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Epidemic Empire

Colonialism, Contagion, and Terror, 1817–2020

Epidemic Empire

Colonialism, Contagion, and Terror, 1817–2020

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.

392 pages | 24 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2020

History: History of Ideas

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Religion: Islam


"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 | Public Books

“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 | Los Angeles Review of Books

"[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 | Marx and Philosophy Review of Books

“Deftly tracking the transmission of the idea of terrorism (as political insurgency is so often resignified) as an epidemic, Epidemic Empire makes a compelling case for the codevelopment of technologies of imperial management and the persistence of metaphor… Epidemic Empire offers a fresh perspective on the long, viral durability of figures, tropes, and texts of insurgency. In so doing, it makes an unapologetic claim to the durability of postcolonial critique.”

Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry

“In Epidemic Empire, close readings are integrated with incredibly careful and attentive archival synthesis, bringing the lesser known into conversation with ‘famous books’.”

Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry

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

“Kolb’s book is particularly important in its ability to cure historical amnesia: she traces a long colonial history for the braiding together of the terms contagion and terror.

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

Table of Contents

List of Figures

Preface: Politics and Scholarship in a Time of Pandemic

Introduction: “Islam,” Terrorism, and the Epidemic Imaginary

Part One: The Disease Poetics of Empire

Chapter 1: Great Games

Chapter 2: The Blue Plague

Chapter 3: Circulatory Logic

Part Two: The Body Allegorical in French Algeria

Chapter 4: The Brown Plague

Chapter 5: Algeria Ungowned

Part Three: Viral Diaspora and Global Security

Chapter 6: Selfistan

Chapter 7: Cures from Within


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