In This Review

Images of Terror: What We Can and Can't Know About Terrorism
Images of Terror: What We Can and Can't Know About Terrorism
By Philip Jenkins
Aldine de Gruyter, 2003, 227 pp
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No End to War: Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century
No End to War: Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century
By Walter Laqueur
Continuum, 2003, 288 pp
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The post-September 11 surge in publications offering the latest wisdom on terrorism has been a mixed bag, but here are two of the best. They are also quite different. Laqueur is a veteran terrorism-watcher. Here he does not reprise his earlier histories. Instead, he provides a hard analysis of the development of Islamic militancy, tracing it back to the Muslim Brotherhood of the 1970s and following it through radical campaigns in Egypt, the development of al Qaeda, and on to September 11. Although the output of these groups may be terrorism, Laqueur reminds us that they cannot be understood except in context, as a product of particular social and political forces and ideological constructions. He gives short shrift to those who see terrorism simply as a function of poverty and deprivation. Considering the widespread failure to appreciate the implications of developing turbulence in the Muslim world, Laqueur questions the competence not only of the government but also of the media and the academic community. Jenkins also addresses the stories behind acts of terrorism. He is most interested, however, in what happens to these stories as they enter public debate and are reconstructed through attempts to establish links that turn out to be tenuous at best -- Muhammad Atta and Iraq, Syria and Lockerbie -- and to stigmatize groups with the demonic "terrorist" label. Meanwhile, other questionable groups find their exploits celebrated. What meaning does the war against terror have for anti-Castro activists or Puerto Rican independentistas, or for those who kill in opposition to abortion? This is a brilliant, uncomfortable book, its impact heightened by clear, restrained writing and a stunning range of examples.