Phil Rees, award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker, asks all these questions and more in his first book, Dining With Terrorists (Macmillan 2005). Traveling around the globe to Algeria, Afghanistan, Israel, Columbia, Sri Lanka, Kosovo and Cambodia to name a few, Rees received access to places and people no western journalist has had before. Promising little, save to objectively report all points of view (as opposed to the popular party doctrine), Rees was able to sit down and, while unabashedly questioning theses organizations’ objectives and tactics, do what most would never dream of with so-called terrorists: break bread.
What Rees is shooting for he sums up well by saying, “I also wished I had met Osama bin Laden. Whether or not bin Laden was evil would not have been my starting point. I wanted to know what made him tick. Why had he become the man he was? Why were young Muslim men willing to join him in battle and die for their faith?” What makes a terrorist tick indeed.
Even more to the heart of the matter Rees asks, what is the definition of “terrorist”? Remember that once this same word was applied to Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela. Since the popular advent of the word in late 18th century France, no one political body, let alone the United Nations, has agreed on a universal definition. Rees says, “By being unable to explain exactly who is a terrorist the ‘war on terror’ can mutate into a war against any ideology that challenges America and her allies. Terror can become a code for opponents who question the status quo…the world is in danger of accepting the confused idea of an endless conflict against an undefined enemy.” In the end Rees not only wants to point out clearly and without hesitation who our enemies are, but also figure out how they became our enemies. To do that, he for one, is willing to get his hands dirty, is willing to sit down to dine worlds away with some of the world’s most dangerous in order to get the hard answers we truly need to move toward peace.
Check out Phil Rees’ series Dining With Terrorists on Al Jazeera