Terrorism is a cancer, an infection, an epidemic, a plague. For more than a century, this metaphor has figured insurgent violence as contagion in order to contain its political energies. In Epidemic Empire, Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb shows that this trope began in responses to the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and tracks its tenacious hold through 9/11 and beyond. The result is the first book-length study to approach the global War on Terror from a postcolonial literary perspective.
Raza Kolb assembles a diverse archive from colonial India, imperial Britain, French and independent Algeria, the postcolonial Islamic diaspora, and the neoimperial United States. Anchoring her book are studies of four major writers in the colonial-postcolonial canon: Rudyard Kipling, Bram Stoker, Albert Camus, and Salman Rushdie. Across these sources, she reveals the tendency to imagine anticolonial rebellion, and Muslim insurgency specifically, as a virulent form of social contagion. Exposing the long history of this broken but persistent narrative, Epidemic Empire is a major contribution to the rhetorical history of our present moment.
About the Author
Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb is associate professor of English at the University of Toronto.
"The connection between terror and contagion is the explicit subject of Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb’s Epidemic Empire. . . [This work] illuminates the experience of living through a metaphor made real. . . . Epidemic Empire [offers] valuable lessons in the importance of metaphor to cultural analysis. . . . In showing how we disseminate cultural biases and the social and geopolitical inequities they perpetuate, [this work] open this process to inspection."
— Priscilla Wald
“In her forceful and timely debut book. . . Raza Kolb describes a 200-year history during which politicians, Supreme Court justices, policymakers, and novelists have described terrorism as 'a cancer, an infection, an epidemic, a plague.' Identifying the metaphor’s origin during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, she traces it and epidemiology’s coterminous evolution through a rich and unexpected archive of texts including novels by Rudyard Kipling, Bram Stoker, Albert Camus, and Salman Rushdie, as well as colonial epidemiologists' writings and The 9/11 Commission Report. . . . [The book is] a pedagogical lesson, in which epidemiology [is] not just a science but a mode of reading.”
— Charles Shafaieh
"[Epidemic Empire] will likely become one of this moment’s iconic works of academic literature. . . The prose is lucid and, quite often, lovely: Raza Kolb presents us with a counter-poetics of the disease poetics she is excavating. But this counter-poetics is also a rigorous examination of its object of study. . . . This book is a joy to read. Epidemic Empire borders on the sublime."
— Joshua Moufawad-Paul
“Epidemic Empire is a book with which to reconsider the possibilities of criticism in our terrible time… Raza Kolb is a beautiful reader, careful and wickedly smart.”
— Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry
“Epidemic Empire is grippingly told—a fantastic story of the coemergence of the epidemiological, colonial, and ‘terrorist’ imaginaries. Raza Kolb's close readings are superb and revealing, and it is urgent that these arguments and methodologies and this archive make their way into the public debate. These debates become more pressing every day, as the long histories of colonial and white national violence become less and less ‘merely’ historical, in the United States and globally.”
— Jacques Lezra, University of California, Riverside
“Moving well beyond viral transmission as a metaphor in social, political, or economic life, Raza Kolb’s book offers us an innovative account of violence as a form of contagion in its own right. Showing how medical and political thinking were intertwined in British and French imperialism, she traces the legacy of its distinctive history down to the present day.”
— Faisal Devji, University of Oxford
“Raza Kolb renders a startling account of the extent to which figures of illness, disease, and virality saturate quotidian discourses on terrorism and race from the nineteenth century to the present. Uncannily prescient yet historically profound, Epidemic Empire allows us to glimpse the future of pandemics from the racial prisms of the past. The temporal arc is sublime, and the writing, exquisite.”
— Jasbir K. Puar, Rutgers University
"It is surprising that no one else has identified the ubiquity of this metaphor until now, and we all should be grateful for Raza Kolb’s demonstrated ingenuity, passion, and eloquence in taking up this formidable challenge. Epidemic Empire, read amidst a global pandemic and the rise of anti-Asian racism in the United States, paves the way for more interventions on how colonial medicine and literary cultures continue to inform our troubled present."
— Literature and Medicine
"[A] powerful and challenging study. . . . The book proposes an interesting re-reading of the Foucauldian concept of biopolitics, comparing the different gradations assumed by epidemiological and immune metaphors in specific colonial and imperial events and domains: British India, Algeria during the war of national liberation (thus with France as a counterpart), the United States and more generally the West after 9/11, within the folds of the global wars on terror and their effects."
— Postcolonial Interventions
"Epidemic Empire is truly a multidisciplinary, visionary work—part history of epidemics, part literary criticism, part postcolonial studies, part terror studies. Few ambitious books live up to their potential in the way that this book does. It should be required reading today as we continue to manage and mismanage the COVID-19 pandemic. But Epidemic Empire is not just a book of the present, and will surely help to define scholarship for many years to come."
— Modern Philology
"The publication of Epidemic Empire is timely not only because it coincides with the ongoing pandemic, but because it also deals with the continued misperception of Muslims as terrorists and Islam as an epidemic of global threat. The book combines a study of famous and little-known literary works with numerous archival documents exclusively from two erstwhile powerful colonizing nations, Britain and France, and their colonies, India, and Algeria. In so doing, it unravels the idea of the epidemic of terrorism in seven impressive chapters."
— Journal of Postcolonial Writing
"Epidemic Empire is intricately structured and lofty, offering a timely contribution to the history of medicine and postcolonial studies . . . [It] is an audacious book and both a profound theoretical narrative and a moral reflection on what it means to medicalize discourses of terror. It is an astute critique of narrative, documenting the literary and public health fervour which is promulgated in Western societies."
— Journal of Contemporary History