not worthy to live in the world. The response was a War on Terror waged by the United States of America. It gathered allies across the Islamic world, the majority of which opposed Al Qaeda. By 2011, the group was large irrelevant thanks to the death of its founder.
However, its remnants lived on in a more radical and more terrifying group called ISIS, commonly known among the oppressed population as Daesh. This group responded to the intense backlash from Muslims across the world by effectively declaring war on all surrounding Muslim countries and the western nations it had previously gone to war with in the first place. The world watched as videos were posted on the internet showing violent deaths by foreign journalists done specially to incite fear in all. Bombs went off around the world in both western nations as well as Muslim nations: Istanbul, Brussels, Paris, and Beirut, with Damascus and Baghdad in the center of it all. No one felt safe, all felt terror and fear. Fear that they would be next which ultimately triggered an enormous refugee wave in 2015 from the Middle East to Europe.
These events are actually not that different in Harry Potter. While this generation sees it as inspired by Nazi ideology, imagine a future generation. A future generation would look at this series, research the events around the publication of this series, and would probably conclude it was as much, if not more so, inspired by events in the world around it as opposed to something that happened seventy years beforehand. Readers perceive the series their own way, but future readers decide its legacy. Therefore, this article will study and compare the Death Eaters to the terrorist organizations around the globe, including ideology, methods and intent. Please note that while this article is political in nature, it does not intend to offend or demonize any person from any creed, race, or nation and speaks strictly of the particular organizations mentioned before, and not the adherents of a wider religion, or citizens of any one nation.
Most terrorists have ideological intent. Like the Ku Klux Klan had a religiously fanatical, white-supremacy intent concerning American’s European heritage, ISIS has a domineering, apocalyptic intent to destroy those who do not adhere to their ideology. Both groups has or had a puritan ideology. ISIS expects everyone to convert to their extreme sense of religion or be destroyed, the Ku Klux Klan expected people to be born with their beautiful white faces or be enslaved, the Nazis expected people to be of the Aryan race or otherwise live beneath them. Both ideologies were and are puritan in nature, in fact all of them still have followrs from the Nazis to the Klan and ISIS. The puritan ideology exists within many.
How is this similar to the Death Eaters? The Death Eaters are ruled by a dark overlord called Lord Voldemort. Voldemort and the Death Eaters have a puritan ideology in the books. They believe that only those born within all-magic families are worthy of possessing or learning magic. Those all-magic families are known as Pure-blood. Anything less is Half-blood or Muggle-born, which refers to someone born within non-magical families. This is perhaps more similar to Nazi ideology at first sight since it all boils down to the circumstances of one’s birth. The similarity lies in the conversion. The Death Eaters, while Pure-blood, also pretend. They recruit those who also pretend. Voldemort himself is a Half-blood and many Pure-bloods have been known to hide Muggle ancestry, implying conversion is also a factor, much like ISIS and to some extent, the Ku Klux Klan.
Had Harry Potter been written in the 1820’s, us readers now would be looking at it as a critique of the Ku Klux Klan, then rising within America. Had it been written in the 1940’s, we would be looking at it as a critique of Nazism almost definitely. Seventy years later, reading the books through a modern lens and future readers reading the books through a lens limited to its time period, it could just as easily be a critique of ISIS and its rise within Iraq and Syria. While the author herself may have gone on the record to draw parallels to Nazi ideology, future generations will likely draw parallels with ISIS’ ideology when it comes to birth and conversion.
Terrorists all have similar methods. Because, with the exception of Nazi Germany, most terrorist organizations do not exactly have control over the entire government (save for obvious spies), they project strength in other ways. Throughout the majority of the Harry Potter series, Voldemort and his Death Eaters were a group from within the populace. The Ku Klux Klan was the same. They were a sort of militia, and like the Death Eaters, they had sympathizers among the state governors, even though officially, the United States did see them as a terrorist organization. ISIS took some territory and proclaimed a new Islamic state and proceeded to declare war on the entire world. They took over by coming in with overwhelming force, explosive trucks, and suicide bombers enough to make the standing army of Iraq quail.
The Death Eaters use their methods to fire spells, like any other witch or wizard. Their method is to be expected. However, what causes terror are not big, fancy explosions but exceedingly painful curses that render such explosions wanted, just because they’d be a quicker way of dying. The Death Eaters are known for using Dementors to instill fear and despair, controlling people’s minds, torturing enemies, and outright killing them with a spell more effective than a gun. These methods and capabilities render the populace suspicious and scared. With the mind-control, it is difficult to tell who the enemy may be, and who is the friend. With the torture, it just gives a bigger reason to stay away from everyone, just to keep safe. Death is as good a reason as any.
The Death Eaters are actually quite similar to ISIS in this case. ISIS cannot control people’s minds, (barring brainwashing), but they do cause a sense of suspicion amongst the populace. Because they demand that everyone follow the religion of Islam, it causes many Muslims around the world to be regarded with suspicion or even outright dislike, further alienating them. Because it is very difficult to tell who has ill intent and who does not, many prefer to just stay away altogether. This reaction of withdrawal makes the air tense and dangerous. One can only imagine how it must’ve been like for African-Americans interacting with regular European white people back when the Klan was popular.
Terrorist methods are exactly what gave them the name. Terrorists were not always adherents to a perverted view of Islamic ideology, though. Once upon a time, it was a perverted view of Christian ideology. The Ku Klux Klan had such an ideology, still do in fact, and ISIS uses methods to instill similar feelings of terror and fear among the populace. Their methods lie in their symbols and their actions. The Ku Klux Klan used to burn crosses to signify a threat. They used to hold parades. ISIS does much the same. They hoist the black flag high to signify they are there, and that flag strikes terror into the populace. The strict rules they place make the standard of living unbearable, even for those who live in peace under them.
The Death Eaters are much the same. Like the Ku Klux Klan, they possess an old symbol used to instill fear. The Dark Mark, known as Voldemort’s sign and the brand tattooed on every Death Eater stands upon any dwelling they enter. That then stands as a warning, a warning that murder did take place there, and that terrified everyone. In fact, it terrified the Death Eaters themselves in Goblet of Fire when it was fired into the sky. By the end, it even terrifies Draco Malfoy, someone born within a Death Eater family, when he discovered he didn’t have the stomach for it. In this way, ISIS is similar in that when they lose territory in Iraq or Syria, they respond with a bomb or a massive explosive to remind the world that they are still relevant.
However, in terms of symbol, perhaps the Death Eaters are actually more like the Ku Klux Klan than ISIS or Al Qaeda. Death Eaters do attack those against them much like ISIS but the similarities stop there. In this case, the Death Eaters are much more like the Ku Klux Klan, which can be tied indirectly to Rowling’s alleged inspiration since they are known as neo-Nazis. The Swastika or the burning cross are one and the same here. What made this symbol more feared is that it was followed by actions. The Klan, in this sense, instilled fear among African Americans greater than ISIS does now among those it controls.
So what do we learn from the series when viewing it from the viewpoint of terrorism as opposed to Nazism? In the Harry Potter series, there is a clear line between good and evil. The Death Eaters are seen as terrorists. The Ministry starts out denying the existence of terrorism, reflecting the concerns of many in the real world who also think the government may not be doing enough. When the Ministry starts, they begin arresting innocents and infringing on liberties in the name of defeating evil, much like the debate being waged across Europe now. Then, we’re faced with the question of what to do with those who defect or are children of Death Eaters/terrorists.
The Harry Potter series provides some answers to these questions. The line between good and evil is blurred more and more by the appearance of the loathsome Dolores Umbridge, who infringes on the freedom of students in school. She is seen as a prejudiced evil but on the side of the Ministry. When the Ministry begins stalking and arresting innocents, they are called out and in the case of Dawlish, attacked. When it comes to children of terrorists, it’s a whole new ballgame. The series suggests tolerance and sympathy. Children of Nazis have come up before, notably in The Boy in Striped Pajamas, but the children of terrorists are only heard of, and the common viewpoint of them is irredeemably brainwashed.
Where Draco was asked to commit murder, and has certainly attempted it enough times to earn a prison sentence, he was given clemency and mercy. The Malfoys, for all their bad points, possess a degree of love for one another. This differentiates them from their Dark Lord and ultimately turns them against him. Though all of them are responsible of death to some degree, all are given clemency in exchange for help. After a series about puritans fighting those of mixed heritage, we get some good Pure-bloods too. Many of those are among the Weasleys, but also the Longbottoms and others who are said to be Pure-blood like Ernie Macmillan and Susan Bones. Much like the world and its question of Muslims and their trust, the same logic applies to Pure-bloods who may be looked at with suspicion though the majority of them are actually very well aligned with the forces of good.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
Agree to all of this. In fact, I went so far as to think that JK Rowling did so write these books as an allegory much as JRR Tolkien created the Lord of the Rings stories coincidentally just as the Western Democracies were battling fascism in the 1940s.
The Lord of the Rings weren’t meant to be an allegory though. Tolkien hated allegories, and naturally, didn’t like his books being interpreted as such.
Of course there were some elements of The Lord of the Rings which were similar to WW2, but he didn’t deliberately “base” his story off it. Rather the elements found their way into the story because it was what he and his nation were going through at the time of writing it. He wrote some chapters while actually fighting in the war if I’m remembering correctly. That kind of thing just happens- writers’ experiences end up in stories, and it often isn’t intentional.
But The Lord of The Rings isn’t actually intended to represent it, it just has some characters and plot elements that are applicable to what was going on at the time of writing, and that’s why he says “applicability isn’t the same thing as allegory.”
I was always reminded of the case of Adolf Eichmann when I think of Dolores Umbridge and I think Hannah Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil shows close similarities between the infamous real life nazi criminal bureaucrat and her characteristics.
Voldemort is like Hitler, but more evil and less successful.
I never fully understood Voldemort’s endgame – to get rid of all the non-purebloods in the Magical world? That would eliminate a significant portion of the population. While it wouldn’t create the same issues we saw in The Avengers: Endgame, the Ministry of Magic still needs people to run it.
I wonder if wizards also were drafted during WW2.
Being a history buff i noticed all of this the second i read and watched harry potter. I also noticed in the deathly hallows pt 1 when harry Hermione and Ron break into the ministry the guards that chased them looked similar to Hitlers SA guards in real life. Have a look!
Great work. I’ve always read the books as a very, very clear analogy to Nazi Germany.
There’s potentially a bit of pre-war Germany in there, probably more pre-war Britain in the parallels to Chamberlain and Mosley. Although I would hold that the parallels to the War on Terror feel more direct than those. What the books (and, to a lesser extent, the films) do well is to mix all of these influences together and to also let it be its own story. With regard to whether JKR agrees with how it’s been used in political discourse in the present, I think she’s just happy to still be in the spotlight…
I think that the fact that these books amalgamate both British politics in the era before the rise of Hitler, showcasing an inept government response to Fascism, and the politics of the War on Terror, says something rather terrifying about the moment we are living now. If the response to the war on terror goes well with a lack of response to Fascism, and in fact enables its rise, then we are poorly prepared for the rise we are seeing now in Fascist ideas. We may even have made ourselves a lot more vulnerable to it then before, say by putting more weapons in the arms of the police and giving the President of the USA too much power over said police through laws and policies meant to fight terrorism. Not to mention by allowing the government to label its opposition as terrorists. The fact that the commentaries on the war on terror and on Hitler’s rise blend together so well should have given us pause.
Hm… I feel like your perspective helped me figure out why I was so dissatisfied with the infamous epilogue. After spending thousands and thousands of pages demonstrating how the current system is flawed, the ending just… sets everything back to normal, with Harry becoming an enforcer of the very government that failed him, his friends, and his classmates. The status quo doesn’t change for the better. I mean, sure, they got rid of the bad guy, but they did nothing to alter the circumstances that led to his uprising. Another Voldermort is inevitable.
Because the story isn’t about them changing the world its about a boy trying to find acceptance, why would all of sudden make it a story about trying to change the status quo when that isn’t what its about.
We don’t know that everything returns back to normal. We know that harry is now happy and has a family for all we know all the things that were wrong with system changed, but its not important to showcase all of that cause it isn’t important to the story. Maybe Harry becoming an auro allows him to change things from within, also the stigma against slytherin is completely removed by the end.
You must hate the ending of avatar the last airbender cause they didn’t fix all the problems present in that world, what kind of story could you write where you try to commentate commentate on a problem present in the world but you have to fix them all, that’s tangential and meandering.
Doesn’t mean that everything will br fine just that the problem facing the characters in the narrative is over, you must think all happy endings ij stories are bad.
1990-1997. The wizard world is an allegory for the British Government.
My last read through the Order of the Phoenix, I remember looking in the front of the book and saying “Oh shit, this was published in 2003, all this propaganda and surveillance has got to be a reference to the Patriot Act!”
Am I going to have to watch these films, or worse, read the books, in order to understand you young-uns?
I agree. I always thought of the parallels between the stigma surrounding “muggles,” particularly the disdain among the Death Eaters for the ‘race.’ with anti-semitism in Nazi Germany. It is not a coincidence that Malfoy and his family look Aryan.
I am old enough to remember JKR pointedly refusing to sign a letter protesting against the start of the Iraq war. She was very pro-Blair.
I honestly always felt like it was just trying to do the very unoriginal, coldwar/nazism theme.
An interesting connection! I love all that is Harry Potter.
Amazing critique! I have never heard or thought about these parallels before, It’s so obvious and so important.
I think a lot of the kids books from the 2000s became unintelligible since then. Take Hunger Games for example, the entire idea of the book was the reality show/brutal violence show juxtaposition. Collins even said they got the idea from flipping between war news and a reality show.
I’m currently re-reading the harry potter series as part of final days of quarantine boredom in my country so this was a cool article to come across!
I’m taking a “Harry Potter as a Sacred Text” university course right now. I think one of the reasons that it can be read as a WWII allegory, a response to early 2000s terrorism, or applicable to modern politics is that, as society, we seemingly never learn. The same things keep happening over and over. When people rebel and start a new system, it eventually rots. So sadly, a lot of government themes end up being universal over time
I actually find the most interesting part of the Quidditch World Cup attack that it’s old Death Eaters who miss their “glory days” of terrorizing people who do so just for “kicks” until a true believer gets upset and casts the Dark Mark to radicalize a bunch of idiots who just wanted to flex their power. And just like that, garden variety selfishness becomes a more political movement, and ONLY THEN does the government react.
Seriously, they ramp up their response INSTANTLY when it’s a political threat even though it stops the violence…why weren’t they responding to “ordinary” violence that way?
As early on as Chamber of Secrets, there’s a clear problem with “racism” in this society but no one wants to do anything about it (and, worse, they often seem to find it somewhat comical—the Malfoys, for instance, are viewed as a silly nuisance rather than a threat to those around them). Perhaps you’re right that it’s only when they begin to be a threat to those in power that they take proper action.
I always thought Harry Potter was an indicator of the failure of the Tories under Thatcher and Major.
A great analysis, written clearly and giving a point of view of a work that I had, after reading it as a child, completely dismissed.
Voldemort’s obsession with purity of race reminded me of Hitler.
I always thought the “pure blood” thing was an allusion to the KKK and race relations in the US. Then again, Hitler took some of his philosophy from them, soooo….
That was the point. Where J.K. failed was making the goblins into bankers and a complete 180 on class consciousness.
Rowling has said that Voldemort was inspired by Hitler and Stalin
I’ve always very much so related Death EAters to the KKK! I think their dress is related, which I always found extremely appropriate!
The costume designer for the movies said in Goblet of Fire they were intended to look like the KKK because of the camp burning scene.
There is a lot of things this film did wrong, but the terror at the cup was not one of them.
Reading between the lines, it really does sound like the Death Eaters killed one of the muggle Roberts family. There is mention of a strong green light, and a few paragraphs later they notice that one of the children is limp. Given the attackers want to torture and humiliate—and yes, ultimately kill—this family, I doubt they would let a child escape into unconsciousness. Other than that though, I dunno if anyone actually died.
Another similarity: Hitler said the ideal German is tall, blond, white, blue eyes, fit, and relatively skinny; but Hitler was short, with black hair and eyes, wasnt too fit nor was he that skinny, compared to what he wanted, AND HE WASN’T EVEN GERMAN! Voldemort said that he wanted a pureblood nation, though he was a HALF BLOOD, so they both fought and killed and committed crimes and atrocities, for something that they werent a part of.
Yea he wasn’t german but alot of austrian considered themselves german but yea your absolutely right.
The irony is that voldermort was half-blood and Hitler’s grandfather was jewish.
The main difference I find ( I haven’t learned very much about hitler so correct me if I’m wrong) is that voldemort was scared of death, that was the main reason he wanted horcruxes to escape death. But hitler on the other hand willingly killed himself and his family.
I’ve always said Harry Potter is nothing more than an allegory for world war II.
Actually, voldemort didnt care about half bloods. just muggleborn and blood betrayers, people who seem to accept their muggle parents are considered blood betrayers…its just that most half blood accept their muggle and muggleborn parents.
When first reading about Voldemort, I could not help but see the similarities between he and Hitler. Both demanded a pure blood race, placed in prison, tortured and or murdered to those who were thought of as less than. This has left me feeling very sad, although I’m not German, I am a strong Latina woman, remembering what atrocities that hitler commanded was horrible.
As a continuation of this rather interesting parallel, Cornelius Fudge (due to his denial of the possibility that Voldemort could be alive) could be considered a collective image of all Western European politicians at the end of the 1930s who were unable to properly assess the danger that Hitler’s regime posed.
Harry potter, One of the finest reading of mine. My fantasy of novels. I loved reading harry potter novels instead of watching. Thanks for your article.
I love your examination of Voldemort and the Death Eaters as a terror amalgam, especially with government plant Umbridge as a part of it. Because when it comes down to it, aren’t all ideological organizations amalgams of something?
Great article, I totally see the connection between terrorism and Harry Potter. The series integrates events from history such as the Holocaust and actions of the Nazis in relation to their experiments with eugenics and mass genocide. While the series is fantasy, it reflects elements of our history books that might warn readers of what not to repeat. Well written!
I really like your point about clemency.
Really interesting points here! All of the groups show what happens when a charismatic, power-hungry individual preys on those with less free will.
Rowling’s influences are fairly clear and her works definitely fit into the time in which they were written.
Personally, I would put an exception on the ‘this is not meant to demonize anyone’ for Nazis.
I really like your article and all your points. Whenever i’ve read/watched Harry Potter I’ve always strongly related the death eaters and Voldemort with Nazis, so I loved your points relating Harry Potter with other groups, and your point about generations relating death eaters and voldemort with things limited to their time period.
I had never thought about the analogy between Harry Potter villains and Nazism. Congrats for explaining it so well in this article!
I like the counterfactual of an 1820s or 1940s Harry Potter universe!
I’ve always seen the Death Eaters as an allegory for the Nazi party. A lot of interesting points here!