From Publishers Weekly
Stern, a former fellow on terrorism at the Council on Foreign Relations (and the inspiration for Nicole Kidman's character in The Peacemaker), makes the issue personal by depicting her encounters with religious terrorists around the world. Her definition of "religious terrorism" is comprehensive, encompassing the growing Muslim jihad in Indonesia, militant Palestinians and zealous Israelis, and Americans who kill abortion doctors in the name of Christ. Given the opportunity to articulate their positions, these and other subjects surprise not by their vehemence but by their relative normality, making it all the more curious that many of them eventually elect to strike against their opponents with deadly force. Explaining the "how" therefore becomes as important as explaining the "why," and the book carefully outlines the ways in which militant leaders of all denominations find recruits among the disenfranchised and recondition them, often under cultlike conditions, stoking their zealotry to the point of suicide and murder. Coupled with additional research, Stern's firsthand encounters bring a valuable and much-needed perspective to the problem of religious violence, and she identifies several increasingly broad threats, including the extent to which many governments will tolerate or even sponsor militant religious groups to further their own political agendas. For all the material damage terrorist acts cause, Stern argues, we should understand religious militance as a form of psychological warfare, calculated to bolster the faithful and strike "spiritual dread" in the unbelievers; the most effective counterstrategy is thus not violence but nonviolent techniques such as psychological counterwarfare and the reaffimation of our own values.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
This sophisticated examination of religiously motivated terrorism is a welcome antidote to the armchair analyses of Islamic extremism that surfaced in the wake of September 11th. Stern spent five years interviewing religious terrorists of all stripes, including anti-abortion crusaders, Hamas leaders, and militants in Pakistan and Indonesia. She found men and women who were driven not by nihilistic rage or lunacy but by a deep faith in the justice of their causes and in the possibility of transforming the world through violence. That faith, Stern suggests, is fuelled by poverty, repression, and a sense of humiliation, and then exploited by "inspirational leaders" who turn confused people into killers. The West cannot fight terror by intelligence and military means alone, she argues; a "smarter realpolitik approach" toward the developing world would use policy to deprive terrorists of not only funding and weapons but potential recruits.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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