I recently received Michael Huemer’s The Problem of Political Authority in the mail. I’m looking forward to having the time to read this challenging book.* Did peruse it for a few minutes and noticed this interesting quotation in one of the footnotes:
Nor do I pretend to understand the stark nihilism that drove the terrorists that day and that drives their brethren still. My powers of empathy, my ability to reach into another’s heart, cannot penetrate the blank stares of those who would murder innocents with abstract, serene satisfaction.
This is from Barack Obama back in 2004. Now what is remarkable about this quotation is that it flies in the face of one of the few things that terrorism experts actually agree on. Indeed, no matter how much they disagree about what does motivate terrorists – foreign occupation, religion, they hate our freedom, etc – they stand relatively united against the claim that terrorists are nihilists. Here is just one example – from terrorism expert Scott Atran in his 2006 article “The Moral Logic and Growth of Suicide Terrorism”:
It is nonsense to claim that Al Qaeda and its sympathizers have no morality and simply want to annihilate Western civilization. In general, charges of nihilism against an adversary usually reflect ignorance of the adversary’s moral framework or an attempt publicly to cast it as simply evil to mobilize domestic support for war.
*Huemer has Bryan Caplan to thank for my purchase – and I’m probably not the only one who ordered based on Caplan’s recommendation.