For some time now, paedophilia has been serving as a metaphor for the dread and self-loathing that dominates the imagination of Western elite culture. The narrative of paedophilia does not merely encompass the abuse of children; it has become a free-floating idiom of fear through which any source of anxiety can be expressed. So when the Southern Baptist leader Reverend Jerry Vines declared in June 2002 that Mohammed was a ‘demon-possessed paedophile’ and that Allah leads Muslims to terrorism, he was merely harnessing the power of this idiom of fear to promote his vision of the world.
Twelve years on and the worldview of Reverend Jerry Vines is now shared by the British government, which has just announced that paedophiles are to be treated in the same way as terrorists. According to several sources, new legislation targeting paedophiles will be included in the Queen’s Speech. It appears that the UK prime minister, David Cameron, is determined to close a ‘loophole’ that permits paedophiles to publish and possess ‘manuals’ that offer tips to would-be predators on children about how to identify and groom their targets. The new law would authorise the use of the kind of extraordinary sanctions used to target terrorists who download bomb-making manuals. Cameron argued that it is ‘completely unacceptable that there is a loophole in the law which allows paedophiles to write and distribute these disgusting documents’.
The adoption of the tactics and strategy of the war on terror for the crusade against paedophiles is symptomatic of a worldview in which the capacity to distinguish between fantasy and reality has been lost. Merging the threat of the violent terrorist with that of the online predator dramatises the threat of both. Imperceptibly, the terrorist network and the paedophile ring become indistinguishable from one another. This act of joined-up scaremongering serves to intensify the public’s sense of insecurity.
The war on paedophilia
Unfortunately, the expansion of the war on terror on to the terrain of child abuse is not simply a publicity stunt. The Lib-Con coalition government and many of its security advisers actually believe that the behaviour of terrorists and that of paedophiles share many common attributes. For almost a decade, sections of the security establishment have regarded the recruitment of young Muslims to the ranks of radical extremist organisations as analogous to the so-called grooming of children by sex predators. During the past decade, the meaning of ‘grooming’ has expanded to the point where virtually any attempt to foster a relationship or influence another person can be interpreted as grooming.
That paedophilia is to become the terrain on which a new chapter of the war on terror is to be fought is bizarre. What’s even more troubling is the tendency of anti-terrorist officials to confuse their brief with that of child protection. During the past decade, British officials have tried to harness public fears and anxiety about paedophilia to illuminate the threat from al-Qaeda, talking about the ‘strangers’ in al-Qaeda, and the ‘danger’ they pose to ordinary people and their children.