BLOOD AND RAGE by Michael Burleigh


A Cultural History of Terrorism
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A careful, sharp-edged study of warfare by other means.

Terrorism, writes British historian Burleigh (Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics from the Great War to the War on Terror, 2007, etc.), is “a tactic primarily used by non-state actors…to create a psychological climate of fear in order to compensate for the legitimate political power they do not possess.” In what is likely to incite at least a little controversy, the author locates the origins of terrorism not in the Assassin cult of medieval Syria or the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, but instead in the Fenian movement of the mid-19th century, when Irish dissidents rose up against England and its presumed allies on three continents. The Fenians were thwarted by combined actions undertaken by the U.S. and British governments, but not before causing plenty of disorder and mayhem. The same was so of the nihilists of Russia, who, like contemporary anarchists elsewhere in Europe, tossed dynamite at the police and the ruling class—many of those dynamiters, Burleigh notes, were young upper-class women à la Patty Hearst. The author adds that the anarchist bombers caused exaggerated panic that “served to discredit political philosophies whose libertarian impulses might otherwise strike some as praiseworthy.” Less exalted, to most modern sensibilities, are the aims of the modern terrorists to whom Burleigh devotes the lion’s share of the book, foremost among them the Islamists. The context of jihadist terrorism, he notes, is fairly young, traced to an outburst of fundamentalist zealotry 30 years ago and marked by parallel movements in other monotheistic faiths, though “without the same violent effects.” Burleigh is no relativist, and he has pointed words for anyone who is, becoming quite like Pat Buchanan in the concluding pages—save that Burleigh looks to the politicians of Australia, and not Northern Virginia, to argue “that there are lines in the sand...which are not going to be crossed.”

Readable and provocative, though with a decidedly conservative cast.

Pub Date: March 3rd, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-06-117385-1
Page count: 592pp
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2009


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