Books Review


By Stewart Bell, John Wiley & Sons Canada Ltd, Canada, 2004, pp. 243. ISBN: 0-470-83463-3 Reviewed by: Afroz Alam

Normally, three valid reasons could be put forward for writing a book on a subject such as “terrorism”, or on related subjects. The first reason would be that nobody else has written on the subject. The second reason could be the belief that one has something original or different to convey from what has already been in the public knowledge factually or in terms of analyses. The third reason could be the assessment and conviction of the author that he may possibly provide a different perspective or analyses based on his personal experience on the subject he is writing about. While reading Stewart Bell’s Cold Terror one can easily conclude that the author cannot lay claim to the first two reasons for writing this book. On conspicuous ground, for one who tends to accept uncritically the world view projected by the West, the author can claim the third reason as the motivation for presenting this panoramic description and analysis of terrorism and Canada’s role in nurturing and exporting it around the world. The author is a renowned Journalist and has been an observer of terrorism worldwide in general and the secret networks of terror in Canada in particular for more than twelve years and thus, has contributed chapters on terrorism to three recent books: A Fading Power (Oxford UP); Terrorism, Law & Democracy (Les Editions Thémises); and Surviving Terrorism (Deep Anchor Press).

In this well-researched, investigative but unidimensional work Cold Terror, Bell zeroes in on the question of how Canada allowed itself to become an important center of world terrorist organizations like Armenian and Sikh groups of the 1980s to present day Tamil Tigers, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda. He views, that Canada became the best country in the world for terrorists to make their home because it provides a haven, money, propaganda, weapons and foot soldiers to the globe’s deadliest religious, ethnic and political extremist movements, murderous organizations that have brought their wars with them, turning Canada into a base for international terror. In this context, Bell brings to notice the political involvement and betrayal of leaders, the corruption of immigration and ethno cultural lobbying system that forced Canada to deny the case of Canada’s support of terrorism despite the detail in stacks of case files in the Federal Court of Canada, Immigration and Refugee Board dossiers, CSIS reports, RCMP intelligence briefs, Security Intelligence Review Committee reports and records from the prosecution of Canadian terrorists abroad. Bell observes, “The only mainstream organizations that consistently lobby against terrorism are Jewish community groups, because Jews are so often the targets of terror.” (p.xix) He has given an account of tremendous carnage caused by Canadian terrorism. First, it generates severe problems within Canada, especially in refugee communities, where extremists have seized control of community institutions. Secondly, Canada-based terror creates risks for Canadians travelling abroad. Third, Canada’s approach to counter terrorism undermines Canadian foreign policy. Finally, Canada is itself a terror target and has put itself at greater risk by being nice to terrorists. Discarding the modesty of ivory tower writers, Bell in order to acquire personal insights and understanding about the evolution and working of terrorist networks in Canada ventured off to Sri Lanka, Israel, Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the author’s main preoccupation is his subscription to the American model of thinking about terrorism which completely discards any notion of treating them as freedom fighters.

The story of the book revolves round the points just summarized. However, the author has structured the contents of this book in seven chapters. The nitty-gritty of the first two chapters is all about the early days of Canadian terrorism. In this respect, the author highlights Canada’s facilitation of the activities like fund raising and propaganda of Sikh extremist’s Canadian branch, Babbar Khalsa and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)’s Snow Tigers. After assessing the monitoring of these two terrorist organizations from Canada, Bell maintains that Canada brings war to India and Sri Lanka because to the extent that the vicious terrorist violence is paid for by the Babbar Khalsa and Snow Tigers, and permitted to continue unchecked by Canada.

Chapter three examines the Canadian activities of Middle East terrorist groups, focusing on strong ties between Canada and Hezbollah. After dealing with its activities throughout the Middle East, the author points out, Hezbollah and its look-alikes are not just only Israel’s problem. He argues, “The unresolved status of Palestinians has fed Islamic terrorism in Israel, but those who believe that the creation of a Palestinian homeland will end terrorism are fooling themselves, If and when Yasser Arafat’s dream is realized, Islamists will find another focus for their anger. Iraq, Chechnya and any of the assortment of Arab states with ties to the United States, such as Saudi Arabia, or even exaggerated troubles of Muslims within North America, will then become the next big cause, just as Afghanistan was in the 1980s and Bosnia in the 1990s.” (p.107) This interpretation is seemingly more in tune with the Huntington’s notorious “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. The struggle of known radical Isamists is certainly not the product of any clash between the civilizations but the by-product of the Cold War politics. Here the author deliberately avoids distinguishing between political movements, which speak in the name of religion in order to capture power and religious movements that seek revival of the faith in its pristine form. The question that is evaded in the present discourse is why did political Islam, born in colonial times, take to the guns in the late Cold War period?

The final four chapters undertake a descriptive, chronological analysis of the rise of the Canadian Al Qaeda network. The Canadian Al Qaeda groups are divided by country of origin: the Egyptian Al Jihad, the Algerian Armed Islamic Group. The author held 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan responsible for designing the current international terrorism more than any other because it radicalized scores of young Muslims all over the world, who saw in Kabul an assault on their religion, and by communists no less. It is striking to note that author has evidently exhibited his bias by shielding USA which is the real culprit. It is a well known fact since the former director of the CIA, Robert Gates stated in his memoirs (From the Shadows) that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahidin in Afghanistan six months before the Soviet intervention.

Bell also provides a detailed account of American war against Afghanistan, the role of Osama bin Laden and Ahmad Said Khadr. The author aims to show Osama bin Laden as a champion of religious cause. But he does not take cognizance of the established fact that Laden worked as an US ally in Afghanistan during Cold War. But when he turned against the US interest he become a terrorist. In this regard the author does not provide a rationale as to why and how same good Muslims become bad Muslims? Why does the West not consider him as radical politician rather as radical theologian? He finds that about one-quarter of the soldiers protecting the ruling Taliban regime were non-Afghans. Most were Pakistanis but there were also brigades of Saudis, Chechens, Algerians and Islamic guerillas from western China and the neighboring former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. He argues provocatively, “The broad assortment of nationalities at the camp shows how the Taliban has been propped up by radical Muslims from around the world.” (p.180) In this context, Bell reports that “The Afghan people were enduring great suffering at the hands of the foreign terrorists who had seized their country and turned it into a base for Islamic radicalism and holy war.” (p. 175) The author again failed to provide any plausible explanation of the agony of Afghanis except looking with a colored eye on the Taliban. The Talibanism could not have grown in Afghanistan if the US had not created an environment in which it was seem to have connived at, indeed cynically used, Talibanism for its own end.

How did radical Islamic groups get recruits from the world at large? He finds answer in their tactical proliferation of the belief that the Muslim faith was under attack and the war against the West was a religious duty. Martyrdom was promised to the one who died for the cause. Pointing out the similar recruiting pattern, universal symbols and shared militant values, the author suggests that the terrorist wars do not possess distinct characteristics, but to a remarkable degree are a part of single culture: the global culture of militancy. Discarding the established notion, Bell argues that the ever-increasing involvement of the youths in most damaging missions of the Al Qaeda cannot be explained on the ground of their poverty, illiteracy and frustrations. He blames the “religious zealots trying to impose their twisted world view.” (p.197)

Be that as it may, the author looks at the things with an American perspective which never tolerate the emergence of rival political claim. Bell expresses his worry over the Al Qaeda-style radical Islam for two reasons. First, it preaches violence without limits. Second, Islamic extremists are patient. Their hatred arises from centuries-old grievances and their aim is long term: a world under the rule of Islam, the one true faith. Bell concludes with the alarm that a group of fanatics want to convince Muslims that theirs is the one true faith and it is their duty and right to take over the world with force. These people are not looking for foreign aid money, or change to U.S. foreign policy or greater tolerance of their beliefs. They are irrational religious zealots. He urges the need of forceful security and intelligence response that seeks to dismantle the terror network within Canada, coupled with an overseas military strategy that attacks the dens of terror because terrorists have declared war on our values, our way of life and our society. Ironically, Stewart Bell does not echo the similar tone on the side of those whom he brands as terrorists. At the same time, the author throughout the length of his discussion fails to mention on his side the American promotion of proxy wars, CIA’s aid to the so called terrorist organizations, US direct interventions in their regions during Cold War as well as today. How long should the readers wait for the author’s similar anguish against the US terrorism, is a matter of conjecture

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