Publication Details

Monagle, C. and D'Arcens, L. (2014). 'Medieval' makes a comeback in modern politics. What's going on?. The Conversation, (22 September), 1-4.


According to Hansard, in the parliament of John Howard's first term of government the adjective "medieval" was used eight times. In the following term, however, it cropped up 46 times. What happened? Why did our members and senators suddenly need to describe things as medieval? What happened was 9/11. The spectacle of planes crashing into skyscrapers prompted myriad politicians, in Australia and elsewhere, to denounce the perpetrators as "medieval" What we have seen in recent weeks is medieval barbarism, perpetrated and spread with the most modern of technology. Abbott is not alone; it has become commonplace to describe Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS or ISIL) as a brutal throwback to a murky violent past called, interchangeably, the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages. Why the Middle Ages? Why now? Historians of the Middle Ages will tell you that al-Qaeda and IS bear little resemblance, in their words or deeds, to actual medieval people. The religious fundamentalism that characterises al-Qaeda and IS, for example, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Broadcasting choreographed violent spectacles as a means of creating shock and fear owes its strategy more to Hollywood and viral media than it does to the Middle Ages. .