Although I read this book some weeks ago, I've been saving my review for the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Let me also take this moment to ask all those who read this review to say a prayer for the victims of 9/11.
The roots of 9/11 trace back far into history, arguably to the 7th century when Islam was born. The Looming Tower takes up the story in November 1948 when Sayyid Qutb, an important Egyptian figure in the development of Islamic extremism, sailed for the United States where he was appalled by what he saw and experienced. Mr. Wright then nicely makes the connection to the Muslim Brothers movement which aimed at Egyptian nationalism. These twin roots developed a strain of Islam that was anti-modern and which dictated that all others must be violently conquered.
The book next picks up the thread of Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the key al-Qaeda leader, and how he became an Islamic radical through being tortured in Egyptian prison.
The story then turns to Saudi Arabia where the legendary Mohammed bin Awahd bin Laden, Osama bin Laden's father, is described. From his long shadow (even after death), Osama emerged slowly through his attraction to the Muslim Brothers movement. Sheikh Abdullah Azzam provided the radical model that further involved Osama into opposition.
You'll be amazed, I'm sure, by seeing how ineffective Osama bin Laden and his colleagues were during the Afghan war. The story has a Keystone Kops quality at this point.
Because of his family connections, Osama is kept under the eye of Saudi intelligence . . . but is treated like someone who doesn't present much of a threat.
By 1992, Osama sets up operations in the Sudan. By then, he sees Christianity as the arch-enemy of Islam and the U.S. as the stronghold of Christianity that must be brought down.
Matters turned serious, however, when Abu Hajer issued a Fatwa that permitted attacks on U.S. troops and murder of innocent people. Although many Muslims would see such as Fatwa as inconsistent with their faith, the radicals seized on the opportunity to start planning attacks. Although al-Zawahiri preferred to fight on in Egypt, he was hampered by a lack of funds and found himself drawn towards Osama and his ability to spend his own money and raise more from others.
The strategy was set. Osama felt that the U.S. would withdraw from the Islamic world if it took enough casualties (as he saw Vietnam).
But Osama had problems in 1994. His fourth wife divorced him and left. His family denounced him and withdrew financial support. Saudi Arabia withdrew his citizenship.
By 1995, his business interests were in trouble and the Saudis offered him a fortune to stop pursuing Jihad. Osama rejected the offer. Osama was tied indirectly to the World Trade Center bombings and the U.S. insisted that Osama be expelled in 1996. Only Afghanistan would take him. Whatever money he had left was then gone. Osama blamed the U.S. for his misfortunes. From a cave in Afghanistan, Osama declared war on the U.S. in 1996.
Osama's new role was as a financier, someone who helped find money for those with attack plans. The first real Al-Qaeda attacks came in 1998 on the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. The CIA had been warned and ignored the warnings.
The U.S. responded by sending cruise missiles into Sudan and Afghanistan. This made Osama into a symbol of resistance, and allowed him to raise millions. According to some reports, he even sold an unexploded cruise missile from Afghanistan to the Chinese for several million dollars so they could make their own missiles.
From there, the bulk of the story focuses on the FBI's John O'Neill and his efforts to track down al-Qaeda. This story has a bittersweet quality as O'Neill's personal problems complicated the quest . . . and he was ironically killed in the 9/11 attack after taking over the security for the Twin Towers.
You'll be appalled at how the CIA, NSA and FBI took turns hiding critical facts from one another that could have avoided the 9/11 attack.
So what does it all mean? Powerful forces were set in motion that threaten the United States by misunderstandings, treating the threat too seriously in public and too casually in private. We are still paying the price for those mistakes . . . and perhaps building up more powerful enemies by our acts today.
Whether you are a Christian or a Muslim, an American or a Saudi, a Democrat or Republican, or just someone who loves peace, read this book. It'll open your eyes to how we got to this fifth anniversary of a day that will live in infamy.
A brief comment. Alan Sklar is, in my experience, the best reader I have ever listened to. I would probably buy almost any credible CD read by him. He is a master narrator, with seeming complete understanding of every word of text. Impeccable pacing and pronunciation balances gripping narrative to cause Sklar's work to exceed what could be gained by decoding the printed page without his aid. Five stars without a doubt.
This is the best book I've read about the events leading to 9/11. It won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007, and deservedly so.
The author's research is thorough, his writing style is very good and he presents the information in a very interesting way, tracing al-Qaeda's ideological and philosophical roots through Islamic theorists like Sayeed Qutb and Ayman al-Zawahiri up to Osama bin Laden.
He also examines the US positions and actions in exhaustive detail by concentrating on several key FBI and CIA figures. His account of Saudi Arabian political and security arrangements comes primarily from a Saudi Prince who was ousted as the Kingdom's Chief of Intelligence after 9/11.
In short, a fascinating book. If you want to understand 9/11, this book should be at the top of your reading list.
The mp3 audio book is well done. The reader does a good job with the material and the writer's style adapts easily to narration. My only complaint with the audio book is that the individual audio tracks are often divided in the middle of sentences and/or paragraphs, so there are frequent short delays and pauses in the narration in the middle of sentences and paragraphs as the player changes tracks. But that's a technical production issue which does not reflect in any way on the quality of the author's work.
But overall, this is an excellent book and audiobook. If you only have time or money for one book about 9/11, this one would be a good choice.