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Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern Paperback – July 7, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-1565849877 ISBN-10: 1565849876

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Editorial Reviews

Review

A biting critique of American-style capitalism as a one-size-fits-all solution for the world's problems, destined to spread everywhere. -- The Chronicle of Higher Education

Chock-full of interesting observations and stimulating insights. -- Danny Postel, The Nation

One of the West's most thoughtful political philosophers. -- Philip Chase Bobbitt, author of The Shield of Achilles

About the Author

John Gray is Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics and the author of many books on political theory, including False Dawn and Two Faces of Liberalism. He lives in Bath, England.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 145 pages
  • Publisher: New Press, The (July 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565849876
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565849877
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #434,207 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Anyone with an interest in political science and critical theory should read this book at once.
Large Pro
If he is drawing a direct philosophical thread between them, it requires a much more sophisticated historicism than Gray seems willing or able to indulge in.
Nichomachus
This would be an opportunity to discuss the notions of evolutionary psychology; of course this doesn't arise as Gray is (one presumes) unaware of it.
"hagglesdoyle"

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Theodore A. Rushton on February 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Arizona Sen. John McCain has a quality that is sadly lacking in the current Bush administration; he is willing to listen to 'Old Europe' with respect, even though he bluntly disagrees with many of its positions.
This is the central theme of this book; if America cannot dominate the entire world, it is wise to listen to others with respect. Instead, Gray says Bush's ambition "to reshape the Middle East comes from the Christian fundamentalist belief that a major conflagration will fulfill biblical prophecies of a catastrophic conflict in the region. To the extent that it reflects this type of thinking, American foreign policy is itself fundamentalist."
Gray directly challenges a modern American myth that "Western societies are governed by the belief that modernity is a single condition, everywhere the same and always benign." Instead, he says modernity also produces organizations such as al Qaeda, and thus if we are to defeat modern terrorism we must recognize it as a fully modern development. No one would accuse Bush of being a throwback to the Puritans; likewise, al Qaeda is not a throwback to the Middle Ages or some earlier time.
The difficulty, Gray writes, is ". . . many Americans believe that all human beings are American under the skin. On the other hand, they have long viewed the world -- especially the Old World of Europe -- as corrupt, possibly beyond redemption." Thus, the ideal expressed by President Woodrow Wilson of exporting American ideas to Europe after World War I, and the subsequent isolationism of Republicans in Congress which lasted until Dec. 7, 1941.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Large Pro on October 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover
John Gray has written a credible, immensely readable and remarkably perceptive account of modernity's inherent contradictions. Gray argues that the "modern" accounts for how "progress" has come to center the collective ambitions of diverse stakeholders. Indeed, for Gray, progress (the modern disposition itself) is a faith-based (though not always theological) journey waged by various utopians who seek to carve a brave new world out of what they perceive to be social chaos and moral degradation. The problem is that the various "moderns" of the past 200 years, most notably Marxists, neo-liberal adherents to the Western free market, and Islamist militants like Al Qaeda, all have radically divergent plans for bringing the ultimate "new world" into existence. Prospects for arriving at a global equanimity among these competing senses of modernity look bleak. The upshot of Gray's argument is that there can be more than one way to be modern and thus the West does the world a disservice by insisting that progressive social development must be ITS way or not at all. Indeed, Gray suggests that the most successful non-Western modernizing nations (e.g. Japan, China, and especially India) have been wise to preserve their own traditions even as they unlock the power of technology and free market enterprise in their culture. Anyone with an interest in political science and critical theory should read this book at once. Indeed anyone who enjoys lucid argumentation would be well-served to crack open this elegant and slim volume of thought. Highly recommended.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Bruno van Dunné on September 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Gray is great at showing unexpected links between the so-called backward Al Queda and our 'modern' western world. He shows that both have the same roots.
He doubts the current American idea of being THE source of universal civilisation. Several others went ahead: England in the 19th century, Spain in the 17th, and, who knows, China in the 21th century.
The omnipresent human desire for perfection is the greatest danger to the modern world: it leads to the terror of the good intentions.
Very readable!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bruno on February 28, 2006
Format: Paperback
Is the title of this book misleading? Clearly the emphasis of the book is on 'what it means to be modern' and 'Al Qaeda' is only used sparingly (but in my opinion very tellingly) to illustrate the main thesis. Thats not to say the title wont shift more copies with Al Qaeda in there, but if you're an intelligent and open-minded reader then you should come away from this book having been presented with a novel perspective on the modern world and having learnt something new, or at least a new argument, about the underlying nature and rational of a truly modern and global terrorist movement. Gray spends a lot of time arguing that Islamism is a product of a way of thinking that did not exist pre-enlightenment, and it seems most reviewers are focusing on this part of the argument. But to me, the more interesting (and convincing) arguments here concern al qaeda's existance as a product not only of modern thinking but of globalisation ie their ability to exploit failed states, global communications such as the internet, and of the international movement of people, money and arms. Thus the meaning of al qaeda is placed within the framework of the world view presented in 'straw dogs' - rather than technology and globablisation marching the world forwards into an era of democracy and peace, they will simply continue history along its usual course of conflict and suffering, only yet more bloodily
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