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Diary

Owen Bennett-Jones: Night Shifts at Bush House, 8 July 1993

... opportunity to end its civil war. In Bosnia some of the political groundwork has been done by Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance. But it’s been futile without military commitment. Since the Bosnian Serbs and Croats view the UN forces in Bosnia with contempt, they have felt no need to make any serious political commitments or compromises. Western policy not only lacks ...

After Ceausescu

Owen Bennett-Jones, 25 January 1990

... Same brothel, different whores’: the words chosen by Valentin Gabrielescu of the re-created National Peasants’ Party to express his opinion of Romania’s provisional government, the National Salvation Front. And he’s by no means alone in distrusting Romania’s new rulers. From the lunch tables of the elegantly-appointed restaurant in the Writers’ Union to the raucous student meetings all over Bucharest, the Front, as it calls itself, attracts puzzled enquiry, suspicion and, as often as not, angry derision ...

After the Revolution

Owen Bennett-Jones, 20 December 1990

... The thrice-weekly flights of Romania’s national airline Tarom from Bucharest to London have an atmosphere all their own. In the bleak waiting-room, most of the passengers stand and settle in for the inevitable delay. The room contains a few Romanians excited to be on their way to Western Europe and many more West Europeans delighted to be on their way back to civilisation as they know it ...

Further to Fall

Owen Bennett-Jones, 21 August 1997

Switzerland Unwrapped: Exposing the Myths 
by Mitya New.
Tauris, 210 pp., £18.95, June 1997, 1 86064 300 0
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Blood Money 
by Tom Bower.
Macmillan, 387 pp., £16.99, March 1997, 0 333 71517 9
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... For forty years after the Second World War, the Swiss had every reason to believe that theirs was the optimal form of government. There was political and social stability, full employment, virtually no crime and, for a time, the highest per capita income in the world. Switzerland’s system of government with its many celebrated peculiarities was not only unique but uniquely successful ...

The Second Resolution Question

Owen Bennett-Jones: Post-Invasion Iraq, 1 June 2017

Iraq: The Cost of War 
by Jeremy Greenstock.
Heinemann, 467 pp., £25, November 2016, 978 1 78515 125 5
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... Jeremy Greenstock​ was the UK ambassador to the United Nations during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and then the special envoy for Iraq, based in Baghdad during the occupation. Obviously he wrote his memoirs with a view to having them published. Mistakes had been made in Iraq and there was public interest in what knowledgeable insiders had to say about them ...

Islamic State v. al-Qaida

Owen Bennett-Jones, 3 November 2016

Isis: A History 
by Fawaz A. Gerges.
Princeton, 368 pp., £19.95, March 2016, 978 0 691 17000 8
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Isis: Inside the Army of Terror 
by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan.
Regan Arts, 411 pp., £12.99, April 2016, 978 1 68245 029 1
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Irregular War: Isis and the New Threat from the Margins 
by Paul Rogers.
I.B. Tauris, 224 pp., £18.99, June 2016, 978 1 78453 488 2
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... Should​ women carry out knife attacks? In the September issue of its Inspire Guide, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula argued against it. In October an article in the Islamic State publication Rumiyah (‘Rome’) took the opposite view. Having discussed possible targets – ‘a drunken kafir on a quiet road returning home after a night out, or an average kafir working his night shift’ – the magazine praised three women who, on 11 September, were shot dead as they stabbed two officers in a Mombasa police station ...

What Fred Did

Owen Bennett-Jones: Go-Betweens in Northern Ireland, 22 January 2015

... There is​ a sentence in Jonathan Powell’s Talking to Terrorists: How to End Armed Conflicts that raises intriguing questions about how the Northern Ireland peace process got underway.* ‘Martin McGuinness,’ Powell writes, ‘still denies sending the message stating that “our war is over” which started the correspondence with John Major, and it is pretty clear in retrospect that one of the intermediaries in the chain between the government and the IRA did in fact embellish the message ...

Bunches of Guys

Owen Bennett-Jones: Just the Right Amount of Violence, 19 December 2013

Decoding al-Qaida’s Strategy: The Deep Battle against America 
by Michael Ryan.
Columbia, 368 pp., £23.15, September 2013, 978 0 231 16384 2
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The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organisations 
by Jacob Shapiro.
Princeton, 352 pp., £19.95, July 2013, 978 0 691 15721 4
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... As they fled Afghanistan after 9/11 some of bin Laden’s followers wondered whether the attacks on the US had been a mistake. Among them was one of al-Qaida’s most acerbic writers, Abu Musab al-Suri. In public he backed bin Laden: privately he described him as an obstinate egotist. And he was scathing about the consequences of 9/11: ‘The outcome, as I see it, was to put a catastrophic end to the jihadi current which started in the early 1960s ...

Terrorists? Us?

Owen Bennett-Jones, 7 June 2012

Terror Tagging of an Iranian Dissident Organisation 
by Raymond Tanter.
Iran Policy Committee, 217 pp., £10, December 2011, 978 0 9797051 2 0
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... The story of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, also known as the Mujahedin e Khalq (MEK), is all about the way image management can enable a diehard enemy to become a cherished ally. The MEK is currently campaigning to be officially delisted in the US as a terrorist organisation. Once off the list it will be free to make use of its support on Capitol Hill in order to become America’s most favoured, and no doubt best funded, Iranian opposition group ...

Down with Ceausescu! Long live Iliescu!

Owen Bennett-Jones, 12 July 1990

... Romania’s attempt to establish democracy lasted almost exactly six months. After the December revolution, Romanians did begin to use their new passports to travel abroad, they were able to buy and sell goods for the most part without fear of reprisals from the state, and for the first time in over forty years, they could freely speak their mind. That all came to an end on 14 June with the arrival in Bucharest of the twenty thousand shock troops of the Iliescu regime, the miners from the Jiu Valley ...

Diary

Owen Bennett-Jones: In the North-West Frontier Province, 25 September 2008

... The College of Art and Design in Lahore is one of the most cultured institutions in Pakistan’s most cultured city. When I visited a couple of months ago, it was surrounded by sandbags: a department for traditional music had been opened and al-Qaida, which considers music un-Islamic, had threatened to blow it up. Despite this, both teachers and students told me that the real problem they faced was America ...

‘We’ and ‘You’

Owen Bennett-Jones: Suburban Jihadis, 27 August 2015

‘We Love Death as You Love Life’: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists 
by Raffaello Pantucci.
Hurst, 377 pp., £15.99, March 2015, 978 1 84904 165 2
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... I had​ my first brush with British militant Islam in Kabul in 1999. It wasn’t a great place for journalists. Government ministers, all mullahs who refused to be filmed, would shrug off any mildly probing inquiries with the stock reply that everything was in God’s hands. Across the city checkpoints enforced a prohibition on music. Streams of confiscated cassette tape tied to poles fluttered in the breeze ...

How should we think about the Caliphate?

Owen Bennett-Jones: In the Caliphate, 17 July 2014

... In​ its recent propaganda video, Clanging of the Swords: Part 4, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) presented a tightly edited series of grotesque executions. Thirty-eight people were filmed being killed: one man was shot as he ran through the desert trying to escape gunmen in a 4x4; another was trapped in his car; one was at home when Isis broke in and beheaded him in his bedroom ...

One Screw Short

Owen Bennett-Jones: Pakistan’s Bomb, 18 July 2019

Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb: A Story of Defiance, Deterrence and Deviance 
by Hassan Abbas.
Hurst, 341 pp., £25, January 2018, 978 1 84904 715 9
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... How​  did Pakistan become the world’s leading nuclear proliferator? North Korea, Libya, Iran: none of them would have worked on building a bomb if it hadn’t been for A.Q. Khan, Pakistan’s leading nuclear scientist, and if it hadn’t been for the Pakistani military, which gave the programme its full support. Drawing on the recollections of former decision-makers, Hassan Abbas offers the most complete account yet of how the programme worked, and what it meant: a source of national pride, and a source of cash ...

Across the Durand Line

Owen Bennett-Jones: The Durand Line, 25 September 2014

The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key to the Future of Pakistan and Afghanistan 
by Abubakar Siddique.
Hurst, 271 pp., £30, May 2014, 978 1 84904 292 5
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The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier 
by Hassan Abbas.
Yale, 280 pp., £18.99, May 2014, 978 0 300 17884 5
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... The conflict​ in the Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlands has similarities with other contemporary struggles. From Timbuktu to Kandahar, jihadis, national governments, ethnic groups and, in some cases, tribes are fighting for supremacy. In each place there are complicating local factors: badly drawn international borders; the relative strength or weakness of non-violent Islamist movements; the presence or absence of foreign forces, whether Western or jihadi; and different historical experiences of colonialism ...

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