Wanis-St. John, Anthony. Back Channel Negotiation: Secrecy in the Middle East Process

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Wanis-St. John, Anthony. Back Channel Negotiation: Secrecy in the Middle East Process. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2011. Pp. 342. ISBN 978-0-8156-3275-7 (cloth) $39.95. and

Gerges, Fawaz A. The Rise and Fall of Al-Qaeda. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. 248. ISBN 978-0-1997-9065-4 (cloth) $24.95.

As these two important works of current communication scholarship detail, what is mediated remains as definitive to political cultures and public opinion about how Americans think about their enemies as what is accomplished through diplomatic channels. Both contribute to a broader understanding of the past decades of wars in the Middle East, and provide a context within which to deconstruct the glamour of war reporting in mass media as a contributing factor to normalizing violence. The fact that Americans fear without knowing the back story has multiple sources, but as both books argue, what is unknown continues to feed the anxiety that informs cultural perception.

Gerges demonstrates in a data-rich, well-argued book that the threat of Al-Qaeda is a construction of American media and political culture. According to a Christian Science Monitor poll, Westerners' peace of mind, shattered on September 11th 2001, is dominated by the terrorism narrative sustained by the styles of war reporting in mass media. The author argues that the fear of terrorism is much greater and more powerful than al-Qaeda's actual numbers and capabilities, diminished further by the loss of their leader, well hidden in Pakistan until his death. He argues that the dominant narrative of terrorism "trapped" President Obama into linking the identities of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and since has justified public policy shifts toward counterterrorism, based on new fears that these unidentified enemies will unleash global pandemics using nuclear or biological warfare. "[T]here is a substantial disconnect between the dominant terrorism narrative based on perception," argues Gerges, and the reality of the threat, which is significantly smaller and primarily tactical" (p. 192). Though well considered, his political argument pales before the ongoing violence of "primarily tactical" terrorism. Yet his larger purpose, to dissect the construction of mediated perceptions that influence public defense policy is a chapter that still needs to be written.

Wanis-St. John's scholarship about the Palestinian-Israeli peace process represents a decade long devotion to scholarship, using government documents, and interviews with key negotiators. …