Synopses & Reviews
Drawing on original research and firsthand interviews, Conversations with Terrorists offers critical portraits of six Middle Eastern leaders often labeled as terrorists: Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, Hamas top leader Khaled Meshal, Israeli politician Geula Cohen, Iranian Revolutionary Guard founder Mohsen Sazargara, Hezbollah spiritual advisor Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Fadlallah, and former Afghan Radio and Television Ministry head Malamo Nazamy. Veteran journalist Reese Erlich offers them a chance to explain key issues and to respond to charges leveled by the United States. Critiquing these responses and synthesizing a broad range of material, Erlich shows that yesterday’s terrorist is today’s national leader, and that today’s freedom fighter may become tomorrow’s terrorist. He concludes that the global war on terror has diverted public attention from the war’s real goal—expanding U.S. influence and interests in the Middle East—and offers policy remedies.
Erlich (coauthor of Target Iraq) questions how the U.S. has dealt with terrorist threats since 2001 suggesting that by "labeling all opponents as terrorists" the government has "from a practical perspective... rendered the term ‘terrorism' meaningless." Using decades of his personal reporting personal interviews and new research Erlich emphasizes the stark differences between the nihilism of al Qaeda and the political aspirations of organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah. He urges the U.S. to "recognize the difference between isolated fanatics and groups fighting for legitimate causes" concluding that such a policy shift would "do more to undermine groups such as al Qaeda than all U.S. invasions combined." Although the patchwork of interviews analysis background information and policy prescriptives in such a slender book can be overwhelming Erlich efficiently unearths some of the most problematic and overlooked narratives about terrorism. (Sept.) " Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
"Erlich (coauthor of Target Iraq) questions how the U.S. has dealt with terrorist threats since 2001, suggesting that by 'labeling all opponents as terrorists,' the government has 'from a practical perspective... rendered the term Ã¢Â€Â˜terrorism' meaningless.' Using decades of his personal reporting, personal interviews, and new research, Erlich emphasizes the stark differences between the nihilism of al-Qaeda and the political aspirations of organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah. He urges the U.S. to 'recognize the difference between isolated fanatics and groups fighting for legitimate causes,' concluding that such a policy shift would 'do more to undermine groups such as al Qaeda than all U.S. invasions combined.' Although the patchwork of interviews, analysis, background information, and policy prescriptives in such a slender book can be overwhelming, Erlich efficiently unearths some of the most problematic and overlooked narratives about terrorism. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Erlich is not afraid of asking hard questions... he also believes the term "terrorist" is a dangerous distortion of reality that can turn a political conflict into a forever war."
—Conn Hallinan, Review: Talking With Terrorists, Foreign Policy in Focus, November 11, 2010
“One of the most courageous journalists I know.”
—Amiri Baraka (aka LeRoi Jones), Poet, Playwright, and Political Activist
Since I was present at two of these conversations with terrorists, I feel fully qualified to tell you that book you’re holding is true, accurate, thoughtful and eminently readable. I would expect no less of a man who would walk up to Khalil Meschal, the head of the military wing of Hamas at a Syrian embassy reception and ask for an interview. He got it. I traveled with Reese from the Souks of Damascus to the killing grounds of Al Sukariya, near Iraq where we investigated a secret US raid together. It was like traveling with a pit-bull who is trailing a truck of raw meat. Reese locks on to an objective and will not be deterred until he has unpacked and deconstructed it from at least seven angles. (Which are two more than I can conceive of.)
—Peter Coyote, Actor and Author of Sleeping Where I Fall
Reese Erlich, without romanticizing or apologizing for terrorism, gives us a perspective on the Middle East that might balance the propaganda we are daily fed by apologists for the violence of the American Empire and its wars.
—Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor, Tikkun Magazine, and Chair, Network of Spiritual Progressives
“As usual, Reese Erlich is right on target.”
—James Abourezk, Former U.S. Senator, South Dakota
“This book cuts through the fog of ‘war on terror,’ providing readers with a searchlight to see beyond propaganda. The resulting clarity will transform views of what is—and what is possible.”
—Norman Solomon, Author of War Made Easy and Made Love, Got War
“What is terror? A word. What is in that word, ‘terror’? Reese Erlich introduces us to people whose names are associated with that word. He gives them the chance to speak. When we listen, we find ourselves provoked with unexpected insights and challenges to our stereotypes.”
“In an era when the Bush Administration has defined the world as good VS. evil, it's great to read a book that reminds you things aren't all black and white, but rather shades of grey. Conversations shows you that the term ‘terrorist’ is subjective and that one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist."
—Maz Jobrani, Comedian/Actor/American Citizen
Reese Erlich offers interviews and critical portraits of six Middle Eastern leaders, usually vilified as terrorists, to probe the U.S. war on terror and its media reception.
Veteran journalist Reese Erlich offers firsthand interviews and critical portraits of six Middle Eastern leader and their responces to charges leveled by the United States. Erlich revewals that yesterday’s terrorist is today’s national leader, and that today’s freedom fighter may become tomorrow’s terrorist. He concludes that the global war on terror has diverted public attention from the war’s real goal—expanding U.S. influence and interests in the Middle East—and offers policy remedies.
About the Author
Reese Erlich’s publications include Dateline Havana, The Iran Agenda, and Target Iraq, which he co-authored with Norman Solomon (introduction by Howard Zinn and afterword by Sean Penn). He reports regularly for National Public Radio, Latino USA, Radio Deutche Welle, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He also writes for the San Francisco Chronicle and the Dallas Morning News. In 2001, he produced a one-hour radio documentary, “The Struggle for Iran,” which was hosted by Walter Cronkite.
He has received awards from Project Censored, the National Headlines Awards, the Society of Professional Journalists (Northern California), the Chicago International Film Festival, and other organizations. In 2006, he shared a Peabody Award for the radio series “Crossing East.”
Erlich has taught journalism at San Francisco State University and California State University, East Bay. He is listed in Who's Who in America and Who's Who in the Media.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Who Is a Terrorist?
Terrorism is real. A small number of political movements and governments intentionally kill or injure civilians in order to carry out their political aims. But the United States misleads the public by sweeping national liberation movements, moderate Muslims, Marxist guerrillas, and actual terrorists into one category.
Chapter 2: Khalid Meshal
As the top leader of Hamas, Meshal has been responsible for suicide bombers and homemade rockets killing Israeli civilians. But Hamas has changed over the years. Meshal tells Erlich that he’s willing to accept an Israeli and Palestinian state living in peace. Will the U.S. and Israeli governments listen?
Chapter 3: Geula Cohen
In Israel, Cohen fought with the Stern Gang, which was responsible for bombings of British officials and Arab civilians. She later helped found the Hebron settlers movement that engages in violent attacks on Palestinians. Yet Cohen is a respected elder stateswoman in Israel. If yesterday’s terrorist can become part of the political mainstream in Israel, why not in Palestine?
Chapter 4: Ayatollah Mohammad Fadlallah
In 1985, the CIA blew up a bomb in front of Fadlallah’s Beirut apartment, killing 80 people and injuring 200 others. The CIA accused him of planning the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon. Fadlallah escaped unharmed. Today, he is a respected theologian and mediator among the warring political factions in Lebanon. He offers his perspective on terrorism and Middle East peace.
Chapter 5: Bashar al-Assad
The United States accuses Syrian president Bashar al-Assad of being a state sponsor of terrorism because of his support for Hamas and Hezbollah and his close ties to Iran. Yet al-Assad provided intelligence to the United States after 9/11—intelligence that saved the lives of American soldiers. He may be a dictator but is he really a terrorist? Perhaps in recognition that repression and terrorism don’t necessarily go hand in hand, the Obama administration is pursuing better relations with al-Assad and Syria as part of a wider effort to isolate Iran.
Chapter 6: Mohsen Sazegara
Sazegara was one of the founders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and faithfully served the Iranian government for 15 years. He says the Guard was formed as a “people’s army” to protect against a U.S. coup but that it later evolved into a force promoting fundamentalist revolutions abroad and repression at home. Sazegara’s life in many ways parallels the development of Iran’s Green Movement: supporter of the 1979 revolution, reformer within Iran, and now fighter for fundamental changes in the Iranian system.
Chapter 7: Malamo Nazamy
Malamo Nazamy became known throughout Afghanistan for his daily radio editorials as head of the country’s Radio and TV Ministry. Today, he’s part of an unsteady effort to reconcile pro-U.S. and rebel groups. But the prospects are dim. The United States has allied itself with some seedy leaders, including corrupt officials and the country’s leading heroin smugglers. U.S. aid to Afghanistan is plagued with waste and fraud. Unless the United States changes course, says Nazamy, the Taliban and its allies will be back in power.
Chapter 8: Needed Changes in U.S. Policy and Media Coverage
The United States must change its policies toward the Middle East in order to politically undercut groups such as al-Qaeda. If it becomes known as a peacemaker, not an occupier, terrorist groups will be isolated and defeated. In addition, the media must change its coverage of the war on terror so as not to promote that war.