Author: Ganiel, Gladys
Date published: January 1, 2012
Terrorism and the Politics of Social Change: A Durkheimian Analysis. By James Dingley. Surrey, UK, and Burlington, VT; Ashgate, 20J0. 212pp. $99.95.
The mam idea of Terrorism and the Politics of Social Change is that sociology has something important to add to our understanding of terrorism. Dingley argues this point weU, grounding it m a classical approacU to sociology that takes seriously "structure, system and function" (p. 1). But the message of the book is somewhat compromised by what may be perceived as Dingley' s insensitive use of language.
Dingley sets his study in the context of contemporary academic work on terrorism, which, he observes, is dominated by scholars Ui the fields of poUtical science and international relations. Sociology, he claims, contributes something that those disciplines invariably miss: that the origins of terrorism lie in changing socioeconomic relationships rather than simply in the intrigues of high politics.
Dingley also usefully locates his argument in social history. The rationale for this is that violence is deeply rooted in all human societies, so having this longer perspective allows us to see that terrorism is not something that is unavoidably modern (or postmodern), but rather an extension of earlier forms of violence.
So far so good, but unfortunately the language Dingley uses detracts from these important insights. First, he repeatedly identifies terrorism with the actions of "peasants." It is quite possible that Dingley is using the word "peasant" merely in its historic, academic sense- and perhaps that is acceptable in an academic book that is unlikely to get a wide popular reading. But I could not help wonder how the Irish Republican Army of West Belfast would take to having their actions explained as an uprising of reactionary peasantry, let alone people in lands further afield (Dingley says he has met many terrorists from Northern Ireland, Iraq, and Turkey). I think it is possible to explore the impact of modern socioeconomic change on the people who have been left behind economically without using a moniker like "peasant" that might be misconstrued. People can hear what an author says much more clearly if the author avoids labels that will be interpreted differently by various readers.
Second, for Dingley terrorism is primarily a male phenomenon. There may be a case to be made for this, but Dingley does it rather flippantly. For example, in the introduction he writes, "structural change is deeply upsetting to men's (it mostly is) sense of social and psychology [sic] security" (p. 1). This parenthetical aside, repeated throughout the book, seems to be the depth of his engagement with the role of women in terrorism. He mentions one study of women in terrorism, only to dismiss its finding that women become involved in terrorism because they perceive it to be in their best interest. Throughout the book he refers to men in nearly every instance, not just when he is talking about the actions of men, rather than using gender inclusive language.
Third, Dingley repeatedly brands Islam as a "warrior" religion. For example, he writes:
In Christianity Christ's passion and suffering on the cross is a key feature, in Islam the very success of Mohammed was based on his warrior skills and Islam is still today essentially a warrior religion (p. 95).
Dingley is right to recognize that all religions have had their violent motifs. But it is stark and all too simplistic to reduce Islam to "essentially a warrior religion." Elsewhere he is slightly more careful to speak of Islamic fundamentaUsm, but that does Uttle to undermine the impact of other sweeping generalizations about Islam found in the text.
It is Ui some ways unfortunate that this review has focused on the language that Dingley uses rather than the substance of his argument. As I indicated earUer, I broadly agree with his idea to bring sociology and social history into the study of terrorism. But I think that the language m which we communicate about terrorism is also important, and this book provides some unintended object lessons about how not to communicate about terrorism. This should raise wider questions about the responsibility of academics to use language sensitively, m a way that does not distract or detract from what we are trying to say.
Trinity CoUege Dublin at Belfast
Belfast, United Kingdom
Advance Access Publication 21 December 2011