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.
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