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The Looming Tower Kindle Edition
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST
“Marvelous. . . . Not just a heart-stopping account of the events leading up to 9/11, written with style and verve. . . . A thoughtful examination of the world that produced the men who brought us 9/11.” —The New York Times Book Review
“At once wrenchingly intimate and boldly sweeping in its historical perspective. . . . A narrative history that possesses all the immediacy and emotional power of a novel.” —The New York Times
“A stunningly well-researched opus that puts the catastrophe in vibrant context.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Lawrence Wright’s book is my new touchstone. None of the previous books led me to say ‘Aha, now I think I understand’ as frequently.” —Steve Weinberg, The Boston Globe
“Should be required reading for every American; yes, it is that good. It is hard to imagine a better portrait of 9/11 and its causes emerging anytime soon.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“Powerful and important . . . a history of a man and a movement, replete with the accidents of history and historic inevitability.” —Kevin Horrigan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Don’t read The Looming Tower in bed. This book requires a straight spine and full attention . . . The reporting is so good that it will matter in 100 years. Wright’s determined, disciplined work has made his book indispensable. “ —Karen Long, The Plain Dealer
“A page-turner . . . encompassing religion, politics, economics and more. If you’ve been meaning to sharpen your understanding of what all led up to September 11, 2001, then Wright may have written just what you’ve been waiting for.” —Tom Gallagher, San Francisco Chronicle
“Brilliant . . . describes the contorted intellectual journey that has taken place among some Muslims which allows a holy book that appears to condemn suicide and the killing on innocents to be used to justify catastrophic terrorism.” —Stephen Fidler, Financial Times
“A magisterial, beautifully crafted narrative . . . This focus on character, along with Wright’s five years of fierce on-the-ground reporting (he lists 560 interviewees), pays off.” —Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, Los Angeles Times
“Deeply researched . . . immaculately crafted.” —Peter Bergen, The Wall Street Journal
“What a riveting tale Lawrence Wright fashions in this marvelous book. ‘The Looming Tower’ is not just a detailed, heart-stopping account of the events leading up to 9/11, written with style and verve. [It’s] a thoughtful examination of the world that produced the men who brought us 9/11, and of their progeny who bedevil us today. The portrait of John O’Neill, the driven, demon-ridden F.B. I. agent who worked so frantically to stop Osama bin Laden, only to perish in the attack on the World Trade Center, is worth the price of the book alone. ‘The Looming Tower’ is a thriller. And it’s a tragedy, too.” —Dexter Filkins, The New York Times Book Review cover
“Dozens of intricately reported books about 9/11 are already available; I had read perhaps half of them [before] starting The Looming Tower. But Lawrence Wright’s book is my new touchstone. None of the previous books led me to say ‘Aha, now I think I understand’ as frequently.” —Steve Weinberg, The Boston Globe
“A magisterial, beautifully crafted narrative . . . This focus on character, along with Wright’s five years of fierce on-the-ground reporting (he lists 560 interviewees), pays off.” —Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, Los Angeles Times
“Deeply researched . . . immaculately crafted.” —Peter Bergen, The Wall Street Journal
“A searing view of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, a view that is at once wrenchingly intimate and boldly sweeping in its historical perspective . . . a narrative history that possesses all the immediacy and emotional power of a novel, an account that indelibly illustrates how the political and the personal, the public and the private were often inextricably intertwined.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Important, gripping . . . One of the best books yet on the history of terrorism.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Lawrence Wright provides a graceful and remarkably intimate set of portraits of the people who brought us 9/11. It is a tale of extravagant zealotry and incessant bumbling that would be merely absurd if the consequences were not so grisly.” —Gary Sick
"Lawrence Wright's integrity and diligence as a reporter shine through every page of this riveting narrative." —Robert A. Caro
“A towering achievement. One of the best and more important books of recent years. Lawrence Wright has dug deep into and written well a story every American should know. A masterful combination of reporting and writing.” —Dan Rather
“Comprehensive and compelling…Wright has written what must be considered a definitive work on the antecedents to 9/11…Essential for an understanding of that dreadful day.” —starred Kirkus review
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
In a first-class stateroom on a cruise ship bound for New York from Alexandria, Egypt, a frail, middle-aged writer and educator named Sayyid Qutb experienced a crisis of faith. “Should I go to America as any normal student on a scholarship, who only eats and sleeps, or should I be special?” he wondered. “Should I hold on to my Islamic beliefs, facing the many sinful temptations, or should I indulge those temptations all around me?” It was November 1948. The new world loomed over the horizon, victorious, rich, and free. Behind him was Egypt, in rags and tears. The traveler had never been out of his native country. Nor had he willingly left now.
The stern bachelor was slight and dark, with a high, sloping forehead and a paintbrush moustache somewhat narrower than the width of his nose. His eyes betrayed an imperious and easily slighted nature. He always evoked an air of formality, favoring dark three-piece suits despite the searing Egyptian sun. For a man who held his dignity so close, the prospect of returning to the classroom at the age of forty-two may have seemed demeaning. And yet, as a child from a mud-walled village in Upper Egypt, he had already surpassed the modest goal he had set for himself of becoming a respectable member of the civil service. His literary and social criticism had made him one of his country’s most popular writers. It had also earned the fury of King Farouk, Egypt’s dissolute monarch, who had signed an order for his arrest. Powerful and sympathetic friends hastily arranged his departure.
At the time, Qutb (his name is pronounced kuh-tub) held a comfortable post as a supervisor in the Ministry of Education. Politically, he was a fervent Egyptian nationalist and anti-communist, a stance that placed him in the mainstream of the vast bureaucratic middle class. The ideas that would give birth to what would be called Islamic fundamentalism were not yet completely formed in his mind; indeed, he would later say that he was not even a very religious man before he began this journey, although he had memorized the Quran by the age of ten, and his writing had recently taken a turn toward more conservative themes. Like many of his compatriots, he was radicalized by the British occupation and contemptuous of the jaded King Farouk’s complicity. Egypt was racked by anti-British protests and seditious political factions bent on running the foreign troops out of the country—and perhaps the king as well. What made this unimposing, midlevel government clerk particularly dangerous was his blunt and potent commentary. He had never gotten to the front rank of the contemporary Arab literary scene, a fact that galled him throughout his career; and yet from the government’s point of view, he was becoming an annoyingly important enemy.
He was Western in so many ways—his dress, his love of classical music and Hollywood movies. He had read, in translation, the works of Darwin and Einstein, Byron and Shelley, and had immersed himself in French literature, especially Victor Hugo. Even before his journey, however, he worried about the advance of an all-engulfing Western civilization. Despite his erudition, he saw the West as a single cultural entity. The distinctions between capitalism and Marxism, Christianity and Judaism, fascism and democracy were insignificant by comparison with the single great divide in Qutb’s mind: Islam and the East on the one side, and the Christian West on the other.
America, however, stood apart from the colonialist adventures that had characterized Europe’s relations with the Arab world. America, at the end of the Second World War, straddled the political chasm between the colonizers and the colonized. Indeed, it was tempting to imagine America as the anticolonial paragon: a subjugated nation that had broken free and triumphantly outstripped its former masters. America’s power seemed to lie in its values, not in European notions of cultural superiority or privileged races and classes. And because America advertised itself as an immigrant nation, it had a permeable relationship with the rest of the world. Arabs, like most other peoples, had established their own colonies inside America, and the ropes of kinship drew them closer to the ideals that the country claimed to stand for.
And so, Qutb, like many Arabs, felt shocked and betrayed by the support that the U.S. government had given to the Zionist cause after the war. Even as Qutb was sailing out of Alexandria’s harbor, Egypt, along with five other Arab armies, was in the final stages of losing the war that established Israel as a Jewish state within the Arab world. The Arabs were stunned, not only by the determination and skill of the Israeli fighters but by the incompetence of their own troops and the disastrous decisions of their leaders. The shame of that experience would shape the Arab intellectual universe more profoundly than any other event in modern history. “I hate those Westerners and despise them!” Qutb wrote after President Harry Truman endorsed the transfer of a hundred thousand Jewish refugees into Palestine. “All of them, without any exception: the English, the French, the Dutch, and finally the Americans, who have been trusted by many.”
The man in the stateroom had known romantic love, but mainly the pain of it. He had written a thinly disguised account of a failed relationship in a novel; after that, he turned his back on marriage. He said that he had been unable to find a suitable bride from the “dishonorable” women who allowed themselves to be seen in public, a stance that left him alone and unconsoled in middle age. He still enjoyed women—he was close to his three sisters—but sexuality threatened him, and he had withdrawn into a shell of disapproval, seeing sex as the main enemy of salvation.
The dearest relationship he had ever enjoyed was that with his mother, Fatima, an illiterate but pious woman, who had sent her precocious son to Cairo to study. His father died in 1933, when Qutb was twenty-seven. For the next three years he taught in various provincial posts until he was transferred to Helwan, a prosperous suburb of Cairo, and he brought the rest of his family to live with him there. His intensely conservative mother never entirely settled in; she was always on guard against the creeping foreign influences that were far more apparent in Helwan than in the little village she came from. These influences must have been evident in her sophisticated son as well.
As he prayed in his stateroom, Sayyid Qutb was still uncertain of his own identity. Should he be “normal” or “special”? Should he resist temptations or indulge them? Should he hang on tightly to his Islamic beliefs or cast them aside for the materialism and sinfulness of the West? Like all pilgrims, he was making two journeys: one outward, into the larger world, and another inward, into his own soul. “I have decided to be a true Muslim!” he resolved. But almost immediately he second-guessed himself. “Am I being truthful or was that just a whim?”
His deliberations were interrupted by a knock on the door. Standing outside his stateroom was a young girl, whom he described as thin and tall and “half-naked.” She asked him in English, “Is it okay for me to be your guest tonight?”
Qutb responded that his room was equipped with only one bed.
“A single bed can hold two people,” she said.
Appalled, he closed the door in her face. “I heard her fall on the wooden floor outside and realized that she was drunk,” he recalled. “I instantly thanked God for defeating my temptation and allowing me to stick to my morals.”
This is the man, then—decent, proud, tormented, self-righteous, and resentful—whose lonely genius would unsettle Islam, threaten regimes across the Muslim world, and beckon to a generation of rootless young Arabs who were looking for meaning and purpose in their lives and would find it in jihad.
Qutb arrived in New York Harbor in the middle of the most prosperous holiday season the country had ever known. In the postwar boom, everybody was making money—Idaho potato farmers, Detroit automakers, Wall Street bankers—and all this wealth spurred confidence in the capitalist model, which had been so brutally tested during the recent Depression. Unemployment seemed practically un-American; officially, the rate of joblessness was under 4 percent, and practically speaking, anyone who wanted a job could get one. Half of the world’s total wealth was now in American hands.
The contrast with Cairo must have been especially bitter as Qutb wandered through the New York City streets, festively lit with holiday lights, the luxurious shop windows laden with appliances that he had only heard about—television sets, washing machines—technological miracles spilling out of every department store in stupefying abundance. Brand-new office towers and apartments were shouldering into the gaps in the Manhattan skyline between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. Downtown and in the outer boroughs, vast projects were under way to house the immigrant masses.
It was fitting, in such a buoyant and confident environment, unprecedented in its mix of cultures, that the visible symbol of a changed world order was arising: the new United Nations complex overlooking the East River. The United Nations was the most powerful expression of the determined internationalism that was the legacy of the war, and yet the city itself already embodied the dreams of universal harmony far more powerfully than did any single idea or institution. The world was pouring into New York because that was where the power was, and the money, and the transforming cultural energy. Nearly a million Russians were in the city, half a million Irish, and an equal number of Germans—not to mention the Puerto Ricans, the Dominicans, the Poles, and the largely uncounted and often illegal Chinese laborers who had also found refuge in the welcoming city. The black population of the city had grown by 50 percent in only eight years, to 700,000, and they were refugees as well, from the racism of the American South. Fully a fourth of the 8 million New Yorkers were Jewish, many of whom had fled the latest European catastrophe. Hebrew letters covered the signs for the shops and factories on the Lower East Side, and Yiddish was commonly heard on the streets. That would have been a challenge for the middle-aged Egyptian who hated the Jews but, until he left his country, had never met one. For many New Yorkers, perhaps for most of them, political and economic oppression was a part of their heritage, and the city had given them sanctuary, a place to earn a living, to raise a family, to begin again. Because of that, the great emotion that fueled the exuberant city was hopefulness, whereas Cairo was one of the capitals of despair.
At the same time, New York was miserable—overfull, grouchy, competitive, frivolous, picketed with No Vacancy signs. Snoring alcoholics blocked the doorways. Pimps and pickpockets prowled the midtown squares in the ghoulish neon glow of burlesque houses. In the Bowery, flophouses offered cots for twenty cents a night. The gloomy side streets were crisscrossed with clotheslines. Gangs of snarling delinquents roamed the margins like wild dogs. For a man whose English was rudimentary, the city posed unfamiliar hazards, and Qutb’s natural reticence made communication all the more difficult. He was desperately homesick. “Here in this strange place, this huge workshop they call ‘the new world,’ I feel as though my spirit, thoughts, and body live in loneliness,” he wrote to a friend in Cairo. “What I need most here is someone to talk to,” he wrote another friend, “to talk about topics other than dollars, movie stars, brands of cars—a real conversation on the issues of man, philosophy, and soul.” Two days after Qutb arrived in America, he and an Egyptian acquaintance checked into a hotel. “The black elevator operator liked us because we were closer to his color,” Qutb reported. The operator offered to help the travelers find “entertainment.” “He mentioned examples of this ‘entertainment,’ which included perversions. He also told us what happens in some of these rooms, which may have pairs of boys or girls. They asked him to bring them some bottles of Coca-Cola, and didn’t even change their positions when he entered! ‘Don’t they feel ashamed?’ we asked. He was surprised. ‘Why? They are just enjoying themselves, satisfying their particular desires.’ ”
This experience, among many others, confirmed Qutb’s view that sexual mixing led inevitably to perversion. America itself had just been shaken by a lengthy scholarly report titled Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, by Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues at the University of Indiana. Their eight-hundred-page treatise, filled with startling statistics and droll commentary, shattered the country’s leftover Victorian prudishness like a brick through a stained-glass window. Kinsey reported that 37 percent of the American men he sampled had experienced homosexual activity to the point of orgasm, nearly half had engaged in extramarital sex, and 69 percent had paid for sex with prostitutes. The mirror that Kinsey held up to America showed a country that was frantically lustful but also confused, ashamed, incompetent, and astoundingly ignorant. Despite the evidence of the diversity and frequency of sexual activity, this was a time in America when sexual matters were practically never discussed, not even by doctors. One Kinsey researcher interviewed a thousand childless American couples who had no idea why they failed to conceive, even though the wives were virgins.
Qutb was familiar with the Kinsey Report, and referenced it in his later writings to illustrate his view of Americans as little different from beasts—“a reckless, deluded herd that only knows lust and money.” A staggering rate of divorce was to be expected in such a society, since “Every time a husband or wife notices a new sparkling personality, they lunge for it as if it were a new fashion in the world of desires.” The turbulent overtones of his own internal struggles can be heard in his diatribe: “A girl looks at you, appearing as if she were an enchanting nymph or an escaped mermaid, but as she approaches, you sense only the screaming instinct inside her, and you can smell her burning body, not the scent of perfume but flesh, only flesh. Tasty flesh, truly, but flesh nonetheless.”
The end of the world war had brought America victory but not security. Many Americans felt that they had defeated one totalitarian enemy only to encounter another far stronger and more insidious than European fascism. “Communism is creeping inexorably into these destitute lands,” the young evangelist Billy Graham warned, “into war-torn China, into restless South America, and unless the Christian religion rescues these nations from the clutch of the unbelieving, America will stand alone and isolated in the world.” --This text refers to the paperback edition.
- ASIN : B000JMKNTW
- Publisher : Vintage; 1st edition (August 8, 2006)
- Publication date : August 8, 2006
- Language : English
- File size : 5069 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 480 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #24,587 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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1. Is this the best book to learn about everything that happened on 9/11?
Actually, no. This book doesn't spend a lot of time covering 9/11, surprisingly. In fact, it doesn't mention it much until the final chapter or so. But it doesn't really claim to either. The subtitle is 'Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.' This book is the buildup to 9/11. The why, more than the what. Why Al-Qaeda was formed? Why was America the target? Who was Osama bin Laden, really? If you are looking to find details of the hijackings, the planning and stories surrounding 9/11/2001, this is not your book.
2. Will this information heavy book be able to keep me interested?
Absolutely, yes. This book is extremely readable. It was the rare book that I never wanted to end. I would find myself closing it early because I wanted to save more for later. The growth of Al-Qaeda and bin Laden is fascinating. As atrocious and unforgivable as their actions were, I could find myself sympathizing for their cause at times. Minus a few unfortunate events, everything could have turned out so differently. But I guess that's how the past always seems.
3. Is this book deserving of the Pulitzer?
In my humble opinion, yes. It blows my mind to think about how the author managed to get all of this information. It's so detailed, so interesting. He must have some great contacts. And the book is written in a very matter-of-fact style. It never gets opinionated which is refreshing considering how tempting it must be due to the subject matter. Some books I read, and forget the author's name a couple of weeks after I finish it. Lawrence Wright is one I won't forget and will check out again. ('Going Clear' is great too, actually.)
To sum things up, this was not the book I was looking for, but it was great regardless. If you have any interest in the history of Al-Qaeda, definitely pick up this book.
Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian Islamic theorist, begins this saga with a voyage to the US in 1948. After a brief stay in the post war sin city of New York, Qutb attended college in small town Colorado as a well known Arabic author. On return to Cairo his ideas crystallized into a dialectical opposition between east-west, traditional-modern and religious-secular. At the time Israel had defeated the Arab alliance and the British were occupying the Suez Canal. Joining with the Muslim Brotherhood, Qutb assisted Nasser in 1952 to depose King Farouk, but Pan-Arabic socialism thwarted his desires for a sharia state. Following a 1954 assassination attempt on Nasser, Qutb was jailed and then executed in 1966.
Ayman al-Zawahiri was born in 1951 to a famous family of doctors and clerics, friends of Qutb. He lived in a rich Cairo suburb, home to Edward Said, Omar Sharif and future King Hussein. In 1967 Egypt blocked the straight to the Red Sea from Palestine. Israel destroyed Egypt's air force, overran Sinai and reached the Suez canal in less than a week. The same six days saw the capture of Jerusalem, the West Bank, Golan Heights, and a rout of Jordanian and Syrian forces. The war marked the birth of a new fundamentalism. Only a return to the faith could regain the lost favor of God. Zawahiri believed that restoration of a caliphate would lead to a holy war with the US and it's Jewish conspirators.
Nasser died in 1970 and Sadat emptied jails of Muslim Brothers in a bid to legitimize his presidency. The decade saw a surge in radical groups fostered by official tolerance. Khomeini established Islamic rule in 1979 Iran, raising hopes for theocracy. Egypt was not ready for revolution however, and in 1980 Zawahiri visited Pakistan to provide medical support in the Afghanistan conflict. Sadat had signed a treaty with Israel in 1978, and was assassinated in 1981. Zawahiri was implicated, and tortured in the Citadel of Cairo. Mubarak arrested hundreds of Islamists for the trial. Omar Abdel Rahman, leader of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing would share prison time with Zawahiri.
Osama bin Laden was born in 1957 to a successful family of developers in Saudi Arabia. King Saud had ended a rebellion of religious fanatics in 1931, and established Salafism as the fundamentalist creed of the land. Oil boomed in 1950, and the bin Laden's became rich through construction for the king. Seventeenth son Osama was a devout youth, and fervent for sharia law. Influenced by Qutb, he joined the Muslim Brothers. Rapid social change and resentment of royalty spurred dreams of revolution. King Faisal was killed in 1975 while making secular reforms. Mecca's mosque was seized in 1979 by rebels seeking theocratic rule. If an Islamic state could be formed the world would soon follow.
Abdullah Azzam, al-Azhar scholar and jihadi, left Jordan for Jeddah in 1980, where he met bin Laden. He joined Afghan forces against the Soviets, issued fatwas to fight and spun tales of battlefield miracles. Bin Laden had raised funds and recruited volunteers, where he met Zawahiri. Saudi royals sacrificed riches to defend the faith and block the USSR from the gulf. The US funneled fortunes into the region to protect oil interests. Bin Laden built training camps for foreign fighters, using Pakistan as a local base. A network of Arab princes, holy warriors, secret agents, Muslim mystics and puppet dictators was born. Azzam became a founding father of al-Qaida, Hamas and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Azzam vied with Zawahiri and bin Laden for control of al-Qaida when the USSR fell in 1989. The Saudis intervened and bin Laden won the day. When Azzam fell from favor he was killed. Hailed as hero in the Afghanistan-Soviet war, bin Laden led a ragtag band who amused the Afghan army. The last half of the book covers the decade leading to the 2001 attacks. Royal corruption and an economic slide bred unrest in the Kingdom. Bin Laden blamed the US, a tricky position towards an ally against the USSR, but the princes feared domestic threats as much as foreign ones. Allowing infidel troops on Saudi soil in 1990 to attack Saddam Hussein was an affront to bin Laden, even in defense of Saudi oil.
Hasan al-Turabi, a Sudanese scholar armed with degrees from London and Paris, staged a coup that created a Sunni Islamist state in 1989. He had been a Muslim Brotherhood leader since 1964. Sudan opened it's doors to stateless jihadi, with a special invitation extended to bin Laden. Relocating to Khartoum in 1992 he reunited with Zawahiri. As the communist threat subsided a Christian one took hold. The presence of Americans in the KSA and Yemen violated a Quranic verse about one religion in Arabia. This coalesced into a crusades redux, where ancient battles began anew. If a western new world order was the future, then al-Qaida would reignite a fight for past traditions of law and faith.
Omar Abdel Rahman led the 1993 WTC bombing, funded by bin Laden. Al-Qaida trained fighters killed 19 US soldiers in Mogadishu that year. Mubarak survived a 1995 assassination attempt by Zawahiri. Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in 1996, under the baleful eye of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who was bankrolled by Pakistan and the KSA. Khaled Sheikh Mohammed visited bin Laden. His nephew, WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef blew up a passenger jet and plotted to kill Bill Clinton. Their new plan was to crash airliners into US buildings. Khobar Towers exploded, killing 19 US Air Force personnel. In 1997 62 tourists were gunned down in Egypt. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania followed in 1998.
The last quarter of the book details the dysfunctional ties between the FBI and the CIA. An agent of Zawahiri told the FBI about al-Qaida in 1993, but the CIA wasn't informed. As bin Laden declared war on the US in 1996 we wondered what it would mean. Al-Qaida began suicide missions, evolving from freedom fighters to global terrorists. In 1999 a missile strike aimed at bin Laden was canceled by the CIA. As al-Qaida pilots entered the US in 2000 the CIA didn't tell the FBI. The USS Cole exploded in Yemen killing 17 sailors. By the summer of 2001 there were reports a vast attack was imminent. The FBI agent who lead the al-Qaida team retired. Within two weeks at his new job in the WTC the planes hit.
I lived next to the WTC then as I do now. Assuming I had heard it all in the news, I delayed reading this book. Instead of a narrow focus on the 911 plot, the book gives a wide historical context. It is not a painstaking recount of the attack. Lawrence Wright won a 2007 Pullitzer Prize for his work. More than 350 people worldwide were interviewed by the author. He takes a balanced view and no one is blameless in this account. From blinkered politicians and warlike empires, corrupt royalty and cynical clergy, Machiavellian intellects and credulous minds came a scourge of violence. Bin Laden may not have succeeded in a showdown for a single world faith, but the seeds of destruction were sown.
Top reviews from other countries
A brilliant examination of the causes of 9/11.
At the end of my second visit to the 9/11 memorial and museum in New York City I went into the shop where various books were on sale. Among them Lawrence Wright’s “The Looming Tower” - I later bought it on Amazon. To brief yourself on WHAT happened on 11th September 2001 go to the museum. To understand WHY it happened read Wright’s book.
Wright tells the story of Islamic Terrorism and of Al-Qaeda with the highest regard for the truth. His research was extensive - not easy in a subject area clouded with confusion, lies and not always with verifiable sources. He tracks the growth of fundamentalist Islam in a way that is sensitive to Islamic culture and to the polarised contrast it has to the all pervasive Western culture most of us in America and Europe regard as the norm. The path from being a devout Muslim to being a terrorist may seem a long one and one few would follow. That is true. But it only takes a small number to challenge the hegemony and the ubiquity of the West and an even smaller percentage of them to pursue the path of violence to cause chaos, and death and destruction.
The 9/11 terrorists and their compatriots in Al-Qaeda were not wild men from caves, and nor was Osama Bin-Laden. They were, and are, often well-educated and from comfortably-off families. It is self-evidently the case that terrorism runs counter to the core teaching of Islam. So the beliefs that drove Bin-Laden and his followers are a grotesquely perverted interpretation of Islamic teaching which most Muslims thankfully reject. But it was true that it was these beliefs that led to 9/11 and it is perverse to deny that. Lawrence Wright doesn’t.
What Al-Qaeda did was to defeat conventional national and international constructs with advanced guerrilla warfare techniques. America, in particular, is good at wielding a big stick and has overwhelming power to do this. But the subtleties of finding and defeating opponents who are fleet of foot and who can disappear and regroup was prior to 9/11 much more difficult. Wright describes in detail how, for example, internecine squabbles between the CIA and the FBI inhibited the US ability to respond to the growing threat of Al-Qaeda. It is no exaggeration to say that 9/11 would not have happened if everybody involved in intelligence gathering and response had worked together. They didn’t and the bureaucrats have blood on their hands.
The driver of the horror was ideology - a malignant ideology for sure but not a secret one. The hatred of the Western imperative and (in particular) the presence of non Muslims on Muslim lands was not some hidden secret. And yet the US had then few Arabic speakers among its security services and little or no understanding of how devotion to Islam could, for some, become a driver of violence.
History is influenced by conspiracy, confusion and chance - all play their part in the 9/11 disaster. The plannng of the attack (not described in detail here) was brilliant. Almost unbelievable in its daring in fact. The attackers did to an extent “ get lucky” but frankly American preparedness was woeful. The CIA/FBI knew about bin-Laden and Al-Qaeda, not least because of the recent attack in Aden on the USS Cole. 9/11 could have been stopped and modern history would have been different. A chilling thought.
This is a magnificent book and I commend it without reservation.
As other reviewers have noted this book is not about 9/11 though that is the culminating event. Instead it is primarily about the growth of radical Islamic thinking from the late 1940s. The Muslim Brotherhood led by Sayyid Qutb until he was executed in 1966, existed mainly in Egypt a country the author knew as an English teacher during the 1960s. Reignited by the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the vacuum created, it's diverse supporters transformed into al-Qaeda under the control of a wayward son of the Saudi based wealthy Yemen family of bin Laden.
The detailed level of research and the concise explanations of what is so often not easily understood by non-Muslims is what initially marks this book out especially in the first two hundred pages up to the first truck bomb attack on the World Towers in 1993. From then on the book runs in parallel the roller coaster history of al-Qaeda under Osama bin-Laden and the story of the US and Saudi government's growing awareness and response (or lack of it).
Lawrence Wright's prodigious research and extensive interviews with representatives from all sides fill out these stories with facets that have largely been lost post 9/11 and the subsequent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. By telling events though a few key driven individuals, who nearly all ultimately were losers or victims in later events, Wright keeps the drama moving to its sad finale.
Bin Laden's activities during his time in Afghanistan and Sudan underline his lack of any coherent strategy and political, financial or global awareness. Al-Qaeda is revealed as an organization unsophisticated in approach and using a questionable religious basis. Yet driven by a small core group dedicated to violent jihad against the US, as it became bolder it attracted more likeminded Muslims seeking martyrdom.
The key elements of the US story are the inter government agency battles, notably the FBI with a global terror mandate and an attitude of bringing people to trial in US Courts and the CIA with a historic desire to eliminate those it saw as enemies of the USA. The precision of the detail is what marks out this re-telling plus Wright is very good at conveying the mindsets different operatives faced.
The end outcome did not achieve bin Laden’s immediate hope of an Islamic global crusade through Muslims flocking to his cause, his subsequent life being one of hiding till his execution in May 2011. Nearly all the US players who had been his adversaries as his organization developed were gone or with no ongoing role to play post 9/11 as the USA embarked on the revenge attacks bin-Laden had dreamt of in uniting Muslims against the infidel.
My edition of the book contains a 2011 Afterword from the author. This was written after the Arab Spring commenced with the hope many of the problems al-Qaeda and other Arab rulers notably the Saudis had ignored would now be addressed and defeat radical Islam. Yet sadly by 2016 with ISIS establishing al-Qaeda’s planned Islamic caliphate and the ineffectual US response with drones and air power shows the original conflict has grown, not diminished.
The detail of particular conversations has to be at least improvised in places, but I am convinced the author was both thorough and sincere, and didn't take much "artistic license". There is a ream of references and indeed many of the individuals are still alive today and he has spoken to as he explains in the afterword.
As others have mentioned it does not talk very much about the particulars of the 9/11 attacks. It's more about the philosophy and personalities that led up to the event. This does not diminish the book; there are plenty of others out there that go into a blow-by-blow analysis of 9/11 itself if that is what you are looking for.
I had scant understanding of the terrorist associations that try to associate themselves with Islam beyond the information we get from news reports; so I found it very instructive. You might find yourself turning to Wikipedia or Google at a few points to refresh your mind as there is a lot of names from the Arab world that I wasn't all that familiar with.
It is also thought provoking: you are given a window into the personal history of these individuals who went from being generally of sound mind to hardened radicals.
I would recommend it to anyone.
What I didn’t expect was a comprehensive history of where the fundamental Islamists came from and why. Personally I found this to be fascinating. We go right back to the 40’s with Egyptian Sayyid Qutb and The Society of Muslim Brothers, and Bin Laden actually appears quite a long way into the story. I would say the TV dramatisation only starts half way through the book.
The last 30% of the book contains many of the authors notes, and details of who said what, and when, as well as a comprehensive list of the many different people included and where they are now.
It was a long read, but I feel much more knowledgeable on this subject and it explained so much about the state of politics and upheaval in the Middle East - not just Al Qaeda but also the Soviet / Afghan war, the political situation in Egypt, and a little about Yemen.
Very highly recommended to anyone who wants to learn more about radical Islam and how the attack on the Twin Towers came about.