Spotlight Series

Spotlight: N-o-nS…e;nSI/c::::a_L

Continuing our week highlighting the work of N-o-nS…e;nSI/c::::a_L, today we bring you a selection by co-founder Vivian Sming: “In ‘Extraordinary But Not Quite Magic: What Makes the War On Terror So Damn Medieval?,’ artist and writer Dan Bustillo underlines the semiological relationships between Western military intentions and medieval history. Bustillo relentlessly throws themself against the architecture of patriarchy, showing that the middle ages are far from over. Bustillo’s text demonstrates that Western politics, though submerged by the superficiality of enlightenment, is still a rally to the cross, using contemporary notions of medievalisms to continue the historical persecution of bodies and behavior based on identity, sexuality, and difference.” This essay was published in nonsensical’s third issue, (wrong), in 2016.

1. Rewind

Former CIA official Cofer Black jump-started the use of medievalisms in relation to the War on Terror when he swore to Russian officials in the immediate aftermath of 9/11: “We’re going to kill them. We’re going to put their heads on sticks.” Shortly after, Bush’s unscripted speech on September 16, 2001, at Camp 73 Davis about the “crusade—this war on terrorism” was confirmed by Bin Laden within a month:

This is a recurring war. The original crusade brought Richard [the Lionhearted] from Britain, Louis from France, and Barbarus from Germany. Today the crusading countries rushed as soon as Bush raised the cross. They accepted the rule of the cross.

Medieval scholar Bruce Holsinger notes that one of the dangers of post-9/11 medievalism is that it oversimplifies an incredibly nuanced conflict by weighing the antimodern medievalists of the Middle East against the forward-thinking and modern West. And while the Bush administration initially identified itself within this medievalism, language was quickly twisted to outcast and vilify a “technologically sophisticated band of medieval barbarians,” whose backward ways could only be defeated by the neomedievalism of the West. Because, in the words of former UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, unlike “these barbaric, medieval types in ISIL,” whose shrewd use of social media is said to revive 7th-century conquests in the name of Islam, the West claims not to impose Western values but to fight against a historical regression. Like Bush, Obama has been explicit in his struggle to advance Western democratic views as irrefutable universal values. Shortly after the Paris attacks on November 13, 2015, Obama announced:

Once again, we’ve seen an outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians. This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.

Read the full text here.

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