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Violent Disagreement

It is difficult to know how to respond to Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s rambling critique of our essay “A Matter of Pride” [“The Humiliation Myth,” Issue #4]. In our original article, we argue, on the basis of ample evidence, that feelings of collective humiliation are more likely than poverty to inspire people to find radical ideologies like Islamism attractive. Goldhagen begins by agreeing with us: “Bergen and Lind are also certainly correct that a sense of humiliation fuels terrorism. After all, the terrorist movements they discuss, as well others, so often speak its wounded idiom and the associated, though analytically distinct, idioms of vengeance and justice for perceived wrongs.”

Having agreed with us, however, he then accuses us of ignoring “the other critical factors that govern terrorist aspirations, especially the political-religious ideologies that shape their political and through which they understand the actions of Western powers.” But he then contradicts himself by noting that, on the contrary, we do in fact emphasize ideology as a factor independent of humiliation: “This is not to say that Bergen and Lind make no mention of ideology. They do several times, and they do see it as a critical factor.” There is no reason for us to reply to Goldhagen’s critique, when Goldhagen has already replied to himself so effectively on our behalf.

We do differ on one important point. Goldhagen conflates Sunni jihadism and Iranian Shia radicalism under a single rubric, “Political Islam.” For analytical purposes, one can describe both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as “totalitarian,” or describe both sides in the seventeenth-century European wars of religion as “Political Christianity.” But it would be absurd to write that in 1943 the United States was facing a single threat, “totalitarianism,” with a single capital, Berlin (or Moscow), or to say that during the Thirty Years’ War the Vatican was the capital of “Political Christianity.” Goldhagen is guilty of just such an absurdity when he writes, “We should stop fixating on Al Qaeda and terrorism, narrowly construed, as the overwhelming problem and recognize that the biggest danger is the Political Islamic colossus and aspiring hegemon: the soon-to-go-nuclear Iran.” In the words of the old saying, “That doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t even make good nonsense.”

Peter Bergen
Schwartz Senior Fellow
The New America Foundation

Michael Lind
Whitehead Senior Fellow
The New America Foundation

Democracy Readers who would like to submit a letter to the editor can do so by emailing dajoi@democracyjournal.org.

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