In his new book Michael Burleigh’s NOT writing about the Third Reich

Historians in the News

Michael Burleigh’s ambitious cultural history of terrorism is indeed suffused with blood and rage. The blood is provided in graphic, detailed, often nauseating descriptions of the vicious brutality of terrorists ranging from the Irish Fenians to Al Qaeda. The rage, on the other hand, is in the pen of the author, and it is equally wide ranging. Burleigh rages against terrorists and all their apologists: “unserious” academics, ineffably polite interrogators, colluding human rights lawyers and those scourges of the modern age, the multiculturalists.

Behind the blood and the rage, this is a learned and erudite book. Burleigh’s broad survey provides detailed descriptions of many of the most important terrorist movements and the sociopolitical contexts in which they have operated since the mid-19th century. He seamlessly synthesizes vast amounts of historical material and provides often riveting accounts of terrorist atrocities and the literary and political environments where they took place. He treats Russian nihilists, European anarchists, Fenians of both the 19th- and 20th-century variety, Algerians, Palestinians, South Africans, the Italian Red Brigades, the German Red Army Faction and the Basque ETA before coming to his real interest, Islamic terrorism. A less ambitious author might have given his readers two books, as there is little direct connection between the various parts other than the unstated point that Islamic terrorism is just the most recent manifestation of an old phenomenon. The implication is that, like its precursors, it too will pass.

Burleigh is a respected historian widely known for his work on the Third Reich, and with “Blood and Rage” he has written a deeply idiosyncratic book. He provides no explanation for why he includes some terrorist organizations and not others; important groups like the Colombian FARC, the Shining Path of Peru and the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka receive little or no mention, nor do most other Latin American or Asian groups. Burleigh’s interest remains Europe.

Neither does he have any time for defining terrorism....
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