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Mark Stokle (Norwich, UK)

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Inside Terrorism (Columbia Studies in Terrorism and Irregular Warfare)
Inside Terrorism (Columbia Studies in Terrorism and Irregular Warfare)
by Bruce Hoffman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.95

18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Superficial and outdated, 16 Jan. 2012
Hoffman's book, along with the works of Walter Laqueur and Marc Sageman, is the standard text issued to students in the field and to national security officials. It adopts the traditional view prevalent in western academic and military circles: that terrorism is a violent technique employed by non-state actors (mostly Muslims) to achieve political ends. However, even if you agree with such a stance, this work will not help you further your understanding of the subject. In essence, it's a discussion of political theory supported by outdated examples and generalizations; and it fails to provide any practical detailed investigation into the mechanisms of terrorism. Nevertheless, it does possess one important redeeming feature in its authoritative discussion of how terrorists manipulate the media.

The book's first chapter constitutes a poor attempt at defining terrorism. Hoffman does not give his own opinions, but refers instead to definitions published by the Oxford dictionary and several US governmental agencies. He rapidly dismisses the contention that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" by arguing that terrorists are not regular combatants because their actions violate the Geneva Convention. More importantly, the book completely fails to address why people might engage in terrorist activities (a subject much better covered by Robert A. Pape's "Dying to Win").

After this introduction, Hoffman presents a brief (and incongruous) historical survey of his subject. In his opinion, terrorism is directly linked to the struggles of post-WWII de-colonization. Like communism, it is an "international conspiracy". This often leads him into the troubled waters of double-standards. For example, he describes Menahem Begin and the Irgun as terrorists during their struggle against the British in Mandate Palestine (e.g. King David Hotel bombing), but does not discuss how this could have influenced Begin's later policies as PM of Israel (the 1982 invasion of Lebanon in particular). Arafat and his PLO are put forward to illustrate the "internationalization" of terrorism (4 pages on the Munich attacks). Yet the reader will search in vain for an assessment of the evidence condemning Israel's war crimes. Treatment of the IP conflict is generally very one-sided. Furthermore, Hoffman's depiction of the Algerian FLN as a terrorist group is far too simplistic. Alistar Horne does a much better job exploring this topic in his masterpiece: "A Savage War of Peace". Overall, one is left with the impression that the author not only picks and chooses his examples, but also fails to properly evaluate them.

There are other fundamental problems underlying Hoffman's analysis. Most of his discussion devoted to the importance of religion in suicide terrorism has been convincingly refuted by Robert A. Pape's research. He tends to ignore the logistical and operational aspects of terrorist groups, and has been overtaken in this field by Marc Sageman (the theory of "sleeper cell" networks). Hoffman's examination of North Africa is obsolete, and there is little or no mention of groups like the GIA, GSPC or AQIM. Informed readers will probably feel that this book is out of date and that current debates surrounding terrorism have moved on.

Despite these numerous drawbacks, Hoffman's introduction to terrorism does produce a very enlightening study of the relationship between terrorists and the media. He is particularly good at using case studies to emphasize how terrorists manipulate television to popularize their cause and recruit new members. This analysis is still pertinent today.

In conclusion, I would say this book is not a good introduction to terrorism. It's superficial, partisan in its approach, and fast becoming obsolete. However, if you are studying the subject, then it's worth acquiring for two reasons. First, because Hoffman is one of the principal academics who represents the traditional, western view in the field. He's a symbol of orthodoxy, and therefore a good source to understand how people think. You'd be daft, however, to let him influence your own conclusions. The other reason is because his work contains important passages on the media's manipulation by terrorist groups. In other words, he's a painful necessity.

History of The Arabs
History of The Arabs
by Philip K. Hitti
Edition: Paperback
Price: £25.19

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A timeless classic, masterful in its scope - no doubt one of the most important books on the subject, 31 Dec. 2008
This review is from: History of The Arabs (Paperback)
This book is one of the all time classics in Arab Studies. It has endured through the ages and still makes for truly remarkable reading - a testimony to the quality of Hitti's writing.

Philip Hitti was a Lebanese-American scholar who was a professor at Princeton University for many years. First published in 1937, 'History of the Arabs' took Hitti ten years to write and was originally based on a series of lectures with his students. At the time, knowledge of the Arab world in the West was minimal and mainly limited to academic or military circles. Hitti's inspiration was therefore to provide a work of reference that would present the history and culture of this area in an easily accessible and appealing format aimed at all comers: experts and novices alike.

The great strength of this work lies in its wonderful accessibility. It possesses that rare quality of making the reader think and use his imagination that so many other historical works lack. In all the literature pertaining to the Arab world and its civilisation, I can confidently assert that I have never come across any book that has outmatched Hitti's study in its ability to convey the passion and enthusiasm of discovering a new subject.

The reader quickly finds himself being effortlessly guided through the contents as his interest is progressively built up. The author takes great care not to influence the opinion of his audience, allowing them instead to smoothly deliberate through the material and formulate their own judgements.

Hitti develops a uniquely attractive style of relating Arab history. His approach caters to his public and reaches out into several fields. There is of course a meticulous recounting of important historical developments grounded in ancient arabic sources and archaeological finds. This is coupled with an analysis elaborating on the importance and significance of these events (which any knowledgeable reader would expect). But Hitti also cleverly intertwines his historical narrative with colourful anecdotes that provide surprising insights into the Arab mind and mentality. Of particular note are extensive sections devoted to Arab culture and traditions along with the birth and development of Islam and its numerous sects and interpretations.

The scope of this book is vast and at times seems quite intimidating; but Hitti always approaches his subject with a great degree of panache while always remaining modest and impartial. Everything is there for the taking if the reader can only keep up! The Himyarite kingdoms of ancient Arabia, the advent of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, the Umayyad and Abassid Empires and their rivalries with Rome and Byzantium, the Golden Age of Baghdad, Turks and their Mameluke dynasties, the terrifying Mongol Invasions, and the rise of the Ottoman Empire.

For the lucky newcomer, 'History of the Arabs' will serve as a fantastic introduction. For the expert, a second read never fails to uncover that forgotten detail or anecdote which rekindles interest in a particular topic.

A passionate book written by a very talented man that will leave its audience with as many questions being answered as new ones born from the vitality of its debate. You can only come away the wiser from having read it!

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