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The East African : Dec 26th 2015
The EastAfrican MAGAZINE DECEMBER 26, 2015 - JANUARY 1, 2016 VII terrorism from personal motivation and internal conflict: The death of his best man in the IED attack in Iraq and his wracked guilt about the killing of the small boy. Another surprise is the role reversal The EastA The EastA The EastA The EastA The EastA e EastAfrican MAGAZINE DECEMBER 26, 2015 - JANUAR frican MAGAZINE DECEMBER 26, 2015 - JANUARY 1, 2016 VII terrorism from personal motivation and internal conflict: The death of his best man in the IED attack in Iraq and his wracked guilt about the killing of the small boy. Another surprise is the role reversal te≥≥o≥ist te≥≥o≥ist g≥oups ISIS/ISIL Boko Haram Al Shabaab Al Qaida The Japanese Red Army (An International terrorist group formed around 1970 after breaking away from Japanese Communist League Red Army Faction. Basque separatists also known as ETA, are considered terrorists by the Spanish government. these many narratives from any one incident? In fact, can we ever trust in all the stories we hear about terrorism?” In other words, the book asks the reader to think hard about how knowledge about terrorists and their motivations is produced and by whom it is produced. This layering also raises some After the June terror attack that claimed 147 lives in the Kenyan town of Garissa, it was business unusual as policemen flooded the place. Picture: File ed and ≥ational people? are a bunch of ill-educated, ir- individuals is, at best, lazy and and, at worst, a dangerous deat actually undermines a counity to understand and confront terrorism. Terrorists are, after all, human beings: They love and are loved back as much as the rest of us are. True, there are — in this case as in all such cases — some dangerously deluded ones. Yet, the uncomfortable fact is that there are others who are often on the side of justice. A salutary lesson from Confessions is that people come to terrorism in many different ways and a blanket assumption that all terrorists are the same hobbles a government’s ability to understand and confront violent groups. Disappointments Second, those who read the book ex- was attacked. Prof Jackson’s edded to the notion of Islam as pecting a straightforward story will be disappointed. Terrorism itself is never straightforward and like its subjectmatter, the book has many layers, each providing its own narrative. First, there is the electronic recording — lost to MI5 — from which the original transcript must have been made. That recording is not available to the reader who must then try to work out for himself what it must have contained. Second, there is the transcript made from that original recording, which is the source of the sanitised copy that forms the text of Confessions. As one reads this sanitised copy, one struggles to work out what is in the redacted sections. Some of the blocked blanks are obvious, like place names and people’s names — but others are more substantive and mysterious, suggesting that governments conceal the most potentially useful information about terrorism from the public. Third, there is the transcript with GH’s comments, which, in a sense, is for the “Readers Eyes Only” since we know that the public will never read this transcript. And finally, we know that there will be a publicly issued transcript which will certainly be more sanitised following GH’s “suggestions and recommendations.” Layering of issues This narrative layering poses some profound questions about the nature of the public’s knowledge of terrorism. The public, Prof Jackson seems to be saying, eventually only sees a highly redacted version of a redacted transcript, the secondhand report of a secondhand report, so to speak. “What,” Prof Jackson asks us to con- sider, “do we ever really know about terrorists and their motivations if there are disturbing questions about the role of “securocrats” like GH, the official reviewer of the sanitised transcript. In one sense, it is through his eyes that the reader sees the transcript of P’s interrogation. But Prof Jackson uses GH to draw attention to the faceless, often unaccountable bureaucracy that produces the official terrorism narratives that the public consumes. In Kenya, a country hit hard by ter- rorism in the Lamu County, after the deadly Mpeketoni attack where over 60 people were killed in overnight terrorist attacks, President Uhuru Kenyatta told the nation that that it was an act of local politics and not Al Shabaab terrorism. Which Kenyan “GH” fabricated that yarn? One interesting question is whether GH is a junior officer making recommendations to his superior officers or a superior officer making “plausibly” deniable “suggestions and recommendations” to his juniors to alter the record for public consumption. On balance, it seems that GH must be a senior intelligence officer and that his suggestions and recommendations are, in effect, instructions to his “technies” and “juniors.” Uncomfortable possibilities Third, at the centre of the story are a series of ironical reversals that force the reader to grapple with uncomfortable possibilities. The terrorist in the book, P, does not come to terrorism for personal or religious reasons. As noted, P is highly educated: Both in the liberal tradition of London University and the conservative one of the University of Chicago. He is, in fact, the kind of person you may well expect to see in a Wall Street brokerage house. In a reversal of the usual assumption, it is M who comes to fight between the terrorist and MI5: M, the interrogator, becomes the interrogated and, alarmingly, MI5 intelligence officers find that they have themselves been under surveillance by P’s “terrorist” group. It makes one pause: What do governments actually know, if anything, about the intelligence capabilities of terror groups? The most shocking reversal of all is the fact that the interrogation itself has been, all along, the target of P’s planned terrorist attack. In the first place, MI5 engineers the capture of M by P in order to find out what P’s group really are targeting. However, P’s group is ahead of the game: It has already set up electronic devices — concealed in the handcuffs — to record and then publicise the interrogation itself. This is a double whammy for the government: M confesses to his own involvement in the killing of the small boy in Iraq — which reveals the duplicitous nature of the West’s case for invading Iraq — and P offers a justification for terrorism — which might persuade future listeners that terrorists have a genuine grievance. As the book ends, we realise that P has anticipated all MI5’s moves including the fact that they will surround the interrogation site. Knowing this he selects this site as the target of his most brazen terror attack. The real twist is that throughout the interrogation, the justifications of the British intelligence services and the British military have been shown to be no more principled than those of the terrorists. Who, we are left to ponder, is the real terrorist here? And whose “confession” have we in fact been listening to? Literary style The third issue is stylistic. The novel could be criticised for being too repetitive. Some readers will find the repetitiousness of the interrogation tedious and may feel that the book could have probably ended profitably at a much earlier point in the narrative. But this need not be a fault: It may be thought that the repetitiveness is a central feature, even an essential feature, of the two-person interrogation method that Jackson has chosen to narrate the story in. On that view, repetitiveness gives verisimilitude to the interrogation as inter-personal conversation, which typically, tends to cycle back to the same issues again and again. Finally, there are the policy impli- cations of this book. In its range and depth, this a critical book for those who have the responsibility to design East Africa’s and Africa’s anti-terrorism policies to engage with. The illthought out policy against Al Shabaab, Boko Haram, the hapless military strategy in Somalia and northern Nigeria, the knee-jerk branding of Muslims around the world and Somalis in East Africa as terrorists need to be challenged with some of the questions that Prof Jackson asks in this thoughtprovoking and unsettling novel. This is a book for the desks of the region’s anti-terror strategy.
Dec 19th 2015
Jan 2nd 2016