Terror and Liberalism

Terror and Liberalism

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by Paul Berman
     
 
A manifesto for an aggressive liberal response to terrorist attacks.One of our most brilliant public intellectuals, Paul Berman has spent his career writing on revolutionary movements and their totalitarian aspects. Here he argues that, in the terror war, we are not facing a battle of the West against Islam—a clash of civilizations. We are facing, instead, the

Overview

A manifesto for an aggressive liberal response to terrorist attacks.One of our most brilliant public intellectuals, Paul Berman has spent his career writing on revolutionary movements and their totalitarian aspects. Here he argues that, in the terror war, we are not facing a battle of the West against Islam—a clash of civilizations. We are facing, instead, the same battle that tore apart Europe during most of the twentieth century, only in a new version. It is the clash of liberalism and its enemies—the battle between freedom and totalitarianism that arose in Europe many years ago and spread to the Muslim world. The author considers the wars against fascism and communism from the past, and draws cautionary lessons. But he also draws from those past experiences a liberal program for the present—a program that departs in fundamental respects from the policies of the Bush administration.

Author Biography: Paul Berman is a contributing editor of The New Republic and a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute. He has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. His books include Debating P. C. and A Tale of Two Utopias.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Berman is aware of the many differences between the two principal political forces in the contemporary Muslim world: radical Islamism and secular-nationalist despotism. Indeed, he writes quite sharply on those differences in his long discussion of Sayyid Qutb, the mid-century guru of Islamism who was imprisoned, tortured and eventually put to death by Egypt's secular pan-Arab President Gamal Abdel Nasser. But despite their points of divergence, for Berman there is something essential that makes the fundamentalist rage of bin Laden and the secular ethnic ambitions of the Ba'ath party "two branches of a single impulse": a shared and extreme antipathy toward liberalism. Both of these branches are antidemocratic, intolerant and authoritarian to the core. And in their nihilistic celebration of death, Berman argues, they are ideologies of terror. — Danny Postel
The New York Times
Berman is reluctant to describe the present crisis as a ''clash of civilizations.'' Samuel Huntington (who popularized the phrase) may have been prescient when he noticed, a decade ago, that ''bloody borders'' marked every point of contact between Muslim and non-Muslim peoples, but Islam itself, in Berman's view, explains only part of the problem. The Middle East's tyrants, terrorists and raving ayatollahs owe their nastiest qualities less to their own traditions, he believes, than to ours. They are, in a word, totalitarians. — Gary Rosen
Publishers Weekly
Berman puts his leftist credentials (he's a member of the editorial board of Dissent) on the line by critiquing the left while presenting a liberal rationale for the war on terror, joining a discourse that has been dominated by conservatives. The most original aspect of his analysis is to categorize Islamism as a totalitarian reaction against Western liberalism in a class with Nazism and communism; drawing on the ideas of Camus in The Rebel, Berman delineates how all three movements descended from utopian visions (in the case of Islamism, the restoration of a pure seventh-century Islam) into irrational cults of death. He illustrates this progression through a nuanced analysis of the writings of a leading Islamist thinker, Sayyid Qutb, ending with some chilling quotations from other Islamists, e.g., "History does not write its lines except with blood," the blood being that of Islam's martyrs (such as suicide bombers) as well as of their enemies, Zionists and Crusaders (i.e., Jews and Christians). Berman then launches into his most provocative chapter, and the one he will probably be most criticized for in politically correct journals: a scathing attack on leftist intellectuals, such as Noam Chomsky, who have applauded terrorism and tried to explain it as a rational response to oppression. Berman exhorts readers to accept that, on the contrary, Islamism is a "pathological mass political movement" that is "drunk on the idea of slaughter." A former MacArthur fellow and a contributing editor to the New Republic, Berman offers an argument that will be welcomed by disaffected progressives looking for a new analysis of today's world. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
Berman, one of America's leading public intellectuals, has written the first significant ideological contribution to the United States' war on terror. This short and controversial survey introduces readers to the historical and intellectual links between the fascism of fanatical Islamist terrorism today and the totalitarian movements of the twentieth century. Assembling evidence to show that the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood were steeped in the antiliberal ideologies that shaped so much of twentieth-century history, Berman argues that the West faces yet another challenge from a pathologically irrational, blood-drunk ideology of hatred and reaction not unlike the Bolshevik and fascist outbreaks of evil. Looking back to anticommunist classics such as The God That Failed, in which leading ex-communists tell their stories of increasing disillusion, Berman attempts to reconstitute the tradition of Cold War liberalism in the context of the war on terror. The book's criticism of the Bush administration and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is scathing, but for Berman, Bush's shortcomings only go to show that the war on terror is too important to be left to conservatives alone. Berman's uncompromising attack on the Islamist death cult will not win him any friends on the Upper West Side, and his exposure of the moral failings and logical contradictions of many of Israel's fashionable critics will further alienate him from what remains of the organized American left, but this book will be remembered as an important contribution to the effort to understand the war on terror. It is not perfect, but it deserves, even demands, to be read.
Library Journal
So new that at press time the publisher's sales reps had yet to hear about it, this work considers how liberals can respond to the threat of terrorism. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A timely cri de guerre-or perhaps antiguerre or autre guerre-from a distinguished student of liberalism and its enemies. World Policy Institute fellow Berman (A Tale of Two Utopias, 1996, etc.) locks horns with Samuel Huntington's once ignored but now widely cited "clash of civilizations" thesis, which pits the Islamic against the Western world. The terms are a little off, he argues, especially given that "in all of recent history, no country on earth has fought so hard and consistently as the United States on behalf of Muslim populations-a strange thing to say, given what passes for conventional wisdom." Why, then, after our efforts in defense of Islamic Kurds, Islamic Marsh Arabs, Islamic Bosnians, and Islamic Kosovars, do Islamicists and terrorists hate Americans so roundly? Perhaps, Berman writes, the battle is not so much between Islam and the West as it is between different strains of Western thought that have been transported around the world: "the totalitarian cult of death" and the classically liberal view of freedom and of free people. That's not such a strange thesis, given that "an amazing number of the Arab and Muslim terrorists turn out to have second and even primary identities as Westerners," among them the suicide warriors of 9/11, who schooled in Germany, Belgium, England, and the US and had little evident desire to use their energies at home. (The author notes in passing that members of Osama bin Laden's immediate family do business today with George Bush the Elder.) Ranging from Camus to Lukacs to Marx to Arafat, Berman explores these conflicting ideologies and their implications, finding time to insert a few kind words about the current president's successes inAfghanistan and to urge his fellow liberals on in the war against fascism, whatever its other names. "Some aspects of a war against totalitarianism and terror can be fought even by people who cannot abide George W. Bush," he argues. Full of good, smart moments, even if its governing idea is tough to pin down.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393057751
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
04/21/2003
Edition description:
1ST
Pages:
128
Product dimensions:
5.88(w) x 8.48(h) x 0.88(d)

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Terror and Liberalism 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Paul Berman is what one could fairly describe as a thinking man¿s pundit, unafraid of alienating either his more sympathetic supporters from the left, and sometimes drawing praise and agreement from the conservative right. The author of many provocative and thought-inspiring essays, Berman found himself surprised and befuddled by the turn of events on 911, which he watched with dismay from his perch on his apartment house roof in Manhattan. Quite quickly he became much more aware of the radical threats pulsing through the city as, for example, a Yemeni cleric was indicted and subsequently convicted of laundering and forwarded tens of millions of dollars to Al Quaida. In ¿Terror And Liberalism ¿ he turns his considerable wit and intellectual powers to a consideration of the nature of, and threats emanating from, what he has come to describe as ¿Islamic Totalitarianism¿ Far from flying with the angels of either the right or the left, Berman indicates understanding the rise of such radical organizations requires abandoning these kinds of simple dichotomous paradigms, and in examining the ways in which the terrorism of the 21st century finds its roots in the violent and reactionary movements of the 20th century. Berman shows how the recent episodes of terror committed by such Islamic groups finds its origins in a continuation of the historical struggle between reactionary fascist and totalitarian groups such as the Nazis on the one hand, and the Soviet, Chinese and Cuban communists on the other against the entrenched liberal cultures of the Western democracies. Seen in this perspective, self-described Islamic fundamentalist groups like Al Quaida and Hamas are less the exclusively pure religious rejections of the Christian West as they are a violent and ultimately secular ideology camping under the tent of a highly corrupted Islamic fundamentalism that finds its rage and purpose by rebelling against what they see as the ¿hideous schizophrenia¿ of modern society. This is all documented in a relatively obscure set of voluminous texts written by Egyptian scholar and intellectual Sayyid Qutb and entitled ¿In The Shade of the Qur¿an¿, which Berman believes provides the theoretical underpinnings of the Islamic totalitarian movements now assailing the West. So, while Berman admits the philosophical musings of Outb to be sophisticated, intellectually profound, heartfelt and deeply nuanced, he also finds reason to criticize the more radical interpretation which spokespersons for radical Muslim fundamentalism such as Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden approach the kind of crypto-fascist critique of post-modern Western societies, and indeed now constitute the same sort of grave threat to the continuation of our culture. Arguing quite persuasively, Berman posits that the radical forms of Islamism and Baathism (which is the variation of Islamic thought that ideologically propels Saddam Hussein¿s former ruling party) stem from the same kind of reactionary counter-revolution against the rising forces of liberalism that a century ago created the conditions for the First World War. Therefore, he argues, we must marshal our resources to combat this ideological challenge that such violent ideologies arising within the Muslim world today. This makes great sense in trying to piece together a workable strategy for working through the issues and concerns being raised by our interventions in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and will give rise, Berman believes, to a more sophisticated and comprehensive world view than those offered in the overly simplistic liberal or conservative frames of reference in current vogue. He suggest perhaps amore enlightened liberalism will recognize, just as FDR did at the outset of World War Two, that there is great merit in rising to the international challenge and combating the tyrannical forces of radical Islamic totalitarianism. This is a terrific book, and one that will stretch and prod those old brain cells into ac