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Posted on Sep 18, 2009 in Books and Movies

Blood and Rage – Book Review

By Nick Kaminsky

Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism
Michael Burleigh. HarperCollins Publishers, 2009. 592 pages, 31 Illustrations, 1 map. Hardback. US $29.99

If Burleigh’s work had come out a decade earlier and been read by the appropriate people, the world might have saved itself a lot of pain and trouble over terrorism.

Terrorists of all stripes have been portrayed as freedom fighters by far too many authors. Michael Burleigh cannot be counted among these. In his work Blood & Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism, Burleigh unabashedly shows terrorism as the atrocity it really is.


With great wit and many a cynical turn of phrase, Burleigh takes the reader on a tour of different terrorist activities around the world beginning in the mid-nineteenth century with the Irish Fenians and leading up to the present day. He covers different terrorist groups in a wide variety of countries spanning several continents.

In his work – which is necessarily repetitive and even more necessarily depressing – Burleigh often juxtaposes the terrorists’ “lofty” ideals with what they actually accomplished, i.e. the infliction of pain and suffering, often on innocent bystanders. He treats individual terrorists with great condescension (quite refreshing in a world suffering from the presence of red Che Guevara t-shirts) and is even harsher towards those who have tried to defend them. Among these were the “idiot Belgian Socialists” who compared a fairly mild prison built to house Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) terrorists to Dachau.

The “idiot Belgian socialists” are not the only ones disdained by Burleigh. He just as enthusiastically attacks certain lawyers and college professors. When talking about the rise of the Islamic fundamentalists in Egyptian universities during the 1970s, he criticizes the university leaders for allowing the fundamentalist groups so much leeway. “In that respect they resembled liberal university administrators in the West, with their limitless indulgence towards fanatics’ desire for social justice.”

Though he definitely sides with established governments against terrorists, Burleigh, who describes himself as “a conservative realist, skeptical of the zealous neo-cons,” doesn’t hesitate to point out the flaws and outright stupidity contained in various anti-terrorism practices. No defender of Jack Bauer, he states his belief that, “psychological methods of interrogation are more effective than torture is ever likely to be, and never involve the ticking-time-bomb scenario envisioned by torture’s academic apologists.”

He also partially blames European governments, especially that of his British homeland, for today’s problem of worldwide Islamic terrorism. He criticizes London for having allowed branches of terrorist organizations to operate in the city, calling it, “one of the most complacent, decadent and irresponsible acts of policy and policing of any Western democracy, all undertaken under the delusion that there was an unwritten ‘pact of security’ in which the hosts would be safe from attack.”

Burleigh’s book also contains chilling warnings from the past concerning terrorism, warnings which unfortunately went unheeded. Nearly ten years before any major terrorist atrocities were perpetrated in the West, the Egyptian government issued a statement that terrorists were operating “on a worldwide scale” and that European countries which sheltered terrorists “should now understand that it will come back to haunt them where they live.”

If Burleigh’s work had come out a decade earlier and been read by the appropriate people, the world might have saved itself a lot of pain and trouble over terrorism. Of course “what ifs” are always uncertain in history, and the fact is that Blood and Rage was not in existence when it could have been most helpful. But now that this impressive, albeit depressing book is available, it should be read by all of those who wish to better understand the terrorist movements that have plagued our world into the twenty-first century.

ACG Intel:

Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism @ Amazon

Michael Burleigh