In the 1990s, when I interviewed the Red Brigades for my PhD, I began to uncover new paradigm in terrorist networks. Behind the dramatic facade of politics and violence loomed the more mundane problems of funding an organization whose costs ran to several million dollars per year. As I got to know the leaders of Italy’s largest armed groups, I found that their primary skills were managerial, not military. It was thanks to their business acumen more than their martial prowess that they had risen to the top ranks of the operation.
Since then, I have been keen to investigate the financial side of armed groups, their links with each other and with legitimate and illegitimate businesses. In the late 1990s, I asked my agent to see if there was any interest in Europe in a book on the economics of terrorism, but she immediately discouraged me. In 2000 I made inquiries in New York, and was politely turned down. Then came September 11. My phone began to ring, and it has not stopped since.
Quickly, I wrote a long and detailed proposal for a book on the economics of terrorism, tracing the birth and development of an economy parallel to the Western one and plugged into it. This parallel economy is the lifeline of international terror. The proposal was submitted to US publishers, 18 of whom responded to say that they were interested in making an offer. But right before the auction for the rights, something unexpected happened. One by one, the enthusiastic editors dropped out. One after another they called my agent, apologizing profusely; some of them called me directly. It seemed that no one was interested in a book which portrayed the ‘enemy’ as an intelligent, skilled and articulate foe.
Much the same thing happened in London, where the proposal was given an exclusive viewing at a leading publishing house: an enthusiastic editor, vetoed by the publisher.
I was amused. What if the mainstream English speaking markets were not ready for this book? Or even better, what if they were conditioned by censorship? What if on matters of terrorism, the small European markets were much more knowledgeable and sophisticated? I picked up the telephone and called my Italian agent, asking her to sell the book. In 24 hours she held an auction and sold the book to Il Saggiatore, Marco Tropea Editore. I received the largest advance for a non-fiction book in Italy in a decade. With the advance money I hired three research assistants from the London School of Economics and SOAS in London, a first class editor in London and a Pakistani researcher/editor in Karachi.
With the help of my Italian agent I then approached several small independent US and UK publishers. I knew that they were ‘controversial’ publishers and would welcome a book like mine. In the end I went for Pluto Press, who bought world English rights, providing me with excellent support and a first class marketing plan.
My disappointment with the US publishing world continued after the completion of the book. A well-known publicist from Washington DC, was so enthusiastic when she heard about my book that she agreed to represent me for a reduced fee. However, when she read the book, she sent me an email terminating our relationship because I had written in my book that the US had been involved in sponsoring terrorism. “How dare you say such a thing?” she wrote. I guess somehow she had missed the Iran-Contra scandal.
While researching and writing Modern Jihad, Tracing the Dollars of the Terror Networks, I was encouraged, supported and helped by many people around the world. Noam Chomsky; Alex Schmid, head of the Crime and Terror Prevention Unit at the UN; George Magnus, chief economist at UBS Warburg; Greg Palast, who introduced me to my current US publicist; Jason Burke of the Observer, with whom I exchanged ideas and many, many others. Last but not least, this book was made possible by my sources within international armed groups; people who have inspired my research.