We should mock British Jihadis

Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent was one of the most referenced novels in the few weeks in the media after 9/11. It remains the most prevalent work of literature concerning terrorism. In recent times as British jihadis have gone to fight for the restoration of the Caliphate in Iraq and Syria it seems relevant. Literature often takes on a new meaning as time passes, Macbeth for example could be seen to take on a new relevance with Hitler and Stalin.

What is the relevance of The Secret Agent? It details an anarchist living in London who attempts and fails to carry out an act of terror in the name of a cause he does not properly understand. Conrad mocks the efforts of ‘revolutionaries’ to change the world. Early on we see that ‘neither wall, nor tree, nor beast, nor man cast a shadow’. This reflects the inability of revolutionaries to make an impact on the world.

There is also an ignorance about the revolution which their actions are being carried out in the cause of. Verloc, the protagonist, does not ‘trouble his head’ about the issues of revolution. Simultaneously he hold that the ‘middle classes are stupid’. They would hate to hear it mentioned, but ISIS and Al Qaeda borrow from the tradition of European revolutionaries in their ambitions. They may be considered reactionaries in their desire to restore a lost Empire but their method is revolutionary. The basic idea of this is that a small group should carry out a violent uprising on behalf of ignorant masses and this will lead to a better world for all. As Jason Burke points out in Al Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam:

We have seen the ignorance of the revolutionary cause from British Jihadis. The most common case of this was when one bought ‘Islam for Dummies’ before being willing to sacrifice his cause for radical Islam. Then there was the ‘jihad innit bruv’.

We see the leader ‘the terrorist, as he called himself, was old and bald, with a narrow, snow-white wisp of a goatee hanging limply from his chin’. With this there is just a sense of the absurd. It almost takes a second reading of The Secret Agent in order to see the lack of seriousness of this. The most absurd moment in terms of ISIS came when (find name of women) was caught trying to smuggle money for ISIS which was stuffed in her pants. She was dressed in a manner which would never be tolerated in a sharia law. She was fighting against her freedom, has there been a case of a woman who did so quite as much? Again the absurdity warrants mockery.

Why should we use humour? We should do so in order to diffuse the situation. Mockery of the absurd helps us realise the reality of what is going on. The best known example of this is Reagan’s mocking of the Soviet Union. The effect of this was to diminish the enemy. It brought the absurdity of the Soviet Model to reality and dismissed it at the same time. Mockery of these revolutionaries will make it apparent how ridiculous their cause, it will seem more real because at the moment people seem utterly incapable of responding in any way at all. We see this week ISIS’s flag placed in Tower Hamlets in what was meant to be a Gaza rally. It was taken down by a nun, just as Verloc is eventually killed by his wife who puts the knife in and it ‘meets no resistance’.

A reaction to this state of absurdity is necessary, and comedy is the method of bringing it about.