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Oct 24, 2006

Book publishing in the age of terror

Publishers Pan Macmillan have told Crikey that Martin Chulov's new book Australian Jihad: The battle against terrorism from within and without has been withdraw from sale for the period of "ongoing terrorism trials.” Only problem is, they can’t tell us which trials.

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When the controversial new book by The Australian’s Middle East correspondent Martin Chulov, Australian Jihad: The battle against terrorism from within and without, was pulled from book shelves last week, booksellers were told it was for “legal reasons.” But publishers Pan Macmillan have now told Crikey that the book has been withdrawn for the period of “ongoing terrorism trials.” Only problem is, they can’t tell us which trials.

Chulov’s book, which examines the extent to which Australia is a target in the global war on terror, initially gained notoriety for asserting that the ashes of an Australian killed in the 2005 Bali bombings were mixed up with one of the bombers, a claim which was slammed by Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty. And Chulov has also been in the headlines for claiming that Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was the victim of an internet coax over contentious photos of bombed Red Cross ambulances in Lebanon.

This is Pan Macmillan’s official line on why the Chulov book has been snatched from the shelves:

We’re withdrawing the book for the period of these ongoing terrorism trials. We absolutely stand by the accuracy of the text and the integrity of the author…

Pan Macmillan spokesperson Annie Coulthard confirmed to Crikey that this means the book will be pulled “indefinitely” but she couldn’t give us any more details of the nationwide recall, including which terror trials the publishers were referring to.

Usually when publishers recall books for legal reasons, they’re free to explain why and who asked them to withdraw it. Detail may be sub judice but ‘which terror trials’ is a fair question – so is asking who made the legal challenge. So does this suggest that the book is in breach of the federal sedition laws? Is it possible that the complaintant could be Attorney General Philip Ruddock?

The official press kit offers a few hints:

Australian Jihad reveals details of key plots against the nation and its people abroad; discloses a shocking, highly emotional sequel to the first Bali bombings; uncovers how the decade of developments shaped the very real threat from within; and outlines how Australia’s spies are desperately trying to evolve from easybeats to contenders able to take on their new adversary. Detailing the trailblazing visits to Australia of the global jihad pioneers; the clandestine mission of Frenchman Willie Brigitte; the trials and tribulations of the troubled wayfarers David Hicks, Mamdouh Habib, Jack Thomas and Mathew Stewart; and the 2005 counter-terrorism arrests of 22 Australians accused of preparing a catastrophic strike against their countrymen, the book chronicles a gathering menace.

With unparalleled access to security sources both here and overseas, Chulov gives us the real stories behind the headlines, and in doing so has proved that the truth is often scarier than even the most frenzied conjecture. As compellingly written as any thriller, Australian Jihad is a vital investigation into just how secure our national security really is.

If you didn’t get a chance to read the book before it disappeared, The Oz website has edited extracts on its site here and here.

Crikey contacted Chulov by email in Jerusalem and left a message for him, but he didn’t get back to us before publication time. We also contacted James Fraser, publishing director at Pan Macmillan Australia, but he didn’t get back to us before deadline.

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