Books - Aditya Chakrabortty recommends. . .

Holy Terror

Terry Eagleton <em>Oxford University Press, 148pp, £12.99</em>

ISBN 0199287171

Being a scapegoat in ancient Athens was a full-time job, Terry Eagleton tells us in Holy Terror, his study of terrorism's place in our culture. Board and lodging were free; the only snag was that once a year you would be driven through the streets, beaten about the genitals by citizens who wanted to rid themselves of guilt, and perhaps even murdered. "It was not," concludes the author, "a profession with a great deal of job satisfaction." The literature on terrorism grows by the shelf-load, but Eagleton's is a genuinely fresh take - not only his vignettes, but also his argument that terrorism is not so much an alien threat as part of the genetic code of the modern state. From the Jacobin Terror to the deposal of Saddam Hussein, law and order have not always been established by lawful or orderly means.

This is a politics book in the widest sense, and is all the better for it. You get Baudelaire as well as Burke; Milton alongside Marx. Oh, and lashings of Freud - so much so that you wonder why the author didn't go the whole hog and call the book Civilisation and its Malcontents.

Aditya Chakrabortty is economics producer for BBC News

Extract from Holy Terror

"To be called a terrorist is to be accused of being cleaned out of ideas, conjuring a grandi-loquent doctrine instead out of the simple act of butch- ery. It is rather like calling someone a copulationist, implying that their high-sounding notions are just a fancy cover for fornication. The word may be intended to make you sound pretentious as well as sinister. As such, it is dangerously misleading. Terrorists, whether of the Jacobian or modern-day variety, whether Islamic fundamen- talists, Pentagon promoters of shock and awe, or conspiracy theorists. . . are not in general bereft of ideas, however malign or preposterous their ideas may be. Their terror is intended to help execute their political visions, not substitute for them. And there is a complex philosophy of political terror in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe, which can by no means be reduced to simple thuggery. The word 'terrorist' is an underestimation."

This article first appeared in the 17 October 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Barack Obama