Terror and Liberalism

Book Review



Terror and Liberalism


Paul Berman


W.W. Norton and Company, New York, NY



Reviewed By:

Frank Fogg

Review Date:

July, 2003


Terror and Liberalism is another one of the many books currently being published that examines the root causes of the terror attacks on the United States. Paul Berman reviews the history  of the 20th century in an attempt to explain the influences that form the new  terror politics of the 21st century.

Terror and Liberalism asks and attempts to answer the magic question: Why Do They Hate Us? It begins by examining the mindset of terror. In the author's view, killing and suicide become intertwined in the terrorist mind. One cannot have one without the other. He traces this philosophy to Czarist Russia and  the birth of anarchism. Not only did the anarchists kill, they demonstrated the ultimate control of life and death by taking their own lives in the process.

Acceptance of this philosophy that lacked redeeming social conscience led to the atmosphere that provoked the First World War, where human slaughter became ordinary and commonplace. In his view, that war highlighted the failure of the European nations to adhere to the ideals they claimed to pursue, choosing instead  to lower themselves to the level of animals. Never again would they have the  moral high ground in the battle for human dignity and kindness.

He also discusses the influence of the colonial era in Africa and the Middle East on modern thought in the region. The author argues that the seeds of hatred were sown by the Germans in receptive Arab minds tired of British rule. He further  highlights the result of Soviet influences on the political and social development  in the Middle East as it neared the end of the 20th century.

Paul Berman also illuminates the current situation in the region. He states  that the rise of fundamentalism was fueled by the rejection of Western and European  values and by the teaching of traditional Islamic scholars. He further ties  together the earlier chapters to show the hows and whys of the growth of militancy.  He argues that leadership is grasped in these societies by those espousing many of the same ideals as other totalitarian governments throughout history and  provides a multitude of examples to support his statement.

Whether or not one agrees with the arguments and conclusions of the author,  this is a thought provoking, must read book. Paul Berman lays out the framework for a rational discussion of the issues at the center of the clash of ideas,  while providing insight into the thoughts of both terrorists and main stream  Islamic thinkers. He further demonstrates how these values are radically different from traditional Western ideals, resulting in a collision of cultures.

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