the friend online
12 January 2007

International Edition: Making Terrorism History

Anthony Wilson reviews a visionary book

Making Terrorism History by Scilla Elworthy and Gabrielle Rifkind
Rider (Random House), in association with Demos; 96pp, £3.99

This is a visionary book. It reminds me of walking the Lake District fells when the cloud lifts enough to reveal a breath-taking view before closing in again: leaving us to navigate our way through and out of the mist.

It is amazing what the authors manage to include in less than 100 pages of text and two hours of reading time. What attracts people to fundamentalisms which translate into political terrorism through suicide bombing? How can a society which has lost all sense of autonomy through constant humiliation help itself, and be helped, to a sense of constructive engagement with its past, its present and its future? The authors focus on Israel/Palestine and Iraq as examples, with references to Northern Ireland: but the analysis can be applied to a range of national and local contexts: indeed, so large are the questions addressed that it may be easier to posit them in specific situations.

There are answers as well as questions. They emerge from the authors' analysis as practical insights - not easy to apply, and calling for courage and patience. (One moral dilemma which they can't explore is how the practioners manage to be patient while others suffer. But they do contrast the universal sympathy for the Tibetans generated by the Dalai Llama's non-violent response to Chinese hegemony with the bitterness which follows military intervention to secure regime change in, for example, Afghanistan and Iraq. In the long run, which will work out best?) This is not a totally pacifist manifesto: 'The need for armed intervention and the consistent threat of it may never be eliminated from the way the world is governed. But minimising the use and costs of such intervention is a realistic goal, which all of us have a moral responsibility to pursue.'

So how do we handle our reactions to an atrocity, be it in New York or London, or Jerusalem, or Gaza, or Grozny? We need to experience the shock, fear, grief and anger: it is what we do next which will determine whether the wound starts to heal, or suppurates as we allow ourselves to deny the humanity of those responsible. It is depressing to pause from reading this book to listen to the news, with reports of government actions totally at variance with the positive models presented. On the other hand, we may be in a position to apply these precepts to local situations where using coercion and violence are presented as solutions. Read this, to see how the personal is the political and the political can be practical.

Then give a copy to your MP.

Anthony Wilson, Staffordshire MM


This week's .pdf
In this week's online edition... rss edition

International Edition: Peaceroots
Lorna Watson
International Edition: Making Terrorism History
Anthony Wilson, Staffordshire MM
Country of the Week: Madagascar

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