Many social scientists have a virulent disdain for geographers. Some, so much so that whenever there was a need to take the equivalent of Occam’s razor to the declining college budget, the geography department was enthusiastically offered for sacrifice.

Geographers were regarded as posers who dabbled in sociology, cultural anthropology, social psychology, history, and of course, political science – specialties that in and of themselves require years of training and intellectual immersion.

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Since retiring, I haven’t given much thought to this academic infighting. Then, to my horror, I saw severaarticles on Macmillan’s (W. H. Freeman division) World Regional Geography, fourth edition, by Lydia Pulsipher, Alex Pulsipher and Conrad M. Goodwin.

The articles, with extensive reprinting, focused on the authors’ rendition of the politics of the Middle East.

 “Terrorism is the use, or threat of violence, intended to create a climate of fear in a given population,” the authors tell us.

Although there is no universally agreed upon definition of terrorism, nearly all such definitions, especially those used by the US government, include a political and ideological component. Terrorism is generally recognized as the use, or threat of violence, to achieve political or ideological (including religious) change.

As the US State Department appropriately notes, terrorism is violence that is directed at a civilian population, not just any given population. Violence directed at armed combatants intended to cause fear is not terrorism; it is warfare.

The absence of the political or ideological definitional component announces that the authors are rank amateurs. Their definition of terrorism could not remotely distinguish Tony Soprano from ISIS.

Definitions are supposed to help us explain – not justify. The critical distinction between explanation and justification is fundamental in scholarship.

So, when the authors add a justification for terrorism to their definition by saying that terrorism is the last and ultimate tactic of desperate people who need to draw attention to their cause, we are compelled to question whether the authors’ purpose is to explain, or to provide justification for horrendous acts of violence.

Do the authors believe that a so-called “just cause” provides moral license?  Should students conclude that al-Qaeda flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and killed 3,000-plus innocent people because it was the ultimate tactic of desperate people trying to draw attention to the Islamist cause?

This is less a textbook than a leftist rant that provides a justification for terrorism to a captive audience of intellectually underdeveloped undergraduates. This is sloppy scholarship with an agenda.

That purpose is revealed when the authors in their palpable ignorance allege that the first act of terrorism in modern times in North Africa and Asia was the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946 by militant Zionists.

This ignores anti-Jewish terror in the Arab world in Syria, Morocco, Hebron and Iraq, all of which pre-dated 1946. One of the most infamous of these acts of terror is the Farhud in 1941 Baghdad. This is of special significance because it was organized by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who shared Hitler’s resolve to exterminate the Jews and subsequently became Hitler’s personal guest in Berlin through the war years.

There is also the question of whether the bombing of the King David Hotel was an act of terror. As the authors conveniently ignore, the King David Hotel was the seat of British military headquarters in the Mandate of Palestine.

The militant Zionist organization, the Irgun, was at war with the British. The hotel was the primary military installation run by an armed, uniformed enemy. It was a legitimate military target.

The narrative of the text says that the Jewish “settlers” did not agree to the UN partition plan. Anyone with a modicum of exposure to the history of the region knows this is turning history upside down. It was the Arabs who rejected the partition plan.

What is painful is not so much reading this faux history written by two academics with specialties in the Caribbean and an author who writes about climate change. They were so far outside their domain of expertise that only hubris could have propelled them on this mission. What is disheartening is that a division of Macmillan, a distinguished publisher, shepherded this into print. From the authors, we should expect drivel. From Macmillan, we should expect a higher standard.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the Salomon Center.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.