The Looming Tower: Al-Queda and the Road to 9/11
© 2006 Lawrence Wright
“[…] we’re told that they were zealots, fueled by religious fervor…religious fervor. And if you live to be a thousand years old, will that make any sense to you? Will that make any ******* sense? ” – David Letterman, first show post-attack. 9/17/2001
Despite the efforts of Sunday School teachers who wanted to convey the fact that the end of the world was imminent, I didn’t pay a great deal of attention to foreign affairs in middle school. One of those teachers dedicated a wall in her classroom not to Bible verses and theology, but to ominous news stories hinting at the imminent coming of the Endtimes. Most prominent on the board and in my memory was a large article on the USS Cole bombing in 2000, organized by the same people who would later attack New York. After that 9/11, that seemingly random attack made more sense in context, and in Lawrence Wright’s Looming Tower, the Cole bombing has a prominent place. Looming Tower is a history of al-Quaeda, of the ideological background of bin laden and his followers, as well as a chronicle of their activities. Although bin Laden did not create the jihadist fervor popularly known as Islamism, Wright contends that bin Laden was the indispensable figure behind the movement, organizing smaller groups into an international force and financing it with his dead father’s fortunes.
Westerners may find it easy to dismiss terrorists as the dregs of society, casting blame on their woes and failures on the easy target of the west. Far from being uneducated rubes, however, many of the key members of al-Queda and its related organizations were members of their society’s elite: they were born into wealth and privilege, and (excepting bin Laden) spent considerable time in the west. The intellectual progenitor of Islamism, as we might term the virulently anti-western ideology rooted in fundamentalist Islam which has been sweeping the middle east in increasingly strong waves since the mid-20th century, actually lived in small-town America during the 1950s. There, after being initially impressed by its wealth, he (Sayyid Qutb) grew contemptuous of America, regarding it as decadent and materialist.Qutb’s writings, made more attractive by his death as a prisoner back im Egypt, remain relevant for consideration today — for while many jihadists are directly motivated by contempt of the West’s creation of Israel, and DC’s continuing support of it, they also have a fundamental contempt for western ideals — Christianity included, which one describes as too idealistic. These jihadists were fundamentally opposed to western thought — capitalism, communism, etc — because of its materialistic basis, and despite their backgrounds in medicine or engineering rejected the scientific worldview as inadequate. Bin Laden never traveled westward, but rather east; it was in Afghanistan that the pious business prince grew to think of himself as a leader of men and after he was repelled from the Sudan he would retreat to the very same cave-structure he carved out during the Afghan war. It was in Afghanistan that bin Laden met men who would be his future allies in destruction, and it was there that he establish training camps for his plans of violence on his targets.
The Looming Tower is not a history of 9/11; itself : coverage of the day is largely limited here to the death of John O’Neill, a colorful agent-in-charge of the FBI who had been doggedly hunting al-Queda operatives before his retirement in 2001. He chose to steer into his golden years by taking a post as chief of security for the World Trade Center, and a month later he perished there while leading people to safety. Despite the fact that the CIA was also tracking al-Quaeda operatives, internal security measures and concerns over jurisdiction stymied the information-sharing that might have led to O’Neill realizing there were targets constituting an active threat within the US. Most of the subject material covers leading Egyptian and Arabian figures who would build jihadist movements in their countries, attempting to achieve takeovers in Egypt and the Sudan, and fighting abroad in Afghanistan. The history indicates that Osama’s war on the United States despite its status as an ally of the anti-Soviet jihadist, was not caused by DC’s later support of secular dictators against more religious populaces.. Instead, Osama’s attitude toward the US had already hardened, and he wanted to take the fight to the United States as soon as the USSR had withdrawn: having defeated one demonic superpower through prayer (and American-made Stinger missiles), he wanted to destroy the other. Then, a new caliphate could sring into being and regain its medieval might –and more.
DC is now seventeen years into a war that Osama bin laden wanted it to fight. That war has led to a succession of others, multiplying with now grim predictability, creating other threats like ISIS. While that gangster-state has now been reduced to a brand name for murder, it is a safe bet that some other threat will arise from the region. Today DC is currently supplying al-quaeda in Syria, recalling the days when DC armed jihadists fighting the Soviets, only to find their “allies” were only weapon to turn said weapons against DC when the Soviet threat was passed. DC is also funding and supplying the Saudi enterprise of systematically destroying Yemen, in full knowledge of the fact that the Saudis are a leading sponsor of terrorism and its subjects constituted the majority of the 9/11 hijackers. DC has learned nothing, it seems, and is seemingly content to waste lives and resources until the heath death of the universe. (Sources linked above include The New York Times, The American Conservative, The Huffington Post, and the Cato Institute. Reality is not partisan.)
what a mess… i wonder if things will ever become sane again…
This one has been on my TBR for ages. Great review, we can chat about it when I get around to reading it!
Very disturbing. Watching Ken Burns's Vietnam War a year ago, I'd have thought leaders would learn from the past, but they clearly don't. It's sickening.
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