Evil and the enemies of empire

While I agree with Barbara Gunnell that evil is a rhetorical device used by politicians to avoid debate about the motives of their enemies ("Take cover: evil is back", 11 February), this is certainly not a new phenomenon. As Kathryn Tidrick argued as long ago as 1990, in her excellent Empire and the English Character, attributing evil to the enemies of empire was the stock-in-trade of the imperial myth-makers.

The enemies of the British empire, such as the Mau Mau in Kenya and Eoka in Cyprus from 1954 onwards, were described by both journalists and politicians as evil. The rebels were, the British public was expected to believe, criminals or fanatics. You cannot negotiate with evildoers, and they proved themselves to be utterly irredeemable through their irrational opposition to the benevolent intentions of British rule.

The use of evil as a tool to damn opponents is quite simply as old as the nation state, as pervasive as hierarchy; it is central to imperialism, which after all can only justify its excesses by bringing into doubt the rationality, and indeed the humanity, of its victims; it is the perennial politicians' cant.

Dr Paul Jennings
Dinton, Nr Aylesbury, Bucks