Five books on terrorism you aren’t allowed to read
Authors whose books on terrorism have been ‘erased from the map’ by English libel actions - that is, effectively banned in the UK - tell British readers what they’re missing out on.
In recent years, a Saudi billionaire has sued various authors and publishers of books about terrorism in England’s archaic libel courts.
As a consequence, some important books on terror and the ‘war on terror’ are simply no longer available in the UK. Some have been withdrawn by publishers following libel rulings that found in favour of the Saudi billionaire; others have been withdrawn by publishers following threats of libel action by the Saudi’s lawyers. In some instances, the books were thrown into pulping machines so that all evidence of their existence was destroyed.
Books by British, American and French authors have suffered this fate. Both books by left-leaning authors who question the ‘war on terror’, and books by conservative authors who support it, have been removed from Britain’s bookshelves. Such is the censorious nature of English libel law that these books have effectively been wiped off the intellectual map: you won’t find them in any bookshop or library.
The spiked review of books has invited five authors whose books are no longer available in Britain to tell British readers what they are missing out on. We don’t want them to repeat any of their allegations about the Saudi, who often featured only as a bit-part character in their works – rather we have asked them to explain why their books were an important contribution to the broader debate about terrorism, and why it’s a shame that British readers have been denied access to their work.
Matthew Carr, author of Unknown Soldiers: How Terrorism Transformed the Modern World – published by Profile Books in August 2006; withdrawn from sale and pulped following legal action in January 2007.
The violence that we call terrorism generally refers to a tactic or what some have called a ‘ technique of violence’ that originated amongst the Russian revolutionary left and European anarchist movement in the late-nineteenth century. Since then, that technique has been used in different ways by groups with widely distinct ideologies and political agendas. Unknown Soldiers: How Terrorism Transformed the Modern World traces the way this technique has evolved in various historical terrorist emergencies, such as the ‘Mau Mau’ revolt in Kenya, the French-Algerian war, amongst the Latin American urban guerrillas of the 1970s and in the current ‘war on terror’.
My book is not a straightforward narrative account, however. I wanted to subject the whole concept of ‘terrorism’ to critical scrutiny and challenge some of the established assumptions about it. At the same time I have tried to analyse how our understanding of terrorism as a cultural and political phenomenon has been shaped, not just by its actual protagonists, but by its external audiences. In addition to looking at the motives, tactics and causes of terrorist violence, Unknown Soldiers analyses the way in which these episodes have been represented in novels, books and plays, in military propaganda and the media. I have tried to combine historical detail with a wide range of source materials in order to tease out some of the moral and political complexities and ambiguities – and outright lies – surrounding terrorism, which tend to be obscured by strident official rhetoric, by governmental propaganda, and by ideologically-motivated pseudo-scholarship that has often emanated from the intellectual ‘terrorism industry’.
I am not an apologist for atrocity and I have not tried to obscure or excuse the numerous horrendous acts that have been carried out in the bloodstained history of modern terrorism. Nevertheless, I believed before I wrote my book that the conventional explanations for these acts often fail to provide an honest or coherent explanation for why such acts occur, and the journey that I took in writing it has only confirmed that belief. I have tried to place these acts – and the groups responsible for them – in their specific historical contexts.
My book is not a counterterrorist manual, but an invitation to readers to think again about what terrorism is and why it happens, and to question the validity of our responses to it. Not all readers will agree with my analyses and conclusions, nor did I expect them to. But in Britain at least, readers can no longer choose whether to accept or reject that invitation in the first place. Unknown Soldiers took three-and-a-half years to write and research. It took a single letter from a lawyer to bring its lifespan to an end, after it had been in bookshops for just over two months. Fortunately, it has been published in the United States by New Press, under the title: The Infernal Machine: a History of Terrorism From the Assassination of Alexander II to Al-Qaeda. Next year it is due to be published in France. In Britain, however, my book has been quietly and comprehensively erased from the map, with an ease that would once have been the envy of any Soviet censor.
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Robert O Collins, co-author of Alms for Jihad: Charities and Terrorism in the Islamic World – published by Cambridge University Press in April 2006; withdrawn from sale and pulped in August 2007.
Alms for Jihad seeks to unravel and bring clarity to the complex, elaborate and secret world of Islamic charities that have financed terrorism. One of the most striking differences between Khartoum in the 1980s and the 1990s was the presence of new Islamic charities and their gratuitous proliferation in well-appointed offices. Who were these charities? What was their purpose? Why, of all places, was the remote Sudan on the frontiers of Islam? The more we sought the answers to this phenomenon, the more we realised that Khartoum had actually been transformed from a rather somnolent outpost of the Islamic world into a centre of the international Islamist terrorist movement made possible by enormous amounts of money from Islamic charities.
There are thousands of Islamic charities that assist the destitute, build mosques, schools and hospitals that have nothing to do with terrorism. The massive infusion of petroleum dollars into Saudi Arabia following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war enabled the indigenous evolution of a sophisticated Islamic banking system by which wealthy devout Saudis could fulfil their charitable Islamic obligations, establish individual charities, or arrange for the transfer of funds to support those well-established. Six years later the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and the clerical Shiite revolution in Iran challenged the Sunni Saudi stewardship of Islam to forge a marriage of convenience by which the jihad of Afghan-Arab Mujahideen against the communist kafirin would be paid for by wealthy Saudi charities for the promotion of Salafist fundamental Islam, Wahhabism.
Upon the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1989, there were thousands of trained Afghan-Arab Mujahideen deeply committed to the Islamist global revolution who could not return home for fear of incarceration by their secular Muslim governments. With assistance from Islamic charities they were flown to sanctuary in the Sudan where they received a warm welcome from the National Islamic Front government of Umar Hasan al-Bashir and Hasan al-Turabi. Provided with Sudanese passports, housed, fed and given advanced training in some two-dozen camps surrounding Khartoum financed by Islamic charities, and in the camps of the Sudanese Popular Defence Force, these Afghan-Arab jihadists were then infiltrated into Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Bosnia, Transcaucasia, Chechnya, Central and Southeast Asia, Palestine and later into Europe and the United States.
The political counterpart to terrorist training in the Sudan was the Popular Arab and Islamic Congress (PAIC), which met in 1991, 1993 and 1995 in Khartoum, financed by Islamic charities and the Sudan government. Organised by Hasan al-Turabi, several hundred leaders committed to founding Islamist states gathered in Khartoum to reaffirm their commitment, share information and plan for the Islamist revolution in their respective countries. The marginalised Sudan had suddenly become the fertile breeding ground for international terrorism in which the individual chapters of Alms for Jihad provide a succinct explanation of the composition, financing, money-laundering and management of those Islamic charities through which runs their common goal: the establishment of the Islamist state by any means necessary.
In April 2006 Cambridge University Press published Alms for Jihad, which was well received for its meticulous research, style, but above all the clarity by which the narrative discloses the very complex relationship between Islamic charities, Arab financial institutions, and the determination by Islamist managers of those charities to divert funds for the Islamist revolution by any means necessary. Within a year Alms for Jihad had become required reading for those investigating Islamic charities as well as the growing number of professionals engaged in anti-terrorism – until a Saudi brought a suit against Cambridge University Press for defamation in April 2007. In order to avoid long and expensive litigation that it could not possibly win under current British libel law, Cambridge agreed to destroy all copies of Alms for Jihad, write to 280 libraries worldwide to do the same or place an errata sheet, give an abject public apology and pay costs and damages.
The swift demise of Alms for Jihad has thoroughly intimidated British journalists, the media and publishers from writing or publishing about terrorism. Moreover, it has deprived the British public access to Alms for Jihad and the freedom to read about Islamist terrorism, a subject that has become a stark reality of everyday life in contemporary Britain.
Robert O Collins
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Michael Griffin, author of Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan – published by Pluto Press in 2001 and 2003; withdrawn and all unsold copies destroyed in March 2004.
My book, Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan, started out as an analysis of the origins of the Taliban. The book begins with their capture of Kabul in 1996. Back then, it was all smoke and mirrors; nobody knew who the Taliban were or where they came from. When I started writing, there were various theories out there – on whether they were sponsored by Pakistan to create an artificial peace, whether they were autonomists or an Afghan movement, and whether they were representing US interests in the scramble to gather oil and gas resources in the Caspian.
My book was really tracing a profile, a portrait, a set of belief systems and then the history of the conflict that the Taliban encountered as they moved from Kandahar into the rest of the country, captured Kabul and tried to start dealing with the rest of the world. Latterly, obviously, if you research the Taliban you inevitably end up with al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
My book was written in what I would call ‘the age of innocence’, when the Taliban were just a rather weird ethnic, religious phenomenon on the edge of the known world, Afghanistan, which nobody was interested in. And it was published six months before 9/11, when 9/11 itself was unimaginable. So it was written without the benefit of hindsight.
Everything that has been written since 9/11 has obviously been influenced by the impact of those events – by all the subsequent investigations, security measures, anti-terrorism legislation and all the speculation about who Osama bin Laden is, where he’s from, where he’s hiding and so on. So the whole story has changed.
In a sense, my book was a cut-and-paste job; I took excerpts from newspapers, media and reliable online sources and tried to put together a narrative of a movement that nobody knew much about but which everybody would come to know about six months after the publication of my book. So the book is innocent, and because it’s innocent, it is non-partial and I think it is very difficult to find that pure history of the Taliban these days because everything has been shovelled into a ditch of what the West wants everybody to believe about Islam, terror, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and so on. You can no longer find books that deal with the pure, unadulterated information about history. What you find now is commentary.
The media versions and the George W Bush version of who the Taliban were, or why al-Qaeda is a threat that justifies invading Iraq, are all very different from the original story both of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. That’s why I believe it’s important that people are able to read my book, which came before all those versions.
Reaping the Whirlwind was published in 2001 and a second version was published in paperback in 2003. This continued the story from where the first version ended, through to the conspiracy to attack the World Trade Center and to the immediate aftermath of the United States’ bombing of Afghanistan and attempted destruction of the Taliban government. The first version was published before the whirlwind – the attack on the World Trade Center – took place, and the second version was published to describe how that whirlwind actually happened.
Both the paperback and the original were pulped in 2004 as a result of successful libel action here in the UK. The book was also published in Spain and Japan, but only in short runs. The only copies of my work available these days are pirated versions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the writ of British laws apparently does not run.
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Jean-Charles Brisard, co-author of Forbidden Truth – never formally published in Britain; withdrawn from all British outlets, including internet bookshops, in 2006.
My book, Forbidden Truth, was published in France in November 2001. It was published in 10 other countries, including the United States, but not in Britain. Initially, the book was available to British readers only through Amazon.com, but due to UK laws I have had to agree to withdraw my book from all the places where it was available to British customers.
Forbidden Truth, written by myself, Guillaume Dasquié and Lucy Rounds, was the first book after 9/11 which asked questions about how the United States and other countries, including Saudi Arabia, ended up facing the events of 9/11. The core of the book was to explain how the al-Qaeda network was able to grow in the years before 9/11 because of the support of various organisations and of individual financiers. So the book explains the core financial backbone of the al-Qaeda network.
For many publishers and newspapers around the world, understanding the rise of the al-Qaeda network in the years prior to 9/11 is considered very important. So our book was of international public interest. Yet people in the UK have not been able to get hold of it.
I was sued in the UK even though my book wasn’t published there. My French publisher specifically excluded the UK from the publishing territory because we knew we might face legal problems due to your libel laws. Despite this, a judge decided he had jurisdiction over my book because a few people in the UK managed to get a copy of it through Amazon.com.
I signed an agreement for my book to be withdrawn. I believe, however, that at the time it would have been important for British readers to be able to get hold of my book.
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Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It, published by Bonus Books in America in 2003 – never formally published in the UK, yet it became the subject of a libel suit here after 23 copies were bought by Britons via internet bookshops, and is now not available at all in the UK.
Many have written about the origins, ideology, plans, infrastructure and operations of terrorist groups. Even after the 9/11 attacks on America, few have focused on the sources of their funds. Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It addressed the lifeline of different terrorists groups around the world, focusing on the radical Islamic organisations and their financiers. It calls attention to and details the major funders of al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hizbollah and their offspring, and follows the money trail to its devastating results.
The analysis and suggestions in this heavily documented book offer methods to seriously impede the spread of terrorism and expanding influence of totalitarian Islamic law (Shari’a).
It is essential reading for policymakers, law enforcement officials and the media, who still seem to pay little attention to the idea that without funding, terrorists could not recruit, educate and train adherents, as well as conduct destructive operations. Funding Evil, should wake up our policymakers who seem completely oblivious to the growing and pervasive media campaigns and massive investments infiltrating and subverting the West from within.
Reading this book would help policymakers and law enforcement to gain an important leg up on the Fifth Generation warfare (5GW) now consuming and eroding our civilisation, through the methodical destruction of the foundations of individual, religious, civil, educational, political and financial freedoms we enjoy in the West. It’s a wake-up call to take preventive and offensive measures to stop the money flow to the enemies of democracy and freedom.
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