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Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists Hardcover – Bargain Price, October 19, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1 edition (October 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061344907
  • ASIN: B0058M5J88
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #594,302 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Atran (In Gods We Trust) examines the motivations of terrorists in this sprawling and timely study. Drawing upon years of travel among Muslim communities from Indonesia to Morocco, extensive interviews with would-be martyrs and holy warriors, and detailed surveys, the author concludes that young jihadists aren't merely motivated by political or religious fervor--they are powerfully bound to each other, they were campmates, school buddies, soccer pals, and the like, who become die-hard bands of brothers. Besides the importance of group dynamics in spawning terrorists, the author highlights the role of sacred values --core cultural values--that often trump other values, particularly economic ones. Within this context, Atran argues that the best measures against today's terrorist threat--which is more opportunistic, more scattered and disjointed, than it was before 9/11--are soft-power initiatives to provide alternative heroes and hopes within Muslim communities and to reframe sacred values. Atran's intellectual reach is prodigious; his analysis of the underpinnings of terrorism is instructive, if often unconventional; and his provocative prescriptions merit debate and consideration.
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Review

“Talking to the Enemy is Atran’s impassioned call for evidence-based policy, but it’s also an ambitious survey of culture and violence. Research is the trump card here, played often and well.” (David Shariatmadari, The Guardian )

“Talking to the Enemy is about far more than violent extremism. One of the most penetrating works of social investigation to appear in many years, it offers a fresh and compelling perspective on human conflict. ” (John Gray, Literary Review )

“Talking to the Enemy is recommendable not just for its vivid insights into the motivation of terrorists, butalso for its study of Islamic radicalisation and the anthropology of religion in general.” (Michael Bond, New Scientist )

“Talking to the Enemy is an important book, by turns fascinating, dense, scientific, debatable, illuminating.” (David Aaronovitch, The Times )

“Scott Atran is one of the world’s most important and innovative thinkers on the local and global dynamics of violent Islamist extremism. . . . Required reading for those trying to understand and address the problems of terrorism in the 21st century.” (Juan Zarate, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism 2005 - 2009 )

“What can be done to undo future jihadist networks? renowned anthropologist Scott Atran has carried out a very thorough study with surprising findings on what motivates those who kill and die.” (Luis Miguel Ariza, El Pais )

“Atran has given us a remarkably honest book, demonstrating that down-to-earth field work can give us a far superior understanding of what makes terrorists‘tick’ than whole armies of armchair counter-terrorist ‘experts.’” (Perspectives on Terrorism )

“This deeply researched, wide ranging, and very timely study provides a compelling and often surprising account of what lies behind the jihadi phenomenon . . . . It should be read carefully, and pondered.” (Noam Chomsky )

“Atran explores the way terrorists think about themselves and teaches us, at last, intelligent ways to think about terrorists. He puts the threat in perspective and provides keys to winning the fight against violent zealotry.” (Christopher Dickey, Newsweek Middle East Editor and author of SECURING THE CITY )

“The stories Atran brings back from talking to jihadists and their supporters are gripping, and the result of his experiments that probe their sacred values are compelling. The insights he gains tell us more than we knew before about what it means to be human.” (Robert Axelrod, Walgreen Professor for the Study of Human Understanding at the University of Michigan, author of The Evolution of Cooperation, and recipient of the National Academy of Sciences Award for Behavioral Research Relevant to the Prevention of Nu )

“Atran is one of the world’s most important thinkers on the local and global dynamics of violent Islamist extremism. His research on what motivates young men to fall prey to violent ideologies is required reading for those trying to understand the problems of terrorism in the 21st century.” (Juan Zarate, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism 2005 - 2009 )

“[Atran’s] rigorous research not only debunks the claims of pundits who sit lightly to academic discipline but also challenges unscientific attacks on religion by senior scientists. The political implications of his well-grounded analysis are profound but conveyed in an accessible style which left me excited and hopeful.” (John, Lord Alderdice, Chairman of the Liberal Democrat Party in the House of Lords, former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly and President of Liberal International )

“A riveting account of the motivational basis of terrorism and field material of rare quality. Dismantling the myths that guide the so called war on terror, he provides the tools to address a global problem rationally and effectively.” (Carlo Strenger, Graduate Chair of Clinical Psychology, Tel Aviv University, and columnist for Ha'aretz )

“Scott Atran is one of the very few persons who understand religion and have figured out that religion is not about belief and cannot be naively replaced without severe side effects.” (Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Distinguished Professor, New York University Polytechnic Institute, author of The New York Times bestseller The Black Swan )

“Historically keen and astutely humanistic...the author’s deep penetration into anthropological explanations of evolution, teamwork, blood sport and war attempt to define what it means to be human.” (Kirkus Reviews )

“Recommendable not just for its vivid insights into the motivation of terrorists, but also for its study of Islamic radicalization and the anthropology of religion in general..” (New Scientist )

“A highly readable round-the-world examination of the jihad and its adherents. . . . Atran pieces together the lives and the backgrounds of extremists, offering insightful perspectives by placing contemporary Islamist dissent into a deeper context of human evolutionary history.” (Richard Phelps, Financial Times )

“Atran has given us a remarkablly honest book, demonstrating that down-to-earth field work can give us a far superior understanding of what makes terrorists ‘tick’ than whole armies of armchair counterterroris ‘experts.’” (Alex Schmid, Perspectives on Terrorism )

“Atran’s intellectual reach is prodigious; his analysis of the underpinnings of terrorism is instructive, if often unconventional; and his provocative prescriptions merit debate and consideration.” (Publishers Weekly )

“Sets us and our governments straight about a long list of dubious assumptions. He is sure that we must talk before we shoot, and that we must learn to distinguish real threats from imagined ones.” (Jeremy Harding, London Review of Books )

More About the Author

Scott Atran is a director of research in anthropology at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, France. He is also a research associate and visiting professor in psychology and public policy at the University of Michigan, a Presidential Scholar in Sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and cofounder of ARTIS Research and Risk Modeling. His books include In God We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Carlo Strenger on October 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
For fair Disclosure: I am a colleague of Scott Atran's, and I have cooperated with him on questions related to this book's topic. While this may not make me an impartial reviewer (I have endorsed this book, wholeheartedly), I want to explain the reason why Atran's work, and this book, are indispensable.

I live in Israel, where the question of the nature of terrorism and how to deal with is a daily, existential issue. Both here and in the US, everybody, including decision makers have well-entrenched views on what terrorism is and how it should be dealt with. The right 'knows' it needs to be eradicated by use of power; the left 'knows' that most terrorism, particularly Islamic terror, is only a reaction to Western imperialism, and if we were only 'nice' to everybody, it would stop. So most views on terrorism are based on previous mindsets, and most 'specialists' have made up their minds, and are no longer confused by the facts.

Atran's book is based on two pillars: one is his long-standing work on the evolutionary basis of religion (which I have reviewed in the past); the other is his anthropological research on radical religious groups. As opposed to all the 'all-knowing' experts, Atran has done extensive research that has included talking to members of most of the groups that are today lumped together as terrorist organizations. He has also done extensive research on the mind sets of radical religious groups. Lastly, he has been involved in the most systematic research done so far on how terror cells involved in the attacks of 9/11, Madrid and 7/7 have actually come into being.

'Talking to the Enemy' shows in micro-detail the psychological and social mechanisms that bind people together into groups that will engage in terror.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By J. Davis on December 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is an impressive work on a fascinating subject by a brilliant man and one of our nation's top scientists. Scott Atran understands religion probably better than anyone alive. He explains in detail why so many men are joining the "jihad" against the West. This book could be accurately described as a 600 page attack on false beliefs. Some surprising facts come out: for example religious education does not lead to suicidal terrorism and scientific education does not prevent it.

Atran devotes a fascinating chapter to criticizing the so-called New Atheists (e.g. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris) and explains to the reader how their lack of understanding of religion embarrases him to be an atheist. He takes on some other dubious beliefs: that the "surge" in Afghanistan or other violence will eliminate terrorism. This is a true scientific work; Atran rarely relies on his own intution, but cites scientific studies to prove his case.I came close to giving this book 5 stars, which I something I almost never do.

I did not give it 5 stars, ultimately, because I see two flaws in it: 1. I think Atran underestimates the religious motivation behind terrorism. He's correct that there are other factors, but goes too far in downplaying this important belief. 2. He's a little overconfident on the compatibility of science with religion. This is somewhat surprising to me, as Atran has written eloquently against the "intelligent design" movement's threat to scientific education. These two flaws, however, do not destroy the book's effectiveness. It is still a tremendously enjoyable and educational work of science.
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19 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Kelly Cooper VINE VOICE on October 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Scott Atran has some interesting research to share, along with a heavy dose of professional chauvinism. This is a book dedicated to the proposition that exposing the social contexts from which violent extremists emerge will ultimately create a means to defeat them. To this end, Atran provides a detailed synopsis of his work with various criminals, terrorists, and their sympathizers (along with the familial and social networks that support them). The great revelation of this research seems to be that ideologically motivated suicide bombers are, in fact, psychologically normal. Too, there are consistencies in the anthropological profiles of suicidal extremists across cultural boundaries.

There is good sense in this, and I'm grateful that Atran has written a book to address some misconceptions about the psychological, social, and religious characteristics of individual terrorists. However, the notion that this understanding will itself provide some kind of panacea in the quest for peace is either naive or arrogant; either way it is not convincing. The discussion of sacred values near the end of the book does a great deal to move Atran's argument forward, but he unfortunately gets sidetracked by fanciful political ideas (e.g., Sarah Palin as a conduit for Alexis de Tocqueville) and only a marginal interest in the history of suicide terrorism as a military tactic rather than as a sociological phenomenon.

The writing is lucid and concise, if at times a bit difficult (for a mono-cultural American anglophile, the blizzard of Indonesian and Arabic names is relentless and often impossible to remember from one page to the next). Atran takes the opportunity to perpetuate his feud with Sam Harris (and other prominent anti-religious intellectuals), which is amusing...
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