"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Meals with militants reveal human face

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Dining With Terrorists
By Phil Rees
MacMillan, 395 pp, 18.99 pounds

While he has yet to lunch with Osama bin Laden, British journalist Phil Rees has sipped and supped with a lot of people whose names figure on the watch or wanted lists of security services around the world.

Dining With Terrorists is a record of Rees' work covering insurgents, jihadists, guerrillas, militants and mujahideen from Ireland to Afghanistan, but it is much more than a simple chronicle of a reporter's brushes with bad guys. Rees uses his extensive firsthand experience of dealing with armed militants to examine the use, misuse and various interpretations of the term "terrorist."

BBC correspondent Rees has covered conflicts hot and cold all over the globe for the past 20 years. While Dining With Terrorists has its share of war stories and detailed frontline observations, Rees' real focus is examining the root causes of militant movements and trying to accurately portray the opposing sides in the world's many asymmetric conflicts.

The notion that one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter comes through clearly as Rees records the motivations and justifications given by Egyptian and Algerian Islamists fighting repressive regimes, Basque nationalists seeking their own state and Afghan mujahideen battling first the Soviet Union and later the Taliban and the United States.

Along the way, Rees shares rum with Colombian Marxist guerrillas, tea and cakes with Hamas jihadists and fruit brandy with Kosovar and Serb nationalists in Kosovo.

Rees illustrates how the heavy-handed "war on terror" and the Manichean pronouncements of the White House have been used by oppressive regimes to crush legitimate dissent, driving the marginalized and repressed to take up arms. Most importantly, Rees reminds us that those who take up the gun are not the faceless, raving maniacs that mainstream media and government propagandists often portray them as, but human beings with thoughts, feelings, memories and desires. To paraphrase cartoonist Walt Kelly, Rees has met the enemy, and he is us.

Copyright 2005 The Yomiuri Shimbun

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