Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Looming Tower

Recently I read “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” by Lawrence Wright, a fascinating look at the history and the rise of terrorism, beginning with the life and works of Sayyid Qutb who came to the U.S. in 1948. Wright also follows the lives of Zawahiri, a key leader in al-Qaeda, bin Laden, and other terrorists, and demonstrates how their lives were intertwined. Various leaders of governments in the Middle East are highlighted, as well as involved Americans such as John O’Neill.

Quite interesting to witness are the disagreements between and the botched foreign policies of Middle Eastern countries. I’ve long been amazed by the short-sightedness of some of our own foreign policy toward “friendly” governments or of policies born of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” philosophy, e.g. backing Saddam Hussein and Iraq against Iran only to have Hussein become an international nightmare afterwards. Therefore, it was maliciously amusing to find Middle Eastern countries involved in the same sort of follies. At least, as I discovered, we aren’t the only ones guilty of incompetence and suffering from the repercussions of real politik.

While “The Looming Tower” doesn’t read like a novel, it certainly doesn’t feel like a stodgy old history tome either. This book infuses its readers with a deeper understanding of the personalities and issues that dominate world politics today. Pick it up if you get a chance or put it on your Christmas list for last minute shoppers.

There were, unfortunately, a couple parts in particular which really bothered me because they’re just so twisted. I just can’t figure out who the worse villains are. In chapter 12, entitled “The Boy Spies,” we learn that in 1995 Egyptian President Mubarak survived an assassination attempt by Islamic radicals in Ethiopia. They had been helped by Sudanese intelligence.

What followed blew me away. Mubarak’s security forces went on a campaign to root out and destroy the radical Islamist movement. They burned houses, were behind the disappearance of suspects, dragged mothers of suspects into the street, stripped them, and told children that next time their mother would be raped if their brother wasn't there when they returned.

It got uglier.

To deal with Zawahiri, Egyptian intelligence agents devised a fiendish plan. They lured a thirteen-year-old boy named Ahmed into an apartment with the promise of juice and videos. Ahmed was the son of Mohamed Sharraf, a well-known Egyptian fundamentalist and senior member of al-Jihad. The boy was drugged and sodomized; when he awakened, he was confronted with photographs of the homosexual activity and threatened with the prospect of having them shown to his father. For the child, the consequences of such a disclosure were overwhelming. “It could even be that the father would kill him,” a source close to Zawahiri admitted.

Egyptian intelligence forced him to recruit another child, Mus’ab, whose father, Abu al-Faraj was also in al-Jihad and served as the treasurer for al-Qaeda. Mus’ab endured the same humiliating initiation of drugs and sexual abuse and was forced to turn against his family. The agents taught the boys how to plant microphones in their own homes and photograph documents. A number of arrests followed because of the information produced by the boy spies.
In the end, the boys were discovered and shot by Zawahiri’s goons. They had a fair trial under Sharia, according to Zahahiri.

Now, tell me who is more evil--the Egyptian government that would sodomize boys to get them to betray their families or the families themselves who would kill their sons for having been sodomized? Do we have any reason to doubt that the boys would indeed have been murdered for the misfortune of being victimized? After all, the UN made it clear that women were the victims of honor killings after being raped. Why not boys too? Clearly the boys never doubted that their fathers would kill them. How can a government act so perversely? How can relatives murder their own? The whole thing just made me ill.

Also shocking was the revelation that warring factions in Afghanistan were gang raping little boys. Afghanistan has been suffering and suffering badly for many, many years.

Thankfully, the whole book is not like that. Very little is, actually. It just clarified to me that we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Our enemies are not people with whom we can come to some sort of compromise over tea. Heck, even friendly governments can be frightfully wicked. But to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

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