Monday, February 5, 2007

Chapter 2 - The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, which came out last August, is a fantastic look at the history of al-Qaeda and it's key leaders bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri. This book was written by a writer for The New Yorker, Lawrence Wright. He started working on this book just after 9/11. Five years, numerous trips to and from the Middle East, and more than 500 interviews later, he has compiled the facts and his insightful opinions in this wonderful book.

The Looming Tower traces the beginnings of radical Islam and the ideas that inspired and motivated groups such as al-Qaeda. It begins by telling the story of an Egyptian man named Sayyid Qutb who comes to the US in the 1950s to study. He returns to Egypt a few years later, disillusioned by America and the "evils" of the western world. He starts sharing his wild ideas, eventually ending up in prison and later on being executed. A book he wrote while in prison inspires a young Egyptian doctor named Ayman al-Zawahiri, who eventually creates his own radical group called al-Jihad. Their purpose is to overthrow the Egyptian government and establish an Islamic government in its place. Eventually, (and I'm skipping MANY of the details) he meets a rich young Saudi named Osama bin Laden. The book follows their interactions in Afghanistan as they fight the Soviet occupation, and as they eventually merge their two groups to form al-Qaeda. The author gives great insight into the personalities of the these two men and explains how the goal and design of al-Qaeda evolved into a deep hatred for, and a desire to destroy, the United States. (The motivation in a word: modernity.) They come to blame America for all the problems that, in their view, are plaguing Islam.

On our side of the world, The Looming Tower also tells the story of John O'Neill. He is a dedicated, passionate man who for many years worked on the FBI's counter terrorism unit that tracked Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. He was frequently misunderstood and wasn't always able to do what he wanted in tracking bin Laden and his followers. In an incredible twist of irony, O'Neill left the FBI to become the head of security at the World Trade Center a very short time before 9-11, and died in the rubble when the towers collapsed. After years of fighting bin Laden, O'Neill is the one who ends up losing his life in the battle.

The book also describes the build-up to 9-11, including the US embassy bombings in Africa and the bombing of the USS Cole in the Persian Gulf. The author describes how bin Laden desperately wants to lure the US into a war in Afghanistan, so that he and his fighters can "bleed" America just like the Afghan freedom fighters did to the Soviets in the 1980s. There is also a lot of incriminating evidence about the lack of cooperation between the CIA and FBI. At times, the author asserts, more sharing of information and coordination could have prevented much or all of the 9-11 plot.

There is a lot more in this great book, but I won't write any more at the risk of losing the few of you who are still reading. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to anyone is who interested in the background and motivation for radical Islamist groups and their deep hatred for America. As for The Looming Tower, I would highly recommend that you....
Buy the Book!!!


Scott said...


Enjoyed the blog. Will definitely get this book when the price goes down on Amazon. Not everyone can afford hardcovers ya know.

Question...I thought that it was pretty well known that the CIA armed, trained, and funded bin Laden in Afghanistan against the Russians in the 80s. I was wondering why, given that, bin Laden would have wanted the US to get involved in the conflict. Seems like that would be biting the hand that feeds you.

Just wondering of ol' Lawrence said anything about that.

Anonymous said...

2 years later but my thoughts:

bin Laden hates the U.S for many reasons but our involvement in Saudi Arabia (his homeland) triggered it. He offered his military support to the Saudis; they declined and accepted U.S support instead. He felt betrayed. Let’s not forget the two most holy cities to Muslims (Mecca and Medina) are Saudi land…bin Laden was disgusted that U.S troops were occupying and protecting the country over him.