§ion=&combo2=&text1=&text2=&SocNetUsername=&SocNetPassword=&authCode=& 7th Decade Thoughts: The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright

7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright

This book is the obvious choice if you want to read just one book about terrorism. Wright, a New Yorker reporter, tackled an amazingly difficult subject and wrote an analysis that is both compelling and compassionate. There’s nothing “high-handed” about it. There’s no rant. He makes every effort to understand the lives as well as the ideas of Al-Qaeda members and precursors who are influential in the organization that targets the United States as the evil power in the world. He begins with Sayid Qutb (theorist of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood who whose experience in the US in the 1950s led him to brand Americans as racist, materialist, immoral and trivial) and building up to Osama bin Ladin and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Wright, educated at Tulane and the American University in Cairo where he also taught, has a long-standing interest in the Middle East. He conducted hundreds of interviews for this book so that he was able to report not only the religious and political ideas of those responsible for 9/11 as well as terrorist acts leading up to it, but he reports on their lives, their families, and their personal quirks, habits and experiences. He views them as individuals shaped by their environments as well as by radical religious ideas. He tells us, for instance, that bin Ladin is 6 feet tall, not 6’5 or 6 and that the theory that he suffers from kidney disease has never been confirmed.

Starting with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1950s, Wright traces the roots of radical Islamic terrorists from Qutb’s hatred of the US and his extraordinary influence on Egyptian radicals through events such as the assassination of Sadat in Egypt, the 1979 takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Iranian revolution, the first World Trade Center bombing, the truck bombing in Dharan, the African embassy bombings, and the USS Cole incident.

At the same time as readers begin to understand the terrorists, Wright focuses also on the agencies and individuals in the US who were tracking them down, particularly on flamboyant FBI agent Robert O’Neill who fought bureaucracy and communication barriers constantly and ended up leaving the FBI in 2001 for a position as the head of security at the World Trade Center—and died on 9/11. Despite heroic work by O’Neill, Richard Clarke and many others Wright names in various US agencies, the indictment of bureaucratic in-fighting, in-group loyalties, and lack of cooperation on the part of US intelligence is devastating.

I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s terrific. The writing is superb and the story is far more compelling than any thriller. If you want to understand the enemies of the United States, start with Lawrence Wright.


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