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AL QAEDA AND WHAT IT MEANS TO BE MODERN by John Gray

AL QAEDA AND WHAT IT MEANS TO BE MODERN

By John Gray

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-56584-805-5
Publisher: New Press

From across the Atlantic, Gray (European Thought/London School of Economics) warns that the US will not much longer enjoy either its military hegemony or its economic puissance unless it abandons its procrustean international policies.

There are dangerous flaws and wavy distortions in the glass through which Americans view the world, asserts the author, and 9/11 does not seem to have corrected them. For one thing, we fallaciously assume that there is only one version of modernity and it’s wearing an Uncle Sam outfit. For another, we mistakenly perceive the militant Islamic movements as medieval. On the contrary, they are profoundly modern, employing sophisticated technology and engaging in high-stake investments both legal and illegal. To the extent that westerners see Al Qaeda and other radical groups as anachronisms, argues Gray (Two Faces of Liberalism, 2000, etc.), we become ever more ill equipped to deal with this deadly threat. The author endeavors to show how Soviet communists and National Socialists were also in fact very modern, though profoundly mistaken in their approaches to government and economic policy. He traces our failures back to the positivists’ belief that progress in science would result in progress in ethics and politics. In Gray’s view, too many of our political leaders, especially Americans, still embrace the positivist position and cannot see that countries fundamentally different from us will never be able to adopt effectively our economic models—witness post-Soviet Russia. He believes that the American attempt to force free markets on everyone will result in the decline of the US. He also doubts that we have the economic strength or the political will to sustain the Pax Americana we’re currently pursuing in the face of protests from the rest of the world. Among our more naïve and potentially damaging beliefs: “all human beings are Americans under the skin.”

A smart, learned, lucid, and alarming argument, occasionally overstated for rhetorical purposes.