The Harsh Judgment of History: The Terrorist Worldview and Intellectual Values

The Harsh Judgment of History: The Terrorist Worldview and Intellectual Values

“The men of Islam are preparing for you what would fill your hearts with terror… ”
-Osama bin Laden


Is there a perspective from which contemporary terrorism can be seen as part of intellectual history? If so, what is the place of the terrorist worldview in the history of ideas? And what role should terrorist ideas play in current intellectual discussion?

In his September 2001 address before a joint meeting of Congress, President George W. Bush spoke directly to Muslims throughout the world, saying: “We respect your faith. . . . The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.” Other administration officials and political allies around the world have consistently maintained that we do not oppose Muslim people as such, or the Islamic religion, culture, or civilization. We are said to be at war only with a small, misguided band of terrorists who just happen to be Muslims. The evidence, however, suggests otherwise. “The evidence suggests that religion is ambiguous,” writes James Carroll, “a source of consolation, hope and compassion but also of intolerance, contempt and even violence.” The evidence suggests, in particular, that religious fundamentalism (in its contemporary incarnation as Islamic fundamentalism), though long passed over by history, is once again squarely at issue. (By fundamentalism I mean nothing more than the dictionary definition: “strict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles.”)


Charles W. Collier is professor of law and philosophy at the University of Florida.

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