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Sunday Book Review: The Unknown Terrorist

Richard Flanagan's "The Unknown Terrorist" is a comment on what can and does happen to people who live in a society governed by fear. It's about our world after Sept 11, where the media judges and convicts while pretending to analyze, where brown skin is considered evidence and the show trials happen before the real trials begin. If they begin.

It does not take place in America but in a Commonwealth country like our own, Australia, and in a city like our own, Sydney. It reminded me of the accusations against "The Toronto 17" and our rush to believe them guilty. What did we base that on? Their skin? Their religion? What the media or the police told us? Those are pretty wonky foundations at the best of times. Mixed with fear they can be deadly.

Although this book may sound like a hard and heavy read, Flanagan never neglects his characters. The protagonist, a stripper named Doll, is a symbol of the west, whose meaning changes and deepens as the story moves forward. But, more importantly she is a believable, if not completely likable, character. (I suspect that Mr. Flanagan carefully researched his local pole-dancing establishments.) Doll is a genuine person, both victim and victimizer, often seeing her own sins reflected back upon her.

To call this book a thriller is to diminish it. It does thrill but it's much more like "1984". It's all the more terrifying because it's current and most of the things Flanagan writes about have happened. Sadly, they will probably happen again.

But a person's political viewpoint can inform their reaction to a book like this so, in the interest of disclosure, I'll lay mine out as quickly and clearly as I can: I believe the cops, the government and especially the media are liars. I also think that all of our new anti-terrorism "laws" are dangerous bullshit. You can share this opinion or not. Either way, I still recommend this book.


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