Lessons in the Politics and Prejudice of Terrorism
Palestinian gunmen hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in October, 1985. Most Americans over forty remember the brutal killing of Jewish-American passenger Leon Klinghoffer during the incident. But only a few know about the second murder associated with the incident.
During the hijacking, a Palestinian-American named Alex Odeh spoke on television in Los Angeles, defending an attempt by Yasser Arafat’s PLO to defuse the hostage situation. The next day, members of the radical Jewish Defense League killed Odeh by detonating a bomb in his office.
Palestinians killed Klinghoffer because he was Jewish; Jews killed Odeh because he was an Arab. Since 1985, the families of the two victims have been searching for justice. The Achille Lauro Hijacking, Lessons in the Politics and Prejudice of Terrorism recounts the hijacking, the U.S. Navy’s daring seizure of the hijackers at 30,000 feet over the Mediterranean, and the political firestorm that followed the hijacking.
The book also describes the relentless pursuit of the hijacking mastermind, Abu Abbas, by the Klinghoffer daughters, as well as the less publicized, but equally intriguing hunt for Odeh’s killer by the FBI.
Excerpts from The Achille Lauro Hijacking
Many have attempted to reduce international terrorism to simplistic terms—a battle between good and evil, for example. One of those with that view, President George W. Bush, talks straightforwardly about America’s war against the “axis of evil,” and issued a black-and-white challenge to the world: “Are you with us or against us?”
The reasons that Americans increasingly have become subjects of terrorism in the last twenty-five years are far too complex to be described by oversimplified jingoisms. Terrorism is not just about crime and punishment. Terrorism is about violence, power politics, prejudice, hatred, land, religion, greed, money, and a host of venal factors that all influence human society. All of these forces are present in The Achille Lauro Hijacking and its aftermath. The very definition of terrorism should remind everyone of the powerful dynamics behind the phenomenon: ‘‘The unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.’’ These last few words—‘‘political or social objectives’’— immediately bring to mind discussion, disagreement, and discord among peoples. No society, much less a world of societies, can agree on the same political and social objectives. The world is too complicated for consensus. The Achille Lauro Hijacking, seemingly a simple confrontation of good and evil, really is a case study in the complex forces that shape both terrorism and the responses that it triggers.
Senseless biases, and racial and religious stereotyping, influenced
both the hijacking and its aftermath. Two days after the hijacking, Alex
Odeh, a Palestinian-American, defended on television Arafat’s apparent
attempt to defuse the incident. He died the next day when a bomb
exploded at his Santa Ana, California office. Odeh, a Catholic, was a
poet, college instructor, and head of the local American-Arab Anti-Discrimination
Committee. A Palestinian shot Klinghoffer because he
was Jewish; someone killed Odeh because he was Palestinian.
Review for The Achille Lauro Hijacking
Nov 8, 2004
Bohn, who directed the White House situation room under Reagan, relates the
harrowing tale of one of the most spectacular terrorist acts of the 1980s and
its aftermath. In October 1985, Palestinian gunmen under the command of Abu
Abbas commandeered an Italian cruise ship, murdered the wheelchair-bound
Jewish-American Leon Klinghoffer and tossed his body overboard. Negotiations
yielded the perpetrators safe passage in an Egyptian aircraft, but the U.S.
intercepted the flight and the terrorists were put on trial in Italy. During
the crisis, Arab-American activist Alex Odeh appeared on television and seemed
to justify Palestinian terrorism; his remarks were quoted out of context.
Police suspected that Jewish extremists were responsible for his subsequent
murder. Bohn, a former navy officer, juxtaposes the murders of Odeh and
Klinghoffer, two Americans killed because of their differing affiliations in a
still-simmering conflict, in drawing lessons about the “politics and
prejudice” of terrorism. He attempts to understand the motivations and
grievances of the terrorists, not to justify them but to encourage a more
effective policy for confronting terror. For Bohm, terrorism is “not just
about good versus evil” but exists in a political and cultural context; his
book effectively illuminates the backstory of a gruesome example of it.