In this essay we examine the core narratives and rhetorical techniques that extremist groups use to explain their worldview. We show that extremists in North America as well as throughout the world, regardless of their political or religious background, demonstrate great similarities in their construction and deployment of narratives. We also identify key features of what we call “the root war metaphor” that characterizes extremist narratives and apply a schema for analyzing “narrative trajectories” to suggest a relationship between these extremist narratives and acts of violence. What we can learn from shared narrative elements among extremist groups may help answer questions about the relationship of words to violence as well as speculate about how core narratives may be used to construct more compelling stories to promote social justice.
"This is a wonderful manuscript, brilliantly crafted, nuanced, and oh so well written."
- Norman K. Denzin
I, like so many others, developed my narrative roots by reading outside of the academy. I read novels and poetry, drama and investigative journalism. I, too, was frustrated by the lack of compelling stories coming out of my discipline (at the time) as well as by the general lack of respect for narratives within my scholarly community. There seemed to be a need for a bridge between what I was reading outside the academy—compelling stories—and what I was reading in my scholarly journals and books.
"A deeply fascinating portrait of the cold war ... An important and brilliant take on life in mid-20th century US."
- Chris Petit, The Guardian
MY FATHER DIED, EITHER IN VIRGINIA OR MARYLAND, at the age of fifty-three, on the night of March 12, 1976. My mother told me that he died at home in his bed in Hagerstown, Maryland, but the Social Security Death Index indicates that he was pronounced dead in Virginia, although it doesn’t say where in Virginia.
I had doubts, even then, that he died at home.
This paper asks whether there are ways and means available in cultural narratives to get beyond simplistic binary opposites that, as Kenneth Burke puts it, “divide the world where the world does not.” Specifically, I explore the image and symbol of “terrorist” as abject and Other. Using an analytical pathway provided by the anthropologist Gert Baumann, I review ethnographic evidence of contested cultural systems that manage to transcend binary oppositions, at least until the real issue becomes one of power. To resolve these narrative tensions I weave into the text an example of a complex narrative of post-9/11 cultural identities found in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. I derive lessons from that text that may be of practical use to global leaders and managers.