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Holy Terrors

Thinking about Religion after September 11

Holy Terrors by Bruce Lincoln
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In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, it is tempting to regard their perpetrators as evil incarnate. But their motives, as Bruce Lincoln shows in this timely offering, were profoundly and intensely religious. What we need, then, after September 11 is greater clarity about what we take religion to be. With rigor and incisiveness, Holy Terrors examines the implications of September 11 for our understanding of religion and how it interrelates with politics and culture.

Lincoln begins with a gripping dissection of the instruction manual given to each of the hijackers. In their evocation of passages from the Quran, we learn how the terrorists justified acts of destruction and mass murder "in the name of God, the most merciful, the most compassionate." Lincoln then offers a provocative comparison of President Bush's October 7 speech announcing U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden's videotape released hours later. Each speech, he argues, betrays telling contradictions. Bin Laden, for instance, conceded implicitly that Islam is not unitary, as his religious rhetoric would have it, but is torn by deep political divisions. And Bush, steering clear of religious rhetoric for the sake of political unity, still reassured his constituents through coded allusions that American policy is firmly rooted in faith.

Lincoln ultimately broadens his discussion further to consider the role of religion since September 11 and how it came to be involved with such fervent acts of political revolt. In the postcolonial world, he argues, religion is widely considered the most viable and effective instrument of rebellion against economic and social injustices. It is the institution through which unified communities ensure the integrity and continuity of their culture in the wake of globalization. Brimming with insights such as these, Holy Terrors will become one of the essential books on September 11 and a classic study on the character of religion.
University of Chicago Press; May 2009
155 pages; ISBN 9780226481944
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Title: Holy Terrors
Author: Bruce Lincoln
 
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