Book Review: Al Qaeda in the Looming Tower Al Qaeda and the Road to 9-11

Pages: 10 (3091 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Terrorism  ·  Buy This Paper

Looming Tower: A Book Review

The attacks which occurred on September 11th 2001 were immediately received by the United States as an act of war. Indeed, when commercial airliners slammed into the two towers comprising the World Trade Center, into the Pentagon and into a field in Pennsylvania, there could be little doubt that the United States had been victimized by a sophisticated and highly coordinated terrorist attack designed to produce significant monetary and human casualties. Within hours of the attacks, allegations emerged that terrorist mastermind and wealthy Saudi financier Osama bin Ladin and his al-Qaeda terrorist networks were claiming responsibility for the attacks. Then president George W. Bush proceeded with a plan for full-scale invasion of Afghanistan -- and Iraq soon after -- which denotes that the president had accepted on face value the lead role taken by bin Laden and al-Qaeda. However, as we reflect on such comprehensive works as the Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright. The 2007 text takes a highly critical stance on the Bush Administration, the intelligence community and the general collective of institutional forces which failed to protect us from the threat of terrorism in spite of what the text finds was ample, sometimes even startlingly frank, warning of the impending attacks.

Primary Argument:

The primary argument of Wright's work seems to be that the warning signs of that which militant Islam would represent to the interests of western security were in plain view across the course of decades. Indeed, as the Soviet and American perpetrators of the Cold War used so many parts of the so-called 'third world' in order to flex their muscle against one another, both sides helped to radicalize the populations of countless nations. The Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa would be particularly fertile grounds for the stimulation of radical activities such as the movement that would catalyze members of the Muslim faith in a unified front against imperial aggression. They viewed this as stemming from the behaviors of both Soviets and Americans, and were especially motivated in their developing political objectives by the world's relative sympathy to the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in the center of the Arab world. These are all forces which Wright considers carefully in an examination of these events as channeled through several key figures. By offering a narrative on such figures as Ayman al Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden -- key leaders of the al-Qaeda terrorist network and conspiring planners of the September 11th attacks -- Wright accomplishes the goal of connecting 9/11 to a long and easily traceable history of intended aggression against western governments, commercial institutions and civilian targets.

Using carefully documented histories culled from video tapes, interviews, court testimonies and declassified government intelligence, Wright develops his argument around the increasing involvement of these figures in the religions and political movements of Islam. As these converge during the 1970s and 1980s, Wright makes quite clear the fact that the United States and other authorities had a clear understanding of the intentions of the militant Islamic movement. But it is also evident that the U.S. failed to take these intentions seriously, even to the extent, as Wright points out, that it helped to arm and even further radicalize the Islamic militants who would coalesce to the cause of vanquishing Soviet invaders from Afghanistan. From this partnership would emerge the sense of confidence and camaraderie that helped to forge al-Qaeda's determination.

Assessment of Arguments:

This helps to underscore Wright's argument that the Americans can be largely blamed for the ultimate threat that fundamentalist Islam would represent to its long-term security. Under the terms of American support and a simultaneous call by the collective Islamic world to support the struggle in Afghanistan, Wright describes some of the moments at which the movement gained its greatest practical and psychological ground. Unsurprisingly, these moments coincide with the emergence of bin Laden as a figure of great importance to the movement. Wright reports that bin Laden's first experiences in battle, facilitated by U.S. involvement, would embolden him to and validate his faith in Allah. Wright telles that "Bin Laden recorded that the mujahideen shot down four Soviet aircraft that morning. 'I saw with my own eyes the remains of [one of] the pilots.' He marveled. 'Three fingers, a part of a nerve, the skin of one cheekk, an ear, the neck, and the skin of the back. Some Afghan brothers came and took a photo of him as if he were a slaughtered sheep! We cheered.' He also noted admiringly that the Afghans had not bothered to jump into the trenches with the frightened Arabs when the attack began. 'Not one of our brothers had been injured, thank God. This battle gave me in fact a big push to continue in this matter. I became more convinced of the face that no one could be injured except by God's will.' Bin Laden immediately returned to Saudi Arabia, and before the end of Ramadan, he raised a fortune for the mujahideen -- 'between five and ten million dollars.'" (Wright, 117)

It is here that Wright establishes for us some understanding of the global events which precipitated the radicalization of men such as bin Laden. The connection which these men established between their faith and their political ambitions was underscored by a righteous sense that forces more powerful then themselves such as the United States and the Soviet Union had conspired against them. These would represent the secular and heathen forces in the world which Islam had been dispatched to eradicate. It is thus that the declared threat of militant Islam against the United States would begin its germination into outright confrontation. The success that bin Laden and his fellow holy warriors experienced in Afghanistan -- which would invoke a defeat that literally sent the Soviet Union into its final collapse -- would be channeled into the defiant stance which America's presence in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait would instigate thereafter.

Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the work provided by Wright is the degree to which it addresses the disposition of radical Islam toward tactics of violence and brutality. Though these are features which are generally projected upon the Islamic extremist movement, Wright provides a background for the development of al-Qaeda which casts some key figures in a culture with a similar orientation. So is this demonstrated by the description of Egypt, which such prominent al-Qaeda figures as Ayman al Zawahiri used as an early hotbed for the foment of resistant and revolutionary activities. Here, Wright describes a context in which the future operatives of al-Qaeda would be forged in the harsh survival of an Islamic underground, where the Egyptian government worked tirelessly to purge them. Wright reports that upon Zawahiri's being arrested for his involvement in the assassination plot of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, he was incarcerated. Here, Wright reports that "security forces greeted the incoming prisoners by stripping them naked, blindfolding and handcuffing them, then beating them with sticks. Humiliated, frightened, and disoriented, they were thrown into narrow stone cells, the only light coming from a tiny square window in the iron door. The dungeon had been built in the twelfth century by the great Kurdish conqueror Saladin, using the labor of captured Crusaders. It was part of the Citadel, a massive fortress on a hill overlooking Cairo that had served as the seat of the government for seven hundred years. The screams of fellow prisoners who were being interrogated kept many men in a state of near madness, even when they weren't tortured themselves. Because of his status, Zawahiri was subjected to frequent beatings and other ingenious and sadistic forms of punishment created by Intelligence Unit 75, which over saw Egypt's inquisition." (Wright, 60)

This type of descriptive background is an important feature of the Wright text, providing as it does a long view on the forces the helped to create both Islamic extremism and the identities of key enemies to the United States. Indeed, al Zawahiri's history of participation in radical Islamic activities is given a deep and peering look in Wright's narrative, providing a perspective that is almost humanizing. Without ever verging on a sympathetic view of those who would emerge to threaten the security of the U.S., its friends and its allies, the text offers some compelling evidence as to why men such as al Zawahiri would rise to take a lead role in the September 11th attacks.

The unrepentant nature of the Islamic movement is also well-captured in the section dedicated to al-Zawahiri, who during the hearing for the collective conspirators against the Egyptian president would represent his followers in stating the objective of the Islamic front. According to the description, "thirty-one years old, he is wearing a white robe and has a gray scarf thrown over his shoulder. At a signal, the other prisoners fall silent, and Zawahiri cries out, "now we want to speak to the whole world!… [END OF PREVIEW]

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https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/al-qaeda-looming-tower-road/6537418.