Looming Tower A Book Review essay

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However, this would represent a first and most visible connection between the political imperatives and the religious ideology which connected to render al-Qaeda's guiding vision in the years to come. He would go on to cite the evils of Zionism, communism and imperialism, all of which he viewed as explicit threats posted by the world against the Islamic faith. Given the various military and political confrontations which had persisted between Islam and these forces across history, we can at least gather from Wright's work that the threat which al-Qaeda would come ultimately to represent to the developed world was explicitly stated and intended for decades in preparation for September 11th.

A similarly humanizing description of Osama bin Ladin helps to remove some of the demonization which is produced by the Western media and political leadership, that has served to obscure the true motives and implications of the militant Islamic movement. While one might object to the humanizing of so objectionable a subject, it does help to shed some light onto a subject that is too frequently and problematically misunderstood by Americans. The characterization of the militant Islamic movement as something bred from outright hatred, evil and insanity is a critical misunderstanding of the ideological underpinnings that would help to justify in the minds of its perpetrators the September 11th attacks. As Wright provides the story of bin Laden's origins, we come to understand some of the forces that produced his eventual affiliations.

This is one of the more eye-opening elements of the text, and suggests bin Laden as a man with a genuine and deep commitment to what he believes are righteous values. Wright tells that "in Osama's fourteenth year he experienced a religious and political awakening. Some ascribe the change to a charismatic Syrian gym teacher at the school who was a member of the Muslim Brothers. Osama stopped watching cowboy shows. Outside of school, he refused to wear Western dress. Sometimes he would wit in front of the television and weep over the news from Palestine. 'In his teenage years, he was the same nice kid,' his mother later related. "But he was more concerned, sad, and frustrated about the situation in Palestine in particular, and the Arab and Muslim world in general.' He tried to explain his feelings to his friends and family, but his passion left them nonplussed. 'He through Muslims are not close enough to Allah, and Muslim youth are too busy playing and having fun,' his mother concluded." (Wright, 87)

This is a compelling description of a man who American authorities have elevated as the man most responsible for the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing War on Terror. There is nothing inaccurate in that element of the portrait painted by U.S. authorities and intelligence, but works such as Wright's promote a far more nuanced understanding of the conditions inclining the ultimate acts of aggression that motivate our interest in Middle East affairs.

Key Findings:

In doing so, he also produces what may be seen as the key finding of his work. Namely, the failure of the United States to prevent the attacks of September 11th may be attributed to a stubborn refusal of Americans either to understand the nature of this enemy or to take it seriously as it demonstrated its determination time and time again. In addition to the implications of radical Islam and the varying interpretations of Koranic law that have been used over centuries to mold differing sects and Muslim movements, there would be a startling refusal on the part of Americans to publicly acknowledge some of the more tangible reasons that men might be inclined to sacrifice their lives simply to reign destruction upon America.

Here, Wright indicates that beyond such stated imperatives as those scripturally driven claims by al-Zawahiri and bin Laden, the average participant in al-Qaeda's suicide missions and terrorist attacks suggests a pattern for men living in the Muslim world. Wright argues that "radicalism usually prospers in the gap between rising expectations and declining opportunities. This is especially true where the population is young, idle, and bored; where the art is impoverished; where entertainment -- movies, theater, music -- is policed or absent altogether; and where young men are set apart from the consoling and socializing presence of women. Adult illiteracy remained the norm for many Arab countries. Unemployment was among the highest in the developing world. Anger, resentment, and humiliation spurred young Arabs to search for dramatic remedies." (Wright, 123)

This is an experience that the United States has on a broad level seemed steadfastly to ignore, overlook or deny. Where claims have persisted that some form of zealotry is the only viable explanation for martyrdom in the name of Allah, Wright suggests that this oversimplification of terrorist motives is at the root of the ability that al-Qaeda has had to catch American security in a moment of vulnerability. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that the United States ultimately failed to predict September 11th or provide security against it because terrorism may only be prevented preemptively though the removal of its motives. Wright suggests that the United States did genuinely help to contribute to the experiences of oppression, isolation and humiliation that are so widespread in the Arab world by empowering oil-rich and deeply oppressive regimes. Such regimes have either produced the type of dramatic social inequality that enrages the Saudi Arabian population with respect to its decadent monarch or the type of radical theocratic response that has occupied nations like Iran since its 1979 clerical revolution.

Thus, Wright argues, the American failure to note this motive and alter its exploitive policies would foretell of its eventual vulnerabilities. To an extent, this is a viewpoint which might well provoke heavy objections from those that perceive American global policies as appropriate and scaled to its needs. Such is to say that there is a distinct bias in Wright's work against the imperialist behaviors committed either by the U.S. Or the Soviet Union in the years prior to September 11th. Wright elucidates many of the ways in which the U.S. could be interpreted to have stimulated the hostility which is today levied against it. But this is a perspective which diverges significantly from the conservative political segments of the American population and political bodies.

So denotes Burke's text, which instead of identifying the patterns imposed by the Western world upon the lives of Muslims, makes the counterargument that al-Qaeda's unique value system is something of a composite of disparate strands of varying tribal and intellectual traditions in an evolving faith. Burke states on this point that "Bin Laden and his fellow extremists are millenarian, fundamentalist, revivalist, Wahhabi/Salafi and, at least in their rootedness in modernity if not their programme, Islamist. A key element of the success of their discourse is that it combines so many elements of preceding ideologies. No single term exists to describe their thought or the broad movement of which they are part." (Burke, 40)

In this way, Burke takes a disparaging look at the religious ideology which his text argues is at the root of a global Islamic movement designed to destroy the modern world. This view is not without its merit according to the isolated examples provided for by prominent and influential groups like al-Qaeda. However, it does comport with the narrow perspective the has prevented a greater scrutiny of the role which Western policy plays in providing these groups with their raison d'etre. In this way, as a counterargument to the work by Wright, Burke is essentially shown to be guilty of the trespasses which helped to enable the September 11th attacks.


From Wright's work, we may take the valuable suggestion that the prevention of September 11th may well have been facilitated by a greater understanding of the Arab world, the militant Islamic movement and the non-spiritual imperatives that have tended to strengthen spiritually-declaimed motives. Indeed, greater sympathy toward the struggles of those living either under oppressive Middle Eastern regimes, persisting in poverty or at a state of constant conflict might well be the only way to truly prevent the occurrence of future terrorist attacks.

As Wright's text shows -- and indeed as the attacks on 9/11 showed -- America cannot truly hope to provide an impenetrable security force or to use its military as a way of eradicating the threat posed against it. Instead, we are made to understand that the motives of humiliation, isolation and exploitation which have helped to radicalize Muslims the…[continue]

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