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Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists Hardcover

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

An illuminating work of religious and cultural anthropology, Talking to the Enemy traces terrorism’s root causes in human evolution and history, touching on the nature of faith, the origins of society, the limits of reason, and the power of moral values.

Through rigorous fieldwork and nuanced investigation, Scott Atran reminds us that terrorists are social beings influenced by the interpersonal bonds, connections, and values familiar to us all. When individuals combine notions of the homeland, a family of friends, and a band of brothers with the zeal of belief, they are capable of amazing things, both good and bad: the ancient Jewish resistance to Rome; the revolutionary founding of America; the formation of Al-Qaeda and the resulting “fear by so many of so few.”

A brilliant study of the social and psychological mechanisms that lead to terrorism, Talking to the Enemy rejects popular misconceptions about suicide bombers, radical Islam, and the relationship between religion and war. Atran’s surprising and insightful conclusions show how our tolerance of faith enables extremists to flourish and why atheism and science education have little effect, while providing a path for deradicalization. A timely and provocative work, Talking to the Enemy offers solutions to help us to identify terrorists today, prevent the creation of future terrorists, and ultimately make the world a safer place for everyone.

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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 Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1 edition
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0058M5J88
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,972,667 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover
Scott Atran came under my radar due to his seemingly endless feud with the so called "New Atheists". I can't believe just how ignorant most of us are regarding suicide terrorism, but also how the mainstream media completely ignores this kind of research. And if that wasn't bad enough, Atran also cites examples of "qualified" people in the US government, european judges and media, fellow scientists, etc. utterly failing to realize how most effectively to track potential terrorists and to tackle their underlying roots for joining a movement such as the Jihad.
This book gives us a very thorough research and historical analysis of suicidal terrorism and and provides the cultural, historical, biological, cognitive, and religious framework necessary to understand the current status of conflict in the different parts of the world facing the constant of this threat.
It's important to mention, however, that the Auhor doesn't evaluate the spread of muslim and arabian culture into the different regions of the world where they continually face a direct threat to the hard fought values, ideals, laws and democratic principles of modern western societies. While the author mentions the rather successful adaptation of the muslim population in the US, in Europe specially it seems to be a different issue at the moment, that I personally think was overlooked as a source of potential conflict. This is particularly obvious with regards to the mysoginistic, patriarchal, and homophobic views of a significant percentage of its adherents (definitely not all).
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