sábado, 22 de março de 2014
By LOUISE RICHARDSON
BLOOD AND RAGE
A Cultural History of Terrorism
By Michael Burleigh
Illustrated. 577 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers. $29.99
Skip to next paragraph 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. He concludes his book by forgoing any academic definition, substituting instead a heartbreaking account of the suffering of a victim of the July 7, 2005, attacks on the London underground — though the description could equally apply to anyone facing an unexpected death. Definitions are in fact useful in helping us decide what to include. Burleigh gives long accounts, for example, of the sabotage and guerrilla activities of the African National Congress and the assassination campaigns of the 19th-century anarchists while suggesting that these are not really acts of terrorism. He writes about them anyway.
Burleigh asserts the motive of terrorists to be the creation of a climate of fear “in order to compensate for the legitimate political power they do not possess.” He may be right (though I don’t think so), but in any event he would be more persuasive if he argued the point rather than asserting it. He insists that terrorists are “morally insane,” whatever that means, and that they are driven by perceived slights or abstract grievances into hysterical rage. One does not have to be an apologist for terrorism to recognize that many of these grievances — occupation, political disenfranchisement, confinement in refugee camps — may be quite concrete and far from slight. One has only to read the statements or listen to the audiotapes of terrorist leaders to detect more cold calculation than what Burleigh terms obsessional killing rage.
It is a great shame that Burleigh could not bring himself to provide sources for most of the remarkable material he presents. He derides academics for providing footnotes to “prove earnestness.” In fact most academics provide footnotes because they don’t presume that theirs is the last word on a subject and want to encourage their readers and their students to delve further. Not Burleigh.
At times his account is thoughtful and nuanced, as in his discussion of the role of torture in the French campaign in Algeria, but on other occasions he generalizes with breathtaking self-confidence. Speaking about a fifth of the world’s population, he asserts that “Muslims liked to point out” and “Muslim girls toe the line at home” and “most Muslims do not seem to grasp the fact that.” Sometimes he is quite funny, as when he compares Osama bin Laden to “superannuated rock stars” like Bono and Bob Geldof, though it is not always clear that he means to be.
To appreciate the virtues of this book (it is, in its way, an exceptional synthesis), one has to make a conscious and concerted effort to ignore the condescending tone, the incessant sneering, the unsupported assertions and the gross generalizations. Few escape Burleigh’s ire. He describes Sartre as a “loathsome academic” at one point and an “aged useful idiot” at another. Foucault is a “silly Western intellectual.” Chernyshevsky’s utopian novel, “What Is to Be Done?,” is “execrable,” and liberal artists are idiots. He complains of “the sanctimonious ethos” of The New York Times and describes students at the London School of Economics as “Eurotrash and Americans doing ‘Let’s See Europe.’ ” There is certainly a lot of rage here, but quite what it has to do with terrorism is often hard to tell.
Clearly, Burleigh’s hyperbole is designed to stamp out any shred of residual sympathy for terrorists. But at times, apparently, he’s trying to be gratuitously offensive, as when he describes as “undiplomatic” the suggestion that all Jews be thrown into the sea, or says the undisciplined Black and Tans introduced “a certain indiscriminate vigor,” or attributes the decline in the Protestant population of the Republic of Ireland to something approaching “ethnic cleansing.”
On other occasions he seems unaware of his prejudices. This is particularly the case when it comes to his treatment of the crimes of women. The Russian nihilist Vera Figner became alienated from her husband “notwithstanding his having given up his career for her,” while the German Gudrun Ensslin “used her fiancé to sire a son.” Horrors! When he wants to ridicule Osama bin Laden, Burleigh cites a description of his having weak hands and a simpering smile “like a girl’s.”
In several instances, Burleigh seems to lose his critical faculties altogether in order simply to be offensive. Rather than arguing the quite reasonable point that the discrimination against Catholics in Northern Ireland under the Stormont government was not egregious and was better than the treatment of blacks in the American South, he writes: “Protestant friends of mine from Dungannon say that they often dated Catholic girls, who tended to be more feminine than the butch Unionists. Unlike the U.S. Deep South, they could do this without fear of being lynched.” He then goes on to miss the point about the Catholic civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. For the first time Catholics were claiming rights within Northern Ireland rather than demanding the overthrow of the state, and it was the inflexible government’s blindness to this opportunity — and the consequent emergence of violent republicanism — that had such tragic consequences for the province.
Having worked himself up into a red-hot rage in the course of his book over Islamic terrorism and its apologists in the British liberal elite, Burleigh ends with what is actually a reasoned analysis and with quite moderate prescriptions. He calls for more financing for public diplomacy, development aid, strengthening of democratic institutions and reliance on intelligence over armed force — prescriptions that are not that much different from those of the liberal elite he castigates. Had Burleigh written with less self-regard and with more regard for his readers, and had he written with less simplistic snideness and more of the sophisticated synthesis at which he excels, “Blood and Rage” could have been a very good book.
Louise Richardson, the principal and vice chancellor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, is the author of “What Terrorists Want.”
Blood and Rage By MICHAEL BURLEIGH
Irish grievances against the British in the nineteenth century were many. The British had garrisoned Ireland with troops, and favoured the industrious Protestant Scots-Irish of the North, because they suspected that its predominantly Roman Catholic inhabitants would rebel with the aid of a foreign foe at the first opportunity. In addition to the Ulster Presbyterians, there was an established, that is privileged, Protestant Church of Ireland, even though most of the population were Catholics. There was a fine Protestant university, Trinity College, Dublin, but none for Catholics. Ireland was part of a global empire, but was often treated as an offshore agricultural colony where labourers and poorer tenant farmers lived in chronic insecurity at the whim of absentee English landlords. Millions had left for the US (and industrialising Britain) where they adopted radical views that were far in advance of those of most people in Ireland itself. Confronted by virulent strains of American Protestantism, they compensated for discrimination by becoming more aggressively Irish, caricaturing the English as latterday Normans and sentimentalising the old country with its ancient barrows, bogs, castles and mists. That these were historically authentic was partly due to their being noted, from 1824 onwards, on detailed Ordnance Survey maps, while another British intrusion - the national census - ironically contributed to a growth of Irish cultural nationalism. Successive censuses had startling revelations. Whereas in 1845 half the population spoke Irish (or Gaelic), by 1851 this had fallen to 23 per cent, and below 15 per cent forty years later. The Gaelic League was born of a desire for an Irish-Irish patriotic literature at a time when the brightest stars in that firmament were Anglo-Irish Protestant nationalists like J. M. Synge, Sean O'Casey or W. B. Yeats.
Many complexities about the real, as opposed to imaginary, Ireland were lost in the Atlantic translation as fond hearts filled with hatred. Irish volunteers for the British army, replete with their own Catholic military chaplains, won a disproportionately high number of Victoria Crosses during the Crimean War. English and Irish liberals, led by the High Anglican prime minister William Ewart Gladstone, combined with British nonconformists to disestablish the anomalous Church of Ireland in 1869. Partly due to the disruptive ingenuity of a caucus of Irish MPs in the House of Commons, notably under Charles Stewart Parnell, and endemic rural criminality, Land Acts alleviated the insecurity of the smallest class of tenants. Finally, more and more British politicians, led eventually by Gladstone himself, were persuaded that Ireland's future lay in some degree of Home Rule, with separate legislatures benefiting both England and Ireland, the two countries joined at a more exalted level for defence or foreign policy by an imperial parliament continuing to sit at Westminster. That prospect, which became real enough on the eve of the First World War, was sufficient for the Protestant majority in Ulster to seek German arms to preserve their membership of a more developed Belfast-Glasgow-Liverpool industrialised axis, if necessary detached from the benighted clerical South.
Irish terrorism grew out of a venerable insurrectionary tradition that was manifestly failing by the mid-nineteenth century, only to return with a vengeance after an intervening lull in the late 1960s. The older history created many of the myths and martyrs of the more recent Troubles, as well as patterns of behaviour and thought that have survived in armed Irish republicanism within our lifetimes. There were many malign ghosts.
On 17 March 1858 an organisation was founded in Dublin by a railway engineer called James Stephens. It was St Patrick's Day. Within a few years this mutated into the Irish Republican Brotherhood, although that name was never employed as widely as 'Fenians'. This referred to a mythical band of pre-Christian Irish warriors, or the Fianna, roughly similar to romantic English legends about the Knights of King Arthur. For the English it meant a dastardly gang of murdering desperadoes. Fenianism encompassed a range of activities, with harmless conviviality and labour activism at the legal end of the spectrum, through to rural disturbances, insurrection and terrorism on the illegal margins Incubated in the political underworld of Paris, or the rough-and-ready slums of North America's eastern seaboard, the culture was heavily indebted to that of secret societies, with arcane rituals, masonic oaths and signs, a major reason why the Roman Catholic Church was largely unsympathetic. The general goal was the 'disenthralment' of the Irish race and the achievement of an Irish republic through violent struggle, all this within a broader context of Gaelic cultural self-assertion to which there has been some allusion.
The strategy, ultimately derived from the 1798 Wolfe Tone rebellion, was to transform British imperial difficulties into Irish opportunities. The imperial difficulties included the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny and the Zulu, Sudan and Boer Wars, as well as crises in British relations with France in the 1850s, with the US in the 1860s, and with Russia in the 1870s, for a war with any of these would enhance the prospects of an independent Irish republic. While the number of Irish heroes in the Crimea seemed to suggest that this strategy had failed, the Fenians took courage from the war's exposure of Britain's military deficiencies and the barely concealed rift with its French ally. In addition to trying to arm the Zulus, even the mahdi's 'swarthy desert warriors' became objects of Fenian interest, a trend that would continue into the late twentieth century in the form of Irish Republican Army links with the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Libya.
The Fenians drew upon the wider Irish emigration, whether in mainland Britain or the United States of America. They included refugees from the conditions that had produced the mid-nineteenthcentury famine, of which many Irish-Americans had raw memories. Life in the urban Irish ghettos of the US (or industrial Britain) was primitive. The Irish were also heartily disliked by the Protestant aristocracy that dominated the US, a fact which may explain their flight into a vehement Irishness which had much purchase in Boston or 'New Cork'. The American Civil War marked an important turning point since Britain was perceived to have supported the Confederate South, at a time when 150,000 Irish-Americans were fighting predominantly for the North. The Irish-Americans would inject Fenianism with money and military expertise.
Excerpted from Blood and Rage by Michael Burleigh Copyright © 2009 by Michael Burleigh. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 11:51