BOOK REVIEW: History is shaped and manipulated by those who write it

27th Jun 2014

Confessions of a Terrorist. By Richard Jackson.
Zed Books, London. 2014.
Paperback. Pp 330. £16.99

If you sat opposite a terrorist what would you ask them? What made them choose this path? What events shaped them to be one? The novel Confessions of a terrorist gives the reader the rare opportunity to gauge the thought processes of a terrorist. Is it ‘jihadi websites’ and mosques that drive them to terrorism? Or is it just the news itself.

Set in a dusty, mysterious interrogation room, Captain Michael, an MI5 officer, sits opposite the notorious terrorist Professor Youssef, nicknamed the ‘Professor’. The novel is presented as a transcript of the audio discussion between the ‘The Professor’ and Captain Michael.

Annotations fill the margins discussing how the manuscript can be manipulated to fit the Western view before its final submission to the Public Hearings Section. Chunks of texts are blackened out leading the reader to wonder what potent words have been hidden by a black pen. The unique layout of the book offers the reader a rare glimpse into a confidential report normally only privy to high ranking Government officials.

A history lesson, a gripping narrative, a personal story all wound into a compelling novel.
The insightful interview rehashes some of history’s most powerful moments; the professor uses the interrogation as a platform to critique British foreign policy and shed light on Britain’s true role in Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, India and the notorious torture hub Guantanamo Bay.

This thought provoking novel leads to reader to questions what defines a terrorist and who indeed is one. Is extremism, a word reserved solely for Muslims, or is it simply someone who holds radical views in terms of their society and its values? The ‘Professor’ even goes as far to argue that Jesus was a radical is his society alongside the Suffragettes, Thatcher and Regan.

Throughout the interrogation the ‘Professor’ brings attention to the sheer hypocrisy of the West; how Nelson Mandela was once considered the ‘worst terrorist’ and ironically a few years later he was being welcomed to America. How every fallen solider is remembered but the innocent civilians they slaughtered are just considered collateral damage and the fact that no one even bothered counting how many were killed after the Iraq invasion.

Jackson’s aim for the book is to lift the ‘veil of ignorance’ surrounding terrorists and to encourage society to view them as humans; by recognising their humanity and viewing them as equals instead of cancerous beings we can begin to understand their complex ideology. He argues that it is essential we comprehend their beliefs if we want to combat them.

This novel reminds the reader that history is shaped and manipulated by those who write it. The ‘Professor’ argues it is about time someone else picked up the pen.
Aliya Padhani

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