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The No-nonsense Guide to Terrorism

by Jonathan Barker

Placing the hot-button issue of terrorism into perspective can be a tricky proposition, especially given the multitude of ideological minefields behind the us-versus-them rhetoric that often defines the discussion. But Jonathan Barker has taken his book’s title seriously, and his no-nonsense approach to asking and addressing a variety of key questions about the nature of terrorism is a thoughtful introduction for those wading into the waters beyond contemporary headlines.

As a political scientist, Barker is concerned about the degradation of language in political discourse, and how discussion about terrorism gets reduced to which group hates another. While his writing is not particularly distinctive or passionate, Barker presents a wide enough range of opinion, interpretation, and historical precedent to allow readers to come to their own conclusions.

Barker has a knack for placing his analysis into a non-partisan space, treating with equal distance the suicide bombings of Algerian or Palestinian nationalists and the acts of terror perpetrated by American forces against Sandinista Nicaragua or a host of other countries. One chart using State Department figures on victims of terrorism shows that more people die annually from rabies infections than from the acts of car bombers and hijackers.

Barker’s objectivity allows him to consider the politically unpopular but ultimately relevant issue of state terrorism, from the aftermath of the French Revolution through the Nazis, Italian Fascists, Stalin, and U.S. sponsorship of torture states in Latin America and beyond. Un-afraid to quote sources from across the political spectrum, from Noam Chomsky to Samuel Huntington, Barker provides the concerned reader with a solid, fair introduction to a topic which, like the weather, is daily discussed but rarely understood.