Book review



Title: Confessions of a Terrorist

Author: Richard Jackson

Publisher: Zed-books

Date of Publication: May 2014

Reviewer: Atunga Atuti O.J.*



Confessions of a Terrorist


Most of the dominant narratives and explanations of terrorist behaviour and actions from the perspectives of international relations, security, literature, media, film, psychology among several other disciplines have always painted the profile of a terrorist as the evil-doer, psychotic character bent on mass murder and destruction, anarchist who derides in chaos and despondency, enemy of order and stability in the conduct of international relations and diplomacy.


Not much has been written or prepared in a manner that seek to address the question as why terrorists act the way they do. The only ‘voices of terrorists’ we get to hear are the sanitised ones  presented by a movie characters or the media  liaison officers  of this or that agency that seek to explain why certain terrorist activity took place. In essence we never get to hear the terrorists him/herself explain the reasons that drive them to take some of the actions they take, the motivations and gaols that drive them to join campaigns of terror.

Richard Jackson, the renown scholar on security and terrorism at Otago University, New Zealand, has just released  his novel, Confessions of a Terrorist which seeks to offer terrorists a voice to explicate the motives, goals, and expected outcomes of terrorist activities. It is a ground breaking work which challenges the dominant paradigms through which we view terrorist activities. The Novel goes beyond the prevailing narratives of  terrorist behaviour and delves into the thought processes  of a terrorist giving us unique insights into the ‘mind’ of a terrorist.

The plot of the book is straight forward; it rotates around a  conversation between a retired intelligence agent Michael of the British Military Intelligence and retired Army operative and Professor Hamid Samir alias Youseff, formerly Professor of Economics at Cairo University in Egypt. Professor Youseff leaves behind his beautiful wife and daughter, and highly prestigious position at the University to join a fighters group in Iraq against the US and Allies invasion of the country. What follows, in the entire novel is a conversation between Michael and Professor at a disused factory in a situation where Michael is held after having been grabbed by Professor and his accomplices in the Streets of London. Their conversation explores a range of issues both from the perspectives of the terrorist and justification by Michael which is initially  and essentially presented in  official-speak whereby Michael only seems to recount the official explanations proffered by authorities as to justify actions that provoke terrorist reactions. But as the conversation proceeds, it emerges that there is a convergence of perspectives between Michael and Professor as to the motivations that drive each side to take the actions they do.


The book is structured in form of a top secret security recording transcripts with some sections redacted which makes it interesting reading and especially due to the suspense that the blocked out segments create.


Richard Jackson is the author of several academic and scholarly publications on terrorism. He is also the founding editor of the journal Critical Studies on Terrorism. But none of his other works as well as those by other scholars stands out in presenting fresh insights into our understanding of the motivations and goals that terror agents are pursuing in their campaigns. As a scholar, of literature, history, diplomacy and human rights, Confessions of a Terrorist is by far the most insightful book I have read on the subject. It creatively weaves together the serious subjects of terrorism, radicalization  and extremist violence, discourses on terrorism and  current affairs, local and international politics, theory of terrorism into one gripping work of art. It is perhaps going to be the most read book on this subject by a variety of readers both from literature, security, history, diplomacy and contemporary politics.

The book has several redacted ( blacked out) sections ostensibly by security agents so that only the sections that help to advance their perspectives are presented. The use of handwritten annotations by the author helps to give the reader the feel of reading a highly classified ‘top secret’ dossier.  Going through  the book reminds one of the ‘redacted  secret state documents’ we once used to read in Index on Censorship in the 1980s and 1990s when state censorship was  rife and in this novel  they seek to illustrate how authorities try to propagate narratives that reflect their world view and  that promote their agenda.

The book is especially useful for the Eastern African region where countries are battling al-shabbab militants in an environment where the security and especially the anti-terrorism units seem to be chasing shadows.  This in view of the fact that there has been a process of recruitment whereby Kenyans of various ethnic origins are joining the terrorist crusade. This is an issue that has baffled many of those who have studied and or followed the rise of terrorism grouping in Eastern Africa. 

It is a must read  for all the intelligence agents tasked with dealing with terrorist threats in Eastern Africa who have in the recent past acted like headless chicken in the face of a wave of terrorist attacks in various parts of Nairobi, the Coastal and Northern Kenya. They must learn to understand the mind of a terrorist and Confessions of a Terrorist is essential reading for intelligence analysts and other operatives.


*Atunga Atuti O.J. is the editor of the East African Journal of Human Rights and Democracy

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