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Tolstoy and Conceptions of Faith and Non-violence

The Christian Church has had a long and productive history when it comes to introducing forms of violence to the world. This is history can be documented in forms like the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades against the Islamic world. The violence of Christianity and the Church is well documented and is probably one of the greatest influences on the western world. However that is the problem. The Church’s doctrine has been a perversion of the doctrines of faith which were advocated by Jesus and their doctrines have been the cause much suffering throughout the world (Moulin, D., 2009). The interpretation of a man like Tolstoy is essential when seeing the crimes of the church for what they are and bringing forward the actual doctrine of Christ the ideas present within the Gospels. The ideas of the “law of love” and the “law of violence” are a far more Christian interpretation and world view than any of the just war theories that the church has ever put forward to try and justify its actions in the world (Moulin, D., 2009). The Church is not without its reasons for what it did/ does and they may be extremely practical reasons given certain circumstances. However, even those practical considerations ended up making life and existence miserable for many people (Aptheker, H., (ed.) 1968). Tolstoy talks about how the Christian church has perverted the teaching of Jesus in order to serve their own ends and that can best be described as accurate. The idea that the truth will shine through and the deceit which conceals it will ultimately falter is an interesting point worth discussing (Alston, C., 2010). This essay will attempt to address some of the thoughts of Tolstoy when speaking about the ideas of Christian and the perversions of the Church in the hopes of drawing out a more complete understanding of his thought.

First historical context and comparison must be used in order to understand what Tolstoy is actually talking about when he talks about a perversion of Christian principles. Early Christianity and Christian societies were small, communal organizations which operated in the same rough manner as medieval monasteries (Aptheker, H., (ed.) 1968). It is in this idea that we find much of the meaning of Christ in that Christ himself was highly critical of the rich and the corruption of the Jewish government of Judea in his time. Jesus’s ideas of non-violence as he espoused in the Sermon on the Mount can be shown as a doctrine of peace and love (Aptheker, H., (ed.) 1968). More importantly that the idea of love is not a feeling but rather a practice of peace and trying to help and understand injured parties. It is about offering succor to those you despise and forgiving transgressions against you. From this context it can be seen how the Christian church, especially in the medieval era was particularly anti-Christian. It is quite easy to find certain echoes of Martin Luther within Tolstoy (Fuller, J., 2009). As both would be horrified by practices such as the sale of indulgences, the very idea that one could buy their way into heaven should be offensive to any who would consider themselves to be Christians (Fuller, J., 2009). The violence of the Church as reflected in ideas such as the crusades or any idea that says people can use violence to make the world better is fundamentally opposed to the principles of Christianity (Moulin, D., 2009). However certain contexts need to be applied in that the world that these ideas evolved in must be considered. When Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire there was a need for Christianity to back power structures which it had formerly opposed and as such a fundamental reorientation of Christian doctrine was necessary to support not only the growth of the faith but also the health of the nation that backed that faith (Aptheker, H., (ed.) 1968). When the Roman Empire collapsed the Church essentially took over the Empires duties of governance. The growth of things such as the inquisition or the prosecution of the Crusades was methods of ensuring their pre-eminence in the world (Aptheker, H., (ed.) 1968). This does nothing to justify the horrible thing that these people did but it does offer context as to why they chose to do them in the first place.

Tolstoy’s view was that all religious teaching instructs on the value of human life and the fact that human life is sacred and to be treasured (Moulin, D., 2008). His interpretation was simply that Christianity best expresses those ideas. The Sermon on the Mount is particularly instructive of this point of view. In the ideas in things like the Beatitudes and other sections which instruct on humility and the nature of those who come into God’s kingdom (Moulin, D., 2008). This is the part where Jesus says that you should never fight those who wrong and should always meet your enemies with love.  

What is Tolstoy talking about with the law of violence? This can be essentially taken as a point which basically relays the Christian message of “do unto other as you would have them do unto you”. The basic idea is one of reciprocity in that if you try to use violence to control violence then all you get is more violence (Moulin, D., 2009). The use of violence invalidates points of argument and does not bring about positive substantive change it instead only creates more pain in a world already full of it (Moulin, D., 2009). So in the appreciation of Tolstoy’s argument it can be seen that the idea of the Christian teaching can never support ideas which conflate themselves with violence. It is in this that we begin to see how the Church would “pervert” Christian ideas and teachings (Moulin, D., 2009).

As a counter point to this Tolstoy also introduced the ideas of the “Law of Love” as seen earlier in the ideas present in the Sermon on the Mount the idea of the “Law of Love” is intertwined with this view in that Tolstoy would say that this view credits non-violence and the idea that you can change people’s minds through methods other than force (Alston, C., 2010). It is in this point that we find links between Tolstoy and another great figure Gandhi. Each would speak about non-violence and the fact that violence to win a cause is never necessary. The large idea behind the Law of Love is that if you do not strike back against those who attack you, gradually something will move inside them and they will realize that what they are doing is wrong. Even more so the idea is that these people come around to your way of thinking and eventually see that what they are doing is wrong (Alston, C., 2010). The idea of love here is not a feeling but rather a practice of offering ones hand and continuing to offer it no matter how many times it gets slapped away. “The Law of Love” is the part of the Christian doctrine which should be followed and applied to the world. Though he was a Hindu Gandhi was a man who was very successful in putting these ideas into practice and it was through an application of these types of ideas that he was able to beat the British Empire and to liberate India. The ideas of non-violence and that you can use none non-violence to change the world is not a new concept but it is certainly not an easy one to follow (Alston, C., 2010). Tolstoy’s ideas revolve around these central ideas and have certainly influenced the world in a great many ways (Alston, C., 2010). 

The last part about the truth shining through deceit is an easy idea to follow in that that the modern world has seen new interpretations of this old idea in that you have men who are using the non-violent methods of men like Jesus in order to change the world (Fuller, J., 2009). The most obvious example would be to look at Martin Luther King Jr., who was a strong advocate for non-violence and even more so was a revolutionary figure in the United States. He was trying to end an unjust system which had oppressed his people for centuries (Alston, C., 2010). In this struggle he used Christian teachings of non-violence and showed the world that you do not have to use violence in order to change what happens (Moulin, D., 2008). King could have echoed another revolutionary Malcolm X and endorsed violence in the changing of circumstance however that would have been a betrayal of the central doctrine around which Christianity and indeed pretty much all of religious faith is based around. The point about truth shining through though goes much deeper (Moulin, D., 2008).  The modern world is beginning to see violence as an invalidation of an argument. That is to say that if a group uses violence in order to get their message across their message becomes invalid and most people tend to tune those messages out. This is a new thing in history; traditionally violence has been the only secure method of enacting change, especially with regards to leadership and policy. In the past if you did not like your leadership, you led a movement to kill, or at the very least dispossess, them (Alston, C., 2010). If this succeeded you then took over the government and started enacting the policies you wanted. This has started to change with the advent of Martin Luther King and Gandhi who showed the world that changing the world and more importantly the minds of the world need not be done through violence. This attitude has really begun to seep into popular culture in recent years (Alston, C., 2010). The point being that most groups now consider overt displays of violence in the name of a cause as a delegitimizing force for their movement rather than a way to advance their goals (Moulin, D., 2008). It is easy to see when any group trying to gain mainstream acceptance today immediately will denounce any violence perpetrated by those who say that they are part of the same movement. This is a way of showing that the ideas of non-violence have become much more mainstream and are seen as being far more realistic than they used to be(Alston, C., 2010). In this way the “Law of Love” has moved past the idea stage and has come through the rhetoric of violence to become a dominant language, at least in the western world (Alston, C., 2010).

As can be seen above the ideas behind the law of violence and the law of love are to be found within most religious principle. Not only the Christian Bible, but also the Muslim Koran, and the Hindu Gita. All religions make a fact of making human life sacred and the protection of human life a moral duty. They treat morality as something that is not subjective but rather objective and existing in the universe of its own accord (Svintsov, V., 2002). The fact that religions over the many centuries have concealed and perverted this tradition in order to justify conquest and destruction is to see a great perversion of the teachings of these traditions. Religion is supposed to work as a positive force in the world and keep people from abusing each other (Svintsov, V., 2002). The problem comes when these religious ideas become adopted by those in power because now those religious practices have to sanction the powers backing them. One need look no further than the Church in that early Christianity was highly critical of the power structures of Rome and they were persecuted for being so (Aptheker, H., (ed.) 1968). However after Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire the religious structure then had to back the same entity which had long oppressed them. Exploitation by religions is nothing new. Pretty much any religion which is backed by a state usually ends up backing some form of exploitative power structure (Aptheker, H., (ed.) 1968).  That is starting to change in the world today, the true teaching of eternal fraternity and brotherhood which are posited by the major religions and which Tolstoy saw in Christianity are becoming more and more of an influence in the modern world (Moulin, D., 2008). Many see violence now as a force that hurts more than it helps when it comes to moving a cause forward. Indeed many of these teaching are beginning to come forward with people trying to use ideas like non-violence as a method for changing the world (Alston, C., 2010). Perhaps Tolstoy was right and the truth is beginning to shine through. We can only hope the shine continues to get brighter.








Alston, C., (2010). Tolstoy’s Guiding Light. History Today. 60(10), 30-36.

Aptheker, H., (ed.) (1968). Marxism & Christianity: A Symposium. New York: Humanities Press Inc.

Fuller, J., (2009). Leo Tolstoy and social justice. Contemporary Justice Review. 12(3), 321-330.

Moulin, D., (2008). Leo Tolstoy the spiritual educator. International Journal of Children’s Spirituality. 13(4), 345-353.

Moulin, D., (2009). Challenging Christianity: Leo Tolstoy and religious education. Journal of Beliefs & Values: Studies in Religion & Education. 30(2), 183-191.

Svintsov, V., (2002). Religion an Unbelief. Russian Social Science Review. 43(1), 73-102.      


Review of “How Terrorism is Wrong” by Virginia Held

Is terrorism evil? Can acts of terror ever be adequately justified or are they always wrong? How does one define what constitutes terrorism and who carries it out? If terrorism is permissible under certain circumstances then how do we measure those circumstances and how do we apply them? Is terrorism simply a form of political expression through violence or is it something more? And perhaps even more importantly how can we frame contexts of terrorism in a given situation? And how do we judge the appropriateness of the use of terrorism to achieve political goals?  In her book “How terrorism is wrong” Virginia Held explores many of these different questions which relate to the idea of terrorism and how it affects people. The book explores many different ideas from the role of the media, to state terror, the role of international law, and the application of a philosophical approach to the question of terror and violence in general called “the ethics of care.” She also touches on ideas of corruption and oppression when it comes governments and their practices (Held, V., 2008). Finally she touches on a seeming tie between terrorism, violence, and the idea of masculinity. Or at least the institutionalization of the idea of masculinity (Held, V., 2008). The book outlines an idea of adopting a moral framework around which terrorism can be understood and perhaps minimalized. The book talks about the idea of ethical frameworks and their application to real world situations which involve violence. Held tries to examine who shares the blame for the fact that these terrorist attacks occur and under what circumstances they occur and how and if they can be justified. She also tries to explain the relationship between oppression and violence both as an instrument of the state and as a means of resisting that states brutal tactics (Held, V., 2008). Another aspect the book explores is the role of the media in the greater furtherance of violence, how it contributes to violence and how overt commercialization has led to increases in the depiction of violence (Held, V., 2008). I don’t necessarily agree with this assessment but that will come later. The book attempts to weave all these disparate threads together to give a large overall picture of the ideas and actions behind terrorism, the ethics involved in terror, and the contexts under which these actions take place.

The first section of the book which should be addressed is the definitional language which is used to understand what is meant by “terrorism.” what that means is deciding what actions constitute terrorism and what simply can be regarded as “political violence” (Held, V., 2008). Held says that while all terrorism is political violence, not all political violence is terrorism. Held does away with certain notions of terrorism very early in the book. The notion that terrorism targets non-combatants is done away with on several grounds. The first being that what exactly constitutes a non-combatant is always under issue for several reasons. The first being the issue of structure in government. Those giving the orders and higher-ups in the military structure may not be directly involved in the day to day combat operations but they certainly have a roll in the conductions of a military campaign and the conduction of oppressive government policies and as such they certainly could be considered valid targets for an attack (Held, V., 2008). Another issue that comes up with the idea of non-combatants is the problems of democracy. In a dictatorship it can be said that a government is violating the will of its people and conducting itself in contradiction to the popular will of those it is governing (Held, V., 2008). However this cannot be the case in a democracy. Since public participation is necessary in a democracy a government cannot make decisions which are in contradiction with the popular will of its people, not if it wants to stay in power anyway (Held, V., 2008). This means that the citizens of a country which is a democracy can be held morally culpable for the actions of their government. They cannot claim that the government is acting in contradiction to the will of the people they govern. As such, people could be considered legitimate targets because they are the ones who are providing legitimacy to their government  and without that backing it would be impossible for these governments to conduct these policies. The final problem when it comes to the idea of non-combatants is the problem that. Even though most could say that children would be the quintessential idea of “innocent bystanders” or non-combatants this does not deal with the issue of child soldiers and how they factor into the issue of non-combatants (Sterba, J., 2003). Under models of defining terrorism by a deliberate attempt to harm non-combatants, an Israeli conscript who is pressed into service is more of a legitimate target than the government officials who put those policies into place and are carrying out an unjust war against another people (Sterba, J., 2003). On these grounds it is safe to say that the book rejects the idea of defining terrorism as violence which specifically targets non-combatants, as there is no solid definition as to what actually constitutes a non-combatant.

Held addresses the notion of terrorism and the “other” throughout the book. What that means is that there are certain points expressed by politicians and pundits as to who carries out terrorism. And in pretty much every instance that person is someone from a group which the governing authority happens to disagree with. Held frequently brings up former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and says how he used the terms terrorism describe the bombing attacks which the Palestinians carried out but not to describe the brutality which the Israeli military inflicted upon the Palestinians themselves (Held, V., 2008). Held talks about how Sharon described people who engaged in terrorism as being completely evil. That they had abandoned all moral sense and as such they could not, and should not, be reasoned or negotiated with. The view that terrorists are simply evil, according to Held, is simply a ploy used by governments to describe their enemies and give them an excuse as to why they cannot be reasoned with and must be responded to with maximum force and brutality (Held, V., 2008). Held basically states that the use of this language is ultimately self-defeating as it simply destroys any ability that a state may have to deal with terrorists, other than the application of overwhelming military force (Held, V., 2008). Different sources speak to the futility and counter-productiveness of this strategy in that using armed methods to try and wipe out terrorists usually does not work, in fact the application of overwhelming military force seems to create conditions which are in and of themselves more conducive to the recruitment of terrorist organizations (Cohn W., 2006). Held maintains that the “new breed” of terrorism, making specific reference to the tactic of suicide bombings, is not something which can be exclusively tied to Islamic fundamentalism, but rather is a tactic that can be utilized by any terrorist organization (Held, V., 2008). Held is very convincing hear in that she talks about the idea of desperation and that suicide bombing might be tied to the idea of powerlessness which many of these oppressed people feel. The final point which held makes in order to distance the idea of terrorism from the idea of non-state actors is that she talks about state terror and how governments can engage in a practice of trying to control their citizens through fear and intimidation (Held, V., 2008). Held reasons that if these states do so then they are also performing terrorist actions and as such the definition of terrorism and those who conduct it cannot be limited simply to those outside of government. In any case held does a very bringing about a counterargument against terrorism being something exclusively done by non-state actors or something which is more prevalent in Islam than elsewhere, in other ideologies (Held, V., 2008).

Held makes great examples in the book of failed policies with concerns to addressing terrorism. In this regard she focuses heavily on the policies of the bush administration after 9/11 and how the policies of that administration have utterly failed to stop terrorism in the broader spectrum of the world in fact they probably aided in the making of new terrorists. One of the things which Held talks about in this regard is the actual goals of Al-Qaeda versus the perceptions which were laid down by the American government (Held, V., 2008). Saying that Al-Qaeda’s goals were to remove all American military presence from the Middle East and not that they hated Americans for their different way of life. She also talks about how much of the Middle East agreed with this position and how perceptions of Osama Bin-Laden throughout the Middle East were generally favourable because he was working toward a goal which many of the people of that region favoured (Held, V., 2008). Furthermore Held discusses the utter failure of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and how the forcible destruction of the, admittedly oppressive regimes which ruled those countries did not actually make life any better for the people living there (Held, V., 2008). Instead the insurgencies and warlords have taken the opportunity to become even more brutal and oppressive. The population who lives in these regions views the Americans as an occupying army and, according to held, they are resentful of their presence there. Held also addresses the failure of the idea of preventative war which was used by the Bush administration to justify entry into Iraq. She talks about how the lack of an adequate strategy led to a serious problem on the ground and administrative issues which still persist to this day (Held, V., 2008). And that the lack of adequate strategy caused a situation where the insurgency was a major problem. This also was a problem in Afghanistan where the lack of an adequate strategy to deal with the after effects of the war led to a greater opportunity for the Taliban remnants and Al-Qaeda to recruit and find sympathy among the broken remains of the country (Kaikobad, K.H., 2007). Indeed held seems to conclude that the use of military force against terrorists is actually counter-productive, since collateral damage tends to be high in these situations and has the unintended side effect of radicalizing the population against your force. The only time when pre-emptive war can ever be justified is in the prevention of an imminent threat to a people such as what happened in Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia. It can be maintained that due to the imminent threat situation in Rwanda the U.N. should have intervened early on to try and stop the conflict from escalating the way it did (Kaikobad, K.H., 2007). Similarly the U.N. intervention in Kosovo to try and protect the Albanians was wholly justified because it was done as a method to protect the Albanians from the Serbian forces which were trying to wipe them out (Kaikobad, K.H., 2007). Held maintains that even when held up to this standard the invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration fails completely because none of the peoples living in Iraq at that time were directly under threat of being wiped out.     

Held talks at length in the book about the “appropriateness” of terrorism (Held, V., 2008). that is to say that, defining when it is appropriate to use terrorism, or political violence in general is a serious question. Held’s conclusion is that violence should only ever be used as a last resort, and should only be used in the context of pursuing worthy goals, other than police trying to enforce justice or in the idea of self-defence violence is not to be otherwise permitted. To Held’s credit she does define what she means by “worthy goals” which are things like removing despot and dictators from power or gaining access to basic rights such as free speech, or the right to associate. Held maintains that in the absence of these rights, there is no way for the citizenry to adequately express themselves, except through violence and as such violence can then be permitted (Held, V., 2008). Furthermore she goes on to explain the difference between terrorism and political violence. Being that terrorism must involve the infliction of terror on one party or another, whereas political violence need not have that element of terror but can, instead, simply be focused on bringing about relevant social change in their social situation (Cohn, W., 2006). Held, does state that she is not entirely convinced as to the actual worthiness of violence. Basically saying that she is not convinced that violence is ever appropriate in the pursuit of political goals, but if it were to ever have a justification that the above listed conditions might fulfill it (Held, V., 2008). Finally Held talks about how, with regard to appropriateness, the use of violence/ terrorism can be retroactively justified if it brings out the positive change which was hoped for in the first place or change which was not originally foreseen (Held, V., 2008).

The chapter on media influence and violence is an interesting one for three main reasons. The first being that held talks about privatization of media and it’s correlation with greater depictions of violence (Shoshani, A., Slone, M., 2008). That because most media is driven by profit in the United States it is driven to get ratings and therefore is driven to make violent imagery because that is what gains the greatest audience appeal (Shoshani, A., Slone, M., 2008). Held contends that id the media to be made public new non-violent forms of story-telling and reporting could flourish and the cultural obsession with violence would pass. While certainly well intentioned this does not address the question of narrative ideals in that “why would people watch something that isn’t entertaining?” she seem to simply ignore the fact that conflict makes for good storytelling and that the simplest form of representing conflict is through violence. This might be characterized as an institutional bias of the system but any system which wishes to convey stories rather than simply facts has to deal with the idea of building a narrative. The unfortunate part is that journalism has been increasingly changed on an institutional level to become less about facts and more about the idea of compelling stories (Shoshani, A., Slone, M., 2008). This direction is dangerous for journalistic fields because it tends to have people twisting facts to fit a narrative structure which, in many cases, does not work with the facts on hand, although this probably has a lot to do with ideology rather than directly about entertainment, things like fox news often bear this out (Shoshani, A., Slone, M., 2008). She doesn’t really address this point and though she does about how media is becoming ever more profit driven she doesn’t solutions as to how to bring about a change in the ownership.  

The book runs into several problems with regards to chapter seven when held starts to talk about ethical frameworks and the ideas behind them (Held, V., 2008). She repeatedly uses ideas of ethics and practice without actively relating them to the terrorism concepts which she talks about in other sections of the book. The chapter mostly seems to be about her going off on a tangent on how to use ethical to judge violence (Held, V., 2008). But she talks more about the practice element of applying ethical frameworks and the necessity of application to the subject of ethics than she does about how these ethical frameworks are supposed to guarantee a way of making sense of violence. Even then she says that ethical frameworks and view-points need to be adjusted in the same way in which scientific hypotheses if they do not work to fit a given instance of violence. This has the effect of essentially making the idea ethical frameworks essentially worthless since they have to be changed every an anomaly arises that does not fit into the proper framework (Held, V., 2008). Human behaviour is not the same as scientific phenomena and the study of core sciences. Applying the scientific method to ethical guidelines does not improve those guidelines it merely renders them obsolete by saying essentially “well this applies, except in these cases.” Working out a form of scientific theory and then trying to apply said theory to violence would be interesting, however people are much more complex than basic scientific phenomena and as such no baseline theory will ever actually account for the variances in violent behaviour. As such Held ends up simply undermining her own idea and not providing an adequate reason these ethical frameworks and theories apply in the case of violent action. Held goes on at length as to how the idea of practice is necessary with the application of ethical frameworks, and while the may be true, nothing is done to address how you make adjustments when events do not fit the given framework. The fact the ideas of terrorism and whether or not the actions of those terrorists can be justified is not really discussed in this chapter and it is very unclear as to why it was included in the first place. 

One of the most crucial points that Held tries to make throughout the book, is that most of the violent actions taken in war are due to men or at least the institutionalization of masculinity (Held, V., 2008). She seems to be making the case that only men make war, that men are aggressive, men are violent, and men have a fetish for subornation and domination. The institutionalization of these ideas leads, according to Held, to the increases in violence which we have seen all over the world. She paints a picture that being male or maleness is a thing to be ashamed of and that only men would conceive of something like mass-rape as a war tactic in order to demoralize an enemy. She also talks about how the institutionalization of these aggressive tendencies, which are male, is the primary reason for the atrocities which are seen in much of warfare. Held paints men, or at least characteristics of macho culture, as violent and degrading and that they should be gotten rid of (Held, V., 2008). The argument, while being fundamentally flawed, has a small kernel of truth. Certain policies which are tied to aggressive, xenophobic, or retrograde ideas can be, and are, often used to justify war against other people. However those ideas have links to ideas nationalism, especially right-wing nationalism, and xenophobia then they do to any kind of institutional “maleness” inherent in foreign policy (Ritter G., 2009). Rather than write-off Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush as a couple of xenophobic nationalists pushing retrograde policies because they felt threatened by outside forces, she essentially ties the ideas to the fact that they are men and as such they had to react in this way. Held does not address people like Margaret Thatcher who were in positions of power, and were female, as such she had no obligation to buy into the “male institutions” which were there and she could have tried a new approach (Ritter G., 2009). Instead she enforced more retrograde policies and continued with aggressive stances against groups like the IRA (Ritter G., 2009). It isn’t that horrible things are not done in war, on both sides usually; it is just that tying ideas of war crimes to men and essentially saying that “if women were in charge these things wouldn’t happen” is in itself a flawed and faulty argument which does not hold water. Both sexes have and can have aggressive tendencies which can be crystalized around ideas of nationalism or fear of others. To label all aggressive and hostile tendencies as fundamentally “male” is misleading and belies the fact that both genders are capable of committing or endorsing horrible acts if given the right set of circumstances (Ritter G., 2009).

Held stresses throughout the book that a respect for international law and governance on an international level is essential when dealing with the question of terrorism. Since many of these groups, like Al-Qaeda are internationally based the only way to deal with them is through international law. She goes on to elaborate that while international standards are set up to heavily favour the state/ institutionalized authority, what exists there is better than nothing. Held talks about how international law is also the only way to deal with government leaders who abuse their authority in order to hurt the people that are under the rule of their government. Since these people are often in a position of power/ control and the courts in their own country will, obviously, not convict them of the crimes they have committed, it therefore follows that the international system has to put these people on trial in The Hague in order to see them answer for their crimes. The most famous example of this would probably be Slobodan Milosevic, the leader of the former Yugoslavia who waged a civil war campaign against the Albanians living in Kosovo who wanted to separate and have their own country (Das, V., 2005). Milosevic was obviously not going to get a fair trial for the crimes he authorized his troops to perform in his own country. In those cases it is the job of international law to step in fill the gap and put someone like him, who is responsible for gross crimes against humanity (Das, V., 2005). International law is the best way to deal with these criminals and can provide the basis for how the international community can large scale tragedies such as the incident in Kosovo or the genocide in Rwanda (Das, V., 2005). Respecting these international norms, with a mind to adding reforms so that the laws in place do not favour established authorities in quite the same manner they do now (Kaikobad, K.H., 2007). Held makes a very convincing argument here, even though her argument essentially boils down to “what we have is not perfect, but it is better than nothing.” Insofar as that statement goes she is correct. International law is the best institution which exists for not only dealing with issues of international terrorism but also dealing with state terrorism and those who are guilty of crimes against humanity. Held also prefaces this presupposition with the point that disregard for international law could have the effect of losing a nation its status in the international community. In order to back this claim she cites the loss of face which happened after the U.S. went into Iraq against the recommendations of the international community. The subsequent debacle that became the Iraq war became and the loss of respect for the United States in the eyes of the international community is due to the fact that the Bush administration did not heed the international community and violated international dictates and U.N. resolutions which condemned the actions of the United States government in trying to take down Saddam Hussein (Goldstone, J., 2002).

Held brings up a central conflict within idea of justice in the book and that is that retributive justice will often not have the intended effect of actually stopping crime. That punishment does not always stop the person who committed the crime from doing it again and that the current United States justice system is wired heavily around the concept of punishment and retributive justice. This is not to say that people should not be punished for the crimes which they commit but rather that retributive justice is only a reactive measure rather than a proactive measure and as such its application to the idea of correcting criminal problems, instead of simply punishing offences, is limited (Goldstone, J., 2002). Therefore the concept of retributive justice must be tempered and not used simply as a cure-all for the criminal woes of a country (Goldstone, J., 2002). As far as the argument goes it has a good backing since countries which have sole forms of retributive justice as their only legal method seem to tend to have more problems like people reoffending, like the United States, since nothing is done to try and address the issues which lead to the crime in the first place, nor is there any serious attempt at rehabilitating the offender (Goldstone, J., 2002).      

In the final chapter Held talks about the ethics of care and their relevance to understanding the violence in terrorism and the way in which we can interpret that violence. It presents a method of being proactive with regards to violence and for understanding of violence. Unlike retributive justice the ethics of care have to deal with violence from a feminist perspective. And an idea that is inherently matriarchal in origin (Held V., Summer 2008). It states that understanding and prevention are of much more use in the issues of violence than merely punishing the responsible parties (Held V., Summer 2008). The ethics of care are presented in such a way here that they are not meant as a method to supplant the idea of justice but rather as a way to compliment it. To have both strategies to work in tandem could help reduce violence significantly in many areas (Held V., Summer 2008). Held stresses that understanding and listening are large parts to the ethics of care and these link back in with her earlier observations about concerns and right of people to be heard. In this instance the idea is that people must be heard and their concerns weighed by the governing authorities to see if the demands these people are asking for are reasonable. This method, could very easily help to stem a tide of violence since it would mean that many groups would not need to resort to violence in order to get their points heard (Mullaly, B., 2003). The use of care is made akin to the idea of mothering/ motherhood in that it is essentially about using a caring mother’s perspective and applying it to these situations. That caring should be fundamentals of the system in order to help prevent violence (Mullaly, B., 2003). As far as that concept goes it does have a large measure of validity in that rehabilitation is more necessary to the prevention of crime than is the idea of retributive justice. These ideas have quite a bit of application and could probably go a long way to help prevent the advent of violence. The only problem with the idea is the inherent attachment to feminist ideology. These ideas are posited by Held as a counter to the so-called macho attitude which is present within the justice system today (Held V., Summer 2008). Tying these ideas to feminist, anti-male, rhetoric could seriously devalue these ideas of compromise and meeting in the middle which seem to be integral parts to the ethics of care (Held V., Summer 2008). Ascribing these values as being intrinsically female rather simply compassionate and good for people Held, once again, ascribes them an oppositional value to this idea of institutionalized “maleness,” which she seem to think is responsible for all the ills which are currently befalling the world. Again she feeds into these notions that men are aggressive, violent and domineering by nature and as such those values which are opposed to those ideas are inherently female. These ideas are quite progressive and to simply assign them a value as being simply female, or opposed to male values, is to diminish their value and ability to contribute to all people.   

In the end this book has some very interesting ideas when it comes to the concepts of terrorism and the world. The ideas behind why terrorism happens and how we can change those problems are very interesting. The book hits its stride mostly in the chapter on media and violence and this where Held presents her most convincing arguments based on those links. She also does a considerable job debunking the notions of the definitions of terrorism, especially how it relates to the notion of innocence. As well as many governmental notions of the idea of terrorism being done solely by non-state actors. Held makes sure to convey that it is not only groups that can engage in terrorism but states as well. The ideas of the respect for international law and the international court system as able to deal with questions of terrorism as well having the capacity to prosecute those who are responsible for gross human rights violations are quite interesting and probably one of her more valid points since national court systems tend to be very biased. This is not to say that the international court system is not biased but it certainly is better a than relying on a national court to render a proper decision. The book hits a large rough patch in chapter 7 where Held seems to go off on an unrelated tangent about meta-ethics and ethical models and their relation to the scientific method, how these concepts relate to the topic of terrorism and judging the actions of terrorists is never made clear in the chapter and it just does not seem to fit with the rest of the book. The book, especially the parts on the ethics of care, would have had a much greater appeal if so much of it were not couched in the rhetoric of the extremist fringe of the feminist movement; however Held does raise good ideas about pairing preventative measures with the idea of justice in order to address problems of political violence. All in all an interesting idea with some deep flaws, but certainly a book worth reading.



















Cohn, W. (2006). Definitions of Convenince. New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs. 8(1) 28-31.

Das, V. (2005). Human Rights and Changing Definitions of Warfare. Journal of Human Rights. 4(1), 113-117.

Goldstone, J. (2002). International Law and Justice and America’s War on Terrorism. Social Research. 69(4) 1045-1054.

Held, V. (2008). How Terrorism is Wrong: Morality and Political Violence. New York: Oxford University Press.

Held, V. (Summer, 2008). Military Intervention and the Ethics of Care. Southern Journal of Philosophy. 46, 1-20.

Kaikobad, K.H. (2007). Crimes against International Peace and Security, Acts of Terrorism and Other Serious Crimes: A Theory on Distinction and Overlap. International Criminal Law Review. 7(2) 187-276.

Mullaly, B. (2003). Editorial. Australian Social Work. 56(1), 1-3.

Ritter G. (2009). Domestic Containment or Equal Standing? Gender, Nationalism, and the War on Terror. Journal of Policy History. 21(4), 439-447.

Shoshani, A., Slone, M. (2008). The Drama of Media Coverage of Terrorism: Emotional and Attitudinal Impact on the Audience. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. 31(7), 627-640.

Sterba, J. (Ed.) (2003). Terrorism and International Justice. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gormanghast and the Questions of Good & Evil

Equality and freedom, ritual and rebellion, how do these things factor in the conception of right and wrong, good and evil? These are stark questions and their answers are not simple. However there is a very interesting point on these ideas and how they affect the nature of who we are and what we value. These perspectives are explored in a very interesting set of novels by author Mervyn Peake known as the Gormenghast series. These books offer incredible insight through characters into the ideas of ritual, rebellion, equality and freedom. The books themselves cover the early life of the character Titus Groan, who is the 77th Earl of Groan and the heir to the kingdom of Gormenghast. He is basically the prince of this kingdom who will inherit the place when his father Lord Sepulcrave dies (Sanders, J., 1984). Titus serves as the story’s protagonist. Thought a rebel who wants to leave and become his own man, away from Gormenghast. He is, nevertheless forced into the role by fate, ritual and circumstance. The other main character is a man named Steerpike, who serves as the book’s antagonist. He is a low-born kitchen worker who serves in the castle in a position he was born into (Sanders, J., 1984). Steerpike is a vessel of destruction that, at first, seems to want to tear down the society that he finds to be so unjust. However he gradually morphs into a man whose only goal is power and dominance over his society (Yeoman A., 1995). It is in these two that we find parables of the ideas good and evil and what rebellion can bring about. Beyond that the greater society of this book is a large commentary on the nature of conceptions bout stability and freedom and how they influence society at large.

The first thing to understand in the books is the citizens of Gormenghast view their world as a closed system. Meaning that they do not believe that anything exists except for Gormenghast and the wilderness, essentially that they are the only human civilization in the world and the rest is untamed wilderness (Sanders, J., 1984). Essentially that if you were to leave you would simply end up treading in a circle and coming back to Gormenghast. This perspective is important because it essentially means that Gormenghast is an isolated environment with no outside influence and input from other places. In the books it is never made clear whether or not Gormenghast is actually alone and that only serves to further illustrate the point of the isolation, in that this belief is never explored but is merely accepted as a fact (Ochoki, M. 1982). The second, very important part of this is that Gormenghast is a place which is mired in tradition and ritual. Gormenghast is essentially run in a sort of caste system in which people are born into their roles and as general rule, never move beyond them. The ritual in Gormenghast has an almost religious significance to it in that it is never deviated from. And the higher one goes on the social ladder the more control and ritual one tends to find. What is meant by the idea of religious significance is that this is the way in which the people of this place worship their god, only in this case their god happens to be Gormenghast itself (Ochoki, M. 1982).

Each character in the story itself matters but one must first understand the concept of the “iron ritual.” That is to say that Gormenghast is based in and around absolute rituals that are almost never deviated from. Times for meals, what to eat in those meals, where one works, what kind of work they do within their employment (Yeoman A., 1995). Everything is set down in law and ritual. This is incredibly important because it helps to give context to the events which transpire during the story. The ritual can almost be seen as a character unto itself because it has its own influence over the lives of the characters in the story. Titus might not have been the way he was if his life was not ruled by the ritual of Gormenghast (Yeoman A., 1995). And that is a strong point in that even though Titus is technically the pan-ultimate ruler of Gormenghast we get the impression that the ritual is the true ruler of Gormenghast. The ritual is also important in the life of Steerpike in that it is through his manipulation of the ritual that he comes to power, because he exploits holes in the logic of the ritual. The ritual itself is much portrayed in the same way that something like a force of nature or something that exists naturally and can be harnessed by those willing to do so (Yeoman A., 1995). The ritual does not play favorites and does not attempt to intervene directly to help either character. It is mostly seen as a stabilizing force but one that can lead to corruption (Yeoman A., 1995). As is seen with Steerpike and how he manipulate the situation in order to gain his advantage over others. The ritual seems to be very much a commentary on order versus freedom in that stability has its own problems which usually come with corruption and loss of control (Sanders, J., 1984).

The character of Titus is probably the most important to the story and the commentary on good and evil. Titus is the heir to Gormenghast, his father dies when he is still a baby and as such he is the de facto ruler of the kingdom from his earliest recollections. It is in his childhood that he begins to become disillusioned with the trappings of power (Sanders, J., 1984). More specifically the idea that he should have to follow the ritual at all. He seems to want to be a sort of revolutionary figure but he grows not only disillusioned with the ritual but with Gormenghast’s population as well, he does not want to change his society but rather he wants to leave it (Sanders, J., 1984). This is inconceivable to most people in that not only does he have great power but he does not seem to want to do anything with the power he has (Sanders, J., 1984. It is through the story that we learn however that Titus actually has very little freedom, and that he serves as more of a symbol for people than someone who actually exercises any power, in fact any time he tries to exert the kind of power that his office is actually supposed to hold he is punished for it, sometimes severely (Sanders, J., 1984). It is made clear to him that he serves the ritual not the other way around (Sanders, J., 1984). Titus refuses to accept this and wants to strike out on his own. Here we have our first commentary on good in that freedom is essentially a bad thing and something that most people cannot understand much less want (Gray J., 2011). Yes, Titus wants it, but he has the power to realize those ideas rather than the mass of people who are such in the ritual. The second part is that, while Titus expresses his desire for freedom this is a commentary on society in that Titus leaves rather than try and change the ritual or the foundation of society. He strikes out on his own and that is where the story ends (Bristow-Smith, L., 1981).  His mother comments to him that “you will tread a circle, you will come back, for there is nothing else but Gormenghast” (Peake, M., 1995., 807). This is basically saying that the desire for true freedom, and rebellion against authority is temporary and we all eventually end up coming back to authority and ritual. Also that if one truly wants freedom it is better to leave than to impose such ideas on the mass of society, in the end ritual and authority is what people crave not freedom. This relates to good because it is mainly meant to show Titus as being irresponsible and not accepting the exigencies of his position, which for their society, would be the good. However he rejects this and tries to strike out on his own (Bristow-Smith, L., 1981).

The second large perspective come in Steerpike who is a low born kitchen who ends up doing something almost unheard of in that he manages to leave his born into station and work his way up the social ladder and eventually becomes the Master of Ritual within Gormenghast (Yeoman A., 1995). Steerpike is a vehicle for pure violent ambition he wants ascend the social ladder but also to tear down the society that put him where he was and that he is more than willing to kill in order to protect and foster this ambition, he is a man who desires power and rulership and will do anything to contain it (Yeoman A., 1995). It is in Steerpike that we find a message which inherently denies the ideas and or benefits of revolution because in the end revolution is violent and destructive and usually does not end up helping people in any way so the ideas of change from order are held up to be almost fundamentally wrong especially the means that people will go to in order to achieve those goals (Yeoman A., 1995). The idea seems to be against ideas of revolution and to stay with the established order because all that flows from change and rebellion is chaos, destruction and madness. Since Steerpike himself seems to be driven mad by his own ambition the destructive nature of his ambition seems to help no one as well and only seems to bring harm to those around him (Yeoman A., 1995). And so we see evil as the attempt to destroy stability and make society change forcibly. Steerpike hates his society and wants to tear it down in any way he can by also gaining power and using it mercilessly to his own advantage (Sanders, J., 1984).

The relationship between these two is illustrative of a sort of strange relationship between stability and freedom, in that they both adamantly hate each other (Sanders, J., 1984). As the quintessential free spirit Titus sees Steerpike as the man who controls all aspects of his life and keeps him from doing anything he wants. Ritual binds him in a way he cannot stand but also in a way he cannot understand. Titus does not understand the reason for why the ritual exists and more importantly why he is bound to it. He sees Steerpike as a sort of ultimate authority figure, someone he cannot only rebel against but try and position himself against in order to better define himself (Sanders, J., 1984). Steerpike hates Titus because he sees Titus as a spoiled entitled little brat who was born with the world at his feet but never once took an appreciation for all the power that his position has granted him (Sanders, J., 1984). This mutual hatred is brought to a head in a chase scene in the book where Steerpike attempts to kill Titus’s mother, Lady Gertrude. After the chase scene when Steerpike is cornered he screams at Gertrude “from one who should have been your son!” and then attempts to kill her again, the meaning is that Steerpike could have done something with the power that Titus ultimately did not want (Peake, M., 1995., 776). Titus seems to agree with this assessment as he tells Gertrude after he kills Steerpike “he’s right you know, he should have been your son, at least he would have appreciated it” (Peake, M., 1995., 780). In the end Titus ends up killing Steerpike and destroying his hope for revolution.

So what is to be taken from this? These two characters are the main focus of the story and how their animosity comes out is not what most would suspect, in that Titus does not accept his position and become the Earl he leaves in a way this shows the overall message of the philosophy housed by the book itself. That freedom in a literal sense as embodied by Titus is foolish and irresponsible, and revolution and change in the kind embodied by Steerpike is destructive and maddening. And so neither can be seen as the “good.” We find good in stability, routine, ritual (Sanders, J., 1984). In the need it is not Steerpike who wins or Titus who wins the implication of the book is that Titus will come back and take up rulership of Gormenghast as he should (Sanders, J., 1984). And so the real victor is society, the ritual, which remains in place disturbed but not toppled, one finds many hints of Ivan Karamazov in Mervyn Peake in that society gets by and true freedom is not something that most people can actually handle, they need control and ritual, reason an purpose; and Gormenghast provides excellent ideas of why this is certainly the case in the interactions of the two very different, but still somewhat similar characters. The overall message is that change, no matter the source is usually bad and should always be suspect, no matter where it comes from.  







Bristow-Smith, L. (1981). A Critical Conclusion: The End of Titus Alone. The Mervyn Peake Review. 12(1)

Gray, J. (2011). The Horror in the Human Soul. New Statesman. 140(5062), 50-51.

Peake, M. (1995). The Gormenghast Novels. Overlook Press: New York, New York.

Ochoki, M. (1982). Gormenghast: Fairy-tale Gone Wrong? The Mervyn Peake Review. 15(1).

Sanders, J. (1984). The Passions in their Clay: Mervyn Peake’s Titus Stories. Voices for the Future. 3(1).

Yeoman, A. (1995). The Cry of the Fighting Cock: Notes on Steerpike and Ritual in Gormenghast. The Gormenghast Novels. Overlook Press: New York, New York.

"The Battle of Algiers": A Film Review

The battle of Algiers is an important landmark in French history. It marked the final end of France’s empire abroad, the influx of millions of new French citizens into mainland France and an end to France as a benevolent nation on the world stage. The methods which were used to wipe out the FLN cells within the Kasbah which were extreme by any definition of the word were quite effective on a military/ strategic level, but unfortunately on a political/ social level these tactics were a complete disaster. The situation which existed in Algeria prior to the battle of Algiers is also worth exploring as it defines the attitudes of both the French and the Algerians toward one another and helps to put into context the outcome which occurred. The movie itself depicts both sides of the battle how lives were lost on both sides in the conflict and many terrible tragedies came about as a result of this war. The film is an interesting narrative about how the movement within Algiers was run by the leadership of the FLN and then run down by the French military. There are many points of comparison and divergence as well as many lessons to be learned from the battle of Algiers. On the first point there is legitimacy vs. legality when it comes to both the FLN and the French government in Algeria, urban vs. rural terrorism in the case of the FLN in the city of Algiers and then the country side, and the issue effectiveness vs. usefulness when it comes to the application of torture used by the French military to gain intelligence on the FLN within the Kasbah in Algiers and towards the FLN’s use of terrorist bombings within the city of Algiers. On the second point the use of bombing tactics as seen in the movie which is used for various purposes and those who have copied these tactics to help affect there cause, the systematic use of torture by the French government in order to gain intelligence and those governments which have adopted these methods in recent years, and the historical and political context under which all of this took place. These issues all inform the context under which the film Battle of Algiers was made. The film was meant to showcase the brutality of what was done to the Algerians by the French government n their country as well as show the brutal tactics used by the FLN against the French living in Algeria.

First of all some context, France acquired “ownership” of Algeria in 1830 unlike other lands which were simply imperial colonies of France Algeria was actually considered to be part of France itself. To put the difference in context, in most colonies a small government was put in place to oversee the operation of the colony and secure the land for resource extraction. There were usually no, or almost no, French citizens living there beyond those affiliated with operational government of the colony itself. In other words all the French people living there usually had some kind of job with the occupying government. Conversely Algeria was home to millions of French citizens who had moved there and no affiliation the government whatsoever but rather had come there to make a home for themselves (Gilles, M., 2005). This meant that Algeria was not considered to be a colony but rather a part of France which was not connected to the mainland, much the same way as Alaska or Hawaii is part of the United States but is not directly connected to the mainland U.S. and in much the same way the native population of Algeria rising against the French would be roughly akin to the native population of Alaska rising up against the United States government and turning them out so that they could form their own government. Because Algeria was considered to be part of France rather than a colony the debate which surrounded its independence was much different than those towards the colonies. It also shows the difference in the movements, the early calls of the Algerians were not for independence from France but rather to be able to become full citizens under French law(Gilles, M., 2005). This is because the Algerians were not considered French citizens and could not vote even though their country was technically part of France. Again the comparison can be made that this would be akin to the First Nations people of Alaska not being able to vote. These demands for greater access to the French state were not met and this fuelled the idea that Algeria had to become independent in order to better its lot in the world (Prochaska, D. 2003). This context is important because understanding why the movement was sparked and how the French reacted to the rebellion as well as the repressive measures which were used by the French army/ government in order to eliminate the terrorist movement within Algiers. The movie helps to detail these actions and the attitudes which helped to give birth to these particular divisions between the French citizens and the Algerian people. The movie shows the terrible tactics used by both sides and while there is a little basic history given in the film the full context is necessary to better understand what was going on.

Legitimacy and legality are important issues in the idea of the film. At different points in the film we see that the French government and the FLN are at odds within the city of Algiers. Meaning that, while the French government had all the legal authority it had no legitimacy among the Arab people living within the city itself this made it especially difficult for the French authorities to catch those responsible for the bombings who were involved with the FLN. We see this as the French try to win people over by doing things like handing out bread in the streets. However the fact that the French government has to repeatedly use force in order to try to solve the problems within the city itself does not bode well for the legitimacy of their government in the eyes of the Algerian people. The consistent use of violence and repression shown in the movie as well as the negative attitudes of the French living in Algeria towards the native Algerians, there are repeated references during the movie where the French people refer to the native Algerians as “dirty Arabs” (Pontecorvo, 1966). This shows an attitude toward the Arabs which can best be defined as “this is our land; we just tolerate your presence on it.” This can be seen also through the fact that the French did not attempt to integrate or assimilate the Arabs into the French society. Rather they further and further segregated them from the French people. This is shown in the movie where there are separate lines set for travel to different parts of the city (Pontecorvo, 1966). One line for the Europeans, one line for the Arabs. This all supports the conclusion that while the French government may have had legal authority within Algeria they did not have any legitimacy to the Arab peoples living there. Conversely the FLN were in the opposite position. The FLN had no legal authority within Algeria officially, indeed they were considered criminals, they nevertheless were the group which seemed to command legitimacy and hold real sway over the inhabitants of Algeria. We see this at several turns throughout the movie, specifically when the FLN calls on the Algerians to stop the consumption of alcohol and we see that the younger children accost a man who is drunk in public calling him a “wino” (Pontecorvo, 1966).  This shows the degree to which the proclamations delivered by the FLN were taken seriously. Since they could get young children to adopt this policy of trying to get people to stop drinking it can be seen that there influence was probably quite considerable. The other point which shows the legitimate authority of the FLN is the organization of the general strike as a way to oppose the French. The fact that all the shopkeepers within the Kasbah listened to the FLN and not the French authorities who told them to keep working is indicative of the great amount of authority and respect which the FLN commands among the Algerians (Pontecorvo, 1966). This can be seen as a way of the FLN basically spitting in the eye of the French, a way of demonstrating to them how little authority they actually have over the Algerians. Since this seems to be the only way for the French to stop the strike is by having the police and military force the Algerians back to work this seems to be an entirely justifiable point to make. Even though the UN did debate the idea of whether or not Algeria should be recognized as an independent nation from France, those talks never went anywhere. This meant that the Algerians were on their own with regards to gaining legal authority as well maintaining the legitimacy they already had among the Algerian people (Pontecorvo, 1966).

 The effectiveness of terrorism is another of the key central focuses of the film whilst the tactic of terrorism in this case would seem to be a way of provocation. The FLN are using the initial attacks, both bombing and assassinations, as a way of provoking a draconian crack down response from the French (Grose, T., 2007). This would be done in order to drive a wedge between the Algerian people and the French citizens living there. They had to do this because the Algerians and the French had lived in relative peace for the past 130 years. This is remarked on in the film when one of the military officers’ remarks that the Algerians were basically a decent people and that they had managed to live together for a long time without problems and he didn’t see why they couldn’t continue to do so into the future (Pontecorvo, 1966). In other words the FLN started doing their bombing campaigns as a way to force the French’s hands and to get them to be more brutal towards the Arab peoples who lived there. They eliminated the possibility of compromise, so that there could only be two options: victory/independence or defeat which meant continued occupation by the French and probably the loss of many lives in repercussions by French authorities against the native Algerians. It should be noted that although terrorism was very effective in its original goal its use as a military tactic was a failure the use of terrorism did not yield significant defeats against the French and indeed did little to further their cause. While they did manage to kill several police officers and take down many European civilians they never even get close to taking out anyone who is actually in a position of authority within the French government (Pontecorvo, 1966). Such a successful attack would have lent great legitimacy to their cause but as we see in the film the FLN only manages to target public places like bars and restaurants and civilian targets in things like drive by shootings(Grose, T., 2007). We see throughout the movie that the terrorist tactics used by the FLN does not gain ground against the military occupying Algeria. In fact the opposite seems to be true, the more bombings the FLN carry out, the more the military crackdown on the populace, the more people are apprehended, and the closer the French army gets to wiping out the FLN cells (Pontecorvo, 1966). Indeed it can be said that the campaign of violence only brings the French authorities closer to wiping them out. Seen in this light it can be said that the terrorist bombing campaigns were, at the very least, sorely lacking in producing noticeable military results.   

The other side of the effectiveness coin can be seen in the French army’s use of torture on the Algerian citizens as a way of gleaning necessary information about the FLN. Again we see that these very brutal tactics are very effective in gaining actionable intelligence for the French army about the FLN (Crowdus, G., 2005). These methods which included beatings, burnings, electric shocks, and drowning were all used as ways of getting prisoners to talk (Crowdus, G., 2005). Ignoring the greater moral questions at hand the effectiveness of these methods cannot be argued as the intelligence provided by these methods was eventually used to eliminate the terrorist cells (Crowdus, G., 2005). It is interesting to note that when the military commander was interviewed about the use of torture he disavowed any responsibility that his troops may have had for using such barbarous methods. Instead he placed the responsibility on the French people themselves saying that “when the rebellion first broke out the response was unequivocal, even the communist newspapers said they wanted it crushed.” He basically said that winning the war and staying in Algeria was only possible if these methods were employed and so the question was “do we stay in Algeria? If the answer is yes then the French people have to accept responsibility for what we are doing” (Pontecorvo, 1966). He basically portrays the fact that he is using these methods as the fault of the French people, since no one is trying to stop him from conducting himself in this way. On the converse side we see that, just like the terrorist tactics employed by the FLN, that while torture was very effective its usefulness was rather limited when it came to the overall mission in Algeria. Whilst one aspect of the operation was to crush the rebellion the other aspect was to win the hearts and minds of the Algerian people who were not involved in the FLN, to bring them over to the side of the French. However the efforts of the French to try and reach out to the Algerians seem to be half-hearted at best. We get only one throw away scene of the French handing out bread to the Algerians (Pontecorvo, 1966). It’s as if someone included it as an afterthought on some memo somewhere “oh, by the way, try to win hearts and minds.” The use of torture seems to be equal parts about gleaning necessary information from prisoners about a terrorist network. The other part seems to be about punishing the Algerians for daring to rise up against their “betters.” This use of torture serves to further divide the French people and the Algerians. The more these tactics are used the more the Algerians see that there can be no compromise between themselves and the French and that they must be driven out if they are to live in peace and have their freedom. As an interesting aside, the fact that the French were even able to use torture on the Algerians at all came from a legal technicality. Since Algeria was part of France and not its own country at the time France was not technically at war and thus the Algerians were not afforded the protections of the Geneva conventions. On top of that the Algerians also were not French citizens so they were not able to gain protection from torture under French law. This ambiguous legal status gave the French authorities carte blanche in how they wanted to treat the Algerian prisoners, both before the war and after (Vincent, S., 2007).

The kind of terrorism we see displayed throughout the movie is what can best be described as urban terrorism. This differs from rural terrorism very much but also features striking similarities as well. In both cases you have forces which are highly outmatched by forces which have a much higher level of technological and/ or numerical superiority. And both forces are very prone to the use of hit and run tactics in order to engage this superior enemy (Ardashev, G., Savitch, H.V., 2001). However, the similarities do not stop there, with urban terrorism you usually small organized groups which use bombs to demolish buildings/ inflict civilian casualties. Use of guns is usually reserved for assassination of specific targets, high profile politicians or co-operators in the case of the Algerians. While rural terrorists do use similar devices they use them to different purposes. Those being, usually, to engage with military units which are hunting them (Ardashev, G., Savitch, H.V., 2001). That is one of the key differences between urban and rural terrorism, what can be referred to as a “mingle factor.” In an urban setting tracking terrorists is very difficult because they can simply blend in with ordinary people and move among the populace unnoticed. This present significant problems when it comes to policing and apprehending the culprits (Ardashev, G., Savitch, H.V., 2001). The same cannot be said for rural terrorists these are guerrilla armies who are engaging with actual military units, rather than police forces. As such, while they do use the terrain to their advantage and try to blend in with their surroundings their isn’t really a way for them to disguise themselves as anything other than what they are. In the movie we see the use of terrorism in an urban setting and the viewer is not given a clear idea of what is going on in the outside part of Algeria besides a throwaway line about “continuing the war in the mountains” (Pontecorvo, 1966). This also belies one of the bigger problems when dealing with rural terrorists versus urban terrorists, with urban terrorist cells they are limited to the city scape and as such their ability to hide themselves is limited (Ardashev, G., Savitch, H.V., 2001). We see this throughout the movie with the repeated capture of the various leaders involved in the FLN within Algiers. There are only so many safe houses after all, and usually the ones sheltering the terrorists are threatened in order to make them comply (Pontecorvo, 1966). We see this in the movie where lieutenant-colonel Mathieu threatens to blow up the entire building where one of the FLN leaders, El-Hadi Jaffar, is hiding if he doesn’t surrender himself into the lieutenant-colonel’s custody. This is done again when another one of the leaders, Ali La Pointe, is also cornered at the end of the film by the lieutenant-colonel. Unlike Jaffar however Ali does not surrender and is blown up by the lieutenant-colonel (Pontecorvo, 1966). You can contrast this with the problems dealing with guerrilla armies who use rural terrorism. In a rural setting there are few, if any, people to threaten and boxing the enemy into a corner is much more difficult, if not impossible. Since the enemy has the run of the country side it is much easier for them to hide and strike larger armed bodies when they are not prepared for it. We see this in the movie, while the French army was able to put down the terrorist cells within Algiers they could not wipe out the fighters living in the mountains and countryside (Pontecorvo, 1966). It was these guerrilla fighters who carried the battle and eventually re-inspired the populace to drive out the French and gain there independence. 

The Algerian war has become an international example towards many different terrorist groups in the world. The cell structure of the FLN has been adopted by many terrorist organizations throughout the world, including Al-Qaeda. The reason for this is because it keeps the knowledge of those lower on the totem pole to a very high minimum (Barnett S., 2009). Each cell operates completely independent from the others; a member only knows the name of the other members of his cell and the name of the man who recruited him (Pontecorvo, 1966). In this way it is very difficult, unless you capture someone very high up, like someone on the executive committee, to do serious damage to the overall network. The reason for setting it up this way is twofold. The first being that if captured and tortured for information the damage done to the overall network is limited, a person cannot reveal what they do not know (Prochaska, D., 2003). In the Algerian case this proved useful because each time, in order to find a new member of the executive committee the French army had to start from the bottom up again to try to find someone who could place each member of the executive committee of the FLN (Prochaska, D., 2003).  The second purpose can best be described as the “hydra effect.” As each of the terrorist cells can act independently from the others it is nearly impossible to run all of them down. And even if the directing body of the group is destroyed the remaining cells will scatter to the wind and to work on their own operations and recruit their own members in order to carry on the broader goals of the organization (Barnett S., 2009). This cellular based structure is why the death of Osama Bin-Laden did not mean the end of Al-Qaeda itself. This can be seen in the movie itself, even after eliminating the entire executive directory of the FLN, the organization itself was still viable and well organized in the countryside it was this structure which allowed the cell to continue to operate under general orders and to continue the struggle for Algeria’s independence (Pontecorvo, 1966). These twin factors make this cellular structure very attractive for groups who are trying to operate outside the laws in order to enact a significant change on their society.

The aspect of the media cannot be ignored in its role in the war either. A high level of international attention was paid to this affair on the international level. This is seen in the movie when Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu is seen giving two different press conferences. The first is given after the capture of a high ranking member of the FLN, Ben M’hidi (Pontecorvo, 1966). It is during this interview, where Mr. M’hidi is taking questions, that we see how the media is influencing much of the debate about the war in Algeria (Pontecorvo, 1966). The interview is obviously meant to convey the message of “we’re winning!” to the French people. They are basically parading M’hidi in front of the media as a way of showing the success of the war effort. However the message of the press conference gets muddled when M’hidi starts to put hard accusations against the French army saying basically that they used these terrorist tactics because they lacked the military hardware to fight the French on an equal footing and that they would gladly “trade our bombs in baskets for your helicopters” (Pontecorvo, 1966). It is at this point that lieutenant-colonel Mathieu ushers M’hidi out of the room and says he is “ending this press conference before it has the opposite of the intended effect” (Pontecorvo, 1966). The effect of showing this press conference is to change the idea from “we’re winning!” to “we’re winning?” and it certainly has that effect as the terrorists do come off as more justified in their use of bombing tactics after the end of the conference. This is very interesting because Mathieu is basically saying that he is worried about how the press will portray M’hidi’s comments and that his sentiments might have some measure of effect on the way the public perceives the progression of the war. The second press conference comes later in the film and shows Mathieu taking questions about the war and the tactics his troops used while interrogating prisoners (Pontecorvo, 1966). Again here we see Mathieu doing something interesting, as stated above the lieutenant-colonel does not deny the fact that his troops are using torture to glean information from those they capture (Pontecorvo, 1966). However he portrays the use of these methods as the cost of waging the war and rather places the onus on the French people for what is going on. The media was also of great concern to the resistance movement as well. During the film we repeatedly hear reference to the United Nations and how the U.N. will be debating “the Algerian question” (Pontecorvo, 1966). This shows that the use of terrorist tactics is also being used as a method to garner international attention and to raise awareness of the plight of the Algerian people and hopefully garner the support of the international community (Shoshani, A., Slone, M., 2008). The fact that this ultimately all come to naught is irrelevant. The fact remains that getting their message out and having the U.N. recognize them officially was enough of a concern that they focused much of their attention on it. We see through these conveyed elements the highly important role the media played in the overall perception of the war both in the international community and within France itself (Shoshani, A., Slone, M., 2008).

The role of division is briefly explored in the film. Any Algerians who chose to freely associate themselves with the French were branded traitors to the cause and were executed. We see this in one scene where Ali La-Pointe is told to kill a police officer who gets his information from an Algerian who operates a restaurant (Pontecorvo, 1966). Ali is surprised that he is asked to kill the police officer rather than the co-operator (Pontecorvo, 1966). This means that it would normally be par for the course to kill the owner of the restaurant for helping the French.  Part of this shows that the Algerians were not universally unified in fighting the French but rather that there were divisions among the people and that the reach of the FLN was not unlimited and that, at least early in the film, there were many who did not heed the message of the FLN and instead fought for the occupying French forces (Alexander, M., Keiger, J., 2002). There were many reasons why one of the Algerians would choose to side with the French or at least not heed the FLN. We see at one point in the movie where Ali La-Pointe corners, what appears to be, a successful businessman and says that if he doesn’t stop what he is doing that he will kill him (Pontecorvo, 1966). From the conversation the audience is led to deduce that the businessman is probably running a whorehouse or several (Pontecorvo, 1966). This way of making a living is in conflict with the strict interpretation of Islam which was a large feature of the FLN’s ideology, as mentioned above this would also be why they would have banned the consumption of alcohol by the public. The businessman obviously would not want to give up his livelihood and as such refuses the demands of Ali La-Pointe and is killed for it (Pontecorvo, 1966). We see here the way in which the FLN enforces its edicts by abusing/ killing those who don’t comply. Those whose livelihoods would be severely compromised, such as purveyors of alcohol and the sex trade, should the FLN come to power would of course side with the French. Under French rule there business had flourished and as such they would fell an inclination to want the French to remain in power (Grose, T., 2007). One of the other explanations would be fear; the French had ruled Algeria for 130 years and so most of these people had never known anything except French rule. They didn’t know what kind of government or policies would be put in place once the French were ousted and were afraid that it might be worse than what went on under the French. After all, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. There is also another, much simpler, explanation for why some of the Algerians would side against the FLN and back the French and that is that they simply did not think that the Algerians were capable of winning the war. They wanted to be on the good side of the French when they eventually crushed the rebellion and as such they sided with the French against what they would consider to be a doomed resistance movement (Alexander, M., Keiger, J., 2002).

The final issue to explore is that of the torture tactics used by the French in apprehending the terrorists at work within Algiers. The results garnered by the French and their use of these brutal methods, are undeniable. Ignoring the larger moral questions, as stated above, torture seems to work. The use of intelligence gained through torture led to the destruction of the terrorist cells within the Kasbah (Crowdus, G., 2004). Since the use of torture was successful its use as an intelligence tool is very appealing to those trying to extract information. One very large reason for its appeal is that it is quick and does not involve any bargaining. With torture it is not necessary to reason or bargain with the person who you want information from rather you just hurt him until he tells you what you want to know. While torture of prisoners of war, and prisoners in general, is illegal in most western states the ambiguous nature of the legal status of the Algerians allowed them to be tortured (Vincent S., 2011). This is copied by many governments today when thy use methods to torture individuals and try to defend the use of such methods legally. The government will never refer to the people being held and abused as “prisoners of war” or indeed as “prisoners” at all. Instead they are referred to as “unlawful combatants” or “detainees” (Vincent S., 2011). The reason for this jumble of terms is simple: prisoners of war are afforded certain rights under the Geneva conventions, and legal prisoners/ convicts are also afforded certain rights (Vincent S., 2011). As such, in order to deprive these people of the protections inherent in those titles they change the term by which they are referred to. We see this with the prisoners currently being held in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba by the United States (Vincent S., 2011).

The movie Battle of Algiers is quite interesting in its exploration of all these issues. But does it entertain? Does it work as a movie that not only conveys the history of this brutal war but does it in a way which would be compelling to a mainstream audience? Does it provide character and depth and make the audience understand what went on here? For my verdict I would say yes. The movie does an excellent job showing the conflict on both sides and how there is no true “good-guy” and that terrible things were done by both sides in the war for Algeria’s independence. The fact that there is no true main character the story follows but rather a series of characters caught up in the conflict. Both sides are well represented and the historical context is pretty well explained through the movie. Although there is not really a coherent story in the movie, that is the nature of war itself. It is not about a single person but really about many small stories that make up the whole. This movie is very compelling and shows a side of war that is not often seen in many modern day war films. The movie speaks too many in showing a different kind of war, one without clear protagonists or antagonists and a narrative structure far different from those that most modern movies follow. For those who can get used to those ideas, and don’t mind subtitles, this film is definitely worth a look.

In conclusion there are many aspects to a war, especially one which is not fought between nations but rather is fought by those trying to achieve independence in order to forge their own way in the world. A war is never clean; there is brutality and horror on both sides. There are usually no clear lines about good guys and bad guys. We see all this in the film Battle of Algiers, the necessity of enforcing control for both sides in this conflict led to many atrocities. No one in this war could rightly claim the moral high ground. The film bring to light many issues including the influence of the media on a war, the use of terrorism, both as a military tactic and a way to bring attention to a cause, the divisions which occur in a war for independence, the problems of a liberation movement in gaining/ maintaining legitimacy in the eyes of the international community, and the use and effectiveness of torture in gathering military intelligence. All in all it does admirable job of portraying these issues in an interesting light and is well worth looking into, not only for those who are interested in the war itself but also movies in general.   



Alexander, M., Keiger, J. (2002). France and the Algerian War: Strategy, Operations and Diplomacy. Journal of Strategic Studies. 25(2), 1-32.

Ardashev, G., Savitch, H.V. (2001). Does Terror Have an Urban Future? Urban Studies (Routledge), 38(13), 2515-2533.

Barnett S. (2009). Algerie Francais and Its Implications for Today. National Review. 291(1695), 451-457.

Crowdus, G. (2004). Terrorism and Torture in The Battle of Algiers. Cineaste, 29(3), 30-37.

Gilles, M. (2005). War in Algeria: The French Experience. Military Review 85(4), 51-57.

Grose, T. (2007). The Terrorist Playbook. U.S. News & World Report. 143(5), 62-63.

Pontecorvo, G.  (Director). (1966). Battle of Algiers. [DVD]. Italy: RCS MediaGroup

Prochaska, D. (2003). That Was Then, This Is Now: The Battle of Algiers and After. Radical History Review. 85, 133-150.

Shoshani, A., Slone, M. (2008). The Drama of Media Coverage of Terrorism: Emotional and Attitudinal Impact on the Audience. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 31(7), 627-640.

Vincent, S. (2011). Coercion’s Common Threads: Addressing Vagueness in the Federal Criminal Prohibitions on Torture by Looking to State Domestic Violence Laws. Michigan Law Review. 109(5), 813-847.


The Influence of Intellectuals on Terrorism

The ideas of intellectuals have changed the world in many profound ways. The ideas of the Greek philosophers have influenced all of western thought. The ideas of Rousseau and Adam Smith helped to bring about the great capitalist revolution which brought an end to the old ideas of feudalism, and helped fuel revolutions in both France and America, the ideas of Lenin fueled revolution in Russia and Mao in China and many other places. Religious intellectuals have speculated on the nature and disposition of god and his/her/sits relation to man and atheistic intellectuals have challenged their conceptions of the world and even elevated the ideas of enlightenment to make the world a better place. The role of the intellectual within society should be examined from every angle as their influence on the myriad parts of society is great and not to be underestimated. But what happens when those ideas are used to justify violence? This has always been true of many movements, intellectuals have been used and they have used/ endorsed violence as well in order to lead what they would consider to be justified revolutions against oppressive forces in Russia, China or elsewhere these revolutions were lead by intellectuals and conceived by intellectuals (Kagan, D., 2002). The same can be said for terrorist organizations as well, these are usually lead by intellectuals who funnel frustration away from everyday life and funnel it towards those in power.  This paper will attempt to examine the role of intellectuals in the leadership and commanding roles of revolution and terrorist action, for that is where they always are to be found the educated intellectuals are not the ones who blow up buildings and plant bombs in cars, those tasks are left to the underclass, and the lower grade recruits who are not fit to be the directing minds of the greater order. The intellectuals provide strategy logistical ideas and probably most important of all the philosophical and ideological underpinnings for the use of violence in a given situation, without these backings it is very probable that many of the revolutions around the world would not have happened (Kagan, D., 2002). They are not the ones carrying out the violence; they are the ones telling the other people why they should be carrying out the violence and why the current order must be changed in order to make greater strides in “equality”, “justice”, or whatever else the current order is not providing to the people of a given area. Examining their role is crucial to understanding their function in revolutionary doctrine whether in terrorism or otherwise (Rubenstein, R., 1987).

A point must be made here to define exactly what is meant by an intellectual within the context of a revolutionary/ terrorist apparatus. An intellectual is a person within a movement who is usually in a leadership position, though not always, who has had what we in the west would deem to be a formal education. That is they are usually highly educated and have usually attained some form of degree, or even a PHD (Kampf, H., 1990). The schooling is actually usually done in the west and then they carry this education back to their home countries where they put it to use helping their own people to realize goals of nationhood or independence (Kampf, H., 1990). Please note that as a rule an intellectual does not necessarily have to have left his home country, the intellectuals can have received an education in their own country as well. We saw this with extreme European left-wing terrorists in the 1960’s and 1970’s (Kampf, H., 1990). It is through this education they come to know the principles through which they lead their movements. Another point here which should be addressed in the ideas of these intellectuals and their failure as individuals (Kampf, H., 1990). Many of these intellectuals become radicalized in their higher education in western countries where they receive their education (Kampf, H., 1990). They gain very radical world views and come to see the only way to help their nation is to go underground and found terrorist movements because their views on society are usually so radical that they have little to no chance of actually influencing their society through normal channels (Rubenstein, R., 1987). So, in turn, because of their failure to be able to operate within the system as it is designed leads many of these people will try to influence and radicalize others and get them to join their movement in order to restructure the society along the lines which they think are proper. The types of groups these people form can vary depending on the leanings of the intellectuals backing them. Left wing ideological terrorists tend to be more urbanized and operate within cities again this was seen with groups like European terrorists or the Weather Underground in 1960’s and 70’s (Kampf, H., 1990). Those who are more right leaning tend to form what can be called paramilitary groups this was seen with groups like the Contras in South and Central America in the 1980’s (Rubenstein, R., 1987). 

There are many distinctions which must be made when discussing the role of intellectuals and terrorism. But probably the most important distinction to make is between intellectuals and prophets. Many will think of the idea of prophets as being strictly a religious practice, for groups like Muslim terrorists or those who shoot abortion doctors and quote the bible to justify their actions (Crenshaw, E., Jenkins, C., Robinson, K., 2006). However, while many terrorist groups do use religious underpinnings to justify their violent actions, this is not always the case many revolutionary intellectuals would use the writings of other figures like Marx or Rousseau to fuel their revolutions, while certainly influential these men were not religious figures, and would probably have been deplored to be called such (Crenshaw, E., Jenkins, C., Robinson, K., 2006). Here the definition of prophet is as the originator of an idea, which is subsequently taken and stretched or otherwise repurposed to fit the message of intellectuals who are sponsoring violence. The most readily available of these is probably Karl Marx; while Marx could be considered quite the revolutionary he did not himself lead revolutions (Crenshaw, E., Jenkins, C., Robinson, K., 2006). Others such as Lenin and Mao took his writings and used them as the philosophical underpinnings to bring about their communist revolutions and establish their rule (Crenshaw, E., Jenkins, C., Robinson, K., 2006). For a better point about this it should be shown that intellectuals are always highly educated whereas prophets often are not. For an example of this you need look no further than Jesus of Nazareth who was a poor uneducated carpenter’s son. And then you look at all the harm that others have done in his name, shooting abortion doctors, protesting soldier funerals, and many other things. Prophets are the ones who make societal recommendations and give ideas on ways to better humanity. Intellectuals pick up that ball and run with it in order to actually bring about change in their own lands (Rubenstein, R., 1987). Again the example of Lenin is worth bringing up; he was an educated man who became a leader and articulator for much of the revolutionary ideas which were going on at the time. However Lenin’s ideas were firmly grounded in permutations of Marx and those informed his revolutionary doctrine to try and change his society (Crenshaw, E., Jenkins, C., Robinson, K., 2006). This can also be seen in the doctrines of other revolutionary idealists like Mao and Ho Chi Minh.  The other point for the distinction is that, as the term prophet implies, the figure is treated with almost a religious air to them even if they themselves are not a religious figure. This can be seen again in the almost religious fascination with which some revolutionary intellectuals treat Karl Marx and his writings (Crenshaw, E., Jenkins, C., Robinson, K., 2006). In another case of a prophet’s writings being taken out of context we can see how the ideas of capitalist writers like Adam Smith are used to justify much of the Laissez-Faire capitalist ideology of today especially the ideas of deregulation which are present in today’s society (Crenshaw, E., Jenkins, C., Robinson, K., 2006).. Smith was a capitalist and an advocate of the capitalist system of economics but even he advocated the businesses should have morals to them. Other intellectuals like Ayn Rand took that ball and ran with it basically classifying altruism as a bad thing (Crenshaw, E., Jenkins, C., Robinson, K., 2006).. We can see here how intellectuals will have their own ideas and will take the words of previous philosophers, even out of context, to try and for a better backing of their ideas.          

Another point must be made on direct versus indirect influence when referring to intellectuals and violence/ terrorism. What is meant by this is that there are intellectuals who directly lead violent movements and endorse violence and then there are those whose writings and perspectives have are taken by others and used as a justification or philosophical underpinning for violent or terrorist actions. For a concrete example of this probably the most pertinent case is that of Nietzsche and the Nazi party of Germany (Rubenstein, R., 1987). Nietzsche died in 1900, however his writings, especially the ideas of the death of god and the dissolution of all moral horizons, were very influential to the ideas of the Nazis since there was no religious backing to the world and no moral ideas anymore then there was no reason not to kill off six million innocent people and perform cruel experiments on them (Rubenstein, R., 1987). Nietzsche’s writings helped to influence these ideas with rhetoric about the rule of the strong over the weak as the natural course of the world. Though Nietzsche was not an anti-Semite himself, his writings were appropriated by his sister and her husband in order to give greater articulation and philosophical underpinning to their ideas and thus give their ideas legitimacy (Rubenstein, R., 1987). The context should also be seen here since this is a case of state terror rather than terrorist action carried out by non-state actors. Specific circumstances such as already existing racial tensions and the collapse of the German economy in the early 1920’s fueled an atmosphere which was conducive to the anti-Semitic rhetoric language of Hitler and those who followed him. As such Nietzsche certainly was not the beginning of these ideas however his writings were used in order to help justify what was going on and to give philosophical backing to their policies and regime (Rubenstein, R., 1987). We can see here how the subsequent writings of individuals can be lifted away from their intended meaning and instead be used in an indirect way to influence or justify violence.

This can then be contrasted with the direct influence and calls to violence by intellectuals. The point must be made that intellectuals drive movements. George Orwell once said that movements do not come from the lower classes (Place, T., 2003).  This can be seen in that those that lead movements are usually very well educated and furthermore are usually not part of the lower classes. The inspiration for revolution almost always comes from above, but not from the ruling class these men are usually form a background which lands them somewhere in the middle. They are not trapped by the never ending drudgery which holds the lower classes but nor are they part of the ruling elite and as such they cannot attain the influence they desire within society (Rubenstein, R., 1987). These men, because it is men most often, are the ones who provide the catalyst for dissent against oppressive regimes or other governments. The lower echelons of a society lack the cohesion necessary to both mobilize on and vocalize their dissent, this is in part because of the poverty and lack of resources available to them but also it is a matter of logistics since the downtrodden usually make up the greater majority of a society the problems of organizing such a large mass into action (Rubenstein, R., 1987). The other large factor is educational, the lower classes of society are usually far less educated than those higher up as such the lower parts of society usually lack even the basic language necessary to articulate the nature of their suffering (Rubenstein, R., 1987). This is the vital role of the intellectuals in one capacity they are able to introduce the concept to those who are less fortunate that their lot is not fair or justified and that they can change the circumstances of their living.  

The directive function of intellectuals is paramount within the idea of revolution or terrorist violence (Payne, K., 2009). Many believe that it is suffering or injustice directed to the greater mass of people in an area ruled by a certain government. However this is not the case, there has never been a historical example where the infliction of pure misery on the people has produced revolutionary ideas or change (Rubenstein, R., 1987). The directive for revolutionary movements and terrorist ideals comes from without, from a different group. As stated previously these are usually among the more educated middle class of a given society (Payne, K., 2009). The statement must be made her that the middle class has always existed; it has simply changed membership overtime. The directive function of intellectuals is that they provide the necessary logistics for violence, while there are some cases of uneducated individuals aspiring to the higher ranks of the directorship of movements, we see such a case with Ali La-Pointe in The Battle of Algiers, this tends to be more of a rarity on a twofold front (Payne, K., 2009). Firstly it is much more difficult for those without an education to understand the subtleties necessary in waging this kind of campaign and the necessary organizational structures involved to successfully carry out this sort of campaign (Payne, K., 2009). Secondly and perhaps most importantly of all, the intellectuals do not want those below them getting any ideas as to their station, allowing those form the lower class to take up leadership positions might give the lower classes the idea that they can do this on their own and then the intellectuals would either be tossed aside or relegated to a subordinate position, such as an advisory role, below the new leadership. This is simply unacceptable to most intellectuals since they were usually the ones that crystallized the movement to begin with (Epstein, G., Gang, I. 2007). The other reason for this is because, while most of the intellectuals do want to change the lot of people it is their own lot they are most interested in changing. Remember the intellectuals who fuel these movements are outside the power structure of the main government and are looking for a way in. If the structure of the current regime will not accommodate them then they will change the structure in such a way that they are in charge (Kagan, D., 2002). This is not to say that they don’t care about their fellow man and want to help them have a better life, it is just that they don’t want the lower classes getting the wrong idea, which is that they can lead themselves (Kagan, D., 2002). Instead it is to be left to the new reigning intellectuals, in the case of a successful revolution, to guide and administer new laws, because the lower classes obviously could not lead themselves (Kagan, D., 2002). Here we see the directive function of intellectuals when the lead revolutionary movements or terrorist organizations they are there not only to lead but to also keep the lower masses in line and make sure they stay with the program and do not get out of hand.

The command position is another aspect to the directive function which should be analyzed in that intellectuals normally do not inhabit the lower ranks of revolutionary movements (Rubenstein, R., 1987). They fill out the leadership positions within the upper ranks of these organizations. Why is that? Well the main reasons were highlighted above but another has to deal with wealth. Normally the intellectuals have access to much larger amounts of money than the lower echelons of a given society and as such possess the funding necessary for things like bribes, but they also usually possess more power and greater access than those below them and as such it is only natural that they would take up leadership positions within a given movement (Rubenstein, R., 1987) . A practical example would simply be Osama Bin-Laden, who was a very wealthy and highly educated man who, until his death last year, led the terrorist organization of Al-Qaeda (Farall, L., 2011). This man fulfilled all of the above listed conditions under which intellectuals normally lead terrorist organizations, he provided financial backing and logistical support to various terrorist cells throughout the world and provided the philosophical backing for their operations and serves as a sort of real world boogey man in order to keep scaring the west (Farall, L., 2011). In this context we see again a distinction between the role of an intellectual in actually leading a movement and his use of the prophet Mohammed and the Koran in order to back his philosophy up (Farall, L., 2011). So in this context you can see the natural inclination of intellectuals to rise to the upper echelons of revolutionary movements and terrorist groups and guide these movements onwards.

Philosophy was briefly touched on but needs further elaboration. The ideas and philosophical underpinnings of a movement are often expressed through its intellectual leaders; this is mainly done through re-articulating points which had been previously brought up by others. The permutations of ideology can be seen in their doctrine and the philosophies on which the government is structured. More on how a government is structured, in the event of a nationalist terrorist movement, like the ETA in Spain or the FLN in Algeria, if the movement ends up achieving its goals for independence how is the government going to be structured? Along what ideological lines? What will the constitution look like? These are all huge logistical questions which are usually answered by intellectuals. It is the intellectuals who design governments after a successful revolution as what was seen in Algeria after the expulsion of the French forces and the victory of the FLN the exiled leadership returned to Algeria and began to restructure the government, a leadership which was primarily composed of educated men (Kagan, D., 2002). To use an even more famous example, the founding fathers of the United States were all intellectuals’ men who designed the government to work a certain way after the British had been kicked out (Kagan, D., 2002). The logistical points of creating a proper administration are left to intellectuals for two main reasons the first being that they are the ones with the educational training necessary in order to actually place laws and institutions in order to help govern a population. This is essential it takes people of learning to be able to understand the minutia of day to day law and how to run and also design systems of government which can help to stabilize a government and keep it in place and protect it from counter-revolution (Rubenstein, R., 1987). These measures need to be implemented with care and thought and knowledge of how these systems work and as such it require a person or group of people to configure the logistics of how to set up such a government t(Kagan, D., 2002). The second reason was discussed earlier once the intellectuals behind a movement gain power they do not want to share said power and as such they will take said opportunity to design a government in which they are the source of power and legal authority, this is done primarily so that the uneducated masses do not get any strange ideas about their place in the hierarchy. This can be seen in the original intentions of the founding fathers that were said to originally believe that only their class, land owners, should be allowed to vote. Again we can see here that the intellectuals not only take leadership positions for ideological or logistical purposes but also as a method of safeguarding there power so it is not taken from them when they do win (Rubenstein, R., 1987).  

The legal and legitimate aspect must be discussed when talking about intellectuals. Legal authority, that is authority of law, holds with a government in this day. However legitimacy is something entirely different, it is the rightfulness of the government’s authority in the eyes of the people. In other words do the people agree with the government’s authority and allow them to exercise that authority freely (Payne, K., 2009). An intellectual backing helps in both cases especially in revolutionary terrorism and if the revolution succeeds. Firstly the intellectual underpinnings of a revolutionary movement are, as a general rule, not recognized by a governing authority. This is usually because the revolutionary says that the government is illegitimate and therefore has no right to rule (Payne, K., 2009). Obviously no ruling party is going to recognize such a movement. However a proper intellectual backing can lead the general populace to also regard the current government an illegitimate regime (Payne, K., 2009). This is incredibly important for without the backing of the majority of a population the revolutionaries will have a hard time holding onto power. The philosophies of a revolutionary movement will usually appeal t sense of nationalism and group solidarity along with addressing the perceived “injustices” that their people are currently suffering under and telling them that supporting their movement will help them solve those problems (Payne, K., 2009). Whether or not this is actually true or not is beside the point. This language is attractive to those who feel they have been wronged and that the current movement could help to redress those wrongs. In this context it is possible for a non-governmental agency to shift the legitimacy of a government from the actual governing body onto itself, we see this in the case of the battle of Algiers (Payne, K., 2009). The FLN contains most of the legitimate authority in the eyes of the Algerian people, this is how they were able to order and enforce a general strike and the French authorities were helpless to stop it (Prochaska, D., 2003). The legal ramifications are also present here, though the FLN had legitimate authority in the eyes of the people and the French government did not. However the FLN did gain legal authority after the French withdrew from Algeria (Prochaska, D., 2003). The recognition of the FLN was done by other nations after they set up a government. This government which would have been designed by the intellectuals within the FLN movement (Prochaska, D., 2003). The other good example of this would be modern China, after the successful communist revolution and the fleeing of the Chinese royal family into exile, the western powers, up until the 1970’s, refused to acknowledge the Communists as the legal government of China and instead the seat at the U.N. was filled by the government in exile in Taiwan (Crenshaw, E., Jenkins, C., Robinson, K., 2006). The United States government opened up trade relations with China in the 1970’s and was recognized by the west as the legal government of China. This was due in no small part to the effect of Mao and his ideas which had spread across the globe (Crenshaw, E., Jenkins, C., Robinson, K., 2006). And also the demonstration that the Communists could support their government and have a stable rule benefitted them in getting recognition as the legal government in place of the dispossessed royal family.

Glory and credit are to points which are not often explored when dealing with intellectuals and terrorism/ revolution but those points must be brought up. The intellectuals who represent these movements for better or for worse receive the greater portion of the credit when the plans they make are carried out, they serve as figureheads and focal points for all the operations which go on they get the glory when things go right even though the soldiers/ grunts often go unrewarded. The intellectuals are the ones who are usually credited with formulation of strategy or implementation of certain actions, it was the directorship of the FLN which was blamed for the general strike not the individual low level sympathizers because it was the directorship of the FLN which put together the idea of the strike in the first place (Prochaska, D., 2003). Serving as figureheads and examples is a two sided coin however, for as they may take credit for the successes of their movement they also take the blame when things go wrong. This is where you sometimes see leaders removed after a major screw up. The glory aspect is a big point as well, we see this with a man like Osama Bin-Laden who serves as a figurehead for the Al-Qaeda network and subsequently served as a focal point for the hatred of the west. The glory of this is that this was his goal the whole time (Farall. L., 2011).

The speech act nature of terrorism can be very attractive to intellectuals in terrorist movements. These acts are bold statements against the established order of things. As previously alluded to in earlier in the essay most of these intellectuals can be termed as failed individuals and as such their ability to get their message heard is quite limited. For this reason the speech act nature of terrorism is quite appealing as it draws immediate attention to them and their group as well as their ideas on society and what they are trying to accomplish (Soares, J., 2007). The great example of this comes from Al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks. Before these attacks very few in the world, especially the west, actually knew of Al-Qaeda or its goals. However, after the attacks the whole world stood up and took notice of them. Now there was a large degree of backfire to this plan since Al-Qaeda’s greater goals of deposing the royal house of Saud from rule of Saudi Arabia and the removal of all American military presence from the Middle East in general and Saudi Arabia in particular were not actually articulated after the attacks and this was instead translated into a message mongering campaign about the terrorists “hating us for our freedom” (Farall. L., 2011). This action was also meant to show that the United States could not just intervene wherever it pleased and not suffer any consequences for their actions. Again this backfired as an idea because the United States portrayed it as a completely unprovoked attack (Farall. L., 2011). So while the act of attacking the World Trade Center certainly did draw international attention to them it did not aid in the spreading of their message. After all many people in the United States would prefer to entertain some utterly ridiculous idea that the government of their own country executed the attacks in order to use them as an excuse to invade the middle east, rather than think that Al-Qaeda might actually have had a goal in what they did (Farall. L., 2011). So while the speech act nature of terrorism may certainly be appealing to the intellectuals who lead these movements it does not in any way guarantee that the proper message will get through. The other issue is that while the message may get across there is also no guarantee that the world at large will heed such a message. The good example of this would come from the FLN of Algeria, while the café bombings and attacks on police officers did earn them the notice of the wider world about their plight and their quest for independence from domination by French authority, there message was ignored by the wider world (Prochaska, D., 2003). As such the intellectual leaders of that movement had to learn that they could not look to the outside world to help address their concerns and desire for nationhood and recognition and so they could only look to their own people if they were to address their concerns (Prochaska, D., 2003).

Extremism as a concept is necessary to be analyzed when dealing with intellectuals in terrorist movements this is because most of these people ascribe to what we in the west would term extremist views on the world (Payne, K., 2009). The goals of many of these movements would be considered extreme because many of these movements do not just sponsor themselves in the ideas of aspiring to statehood or influencing governmental policy through violence. Many of these movements define themselves in opposition to certain people in addition to their other goals. Though the FLN did oppose French rule and desired their own state they also ascribed to a much more extremist view that the French and Algerian people could not actually live together and as such they bombed civilian targets in order to not only gain attention but in order to drive a wedge between the French people and the Algerians and force a crackdown by French authorities in ordered to drive this viewpoint home (Prochaska, D., 2003). They were not interested in peaceful coexistence, they wanted the French, all the French not just the military regime, to have to leave Algeria and as such their campaign was driven by this idea to remove the French and force them all to have to leave (Prochaska, D., 2003). Another good example would be the IRA before the cease fire; the IRA was fighting for a unified Ireland but was not only battling against British forces but also against the Ulster Protestants who were fighting to keep Northern Ireland as part of the British government. They did this because they were afraid of what would happen to them as Protestants in a majority Catholic nation. You can see here again then extremist side view being that, even if they are both Irish, the Protestants and Catholics simply cannot live together peacefully (Payne, K., 2009). You see this as well with the PLO and Israel underlying each ideology, an ideology which was formed by intellectuals, that these peoples simply cannot live together in peace and as such require a state apparatus of their own.

As a final point the distinction between religious terrorism and nationalist terrorism should be made with regards to intellectual influence. This is directly because the goals of these organizations are usually very different. This is not to say that nationalistic terrorists do not have some religious motivations, the IRA was devoutly catholic and the FLN based many of their policies around their Muslim heritage the religious ideas are not their primary backing when it comes to their movement. Instead most of these ideas are grounded in statehood and in this independent culture group to have their own state. As stated previously this is based around the idea that the two culture groups simply cannot live together in peace, you see this reflected in the writing of intellectuals who support such movements. However with religious terrorism those ideas take a back seat towards demonstrations of religious fervor against those who have differing beliefs. Al-Qaeda might come to mind when primarily thinking of religious terrorists, and they do have a stated goal of wanting to set up a global Islamic republic this is more of a “pie in the sky” idea that does not have a real chance of realization and furthermore Al-Qaeda has practical political goals it wishes to achieve (Cook, D. 2009). For the true ideas behind religious terrorism the lens should be focused on the extreme fringe of the Christian right-wing in the United States, specifically the people who shoot abortion doctors and bomb abortion clinics, these people do not really have practical political goals they wish to achieve, beyond the repeal of Roe v. Wade in order to make abortion illegal again (Payne, K. 2009). This is not done for practical political reasons or because they aspire to their own nation, their primary motivation is taken from a literal interpretation of the bible as they see it. Though again this is being interpreted because the bible does not specifically ban the practice of abortion. These people believe they have a god given mission, which is backed by the rhetoric of right-wing Christian intellectuals like Pat Robertson or the late Jerry Falwell in order give them coherence and guide them on their path to violence (Payne, K. 2009). These people’s goals are markedly different than those of revolutionary terrorists mainly because the revolutionary terrorists are trying to work toward a practical goal of statehood/ independence the religious intellectuals will charge their followers with “missions from god” which are to be carried out. The influence of the intellectuals can be seen in both cases just going in different directions. And as a distinctive point here extremist Marxist terrorists also count as religious terrorism because they are not seeking independence or statehood from a government. They are trying to enact religiously Marxist viewpoint in order to change their society (Kagan, D., 2002). This distinction may seem strange because they are not on a “mission from god.” However, they are it just happens that their “god” happens to be Karl Marx.

In conclusion, it can be seen that intellectuals play a heavy role in revolutionary movements. They take the ideas of previous men and interpret them for their own purposes. Whether it be for the desire of gaining independence and international recognition or a divine mission from god these intellectuals form the philosophical background for revolutionary and terrorist movements. But it is more than just philosophy that backs these movements for which they are responsible. Indeed in many cases it is the movements themselves which have been set up and organized by these intellectuals and as such they are the ones who are directly responsible for much of their conduct. Many of these movements would never have existed in their cohesive forms if not for the influence of the intellectuals upon society (Rubenstein, R., 1987). So it can best be seen as a mixed blessing. However their influence is undeniable and their impact on society, for better or for worse, cannot be argued. These movements will continue into the foreseeable future as long as these feel the need to express their views through violence and to have others carry out that violence. And so the influence of intellectuals can be seen at every level within these movements and groups and will continue for a long time to come.    



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Crenshaw, E., Jenkins, C., Robinson, K., (2006). Ideologies of Violence: The Social Origins of Islamist and Leftist Transnational Terrorism. Social Forces. 84(4) 2009-20026.

Epstein, G., Gang, I. (2007). Who is the Enemy? Defence & Peace Economics. 18(6), 469-484.

Farall, L. (2011). How Al-Qaeda Works. Foreign Affairs. 90(2), 128-138.

Kagan, D. (2002). Terrorism and the Intellectuals. Intercollegiate Review. 37(2), 3-8.

Kampf, H. (1990). Terrorism, the left wing, and the intellectuals. Terrorism. 13(1). 23-51.

Payne, K. (2009). Winning the Battle of Ideas: Propaganda, Ideology, and Terror. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. 32(2), 109-128.

Place, T. (2003). Orwell’s 1984. Explicator. 61(2), 108-111.

Prochaska, D. (2003). That Was Then, This Is Now: The Battle of Algiers and After. Radical History Review. 85, 133-150.

Rubenstein, R. (1987). Alchemists of Revolution – Terrorism in the Modern World. New York: Basic Books.

Soares, J. (2007). Terrorism as Ideology in International Relations. Peace Review. 19(1). 113-118.


"Fun Home" by Alison Bechdel and "Epileptic" by David B: A Comparative Essay

The idea of inter family conflict is not new to literary form and practice. It is one of the mainstays of fiction and literature in the world. This is because it is an idea to which almost all people can relate to each person has a family and within that unit there are always different forms of conflict, from parental fights to, to sibling rivalry, relations between parents and their children. Inter family-conflict is a jumping off point for many stories however usually in most stories the families resolve their conflicts and get back together in order to properly resolve the conflict and finish out the story with a happy ending. But what happens when this does not happen? Very few books explore the idea of familial destruction when a force causes huge amounts of conflict within a family. But that issue is, in and of itself, never resolved? Instead it continues? a worm which moves throughout the characters life and affects every aspect of who they are even if they are unaware of it? The idea is interesting and the graphic novels Epileptic by David B. and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel we see the idea of familial destruction explored quite interestingly however these books have while they have similar themes they have drastically different styles and interpretations as to how they deal with the conflict within their lives which results from other members of their family.

Within both of the novels the idea of conflict within the family comes from outside the main character and both stories are about how they deal with the conflict of their families and the “conditions” from which the members of their family suffer from. Within David B.’s novel the story is about his epileptic brother and problems that caring for him cause within his family. The family’s whole life, not to mention budget, is entirely devoted to caring for David’s brother Jean-Christophe (J.C.), the family uproots itself and moves all over France in order to find some way to treat his brother’s condition. This action of uprooting their family every couple of years causes huge amounts of conflict within the family. The entire focus of the David’s parents is on caring for J.C. rather than on looking after them all. This has disastrous consequences for their other two children their numerous instances throughout the book where David becomes violent and attacks his older brother. He also talks about how conflicted and filled with loathing he is towards his brother and how he would like to kill him, or at least have him kill himself. This latent, and sometimes overt, hostility towards his brother is explored throughout the novel. This attention deficiency also has a very bad effect on his little sister Florence such as in page 160, panel 3, where she attempts to commit suicide by swallowing a bunch of pills.

The problem of J.C.’s epilepsy weaves itself through David’s life and influences everything around it we see from the comic that during large parts of his formative years he thought in terms of his brother’s epilepsy that the disease would take him over and destroy all of the kids. However this does not happen to him. It also causes David to be incredibly withdrawn he armours himself against the world and he can’t talk about himself or what is happening to him. The other big effect that J.C.’s epilepsy has on David is that it strips him of all sense of belief. Frequently throughout the novel we see David refer to himself as not believing in anything. Specifically we see a part in page 166, panel 6 where David doesn’t tell his parents about strange sensations he has which he likens to explosions in his head because he doesn’t want them to subject him to “quack doctors and fake healers.” This part of David’s life we see is overly influenced by his brother, he spends much of his time thinking about his brother and the way his disease is destroying his family. And that is part of the central conclusion of the early part of the novel is that his brothers disease destroyed his family. But as great as David’s hostility towards his brother is, he seems to have an even greater hostility towards the world. All of the people who keep trying to take advantage of his well-meaning parents, many of whom are obviously frauds who are just after their money and others who just seem to be misguided and not know what they are doing. He believes all of them to be another reason why his family is so messed up because his parents keep looking for a way to cure his brother and they keep stringing them along with unfulfilled promises. But he says that his parents, especially his mother, couldn’t live with the guilt if they hadn’t tried absolutely everything to try and cure his brother. This perception further reinforces itself throughout most of David’s early years. These ideas demonstrate the way in which David’s brother’s epilepsy destroys his family and their life together.

Alison Bechdel’s father Bruce has a similar, if less pronounced, effect on her life and indeed on all of her family. Bechdel’s father is a closeted homosexual; this is revealed early in the novel on page 17, panel 1, we see Alison talk about how her father liked to have sex with teenage boys. From this point on we can see the differences in how this influences both Alison and her father Bruce. Bruce, on first blush, seems to be a very angry man he seems to fly into a rage at almost the slightest provocation. And really part of this seems to be influenced by his closet homosexuality the fact that he cannot express himself in ways which he would like obviously leaves him with a sense of frustration and loss which is expressed through his bad temperament. The early part of the book talks about how a lot of Alison’s mannerism’s and nature come from her derision for her father’s taste and style of living. Her father loved tassels, crystal trappings and artful finishes. Alison says she never saw the point of all the intricate designs and elaborate features which were festooned all across her childhood home. And in fact the immense amount of time necessary to maintain the objects in the house is one of the main reasons why Alison sours on those things. This is not idle however, as the fascination with what would some would term the “trappings of feminine excess” would be indicators of his sexual tastes. Indeed on page 97 panel 2 Alison states that despite the near tyrannical power that her father wielded over her family he was actually a “big sissy.” By this we are meant to take away that her father was very effeminate indeed on page 120 panel 1 we see her father dressed up in a woman’s bathing suit but rather than looking silly or embarrassed Alison describes her father as looking elegant.

We see the way in which her father’s closeted homosexuality ends up destroying his family the way that J.C.’s epilepsy ends up destroying his. Later in the book we learn that her father had affairs with men and that his wife knew he was having them. This would very obviously cause problems with his family, in fact after all the kids have left for college, or elsewhere, his wife tries to divorce him. She says it’s because she’s fed up with living a lie and putting up with all the baggage that comes with her husband actually being gay. The revelation of her father’s big secret comes only after she outs herself as lesbian it’s at that time that her mother tries to respond to her and her father rights a letter to her. Oddly it’s her father who seems far more supportive of her decision than her mother is, in her father’s letter he quasi-tries to come out to her but he doesn’t in the end. The real test of everything was when her father was charged with serving alcohol to a minor, although we never learn what the full list of charges is, the fact that it stems from him trying to pick up a young man, presumably for sexual purposes. He was caught and charged, had this come to light it would have drastically changed the way they lived as his father would have been publicly rather than privately outed as a homosexual.

An odd similarity to note between the two is that both David B. and Alison Bechdel come from two parent households with three children which are comprised of two boys and a girl.

There are a number of differences between the two narratives despite the similarities when it relates to abnormal conditions causing familial destruction. The biggest difference between Bechdel’s father and David B.’s brother is that of private vs. public the inter-family conflict in Epileptic is caused by the very public nature of his brothers condition, the fact that J.C. can have a seizure at any time leads to large amount of tension and the fact that said seizures often happen in public means that people gawk at him and they become a spectacle for others to view this idea is illustrated in the book starting on page 235 panel 3 and continuing up to page 237 panel 1. Bruce’s shame is private and it is the suppression of his desires that leads to his frustration and rage which he subsequently ends up taking out on his family. However had Bruce been exposed to the public it might have caused a similar issues in the small town that their family lived in. however Bruce’s condition as a closeted homosexual has another large difference from J.C. and that is the aspect of control the ideas are both similar and different. David’s brother J.C. becomes enraged because his condition means he cannot control himself and his seizures throw him into chaos as such he looks for a way to control his own life. Conversely Bruce becomes enraged because he must keep control of himself at all times and supress his urges because he is unable to express himself in a way that he wants to.

The art style in these two books is very dissimilar but it does have two central similarities. Those being firstly, that they both have a relatively cartoonish style where the human beings are not really depicted in a realistic fashion, as we learned from Mcloud using more iconic characters results in people empathizing more with those characters because the reader has to project their own emotions onto that character (Mcloud, 130 p 5-6). The cartoonish style evoked by both authors helps the reader to better connect and empathize with those involved.

And secondly is the large presence of contextualizing text, almost every image within the novel is bordered by text which explains the situation the art is depicting. This is very nice for the reader, because it helps to give context to the images that we are seeing and how they relate to the overall story. This is a great help especially in David B.’s book because of the very surreal nature of the images which he creates.

These however are the only real similarities that the two books share in art style. While the stories themselves may evoke a similar theme with the relatives of their main characters suffering from publicly stigmatized conditions and the havoc they cause on their family. The way in which the artists have chosen to represent their respective conflicts are almost polar opposites of one another.

Bechdel uses a very literal interpretation to show the conflict in her home with her father. There is no strange imagery, there is no weird symbolism. She depicts things as they are and how they went. Her father doesn’t morph into some kind of giant monster when he gets mad. He just gets mad. This doesn’t make the impact of his rage any less impressive it simply grounds it in real world consequences of his actions. The art style which Bechdel utilizes to tell her story is highly reminiscent of newspaper comic strips such as For Better or For Worse. In that there isn’t any real symbolism within the depiction itself it’s just people talking or acting, the meaning is contextualized not in the image but in the text which explains the imagery. This style gives an impression of normalcy and ordinariness to the proceedings taking place within Alison’s home. The art style doesn’t evoke strangeness or the bizarre as part of the story and instead simply uses the literal images to complement the literal story.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is David B. his art style is highly symbolic, bordering on the surreal. The use of imagery such as the devil or the grim reaper, people with bird heads, people with cat heads, and distortions in size and perspective abound throughout the work. There’s something of Salvador Dali in the way that David B. writes his stories. One would not be that surprised to find some kind of melting clock somewhere within David’s work. The bizarre nature of his depiction such as depicting epilepsy as a dragon which attacks his brother or conversely having his psychological and emotional armour represented as literal armour which he wears shows how the literalness of the world can be severely altered. This symbolism is especially relevant to David’s brother because of the changes in perspective which are evoked when his brother has a seizure. This is a way of symbolizing the magnitude of power that the disease holds, not only over him but over his entire family.

The destruction of a family is a terrible thing. And it is not an issue that many books can deal with on any comfortable level. However these two books try to deal with that issue and the conflict which causes it. In both cases those causes are conditions over which the party suffering from them has no control over. J.C. suffering from epilepsy and Bruce being a closet homosexual brings large amounts of conflict into theirs and their family’s lives. And the way in which they have to deal with that conflict ends up pulling lives apart. David’s life is complicated because his parents must focus all their attention on caring for his older brother. With Alison her father’s frustration which expresses itself as rage and his obvious feminine traits end up influencing her to become more distant from her father and to try and make herself different from him by becoming less girly and more masculine. Both of these graphic novels explore these issues unfortunately the issues only get resolved after the subject of the story, J.C. and Bruce, end up dying. Perhaps to say that such issues are only ever resolved after the person with the issue is no longer there.  


Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. New York: Mariner Books., 2006.

B., David. Epileptic. New York: Random House., 2002

Mcloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: Harper Collins., 1993


On Marxism and Religion

Marxism and religious thought have been at odds for a long time, especially with advent of the cold war and the subsequent issues raised by many about religion. The founding principles of Marxism, collective ownership of the means of production, the abolition of private property, and the ideas about the collective good of mankind in place of individual gain and exploitation. These ideas would seem to be at direct opposites not only with modern capitalism but with the direction implied by most modern western theologies which in many ways are complicit with and actively enabling of these power structures which exist for exploitative purposes (Aptheker, H. (1968). Indeed it was the support of these exploitative regimes in his own life time which led Marx to condemn religion as whole as a supporter of despotism, conservatism, exploitation and the status quo. And indeed in many of his insights he has been unerringly correct in his original interpretations of the institutionalized power structure of modern churches (Aptheker, H. (1968). (Speaking not just about Catholics, but Protestants and also many Muslim thinkers in the countries where there religion is dominant.) Indeed many of the worst atrocities in history have been perpetrated in the name of god or gods. These facts are all indisputable and that the influence of institutionalized religion has been a negative force throughout most of its history is also simply a matter of fact. And many would say that Marx’s analysis of religion has been that doing away with religious belief would benefit the world in many ways. Indeed the old axiom of Marx about religion being the “opium of the people” has great resonance with many on the left because many see the religions of their homes supporting horrible regimes and being complicit in the power structures which make many miserable and do not try to inspire people to try and change their circumstances but to merely hope for a release from suffering tin the nest life. Many of the more aggressively atheist of people usually put it in terms of “getting rid of god would place focus on the here and now, rather than some imaginary afterlife” (Aptheker, H. (1968). The point overall has been to do away with religious principle and replace it with straightforward scientific materialism. However this view has many fundamental flaws and those can be traced to a fundamental misunderstanding of Marx’s thrust about religion, the nature of religion itself both from a Marxist and non-Marxist perspective, and finally the purpose of religion and its role life as contrasted with scientific materialism. This paper will attempt to address these issues and perhaps show that Marxist and religious principle are not as at odds as many people would think they are.

First thing’s first and that is to address the fundamental arguments Marx uses against religion, (and Christianity in particular). Those arguments can be boiled down to the church’s complicity in capitalist expansion and the institution of private property which deprived many of their livelihoods and that the church took focus off of changing present circumstances and instead promised redemption in an illusory afterlife (Aptheker, H. (1968). Marx’s advocacy of change and creating a truly free and equal society included the dissolution of all religions. Many left wing thinkers have taken this to mean that religion should be actively opposed, shamed, and ridiculed in an effort to push religious thought out of existence, indeed many “communist” regimes tried to actively do this, such as Russian cosmonauts who “pierce the sky and encounter no angels” (Aptheker, H. (1968). However to adopt this attitude is to mistake the nature of Marx’s arguments about religion itself. Under a Marxist conception of history religion is borne from alienation, or lack of control over oneself or ones surroundings (Aptheker, H. (1968). In this conception man sees a lack of control over forces which govern his life and the way it is lived and imagines the principles which govern such things to be represented outside himself, in this way he makes up rituals and ceremonies in order to placate these forces which he imagines to be outside himself, i.e. burnt offerings, taking of communion, virgin sacrifices, etc. certain men prey upon these alienating factors  and attempt to control people through the institutionalization of this alienation and forming structures to sanctify this alienation in the minds of the people in order to feed the status quo (Aptheker, H. (1968). Many leftist – atheist thinkers tend to take these points and use them to actively oppose religious principles and talk about how as long as religion exists people can never be truly free. However this is an inversion Marx’s argument, Marx did not argue for an active opposition to religion in order to free people, he argued for freeing people in order to oppose religion (Aptheker, H. (1968). Under a Marxist conception, the idea of actively opposing religion is a waste of time because it puts too much focus on god (Aptheker, H. (1968). Indeed since the essence of religion is borne out of man’s alienation, the simple principle should be to end man’s alienation and from that ending of alienation religion will simply wither away on its own since the essential reason for its existence no longer applies (Aptheker, H. (1968).  So under the original thrust of a Marxist argument religion, religion should not even be considered when addressing corrections in society.

The unfortunate thrust of the Marxist argument is that it sees in religion an exploitative role in human society. That it is a framework to keep people in line so they do not try to oppose authority or correct suffering (Aptheker, H. (1968). And while this has been true through large parts of human society and there have been many cases where the religious structures of a society have backed the wealthy and the powerful and have condoned some of the worst atrocities in history. But the problem with that is it mistakes the nature of religion and religious philosophy. Religion is about imposing a moral order upon a society; however that order can vary heavily depending on the philosophy backing it (Girardi, G. (1968). However there are certain commonalities which cross all religions. The biggest being the idea of an afterlife and the sacred nature of human life, the abuses of religious authority are what have led to tragedies like the Crusades, men believing they know the mind of God. However religion as a force is meant to prevent people from abusing or harming each other. The idea being that it makes man sacred to a higher moral order of the universe (Girardi, G. (1968). The abuse of those ideas is what leads to problems, religion has been used many times in the past in order to find a redress of wrongs, look no further than Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States (Aptheker, H. (1968). The civil rights movement started among the black faithful and in black churches. Even more so were Christianity’s origins, in that Christianity started off as the religion of the slaves, the downtrodden, and the dispossessed (Girardi, G. (1968). It was only after the Church became the official religion of Rome that problems began to arise. The problem of moving towards logical scientific materialism away from religious principle is that science does not come with a moral hierarchy in order to assign values (Girardi, G. (1968). Science does not determine whether anything is right or wrong it can only explain a logical sequence of events and phenomenon this does not assign any moral value to a proceeding. It is impossible to defend morality with logic this is because no it statement of “it just is” or “you just should” can be defended by a scientific argument (Girardi, G. (1968). And all moral statements making a value judgement of some kind rely on the idea of there being an objective way to determine whether or not things are wrong (Girardi, G. (1968). So the problem comes in how do you found a moral system without an objective religious backing? This the nature of religion it is supposed to work as a barrier against the abuses which can come about as a result of those with more power abusing those with less. The fact that religion has been used to restrict freedom is to see an abuse of a system as indicative of the actual purpose of the system (Girardi, G. (1968).  The Marxist perspective of viewing religion as a issuing from a source of alienation and that religion would disappear when the alienation does. However the fundamental question is never asked whether or not such an end would be desirable. The point of religion is that it treats morality as an objective force in and of itself which exists independent of human ideas or perceptions as such it should be observed in the same way as scientific fact (Aptheker, H. (1968). In a Marxist conception those ideas of objective morality would disappear and as such there is no imperative to follow moral guidelines unless it is to be done through force.

This being the case one would expect there to be little to know similarities between Marxists and religious theologies however this is not the case. One can find many significant places where religious, particularly early Christian, thought. Many monastic communities were organized around what could be looked at as communistic principles (Aptheker, H. (1968). The property was shared between all of the residents of the monastic community and there life was communally lived (Aptheker, H. (1968). This was also true of early Christian communities as well. The prophetic figure of Jesus was a man who heavily the power structures of his time in the corruption of the Pharisees who ruled the roman province of Judea (Aptheker, H. (1968). This is almost a similar idea to how Marx would portray many of the corrupted powers of his time. Under a Marxist conception of history which talks about the ideas of class struggle and makes those concepts central to the development of history it cannot be ignored that messages of peace love and eternal fraternity were also posited by many religious figures long before Marx was born and brought to bear many of his theories (Aptheker, H. (1968). State backed religions seem to be the main issue for Marx in that those religions which are sanctioned by the powerful will always support the powerful. The ones that do not support the power structures tend to get suppressed or wiped out entirely (Aptheker, H. (1968). The incorporation of the Christian faith with the state structures of Rome meant that the faith then had to support those same power structures which it had long been oppressed by. You see a similar situation with states like the USSR where Marxist ideas were used to catalyze a revolution, however after supposedly Marxist ideas became the dominant ones in their society they then were used as way to legitimize the authority of the Bolsheviks and were used in a way that serviced the powerful of that state apparatus (Aptheker, H. (1968).

Seen from a Marxist perspective religion has never served a useful purpose in people’s lives. However the historical context betrays this idea. Even working from an assumption that religion results from an externalization of man’s fundamental alienation from his own circumstances it still does not shed light on the optimal purpose of religion in people’s lives. Those purposes are twofold, hope and meaning, both deserve their own explanation. Hope as a concept is usually tied with the hope of an afterlife and that ultimate justice will be meted out in this afterlife and that those who do wrong in the mortal realm will meet this justice there. This hope has been used to keep disparate masses in their place and not to seek justice in this world (Girardi, G. (1968). However that hope extends further than that and has more to do with the desire to see ones loved ones again and that the end of this life is not the end of existence. The perversion of this hope by the powerful into a structure which is used to stop people from questioning authority because doing so goes against the religious principles they espouse (Girardi, G. (1968). This kind of creates a kind of feedback loop which reinforces itself to keep the powerful in power and not to have the lower classes seek earthly redress of the wrongs done them. However the twisting of that principle does not invalidate the other aspect of the hope that people find in religious belief that they will see those they love again and that the end of life does not constitute the end of existence (Girardi, G. (1968). The second idea of meaning is best seen as an idea that in order for human action to have meaning in the context of eternity is if there is an eternity in which such accomplishments have an eternal fixation. That is that what we have done will last forever somewhere. Otherwise our accomplishments are only “so much dust in the wind.” Many cannot and will not face that possibility and so religion offers the idea of eternity and the idea of meaning in the context of eternity (Girardi, G. (1968). These twin concepts illustrate the actual purpose of religion in the lives of many rather than simply as vehicle for the powerful to add a supernatural structure to their power.

The final point to be made is that there are actually many similarities between certain religious faiths and Marxist philosophy as well as the abuses that have occurred in the name of both ideas. The ideas of early Christianity were very communal in nature and that early Christian’s communities were organized on what could best be described as communistic (Aptheker, H. (1968). However both ideologies find most of their similarities in   the abuses that have been rendered under and the unfavourable attitude of their faithful. Both of these regimes have had many abuses of authority. In the case of Christianity one need only cite the existence of the Holy Inquisition in the middle ages. Whereas with Communism the entire rein of Stalin can be said to be one long abuse of power from beginning to end (Aptheker, H. (1968). Both ideologies have seen horrible things happen under their watch both of these regimes were supposed to bring about a more humanistic dignity and a better way of life for people but did neither. What parallel we draw is that it seems that the abuse and appropriation of an ideology by the powerful in order to justify their power leads to terrible atrocities, even with an ideology originally designed to be highly critical of those in power (Aptheker, H. (1968).

In closing though a Marxist view does not readily allow for the existence of religion in a truly communist state perhaps that view should be amended. The practice of religion need not automatically serve a retrograde purpose but can instead serve as a positive force in the lives of many by giving hope in eternity as well as impel people to work together and communally (Aptheker, H. (1968). The modern alliance of Christianity and capitalism can be seen as an aberration in ideology where the powerful have appropriated the communal ideology of a poor religious prophet who found his converts among the least of society (Aptheker, H. (1968). The institution of religion is not always a bad thing as Marx would suppose and it has been used to bring about positive change in the past (Aptheker, H. (1968). Maybe a reopening of a dialogue between the religious and the Marxists could produce new ideas and ne ideologies in order to bring further redress of the wrongs of modern society. After all, God only knows it could hardly be less productive than the current state of affairs.





Aptheker, H., (ed.) (1968). Marxism & Christianity: A Symposium. New York: Humanities Press Inc.

Girardi, G., (1968). Marxism & Christianity. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Poker on National Sports TV

Why is poker on national sports TV? A simple question but not easy to answer. Poker used to be a simple card game played in casinos and the back rooms of bars or late at night between friends. But somehow the game has now reached incredible heights to the point that it receives national airtime and the news about it is a big deal it’s become so popular that it has even moved into other media like movies, what with the recent James Bond Casino Royale movie, would that movie have done as well had things like the World Poker Tour not publicized the idea of poker as something engaging beforehand? Who’s to say? But for some reason poker is now considered a legitimate sport and is even thought to be engaging enough to bring together audiences to what amounts to a bunch of people playing a card game is something that most people wouldn’t think of. However this has become a new form of spectacle, in the world of sports television a format of competition like poker doesn’t lend itself to high excitement and, if it was featured at all on TV, would normally be reserved for something like ESPN2 or ESPN3 right alongside bowling and competitive eating, in other words what most people would consider a pseudo-sport with a very limited audience. However in recent years poker has seen a near meteoric rise in popularity and has gained national air time on mainstream sports networks. What lead to this? And how does the idea of spectacle, which is present in all sports, tie in to this idea of poker? Spectacle is tied heavily into the idea of the modern broadcasting of poker in that the idea of a bunch of people sitting at a table playing cards is not, in and of itself, very exciting and as such efforts have to be made to dress the event up. ESPN was the first channel to add the under table cameras which show the audience what players hands were, though they were not the first entity to show poker on their channel that was the Travel Channel which showed the world poker tour in 2003 was the first network television station to ever carry poker tournaments. According to the founder of the world poker tour the popularity of poker is no real mystery to quote him “Watching people make a million-dollar decision on every hand is great TV.” while this statement may have some truth to it the other fact is that the ideas of spectacle and especially the ideas of reality television blend in heavily with the ideas of how poker has come it’s meteoric rise in popularity.

Reality television started with the advent of the show COPS in the 1990’s but didn’t really take off until the advent of shows like Survivor came along in the early/mid 2000’s. Why would the rise of reality television have anything to do with poker gaining national time on sports networks? Simple, the advent of reality television with shows like Survivor or American Idol paved the way for something like poker because it introduced an idea best described as “amateurism” what this is, is the idea that a studio doesn’t need to pay actors or writers to make good television that people will watch, instead they simply put a bunch of amateurs in an awkward situation and watch the drama ensue. This idea of amateurism is very prevalent in poker. In most forms of traditional sports media you have professional athletes who have worked for years to hone their skills to a level most people could never hope to achieve. The use of public facilities and coaches and programs in order to train professional athletes is not present in poker, despite what many of the “professional” poker players will tell you, most poker matches in the end come down to luck of the draw. This links into the idea of amateurism because playing poker does not require large amounts of training or high degrees of skill and can pretty much be done by anyone and as such it has many links to the idea of reality television. Without reality based shows introducing the concept of amateurism into mainstream television audiences would probably never have been as receptive to the idea of poker as a legitimate competitive forum. As such reality television can be said to have had an almost extraordinary effect on the rise of poker on sports television.

Another large factor with links to reality television is the idea of cost of production. Reality shows are cheap to produce and thus make large amounts of money even if they have small audiences; this is mainly due to the fact that people don’t have to pay actors or writers. With poker we see this idea taken to a whole new level: poker players don’t require the training regiments which most other forms of professional competition do and as such the costs of training are minimalist at best, the same goes for the surroundings needed to play the game. Most sports which are heavily invested in the idea of spectacle are held in huge stadiums for people to watch and they require massive expenses in upkeep and ticket sales. But with poker all that is stripped away, all that is necessary for this sport are a table, a deck of cards, and some chips. this means that the cost to produce these events is excessively low compared to other sports formats also it is unlikely that the poker players would ever form a union or some such or go on strike as poker is not a team sport and as such it makes the players much more exploitable for the businesses at hand. The final cost factor to consider is salary, most professional sports players demand salaries in the millions, and that is not including the large endorsement deals many of them acquire, but with poker the players only get paid when they win and do well in the tournaments, and they have to play with their own money, the world series of poker isn’t required to pay these people anything, one of the subsequent reasons for this is that none of the players are under contracts and as such are free to play wherever and with whomever they want but the fact that the World Series of Poker (WSP) doesn’t have to pay out salaries of any kind even if they win is a huge motivational factor. Taken in this light it is not hard to see why many networks would have jumped on the idea of broadcasting poker, low overhead cost and high rate of return, ensured profit for these networks if they could find a way to properly market the idea of poker as a competitive medium.

These two considerations are high in the idea of the rise of poker on sports television. With poker becoming a hugely popular sport there are many factors but these two are probably two of the most important, the idea of amateurism which was introduced by reality television and the very low operating cost of running poker tournaments versus most other sporting events. Both of these ideas have strong links to the ideas of reality television and subsequently each was a major impact on the rise of poker as a popular medium on sports television. Without both of these factors it is unlikely that poker would have risen to the popularity it has seen in recent years. Poker would prove to be a virtual gold mine for these networks as the low overhead kept many concerns of broadcasting the events as a non-issue and the amateurish nature of the “sport” kept audiences watching because of a factor that could best be called “that could be me.” However reality television’s influence on cost and amateurism are not the only factors to consider, poker seems to have a natural tendency toward spectacle that many did not anticipate and as such it was very easy for networks to turn this otherwise boring game into something worth watching and devoting airtime to.

The recent influx of new interest in the game of poker has also had significant impact on the game itself. In that the wave of interest and the amateurish nature of the game have led to many people trying their hand, no pun intended, at the game. This has led to casinos actually rearranging their floor space in order to accommodate more tables for poker games, to give a rough idea this is about a close as poker would ever get to getting a new sports stadium. But this has also altered the popularity of all forms of poker. The Texas Hold ‘em style of poker is the most familiar and the one which most television audiences are familiar with as it is the only style of poker which the major sports networks will broadcast. However the huge influx of new players has led many of the older players to seek out new tournament styles and to learn the rules of new games so that they can compete and earn money elsewhere. the reason for this is that poker ultimately comes down to luck of the draw and knowing other sets of rules for different games is essential to earning a living at the game because the new people playing decrease the odds of them winning however this variety may lead to national sports TV channels syndicating other forms of poker besides the Texas Hold’em style of poker and any of them may be just as popular as the current incarnation. This variety in the rules of play could help to contribute to poker’s long term health as a competitive medium and may make the game viable for years to come because when the audiences start to bore with the method of poker on TV now they can simply change up the format and many of the old familiar faces from previous incarnations of the game will still be there thus further increasing the marketability of other forms of poker in the future. This flexibility as a game that poker is more than likely not going to leave it’s syndication on national sports television any time soon.

"Watching people make a million-dollar decision on every hand is great TV." this quote from World Poker Tour (WPT) founder Steve Lipscomb is all someone really needs to know about the inherent ideas of spectacle behind the game of poker. Originally the game of poker isn’t very interesting but the ability to dress it up doesn’t take much, the very idea that average people can make hundreds of thousands of dollars when taking on so called professionals ads to the easy connection that audiences can make with these individuals and this encourages the audience to become more and more invested in the players and as such viewership and overall fandom of the game go up. The other natural tendency of poker for spectacle is the idea of tension, the fact that all of these players are using their own money and have no guaranteed income, the way most professional athletes do, the ideas that someone’s gain means someone else’s ruin adds to the tension and spectacle of the game.

The ideas of strategies that other people can pick up is a large part of that spectacle and the ideas of formulating strategies which have to be adapted to given sets of circumstances adds to the spectacle. This is because while the turn of a single card can alter the outcome of a game, it means nothing if you can force the other players to fold because of aggressive raises. Many professional poker players will cite the ability to get inside someone’s head and read their actions or tell when they’re bluffing as a key to success in the game and thus things like rudimentary understandings of psychological concepts can help to improve a person’s game. However, having these skills is not a necessity for doing well in the game. This adds to the point that anyone can play, and win, at poker. It is because of this accessibility that the spectacle of poker is so easily able to connect with audiences. Virtual unknowns have come up and won tournaments in the past. this idea of anybody winning and the easy connection of people to the spectacle of poker as well as the idea that the experts can be beaten by average Joe’s is one of the large factors which would lead to the rise of poker as a viable medium. And even if the current amateurs became professionals poker would still lose none of its spectacle because that same inherent accessibility and the ability to beat professionals and for amateurs to learn the game and challenge the professional without ever having to go through rings of competitive leagues will keep the spectacular nature of poker intact well into the future and will help to preserve the it’s viability as a competitive medium.

Poker’s tendency to spectacle had to be enhanced before it could be considered a viable competitive medium. The technical elements such as announcers and “card cameras” have greatly enhanced the spectacle of poker as a whole. It was ESPN which first introduced the idea of card cams and percentage tickers on the screens in order to increase audience accessibility to the game, the announcers were always there. These technical elements, which greatly enhanced the spectacle, were quickly adopted by the other networks which showed poker and the games began to see even more significant upswings in their viewership with almost a million households tuning into the games after the technical elements were added. These technical elements are small concessions on behalf of the television networks and have heavily contributed to the rise of poker’s popularity and it’s sustainability on major sports networks. The limited needs of technical elements to cover these events are one of the major reasons we would see a rise in its coverage on sports networks.

The interesting thing to note about poker is that it is the first competitive medium to have an entirely private base. What that means is that unlike other sports such as football, basketball, or hockey which require massive public funds to keep them aloft, building stadiums, training players and may other aspects which involve large amounts of time and effort and millions in taxpayer dollars, poker is almost entirely privately funded, poker doesn’t have stadiums or major facilities which need to be maintained at taxpayer expense. Most of these tournaments are held in privately owned casinos, which are largely financed by private funds. As mentioned before the players use their own money and don’t have a set salary. Their really is no training involved with players, as such the need for coaches and lessons and facilities for practicing the game are virtually non-existent this means that poker could be classified as the first “sport” almost entirely supported by private funds. This means that poker has an even greater potential for commodification than most other sports mediums, it is much more marketable because the players are much more relatable to the average person this makes poker as a commodity even more accessible than most other forms of sports franchises and as such many sports networks would choose to put poker on their networks as a great way to make money because of this inherent marketability as a commodity.

Finally, the rise of poker on sports television stations can be linked to the marketing. This concept cannot be ignored, unlike most forms of spectator sport poker is not inherently exciting and watching live poker is reflective of this. Poker is the first sport which is custom designed for TV audiences in that watching the people play the game live is a lot less interesting than watching the game on television. This is the opposite of most large grossing sports mediums where people pay large amounts of money to go see games live. People cannot experience the full range of technical elements described above if they are not at home watching television, for this reason watching the games from home is much more viable than actually going to watch the tournaments live. This makes for great marketing potential with respect to commercial airtime and advertising rights and because the games are meant to be watched at home there is a much broader range of people that can be marketed to, poker doesn’t really have to worry about going upscale because there are no large facilities needed to maintain the game. This makes poker accessible to nearly everyone and as such has a very large potential market draw. Seen from this angle it is easy to see why major sports networks would choose to show poker, because of its large potential market it could be seen as a large source of potential income for these networks and a way to develop a new loyal fan base, of both genders, as poker is not segregated between sexes, with players that lower-class people could feel an easy connection to.

So now we come back to the original question, why is poker on national sports television? The answer is multi-faceted, links to reality television and the atmosphere in broadcasting which those shows created. It also has links to the idea of amateurism and the ideas of spectacle which are inherent to poker as a game. These elements tie together to create a climate and audiences that are ripe for a game like poker. The other half of the equation links to the ideas of marketability and the low overhead costs involved with poker, easily marketable every-man/woman competitors, and an ease of understanding the rules, as well as the fact that players do not have set salaries and only make money if they win, further more they play with their own money, means that the cost elements for broadcasting these games is quite low. When all of these factors are taken together it is easy to see why poker was picked up for broadcast on national sports channels and why it subsequently became so popular. And with new varieties of poker becoming more popular the game may have the potential to evolve in new and unexpected ways meaning that poker is probably going to have a long and healthy life as a competitive medium in front of it.         

The Imperial Theory of Nationalism

Who are we? This question has plagued humanity for as long as recorded history has been around. This question has no easy answer. However the answers we do find seem to be inextricably linked to the ideas of where we grew up and the traditions of those places, what is referred to as our ethnicity or ethnic group. This idea of ethnicity seems to be inextricably linked with how we view ourselves as people, so the question becomes where this feeling of a need to belong comes from and more over when did it start to manifest around separate cultural traditions? The two main theories on the matter of the origin of ethnicity and it’s defense, which is known as nationalism, fall into two camps those being the ancient and the modern. The ancient theories of nationalism state that nationalism is something that has always been with us as we have always identified ourselves with groups for basic reasons of survival and fought against other tribes in order to gain dominance, therefore this idea of difference and separate traditions has been in humanity from day one (Gertz, 1963). The modern theorists however state that while conflict over resources has always existed, conflict around nationalism and the protection of cultural traditions has only really come forward since the fall of the roman empire and the advent of the printing press which allowed for widespread communication and identification with larger groups of people with similar cultural traditions allowing them to band together around those shared traditions giving birth to what we consider today to be nationalism (Gellner, 1964). Both theories have considerable merit however neither addresses the problems caused by the other. The ancient school does not address the effect of changing ethnic groups which have grown bigger over time with larger numbers of people identifying with groups on larger landmasses, if ethnicity and nationalism link back to tribal routes than shouldn’t humanity still exist and identify on those tribal bases rather than with the supranational governments which have been created? And how do they explain the formation of modern nation states and the ideas of civic nationalism? With the modern school the issue they fail to address is ancient self-identifying ethnic groups, such as the Hebrews in Egypt before their exodus from that empire, or the Celts in Britannia, or the Jews in Judea who were conquered by the Romans, all of these people were different from those who conquered/enslaved them, they saw themselves as a people different from their conquerors and who wanted separation or autonomy from the larger states which had enveloped them, do these people not fit the mold of differing ethnic groups? The flaw of the modern school is while it is true that if you never meet anyone who is different form you there is no reason to believe the whole world is not like you, the simple fact is that humanity has been meeting and exchanging and warring with each other since humans built the first empires in China and Sumer. Only isolated pockets of humanity were unaware of there differences before the fall of the Roman Empire most civilizations realized that they were different from others when the first armies of other nations who looked different and spoke a different language came and told them they now belonged to the ________ empire and the group it was different form those who came to conquer them. This paper will attempt to prove that the true origin of nationalism begins when empires begin to be built, when one cultural group moves beyond it’s borders with the intention gathering more land from other people, those people realize they are different at that moment and they do not wish to be part of the empire and so they organize against, the paper will also show how the expansion of ancient empires also allowed for conquered peoples from similar regions with the same language and tradition who might not have met previously and allowed for many of them to become the self identifying ethnic groups which are known today, this will be referred to as the imperial theory of nationalism.

            The first thing to do is to clarify what is meant by the imperial theory of nationalism. The imperial theory means that specific culture groups only realize their differences when faced with subornation by a different group. This has been happening for thousands of years as various ethnic groups have branched out from their homelands to try to forge empires by dominating other groups around them. Further the presence/ entrance of these foreign empires into new lands causes forms of crystallization around the ideas of ethnicity, especially since, in these much more savage times most conquering armies would attempt to completely obliterate the cultures of those nations which they conquered as such the defeated groups would often band together to try to preserve what parts of their heritage remained. The forging of empires also serves to reinforce the ethnic ideas of the dominating groups particularly if the empire is successful in maintaining itself and goes without interference for a decent period of time. In the case of the former they will be referred to as ancient self-identifying ethnic minority groups (ASIEMG), these groups are homeland based ethnic groups which managed to maintain facets of their language and culture despite being conquered and dominated by larger powers. The second group will be referred to as empire builders (EB) these are groups which mobilize themselves out of their cultural homeland in order to dominate the groups around them. For purposes of classification an EB is any ethnic group which has dominance over another ethnic group whose language they do not speak, whose history they do not know, and whose culture they do not understand. Understand that assignment as an EB during one period of time does not mean that the identified group does not become an ASIEMG at another point in history these two titles tend to shift, minority groups begin to lose the classification of ASIEMG after the fall of the Roman Empire because this is when the modernist theories of nationalism begin to take affect also most minority groups cannot be assigned as being aware of their differences before the rise of civilization as there was minimalist contact between tribes and ideas of culture did not begin to truly solidify until the beginnings of agriculture and stable/permanent living began. There are exceptions to these two classifications as there are many groups which were wholly subsumed by larger empires and as such lost their ethnic identities to those larger empires, examples such as the Gaulish people in what is now France, or the Phoenicians of northern Africa, or one of the separate kingdoms during the warring states period of China, such as Wei or Qi.

            One of the critical elements to the imperial theory is the basis of settlement it is only as settlements are built and living becomes permanent that questions of culture can begin to develop, as the traditional nature of nomadic existence prior to the rise of the early civilizations of China and Sumer was not conducive to the forming of group culture because the constant need to move which amplified the dictates required to survive stopped people from forming lasting communities which are the basis around which culture and ethnicity are built, notice the “city” in ethnicity. In fact the origin of the term could be linked to what Walker Connor describes as the ethnie which is an integral recognition of a group’s difference from other groups and the idea of cities which revolve sustained populations and agriculture; you have a group’s ethnie which comes from permanent settlement and the formation cities ethnie-city, ethnicity (Connor W., 1978). The ability of groups to gather and settle in larger population in order to survive led to questions of inclusion and eventually, the forming of what would become ancient cultures. Empires began to be forged when culture groups expanded beyond the settlement of their cultural homelands, as groups became larger they required more resources to feed themselves thus taking up more land to provide for cities, this led to groups encountering other settled groups and contesting over land disputes. Which usually led to one group conquering the other and incorporating that group into itself or eliminating them entirely to settle their people on that land thus this gave birth to what is referred to today as empires.

            As mentioned prior assignment as an EB, can turn into assignment as an ASIEMG if the empire becomes ruled by foreign powers the most prominent example of this would be the Egyptian empire which, after 5000 years of self governance and rule by the pharaohs was conquered and taken over by the Roman Empire (Strachan & Roetzel, 1997). The Egyptians had been previously conquered by the Greeks under Alexander the Great, but the Ptolemy family which took over rule of Egypt did not end up removing the rule of the pharaohs and supplanting Egyptian rule for that of Greek, instead the Ptolemy family simply installed themselves as the new pharaohs (Lendering, n.d.). When the Romans conquered Egypt, the pharaoh was left in place but he was now little more than a provincial governor, beholden to Rome and to Roman laws (Strachan & Roetzel, 1997). Egypt was allowed to maintain its own culture and language as well as its own religion and system of governance up until the time of Augustus, when Cleopatra was killed and the pharaohs were abolished and roman governors were installed as the new heads of the Egyptian province, there language and religion slowly died out under Roman rule until it was al but forgotten by even the inhabitants of Egypt itself (Strachan &   Roetzel, 1997). Egypt also provides one of the first examples of an ASIEMG those being the Hebrew slaves which were brought in under the rule of the pharaohs this was a highly different culture group form the Egyptians. They spoke their own separate language, Hebrew, unlike the highly polytheistic Egyptians, who were said to worship over 100 different gods, the Hebrews were monotheistic, and the Hebrews had a desire to not only to maintain their separate way of life but to also gain independence from the state which was ruling over them(BBC, 2009). This desire for independence was made manifest in their history by Moses who led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt and into Israel (BBC, 2009.)

            Another group which can be easily classified as an ASIEMG is the Celtic tribe of the Iceni which was located in the roman province of Britannia; it was one of the last Celtic tribes to be conquered by the Romans (Ibeji, 2009). Many Celts in Britannia at the time resented Roman rule and when the Queen of the Iceni, Boudicca, rose up in rebellion against the Romans many of the conquered tribes followed suit, much of this rebellion was fostered around the idea that the Romans were trying to destroy the Celts culture, this sentiment was backed up by the roman slaughter of druid priests on Anglesey under Julius Caesar’s conquest of Britain (Griffiths, 2009). Also, the humiliation suffered by Boudicca and her daughters was the other crystallizing factor which caused the Celtic rebellion, the tribes were attempting to drive the Romans from their homeland and gain independence and security for their culture, unfortunately roman forces under the guide of Suetonius Paulinus crushed the Celtic rebellion in what was known as the Battle of Watling Street (Ibeji, 2009). After the defeat Queen Boudicca is said to have poisoned herself in order to avoid capture by the Romans (Ibeji, 2009). The crushing of this rebellion saw the end of most of the Celtic identity on the British mainland for quite some time, it was not until near the end of the Roman Empire that the ideas of Celtic independence resurfaced and even those were quickly quashed by the large influx of the Anglo-Saxons, which were a Germanic tribe (Ibeji, 2009). The Iceni tribe, as well as the other tribes of Celts in Britannia, are an example of an ASIEMG because they had culture the wished to protect from the roman way of life; as such they sought their independence from Rome however they failed and their culture was lost almost forever. This is generally the price which ASIEMGs pay for rebelling against other EBs.

            The other great example of this type of ASIEMG is the Jews in the province of Judea under roman rule, there were many provinces within Rome where the Jews held large concentrations of population; however Judea was there main population center within the Roman Empire (Telushkin, 1991). The Jews were allowed much more in the way of latitude with their culture than the Celts had been, even though the roman authorities were often callous and brutal the Jews were allowed to keep there language and religious practices. So long as the Jews followed Roman law and more importantly paid Roman taxes the Romans were unconcerned with how the Jews worshipped or spoke (Telushkin 1991). There were many in the Jewish province and elsewhere who sought independence from Rome this led to the great Jewish rebellion in 70 AD, the rebellion was crushed and Jerusalem was destroyed (Telushikin, 1991). For the next 60 years anti-roman sentiment continued to linger, however the movements never really coalesced into anything violent until the reign of the emperor Hadrian when a full scale Jewish rebellion broke out against the Romans in 132 AD (Schoenberg, 2010). Several important cities were lost before the Romans crushed the rebellion which had ended with a several month long stand off at the ancient fortress of Betar the Romans crushed the rebellion and slew all they found inside (Schoenberg, 2010). Hadrian made the Jews pay heavily for their rebellion by outlawing their language and religion, and wiping the province of Judea off the map which was then replaced with the province of Syria-Palestina effectively eliminating the Jewish homeland of Israel for more than 1500 years (Schoenberg, 2010). The Jews of Judea have assignment as an ASIEMG because their attempts to defend their culture and gain independence from Rome made them form not just one but two rebellions against their masters in order to set up their own government, however in the process they lost their culture and homeland for many centuries to come, the ironic thing is that had the Jews not rebelled the Romans would have been compelled to protect and preserve the Jewish homeland and it may have continued to exist throughout history.

            Though the Romans are treated as one of the pan-ultimate Empire Builders they to, were once an ASIEMG who were ruled over by a different group known as the Etruscans, the Romans rebelled against the Etruscan kings (Giusepi, 2002). The Romans are an odd case historically however because unlike the Jews or the Celts under Roman rule the Romans were not a conquered people dominated by a foreign power but rather were a city state which had merged with the Etruscans and was displeased with the rule by Etruscan kings and as such they rebelled and destroyed their civilization and absorbed them into the roman republic (Guisepi, 2002). The Romans share more in common with the American colonists under British rule as the Romans spoke the same language as the Etruscans and shared a similar culture and yet they rebelled because they felt they were being taken advantage of (Guisepi, 2002). The Romans defy easy classification because they were not a truly different group form the ones who were ruling them. However, the Romans moved quite easily into the role of Empire Builders once they had done away with their Etruscan masters (Morey, 1901). They easily conquered and dominated the other Italian city states which existed at the time. This was due mainly to Rome’s exceptional ability to organize itself which gave it the edge over other competing Italian city states (Morey, 1901). The Romans developed as a grand empire also because of their ability to incorporate new ideas of warfare into how they fought; much of their system of governance as well as they way in which they fought wars was borrowed from the Greeks, who had settlements in the lower coastal regions of Italy at the time (Morey, 1901).

             There were also many examples in the ancient world of what is referred to as communal contenders, who fought many wars for control of specific regions (Harff & Gurr, 2004). The most prominent of these groups are the aforementioned Greek city states such as Athens and Sparta who, although sharing a common language, religion, and culture, had extreme rivals in there attempts to control the Mediterranean (Lendering, n.d.). They had vastly different ideologies as well as different forms of government, such as the beginning of democracy in Athens, or what can only be described as a fascistic military dictatorship in Sparta, the Greek city states warred and conflicted with each other for centuries before the coming of Phillip of Macedonia who united the various disparate kingdoms under his banner (Lendering, n.d.). However the Greeks are a good example of inside cohesion as well, that while the city-states warred with each other, if an outsider attempted to invade them they would ally with each other in order to stop them. As was seen when the Persians attempted to invade Greece under the reign of Xerxes (Stecchini, 2001). The Greeks never became EBs because their great rivalries kept them from being able to forge large empires and dominate other culture until the time of Alexander the Great. The Greeks fit the description of communal contenders because they were different culture groups who were attempting to gain dominance over the same area.

            The Aztecs of central and south America are another interesting case as far as EB to ASIEMG transitions go the Aztecs were strange in their methods, in that the did not conquer/ enslave/dominate the other people around them instead they incorporated any population they ran across which did not belong to them they would then move their people into the area which had formerly been occupied by the cultural group in order to establish their supremacy (Smith, 2006). This establishes the Aztecs as a unicultural empire builder, who later became an ASIEMG when the coming of the conquistadors who brought an end to both their empire and their civilization.

            The Mongols are the final case of a bizarre instance of cultural domination; the nomadic Mongol tribes which lived on the steppes north of China did not have much that should have been recognizable as a distinct culture (May, 2001). The Mongols had a culture only insofar as they were not Chinese. And yet these nomadic tribes were able to defeat and conquer lands which had existed for thousands of years through shear terror and military force (May, 2001). This was in large part due to the activities of Genghis khan who is known as the father of Mongol civilization (May, 2001).The Mongol hordes after conquering various kingdoms would generally begin to adopt customs from the areas in which they settled (May, 2001). Even an EB as great as the Mongols were subject to cultural bleed-over because they themselves did not have a refined culture with which to compare and as such they came to adopt customs from the regions in which they took up residence.

            The imperial theory of nationalism states that cultures become defined when civilizations begin to form and settlement occurs all groups up until the fall of the roman empire tend to fall into either EB or ASIEMG as groups dominate others or are dominated by others and their ideas of what makes them a separate culture from these others can either solidify as in the case of the Jews, or the Celts, or it can be washed away as in the case of the Phoenicians, culture is old and while it is true that culture and difference only truly begin to form once people meet someone who is not like them. People have been meeting others who are not like themselves since time immemorial. However these differences were not able to be recognized until people settled and formed of homelands and the ideas of greater bonds which extended beyond ones tribal routes. This theory states that, nationalism and the ideas of ethnicity are not new, but neither are they as old as humans are.















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Gellner, E. (1964). Nationalism and Modernization. Thought and Change. London, ENG: Weidenfeld and Nicholson.


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May, T. (2001). Genghis Khan. North Georgia College and State University. 


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Smith, M. (2006).  City States and Empire. Aztec Culture: An Overview.


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Russian Corruption

There is little to no doubt that corruption is pretty much the number one internal issue in Russia today, the perception from most of the Russian populace seems to be that those who are supposed to ensure the ideas of law. Peace, order, and good government are instead the ones who are the most corrupt and are committing crimes instead of doing their jobs helping the populace. This issue has become so central that in 2009 the Russian president made a central theme in his address to the nation speech, where he identified it as not only a central idea in Russia but that bribery and corruption is almost becoming a cultural value in Russia (Welu, 1). Medvedev placed the onus for cleaning up corruption in Russia on the Russian people, he told the populace that widespread corruption has fueled terrorism, and not only damages the image of Russia worldwide, but also undermines the Russian confidence in their own system of laws and their bureaucracy and government agencies, this is far from a new tune, both Putin and Medvedev have made speeches about the large extent of corruption and bribe taking present within the Russian government, and other private industries, the difference with this speech is that Medvedev said that the problem is with the Russian people themselves, and not just the system, and that if the Russian people want to bring an end to the obscene amounts of bribery and corruption within the Russian government they are going to have to do it themselves.

            There have been over 3700 cases of corruption reported in the last year in Russia this easily reflect the climate of bribery or what is referred to as blat among most of the Russian populace (Vedemosti, 1). The attitude of what is referred to as legal nihilism also is very deeply ingrained in the Russian psyche. This tradition has led to the widespread corruption and a culture where no one trusts the law or law officials to represent them and help them, and most believe that they still operate under the old system of telephone justice and as such most aren’t willing to try to improve the system for fear that the old system may be used against them. Though many commissions and special agencies have been set up by the president in order to stem the massive tide of corruption they have yet to really show any verifiable results that they are working. The fact that cases of corruption in the military alone cost the Russian government over 80 million dollars in the previous year is sad in and of itself but couple that with the fact that the courts have had to deal with corruption cases that have cost over 29 billion dollars in damages is just obscene (Asset Recovery Knowledge Center, 1). The new laws which have been put in place to deal with said problems are a decent start but do not do nearly go far enough to helping to stop the problem for the specific reasons that while the new laws do criminalize the practice of bribery they only criminalize completed bribery transactions they do not criminalize the act of offering a bribe, this hinders the process as most bribery cases start with conscientious government officials coming forward and detailing about how they have been offered bribes (Welu, 1). Also the law itself does not specifically target law enforcement and those in the judiciary which is a very large problem due to the fact that many of the Russian people believe these individuals to be the most corrupt and so it does little to reassure the public at large (Feifer, 1).

            This culture of corruption may be just too entrenched in the Russian psyche for the Russian government to really do anything about, this is a huge problem as foreign investors, legitimate ones anyway, are unwilling to take up the costs associated with doing business in Russia (Welu, 2). This severely hurts Russia’s potential for economic growth and development. So Russia has a hard time breaking out of the cycle of poverty which it has established itself in since the country went bankrupt in the late 1990’s (Welu, 1). Some help may be coming to Russia from outside its borders however with the help of the United States foreign corrupt practices act (FCPA), which may aid Russia in the prosecution of those individuals who are guilty of taking bribes. Because any and all U.S. citizens caught doing so in foreign countries as well as those they deal with would be subject to the laws of this act. As well as any person who uses United States communications or facilities, if any official who deals with the U.S. at any time accepts a bribe from anyone they may find themselves dealt with under this act (Welu, 2). The use of and implementation of this type of, or something similar to it would go a long way to countering the problem of corruption and restoring foreign investment in Russia.

            The other problem with dealing with corruption in Russia is that, while there are huge penalties under the laws for accepting bribes the enforcement of said law is entirely up to the officials at hand, and as many of them are also probably guilty of blat at some point it is actually in their best interest to see that this law is not administered properly (Welu, 1). As such this problem of corruption will probably not get any better until a systematic form of law is instituted where every accusation of bribery is taken seriously and prosecuted to the full extent of the law (Welu, 1). Though that shows very little sign of actually happening mainly due to the aforementioned legal nihilism, as well as a now growing attitude in Russia that one should try to work for the government because of the perks of being able to get bribes in the first place (Feifer, 1). This is extraordinarily destructive to the faith which people should hold in the system they are part of. The culture of blat does not look like it is going anywhere however, and little seems to be being done, beyond token gestures, to actually root out the problem (Feifer, 1).

            There is no denying that corruption is major issue in Russia many of the large elements of organized crime are able to thrive in Russia due to the culture of bribery which has allowed them to operate for so long. As public servants and other officials such as teachers and policemen are not paid decent wages, or they have little to no real incentive to not take the bribes that are offered to them, due to legal nihilism and the fact that while the anti-corruption laws are on the books they are usually not enforced as such there is a bigger incentive for public officials to take bribes rather than not (Welu, 2). This culture is deeply ingrained in the Russian psyche today that little can be done internally to deal with it. Short of a complete systematic overhaul this culture will more than likely continue to exist in Russia without much in the way of real interference from within, despite whatever flowery speeches Medvedev would like to make and whatever special commissions he might form, they may find widespread corruption and save the government some money but, in the end, it may either be too little or too late (Welu 1).






















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