Terror and Liberalism
|Terror and Liberalism|
|Subject||Islamism, Liberal internationalism, Totalitarianism|
|Publisher||W. W. Norton & Company|
Terror and Liberalism is a non-fiction book by American political philosopher and writer Paul Berman. He published the work through W. W. Norton & Company in April 2003. Berman asserts that modern Islamist groups such as al Qaeda share fundamental ideological elements from fascism and other 20th century Western totalitarian movements, and he defends an assertive approach to root out this extremist thinking across the world.
Berman begins the book with a discussion of the September 11 attacks of 2001. He then details the ideology of Sayyid Qutb, an influential figure behind the development of Islamism, before moving on to a general overview of suicidal Islamic extremist violence that preceded the World Trade Center attacks. Berman argues against the two popular views that the success of groups such as al Qaeda are either, first, the lashing out of the socially oppressed or, second, an alien, distant product of a Muslim people with fundamentally anti-Western religious beliefs and values.
Berman discusses the socio-cultural origins of fascism in modern Europe as well as the culmination of its ideals in the Holocaust and the Second World War. He also details the growth of Islamic extremist thinking, comparing and contrasting it with early 20th century revolutionary movements, and he states that the Islamic extremist struggle with liberal, pluralistic democracies is an outgrowth of that past trend. He uses the term "Muslim totalitarianism" as a shorthand summary of his thinking.
He stresses the importance of staying strong against authoritarian extremists, arguing in support of assertive, preemptive war as well as active police efforts to root out the radicals within Muslim states themselves as well as in Western countries. He praises the decisions to launch the invasion of Afghanistan and invasion of Iraq. Berman, describing his overall view of the present danger, writes,
The whole of the Muslim world has been overwhelmed by German philosophies from long ago, the philosophies of revolutionary nationalism and totalitarianism, cannily translated into Muslim dialects. Let the Germans go door to door throughout the region, issuing a product recall.
Reviews and responses
The Observer ran a mixed review by journalist Martin Bright. Bright stated that at times "Berman trips over the ingenuity of his own argument", and he also remarked that "Berman's description of a paranoid 'people of God' convinced of its own righteousness, prepared to kill its enemies and sacrifice its own in pursuit of a realm of pure truth might just as easily apply to the United States".
Ellen Willis wrote for Salon.com that while Berman was correct in criticizing the repressive and inhumane policies of secular dictators such as Saddam Hussein and Islamic fundamentalist groups, Berman was deeply wrong in his praise for the Bush administration's foreign policies.
Washington Monthly ran a mixed review by journalist Joshua Micah Marshall, who commented that "Berman's book is by turns penetrating, insightful, honest, sloppy, erudite, superficial, hot-blooded, serious, and florid." Marshall also wrote,
Though this is a serious book, it is shot through with an equally serious flaw: the desire to inflate the threat of Islamist violence- and particularly its intellectual stakes- to levels beyond what they merit and to force them into a template of an earlier era, for which Berman has an evident and understandable nostalgia. Over the course of the book, the disjointedness between what the radical Islamist menace is and what Berman wants to make it ranges from merely apparent to downright painful, and ends up obscuring as much as it clarifies. And, unfortunately, the obscuring elements may be the more important ones. Given the role intellectuals are playing in this war, these are mistakes that could have dire real-world costs.
- Islamic terrorism
- Foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration
- Liberal hawk
- Liberal internationalism
- Martin Bright (20 April 2003). "From Left Bank to West Bank". The Observer. Retrieved 10 September 2011.
- Joshua Micah Marshall (May 2003). "The Orwell Temptation". Washington Monthly. Retrieved October 27, 2012.
- Terror and Liberalism. p. 208.
- Ellen Willis (March 25, 2003). "Terror and Liberalism" by Paul Berman". Salon.com. Retrieved October 27, 2012.