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Author gives political thrillers a Swiss dimension

Ulrich Kohli with his latest bestseller swissinfo.ch

International terror and political conspiracies are two of the themes woven into the thrillers of Swiss writer James Douglas, whose real name is Ulrich Kohli.

This content was published on August 3, 2004 - 15:02

Kohli, who divides his time between Zurich and New York, told swissinfo the Swiss should wake up to the threat of terrorism.

He said his compatriots were more afraid of European Union bureaucracy than al-Qaeda.

In his novels, Kohli shatters the traditional image of Switzerland as a safe place, instead presenting it as a fear-ridden country where politicians are abducted and power stations are blown up.

swissinfo: Why do you think the Swiss appear to be more afraid of the bureaucrats in Brussels than al-Qaeda?

Ulrich Kohli: Brussels is closer to home and we are more frightened of its bureaucracy than we are of international terror. Al-Qaeda seems remote to us, it’s something we can’t really understand and we don’t believe we’ll be attacked.

As a thriller writer I’m shaking people out of their complacency and warning against this head-in-the-sand mentality.

swissinfo: What’s your view of Switzerland’s internal security?

U.K.: It’s clear that the police are overstretched. The World Economic Forum meetings in Davos and the fiasco of the G-8 meeting last year in western Switzerland [where riots took place] are proof of that.

I would prefer to see a redistribution of army resources. The army is slowly losing its importance anyway.

swissinfo: That would be a political hot potato, given that the army is not supposed to be used to ensure internal security.

U.K.: The Cold War is over. The security threat is different, it has become an internal problem. Switzerland’s security policy needs to address that fact. We react to events rather than seeing the threat and protecting ourselves.

After the [2001] attack on the regional parliament in Zug [when a lone gunman shot 15 people dead] stricter security checks were immediately introduced at the federal parliament building. But there is still nothing to stop a lorry laden with explosives from ramming into the front of the parliament building.

What we need is more surveillance and technology and less traditional defence.

swissinfo: This changed security situation is a common theme in all your books.

U.K.: It is exciting to make up plots around this theme. My success as a writer is probably thanks to my knowledge of the actual terrorist threat. In my books I have written about events that have later happened in real life.

In “Breathless to Casablanca”, for example, al-Qaeda militants attack two buildings in New York. The book was published a year before September 11, 2001.

swissinfo-interview: Alexander Künzle

Key facts

Ulrich Kohli began his writing career as a newspaper journalist while studying law in Bern.
Writing as James Douglas, he published his first German-language bestseller in 1994.
Two of his books have been published in English: “Zero Philadelphia” and “Breathless to Casablanca”.
“Breathless to Casablanca” – published in 2000 - describes an al-Qaeda attack on New York.

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