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Book Review: Symbolism in Terrorism

Jonathan Matusitz Symbolism in Terrorism: Motivation, Communication, and Behavior (Lanham, Boulder, New York, London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015). Pp 337.

My first reaction to Symbolism in Terrorism and my agreement to review it was: “I volunteered to review a text book. What was I thinking?” After finishing the entire text, and that’s one of the few I have ever read cover to cover and I teach college, I am pleased I took on the task. And I am much better educated on terrorism and how symbolism is used to further its goals.

This text is so well organized, so well written, and so important, that it should not be limited to college students; it cries out to be read by everyone. We are all involved in terrorism whether as war fighters, potential victims, or as government officials sworn to protect us. Symbolism in Terrorism explains to us what we are up against and why.

terrorismAlthough over ninety percent of terrorist acts are currently perpetrated by Muslims, this text does not bash Islam or any other organization. What it does is tell why Islamic groups, Hindu groups, Protestant groups, Jewish groups, and Anarchist groups perpetrate terror.

Dr. Matusitz, whose speciality is communications, explains why symbolism is so important as a tool of communication, not only in the commission of terrorist acts, but in recruitment of followers.

The book is arranged for a sixteen week college course beginning with the basics of symbolism; what is it and how is it used in different cultures. It then shows us how symbolism is used in terrorism and who is targeted.

Each chapter covers a separate subject, such as the symbolic importance of territory in terrorism and symbolism in suicide terrorism, yet the chapters build upon one another. This text, a rarity among those I have used, lends itself to reading the chapters in order of appearance like a novel. But it is no novel: it is factual and fair in its presentation and should be kept at hand for reference.

Symbolism in Terrorism is filled with examples and case studies that provide insight to why terrorists do what they do. For instance, the date September 11 is symbolic in Islam as the dates of the Great Siege of Malta (September 11, 1565), Battle of Vienna (September 11, 1683),  and Battle of Zenta (September 11, 1697).  All battles lost by Muslims to Christians.

I believe anyone who reads this text will be more self-assured and qualified to discuss terrorism. I highly recommend this text and suggest that the State Department, the Department of Defense, the CIA, and others tasked with our defense make it mandatory reading.

Philip Bernhardt

Retired US Navy Master Chief Petty Officer -Submarine Service. Adjunct professor of Accounting. Retired university administrator. Retired from all other jobs except teaching and writing. My time is mine, if it's okay with my wife. We have two boys, one girl, two grand girls, and a Scottish Terrier. We live in Virginia Beach, two miles from the Atlantic Ocean.

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