Terror, Religion, and Liberal Thought.

Author:March, Andrew F.
Position:Book review


Terror, Religion, and Liberal Thought, Richard B. Miller (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 240 pp., $24.50 cloth.

Addressing a set of normative questions surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Richard B. Miller takes as his starting point the claim that "9/11 raises moral questions about human rights, respect for persons, and the limits of toleration with vivid clarity ... [and] puts in stark relief questions about the moral challenges of coexistence in an increasingly pluralistic public culture, questions concerning religious authorizations of violence, human rights, and the basis and limits of tolerating the intolerant" (pp. 2-3). Further, he tells us that "at stake are two related concerns: first, whether we may evaluate actions justified on terms that invoke religious warrants; second, how and on what terms those aggrieved by Islamic and other forms of terrorism may justifiably feel indignation" (p. 12).

Miller's argument unfolds across five main chapters (chaps. 3-7). In chapter 3, "Rights to Life and Security," he defends the claim that 9/11 was a "moral atrocity because it consisted of deliberate acts of massive destruction and killing of persons who did nothing to forfeit their entitlement to respect and safety." For Miller, terrorist attacks are distinguished by the fact that they "single out people on the basis of who they are rather than for having done something that might pose a lethal or serious threat to others" (p. 60). In chapter 4, "Toleration, Equality, and the Burdens of Judgment," Miller argues that we all have grounds "to expect others, including violent religious extremists, to tolerate persons whose ends they do not endorse within constraints implied by equal liberty." Miller's argument for this expectation rests on both the Kantian argument for the inherent dignity of moral personality and the Rawlsian epistemic argument that the "burdens of judgment" are a fact that requires us to acknowledge that deep religious and moral disagreement is reasonable--that is, internal to reason and not a failure of it (pp. 81-82).

Chapter 5, "Respect and Recognition," develops Stephen Darwall's distinction between "recognition respect" and "appraisal respect" to show why we do not violate a duty of respect for or recognition of others when we deplore and condemn acts that they see as following from their deepest and most constitutive commitments. Our recognition of bin Laden as a moral subject...

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