Years ago I was in a book club that read Lawrence Wright’s book The Looming Tower: Al-Queda and the Road to 9/11. I didn’t read the book then, but was fascinated during the discussion, particularly with the story of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian academic and political dissident who came to the United States in the 1950s to study at the Univesity of Northern Colorado, in Greeley. Shocked by the sexualized secularism and racism of this rural Colorado town, Qutb returned to Egypt and wrote a book titled, Milestones, that became the seed for the anti-western thought that fueled terrorists like Osama bin Laden, Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, Amman al-Zawahiri.
Another interesting note from the book is the role Jamal Khashoggi played as an interminteary sent by the Saudi Government to Sudan to lure bin Laden back to Saudi Arabia with the hope that he would give up his jihad rhetoric. Of course after 9/11 Khashoggi would begin to critique the Saudi royal regime for being undmeocratic, till he was eventually murdered by the Saudi Goveernment on the orders of Prince Mohammad bin Salman in October of 2018.
The book is a stark reminder of hubris that has marked America’s greatest blunders of the last 100 years. From Vietnam to Iraq the false superiority generated by technological military might has killed thousands upon thousands of Americans in the pursuit of policy that is created by people who have no idea who their enemy is.
On the other hand The Looming Tower also provides a stark assessment of how lucky Al-Qaddafi and bin Laden was time and time again. It was only the United States’ complete failure to understand the threat that allowed the timeline of horrors that began with the African Embassy bombings to continue. Bin Laden too misunderstood his enemy believing that the 9/11 attacks would propel the United States to disnegrate as a world power and withdrawal from the Middle East while also believing hundred of thousands of faithful Muslims would flock to Afghanistan to join Al-Queda and bin Laden.
Lawrence Wright is a gifted writer who has a unique ability to thread often complicated plot lines and unfamiliar concepts together while providing the reader with a narrative that never bogs down. Unfortunately, almost ten years after the death of bin Laden, most Americans have moved on from Al-QaedaQ and bin Laden. The lessons will be forgotten, even now I wonder what threat looms in the fog.