November 2010, Week 3


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Tue, 16 Nov 2010 21:20:25 -0500
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Dispatches From the Edge

Talking With Terrorists

By Conn Hallinan
Submitted to portside by the author
November 15, 2010

"Conversations With Terrorists: Middle East

Leaders on Politics, Violence, and Empire," by

Reese Erlich, PoliPoint Press, 2010, $14.95

The following from the Washington Post is why you should read
journalist Reese Erlich's book on terrorism:

"U.S. military teams and intelligence agencies are deeply
involved in secret joint operations with Yemeni troops,
including the U.S. military's clandestine Joint Special
Operations Command, whose main mission is tracking and
killing suspected terrorists."

But who are these "suspected terrorists"?

To the government of President Ali Abdullajh Saleh, members
of the Southern Movement, as well as Shiite Houthi in the
north, are "terrorists," but the current fighting is a civil
war, one that we are being drawn into on the side of an
unpopular and authoritarian regime.

"The War on Terrorism" never made any sense," argues Erlich.
"You can wage a war against an enemy country or an
insurgency, but you can't wage war on a tactic." In short,
just because a group uses the weapons of al- Qaeda doesn't
mean they are same.

Erlich tries to redefine the way we think about the term
"terrorism" by placing it in a historical context and letting
"terrorists" talk about their goals and political philosophy.
What emerges is far more complex and nuanced than the cartoon
characterizations by the mass media.

Hamas is considered a "terrorist" organization by the U.S.,
and the chair of its political bureau, Khaled Meshal, a
"terrorist." But as Erlich points out, Hamas is not
considered "terrorist" by other countries in the
neighborhood, and it will have to be part of any eventual
peace settlement. To dismiss Hamas as "terrorist" is not only
false, it is politically disastrous.

Erlich's interview with Israeli Geula Cohen, a founder of the
1940s Stern Gang, makes an interesting comparison to Meshal.
The Stern Gang bombed civilians, assassinated diplomats, and
used murder and violence to drive Palestinians off their
lands. But while Hamas and Meshal are condemned as
terrorists, Cohen and the Stern gang are hailed as heroes,
with streets named after them and museums celebrating their

In short, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom

A major strength of the book is that the author has spent
several decades reporting on this area of the world. When he
challenges the mainstream media for reporting that the
Taliban are a major recipient of the drug trade in
Afghanistan, he can draw on more than eight years reporting
on the story to demolish the charge.

The Middle East is a complex place, and the author is always
careful to keep the reader informed. If one doesn't happen to
have the history of Hamas or Hezbollah in one's memory banks,
Erlich will provide it.

Erlich is not afraid of asking hard questions or going into
dangerous situations, and he is sharply critical of many of
the people he interviews. But he also believes the term
"terrorist" is a dangerous distortion of reality that can
turn a political conflict into a forever war. It also serves
as a cover for the expansion of American power into the
Middle East and Central Asia, as well as a stream of revenue
for the arms industry.

The book is revealing and well written, and whether one is
new to the subject or well versed, the reader is going to get
a lot out of this slim volume of revealing interviews and
sharp commentary. __________________

Read Conn Hallinan's columns at


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