In Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman has a few good ideas which either warranted a newspaper/magazine article or a much thicker book. Unfortunately, we got a 210 page book.
The premise of the book is reasonable. Berman tries to compare the Islamists with the totalitarian ideologues of the 20th century, i.e, the fascists and the communists. His contention is that there are lots of similarities between all these groups. For example, they all define both internal and external threats. This is fine as far as it goes but Berman does not really go beyond a somewhat superficial level in his comparison. I am sympathetic to his ideas and he enunciates them very forcefully, but in my opinion he does not make a case that could convince skeptics.
Berman also talks about Syed Qutb and his commentary on the Quran “In the Shade of the Quran” (last volume available online). But he is not the go-to guy if you want information on Qutb. That would be Ideofact’s series on Social Justice in Islam by Sayyid Qutb1.
Berman also seems to consider Qutb, Tariq Ramadan and Bin Laden etc. to be part of the Islamist totalitarian movement(s). I am not sure he really gets the Islamists.
Berman’s ideas about intellectual efforts against the extremist Islamists is a good one, but he destroys the good impression immediately afterwards by advocating retaliation by the US for credibility’s sake. Now, I am not a pacifist (too pragmatic for that principl) but attacking because that would make us a credible opponent sounds too much like bullies in schools.
Overall, the book is a mix. Parts of it are pretty good, but other ideas don’t seem to be well-developed or are just plain bad. I think Berman is hindered by his lack of detailed knowledge of political Islam. Also, it would have helped if he had worked to make it a bigger and more intellectual book than the popular read it is. However, it is not a bad book to read. It gives you some food for thought and is a quick read as well.