It is notoriously difficult to grasp the distinctiveness of one’s own epoch. We lack distance from events, and hence a sober perspective on them. Intellectual laziness and wishful thinking may induce us to fall back on entrenched habits of mind. Another salient obstacle to creative thought is the inertia of our language. Terms well suited to past situations are often applied to radically different times; hence the reflex of modern commentators to label the jihadist radicalism of al Qaeda as “fascist,” “totalitarian,” or “Islamo-fascist.”
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