The Looming Tower

Did you know that Al-Qaeda members had medical benefits and paid holidays. They had to submit requests in triplicate to get new tires or other hardware? Lawrence Wright wrote this new book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 taking almost five years and interviewing more than 600 people including members of Al-Qaeda and Osama’s wives. It also talks about the effort of FBI agents to crack down on them.

The arrival, then, of Lawrence Wright’s “The Looming Tower,” a deeply researched history of al Qaeda, is welcome and timely. This is a largely Egyptian and Saudi tale, one that Mr. Wright intercuts with the stories of the small group of U.S. officials who early on understood the threat posed by the group. Mr. Wright focuses on the decisions made by certain individuals rather than on the play of great impersonal forces. At one point he considers “whether 9/11 or some other similar tragedy might have happened without [Osama] bin Laden to steer it.” His answer: “Certainly not. The tectonic plates of history were certainly shifting, promoting a period of conflict between the West and the Arab Muslim world; however, the charisma and vision of a few individuals shaped the nature of the contest.”

One of those individuals was Sayyid Qutb, a nebbishy Egyptian writer who arrived in Greeley, Colo., in 1946 to attend college. A priggish intellectual, Qutb found the U.S. to be racist and sexually promiscuous, an experience that left him with a lifelong contempt for the West. “Instead of becoming liberalized by his experience in America, he returned even more radicalized,” Mr. Wright says. Once in Egypt again, Qutb joined the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and was later jailed and tortured.[Profiles in Terror (subscription reqd.)]

Sayyid Qutb wrote a manifesto called Milestones which became a jihadi primer. Sayyid also wanted jihad to be conducted against Muslim nations which did not implement Shariat. Note that this all started much before the Palestine, Kashmir  and so many other issues which jihadi apologists claim as excuse.

The book traces the career of Osama from his days fighting the Soviets which was greatly exaggerated to his exile in Sudan where he spent time farming sunflowers to the plotting of 9/11 with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The book also profiles Daniel Coleman and FBI debriefer who in 1996 concluded that Al-Qaeda was a big threat to United States and John O’Neill, another FBI agent who aggressively investigated the bombing of USS Cole in Yemen.

Listen: Lawrence Wright on Fresh Air