ABSTRACT

Philippe-Joseph Salazar's 2017 masterpiece Words Are Weapons poses a fundamental question: Should we read al-Qaeda? Can we teach the aesthetics that made ISIS infamous? Or in studying the phenomenon do we perpetuate its influence? Government and media campaigns to counter falsehoods, take down propaganda, or superimpose interpretation seek to silence the enemy while preserving the presumed sensibilities of their intended audience. Yet such strategy leaves the door open to the infinitely more seductive power of mystery. Like Arendt's work on Eichmann, Salazar's book challenges us to confront the extreme violence of ISIS in its absolute form. What he finds is a mirror onto Western society—a culture of paralysis in the face of danger and indifference in the face of zealotry. The book is arguably the single indispensable work to date for understanding the psychological and communicative complexities of the war formerly known as the “Global War on Terrorism.”

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