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Book Review: The Infernal Machine – A History Of Terrorism by Matthew Carr

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The Infernal Machine could easily be subtitled, ‘One Man's Terrorist is Another Man's Freedom Fighter’. As Matthew Carr eloquently points out, it is all a matter from where you take your viewpoint. When someone mentions terrorism, Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden might first spring to mind – however, terrorism is not a new phenomenon.

Mathew Carr takes us back to Russia in the early 1880s and the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. When you read the circumstances surrounding this event, you begin to see the quandary of determining what constitutes terrorism. In a decade by decade, country by country dissection we see that terrorism has been with us constantly, for quite some time. The names may change, the techniques may vary depending on the goals, but terrorism it is.

One of the more interesting episodes that the author explores is how, in many cases, terrorism is actually used to a government's advantage in enacting unpopular legislation with little or no grumbling from the population. That should be apparent to all of us living in North America, and the arguably draconian measures that have been enacted under the banner of ‘The War On Terror’ since the 9/11 Al Qaeda outrage. Indeed, the governments of the Western World have used this as a clarion call to advance their own agendas.

Mr. Carr also explores how over time a terrorist can indeed be recognized as something else when it is in the best interests of a government. Maybe the finest example of that would be Nelson Mandela: he did indeed change from terrorist to freedom fighter when it was convenient for the West.

The world was outraged over the killing of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. However, Matthew argues, the massacre was as a result of a bungled rescue effort, and not suicide bravado by the Black September group. This single act, garnered more news coverage than the genocide of an estimated 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda.

To say The Infernal Machine is a controversial book may be understating it. There is something to annoy everyone, because everyone has their own personal view of the historical events documented. However, it is exceedingly well researched, and well written – it is well worth the time and effort to read it. I found the viewpoints expressed to be excellent and highly educational, exploring not only the motivations of the various groups, but also the responses elicited from the counties involved. In many instances, the countervailing measures were severe overreactions to the crimes committed.

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