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Conversations with Terrorists: Middle East Leaders on Politics, Violence, and Empire

3.8 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0982417133
ISBN-10: 0982417136
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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 ÿterrorism' 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"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.”
Stephen Kinzer

“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
 

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 191 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge (September 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0982417136
  • ISBN-13: 978-0982417133
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,514,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is an interesting and important book. Erlich does an outstanding job of exploring the complex historical and political terrain we call the "Middle East". Weaving together interview material with several political leaders of the region and factual historical documentation, the author cuts through many of the stereotypes and propagandistic views the US and other western powers have perpetrated about this region. He explores major motives and actions of key players to explain what lies behind recent and present difficulties in finding peaceful solutions to Middle East conflict. Perhaps most significant, Erlich calls upon us to re-think the concept of "terrorism" and what it means to be a "terrorist", arguing that terrorism is a tactic used by many groups and countries at various times, including the US. He exposes the folly of the whole notion of a "war on terrorism", which in his view is a major misconception. The book presents a very fair, balanced, and judicious discussion of the political, social, cultural, and religious antagonisms plaguing the area. A must read, especially for those seeking a better understanding of flawed US policy toward the region. A major piece of journalism, the book is very clearly written.
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Format: Paperback
Given the title of the book you would assume Erlich was traveling the world and chatting in the bunkers and safe-houses of the world's most well known militants. This is only half true. He certainly does sit down and interviews all of the figures he names, the only question that remains is, why did he not put more of the interviews in the book? In any given chapter 85-90% of the words are Erlich's own opinion or background information. The background info is certainly informative, but to those of us who know the background, more dialogue and direct quotation with the "terrorists" would have been preferable.

Ignoring the fact that the book has very few "conversations", it will make you well informed on the origins, tactics, and objectives of all of the groups mentioned. The fact that Noam Chomsky does the afterword is very telling; the book is written in a very Chomskyian style. I would recommend this book to those who are new to the debates regarding terrorism. For those looking for actual "Conversations with Terrorists" you will be a bit disappointed.
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Format: Paperback
Reese does us a favor with this trenchant book. From the victim's point of view there is little difference between a "state-sponsored" bomb or a "terrorist's" bomb. State-sponsored players "assume" the high ground by disparaging what are often the liberation struggles of others as "terrorism." Reese takes us behind the veil, fairly, dispassionately, and analytically, to show us living breathing people holding far more complex positions then our press would suggest. I was with him for two of these interviews---with Khalel Mischel and Ayatollah Fadlallah and can testify that he's a tough interview and in no one's pocket. He enters the room well armed with history and fact, and his questions are probing, hard-but-fair. I really enjoyed this book, despite having been there. Reese "organized" it to make a long interview trenchant and coherent, and easier read than uninflected transcript. I think you'll find it instructive too.
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Format: Paperback
Wow. Lots of vitriol here for the US government. Some, or maybe even a lot, of this could be warranted: we have some uncomfortable facts to reckon with in our past and present.

That said, the book was so strongly written that I couldn't finish it. Give me a more level-headed critique and I'd be happy to wrestle with its arguments.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Buy this book, read it and pass it on. What is a terrorist? Reese tells stories about "terrorists" from his hours of interviews with them in a highly readable, educational, conversational tone. Without judgments, his writing allows and especially encourages us to look at the information presented from many angles, challenging us to draw our own conclusions, a most worthy personal developing discipline.
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