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A critique of lawrence wrights book the looming tower

Of the two boys, one, Ahmed, was only 13. Zawahiri, the partner in terror of Osama bin Laden, had them stripped naked; he showed that they had reached puberty, and therefore counted as adults. The court found the boys guilty. Zawahiri had them shot, filmed their confessions and executions, and put video copies out to warn other potential traitors.

His Sudanese hosts were so outraged that they expelled Zawahiri and his group immediately. It does not exonerate Zawahiri that the boys really had, as Lawrence Wright explains, tried to kill him: Ahmed by telling Egyptian spies exactly when Zawahiri was going to come to treat him for malaria; the other boy, Musab, by twice trying to plant a bomb.

The boys were trapped; the photos could have led to their execution by al-Jihad as surely as their subsequent betrayal. The story does more than illuminate the sheer vileness of the conflict that has been underway for decades between the death-loving hardcore of Islamic revolutionaries and the allies of European and American governments in the Islamic world. It underlines the centrality of Egypt to the origins and perpetuation of the conflict.

One of the darker choruses of this excellent work of journalism is the success that three of those allied governments, the Saudi Arabian, Pakistani and Egyptian, have had in diverting the fundamentalist warriors away from their original prime target — them — and towards the West. Wright argues convincingly that, although bin Laden would subsequently claim America had always been his enemy, he was ready at one stage to turn his ire on the venality, concupiscence and hypocrisy of the ruling royal family of his native Saudi Arabia.

Why did the Saudi authorities give him such latitude in the late 1980s to criticise their ally, the United States?

Because it was preferable to his attacking them. The Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan would not have become the breeding grounds of narrow-minded Islamic radicals they were, and are, without the passive and active support of branches of the Pakistani government.

Why has there been such support? Partly because those Pakistani officials wanted to keep Iran and Russia out of Afghanistan, partly because some of them are fundamentalist Muslims themselves, but also because it deflects the tip of the jihadi spear away from Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi towards Kabul, New York and London. The long and brutal struggle between Islamic revolutionaries and governments in Egypt, going back to the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood by Hasan al-Banna in 1928 and on through the execution of Sayyid Qutb in 1966, was a crucible for the theorising which led to the events of 11 September 2001.

  1. According to Qutb, anyone co-operating with jahili institutions was turning away from Islam; therefore anyone living in Jahiliyyah was fair game.
  2. Where Zawahiri comes across as a cold, treacherous, jealous exploiter of others, bin Laden is vain, naive, generous and idealistic — which, combined with the fact that he is a mass murderer, makes him the more sinister character.
  3. It was there that the Egyptian jailers made their investment of cruelty in Zawahiri which he would later pay back a thousandfold. He also knew Hazmi was in the US.
  4. The cadre that formed the future leadership of al-Qaida stemmed from a bodyguard Zawahiri gave bin Laden when he first spoke vaguely against America in the late 1980s.
  5. Zawahiri, the partner in terror of Osama bin Laden, had them stripped naked; he showed that they had reached puberty, and therefore counted as adults. Not that bin Laden was a coward.

The prisons of Egypt became a networking venue for jihadis. It was there that the Egyptian jailers made their investment of cruelty in Zawahiri which he would later pay back a thousandfold. It was after an attack on Egyptian interests in 1995 — a suicide bombing at the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan, just after al-Jihad was expelled from Sudan — that Zawahiri first established the theological underpinning of suicide attacks.

Eighteen people, including two suicide bombers in a truck, died. Zawahiri justified the attack by arguing that, since the Egyptian government was un-Islamic, and everyone who worked in the embassy worked for that government, they all deserved to die; innocent Muslim bystanders or children caught up in the explosion were sad but necessary collateral damage. The Islamic prohibition on suicide was tougher to overcome, since the Prophet himself had foretold eternal damnation for one of his warriors after he killed himself rather than suffer the pain of battle wounds.

Zawahiri reached back into distant history for the case of a group of Muslim martyrs who had been offered a choice by their idolatrous captors of renouncing their faith, or dying. The catalyst was an attack by a group of Zawahiri allies on tourists at Luxor. A small group of jihadis in police uniforms crippled any tourists within range by shooting them in the legs, then strolled from injured person to injured person, finishing them off with shots to the head.

Most of the 62 victims were Swiss; others included four Egyptians and three generations of a British family — grandmother, mother and five-year-old daughter. Wright gives prominence to the life of Qutb, whose Milestones had enormous influence on the Islamic revivalist movement.

Published in 1964, it is a contradictory, self-referential, anti-semitic tract that calls for war against the non-Islamic world to establish a universal Islam, following which the conquered — or, as Qutb puts it, liberated — will be free to believe what they wish.

In the jahili world, instead of the ideal synthesis of worship and governance that God provides through the Koran, men blasphemously worship and are governed by each other. The most subversive aspect of Milestones, from the point of view of secular, multicultural governments and peoples, is its insistence that personal belief in and worship of God is insufficient to avoid Jahiliyyah. You can be as devout as you like, but if you tolerate and obey jahili institutions, you are defying God.

It is a strong prescription, especially when you consider that Qutb greatly admired the scientific and cultural achievements of jahili Europe, and believed a future Islamic civilisation would surpass them.

He saw the abundance of churches as a sign of hypocrisy rather than piety. The notion that the doom of the Twin Towers was an arc which began in America as well as ending there is hard to resist for an American storyteller, even if it is only partly true. The cell became one of the building blocks of al-Jihad also known as Islamic Jihad. Al-Jihad was one of three underground groups dedicated to the overthrow of the secular Egyptian government and the establishment of an Islamic state.

The largest, oldest and most moderate, mixing politics with violence, was the Muslim Brotherhood, whose founder al-Banna was assassinated, probably by the Egyptian government, in 1949. In the 1970s, a second organisation, the Islamic Group, emerged as a force on Egyptian campuses; the socialist and secular nationalist fashions of the previous decade yielded, beards sprouted, and women students veiled up. Sheikh Omar and Zawahiri met and plotted together in prison.

Their clandestine organisations were similar: At one point he issued a fatwa justifying the a critique of lawrence wrights book the looming tower of Christians, to make it possible for his a critique of lawrence wrights book the looming tower foot-soldiers to fund their jihad by killing and robbing Coptic businessmen with a clear conscience.

For all the hideous moments recorded in this book — the image of a woman struggling underneath the fallen engine of a Boeing on a Manhattan street is particularly haunting — the most intriguing and in some ways chilling mystery remains the fate of the fourth remarkable Islamic revolutionary leader at the centre of this history, Sheikh Abdullah Azzam.

It is known that this Palestinian religious scholar studied with Sheikh Omar in Cairo; it is known that he inspired bin Laden; it is known that he aroused the jealousy of Zawahiri. What remains unknown to this day is who was responsible for his assassination in Peshawar in 1989.

Azzam was a devout Muslim who had contempt for secularists. To drum up support for the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan he issued a fatwa declaring jihad in Afghanistan a religious duty for every able-bodied Muslim. Azzam toured the world, preaching of divine miracles on the battlefield — of the perfumed corpses of martyrs and birds turning aside Soviet bombs. He was a hero to young Arabs. It was Azzam who popularised the lurid rewards awaiting the martyr in Paradise which later lay at the heart of al-Qaida; Azzam who, on 11 August 1988, with the Soviets already beaten in Afghanistan, called the meeting which formally created an organisation called al-Qaida.

He feared that the mujahidin would instead begin to fight against each other, that Muslim would fight against Muslim. He was worried about the dark, heretical doctrine that Zawahiri had seized on in Afghanistan — takfir, or excommunication. In a Kuwaiti-backed Red Crescent hospital in Peshawar, which became his base during the years of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Zawahiri fell in with other Arab doctors who had been influenced by an outbreak of takfir heresy in Egypt in the 1970s.

Zawahiri and the other takfiris got round the explicit Koranic prohibition on killing anyone, except as punishment for murder, by pointing out that the Prophet said anyone could be killed for turning away from Islam. According to Qutb, anyone co-operating with jahili institutions was turning away from Islam; therefore anyone living in Jahiliyyah was fair game.

Democracy was jahili, for example; ergo, anyone who voted could be — no, should be — executed.

Creators of ‘The Looming Tower’ on Hulu trace the path to tragedy

Azzam, who had done more than either bin Laden or Zawahiri to further the Islamic cause in Afghanistan, and who opposed takfir, nonetheless fell victim to it. He says this of the day Azzam died: Yet of all the countries in the jahili world, why America?

The answer seems to lie in the quixotic mind of bin Laden himself. What would the stern moralist Qutb, or for that matter a psychoanalyst, have to say about the family history of Osama bin Laden? He is one of 54 children whom his fantastically wealthy, self-made father had by 22 wives.

His father found his mother, Alia — wife number four — in a small Syrian village, and married her when she was 14. When he was 17, the young bin Laden went to the same village where his father found Alia, and met and married his first wife, Najwa, who was also 14.

The Original Targets

He solemnly resolved to practise polygamy, eventually taking four wives. Where Zawahiri comes across as a cold, treacherous, jealous exploiter of others, bin Laden is vain, naive, generous and idealistic — which, combined with the fact that he is a mass murderer, makes him the more sinister character. Most of the few thousand Arabs who went to Afghanistan for jihad never actually took part in the fight against the Soviets. Bin Laden desperately wanted to, and did, but his early efforts to form and lead an Arab legion into battle were embarrassing failures.

Azzam and others tried to persuade him to abandon his legion and let his fighters be dispersed across the front, but bin Laden was stubborn in his desire to be at the head of his own cohort of Arab warriors. This allowed him to make absurd claims about his leading role in defeating the Soviet superpower when, in a skirmish near Tora Bora in the spring of 1987, he and his Arabs scored a single victory.

Not that bin Laden was a coward.

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He and his fighters were under mortar and napalm bombardment for weeks on end. There are different accounts of the final battle, which ended in local Soviet retreat, but bin Laden was close enough to the Russians for the bullets to whistle past and the rocket-propelled grenades to explode by his head as he stuck his finger in the bag of salt he carried for his low blood pressure, and sucked it.

He convinced his fellow Saudis when he returned home; he convinced himself. Wright does not contradict this version. But the picture that emerges from his account is of a more indecisive, whimsical bin Laden, ill-informed about the reality of America, conscious of a world of injustice and full of a sense of his own destiny but uncertain at what point the two would meet — the archetypal rebel without a cause.

He had Zawahiri, who wanted his money and network, to shape his aims. The cadre that formed the future leadership of al-Qaida stemmed from a bodyguard Zawahiri gave bin Laden when he first spoke vaguely against America in the late 1980s. In 1989, al-Qaida seemed to be taking shape as the well-organised, takfiri Arab jihadist elite force bin Laden and Zawahiri wanted. It had a training camp near Khost in Afghanistan. Bin Laden seemed to find peace, and to transform himself into a Sudanese country gentleman.

He took his sons picnicking by the banks of the Nile. He dressed in the Sudanese way and carried a Sudanese walking-stick with a V-shaped handle. He grew prize sunflowers. He acquired vast tracts of land in exchange for building roads, and hoped to turn Sudan into a world granary. He preached peace in the Khartoum mosque. He was 34 years old.

What eventually tipped bin Laden towards war against America, when he had seemed so close to settling into a bucolic idyll in Sudan? As background, Wright offers the sense among the jihadis that America was the centre of Christianity, and that the Christian world had been winning the battle of faiths since the Islamic host began to be beaten back from the gates of Vienna on 11 September 1683.

Yet neither of these was new in 1992.

  • The issue came to a head at a meeting between the two sides in New York on 11 June, when the CIA showed the FBI three of the photographs from the Kuala Lumpur meeting and asked if the Bureau agents recognised any of them;
  • The answer seems to lie in the quixotic mind of bin Laden himself;
  • Two prevailing narratives — of the West v.

Bin Laden was certainly angry that US troops did not seem to be leaving Saudi Arabia, as had been promised. His war on America began with mutual ignorance, misunderstanding, the blood of innocents and bad religion. Reassured by his imam, Abu Hajer, that it was theologically sound to attack US troops, al-Qaida set off bombs in two hotels in Aden. They were the wrong hotels. An Australian tourist and a Yemeni hotel worker were killed. Abu Hajer came up with a 13th-century precedent to justify their deaths.

The untouched US soldiers moved on to Somalia as planned. Because the troops left Yemen after the bombs, bin Laden was able to convince himself that al-Qaida had driven them out.