A place for FF's to write and read brief reviews of books and films for the benefit of other FF's.

A place for FF's to write and read brief reviews of books and films for the benefit of other FF's.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright

This history of al-Qaeda has been on my long list pretty much since it came out and I figured this week was as good a time as any to read it.

The premise of the book's approach is that even major historical events are ultimately just a function of the actions and decisions of individual men and women. Personalities and relationships matter as much as, and likely more than, broad social forces.

Lawrence Wright, who won a Pulitzer Prize for The Looming Tower, puts it this way: "One can ask...whether 9/11 or some similar tragedy might have happened without bin Laden to steer it. The answer is certainly not. Indeed, the tectonic plates of history were shifting, promoting a period of conflict betwen the West and the Arab Muslim world; however, the charisma and vision of a few individuals shaped the nature of this contest."

Wright takes a similar view of the law enforcement agencies tasked with fighting terrorism, although he can't quite seem to decide if specific personal enmities or organizational rivalries and long-established bureaucratic roadblocks were most responsible for the failure of the FBI and CIA to share intelligence and perhaps prevent 9/11.

Wright puts quite a bit of emphasis on single fateful decisions and their inevitably unintended consequences. The appeal of his logic is the reassuring suggestion that horrific acts can be prevented, that evil is not a force of nature but something that lives only within the hearts of evil men.

This week, Wright wrote about the death of Osama bin Laden:

"Democracy and civil society are the cure for the chronic misery of Muslim countries that has fed the rise of Islamic extremism. The death of the most notorious terrorist the world has ever seen, whose mission was to create a clash of civilizations, will allow the door to open more widely to the tolerance, modernism, and pragmatism that is so badly needed and so long awaited in a part of the world where despair, corruption, brutality, and fanaticism have laid waste to so many generations."

Anyways, this book made me think about a lot of stuff. It's dense with names and dates but not a tough read. It's basically a really, really long New Yorker article.

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