A Close Look at Terror and Liberalism

Via Crooked Timber, The Couscous Kid over at Aaronovitch Watch has an extensive review of Paul Berman’s Terror and Liberalism (in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 posts).

Tracing Berman’s arguments back to his sources isn’t always easy. There’s a “Note to the Reader” at the end that lists a few of the works consulted, but Berman habitually cites books without providing page references, and that irritates. (Terror and Liberalism doesn’t have an index, either, and that also irritates.) Sometimes you don’t need to chase up his references to find fault with the book. He calls Franz Ferdinand the “grand duke of Serbia” on p.32, for example, and he’s become the “Archduke of Serbia” by p.40, when he wasn’t either; Franz Ferdinand was the Archduke of Austria, and Serbia lay outside the Habsburg lands. (Funny, though, that the errors in basic general knowledge should come to light when it comes to dealing with Serbia and Sarajevo, of all places.) But much of the rest of the time, it’s an interesting exercise to compare what Berman says with what his sources say. I haven’t done this comprehensively in what follows (even I’ve got better things to do with my time), and I’m not saying anything in what follows about the two chapters on Sayyid Qutb because I haven’t read any of his works and don’t know much about him, apart from what Berman tells me, and, as will be clear from what follows, I don’t think Berman’s an entirely reliable source. But I have done a bit of checking around with some of the books that I’ve got to hand. How does Berman use his sources? Often carelessly, and not especially fair-mindedly, as we shall see.