'Siege' author dissects Al-Qaeda

Daily News Egypt
6 Min Read

CAIRO: Lawrence Wright co-wrote the script to the 1998 Hollywood film “The Siege, which was a box office failure. Yet, after 9/11 the film became the most rented movie in the United States as the story unfolding on the screen almost re-told the events that America had experienced in 2001.

Wright is a journalist for the New Yorker, a playwright, an actor, an author and a Hollywood scriptwriter. He most recently authored the New York Times bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winning book, “Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.

In 1969, Lawrence left the US and took on a job as an English-language instructor at the American University in Cairo (AUC) in order to avoid the army conscription for the Vietnam War. Today, many years later the US is entangled in another war in Iraq. And once again it was a war that brought Wright to the region, this time to study the ins and outs of Al-Qaeda.

In a lecture at AUC on Feb. 26 entitled “Al-Qaeda: Past, Present and Future, Wright explained that the world’s most infamous “terrorist organization is an amalgamation of two people, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahri.

In his book the author describes Bin Laden as Saudi Arabia’s “first celebrity – a wealthy businessman in a country with little opportunity for fame or power outside of the Saudi royal family. In the early years of the organization, Osama Bin Laden’s political mission was to rid Saudi Arabia of American military installations.

Al-Zawahri, the Egyptian founder of Al-Jihad Al-Islami and Al-Qaeda’s mastermind had a much bigger vision in mind, taking over Egypt, explained Wright.

Islamic movements appeal to their followers by responding to the political repression in the Middle East, yet this is not the only “source of the river of despair running through the region, the New Yorker journalist noted. Many of Al-Qaeda’s followers are “model citizens, from middle class families and often highly educated.

A process of marginalization takes place when young Arab men move away from home in the countryside to big metropolises like Cairo or in their emigration to European destinations. This process, explained Wright, causes them to search for some source of comfort and belonging. Often they find it in Islamic movements, which offer them Islam as an identity, rather than just a religion.

Al-Qaeda, Wright continued, has been able to attract disciples by providing them a source of power to counter the humiliation they experience at the hands of the American “naïve and clumsy drive to spread democracy in the Middle East.

By emphasizing the common sensation of humiliation – one of the most common themes in Bin Laden’s speeches – Al-Qaeda has been able to reference a young generation’s experience of widespread loss as the Islamic world has fallen from its historic place of prominence.

In Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda believed to be able to enter the first stage of its battle, by attacking the “head of the serpent, the US. The expected defeat of the enemy was never achieved; rather Al-Qaeda’s miscalculation quickly became clear as 80 percent of the Taliban troops were killed in the first six weeks of the US invasion. For the next few years, Wright said, Al-Qaeda was “essentially dead.

In Iraq, Bin Laden found what he had been looking for in Afghanistan, a new training ground to attract “jihadi fighters from around the globe. Since that time Al-Qaeda has evolved into an entity without a political agenda, espouses the author. Al-Qaeda’s plan is to bring an end to “falsehood which will lead to the “shores of happiness.

Yet, according to Wright, Al-Qaeda will never be able to solve the real problems of the Arab World.

“It is an instinct, like a snakebite . [and] offers one thing: death, he said.

Al-Qaeda provides its followers with a sense of power within a world in which they have been marginalized. Al-Qaeda’s agenda is not against the USA so much as it is against the world; its political goal has become nihilism, the bestselling author explained.

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made a statement Wednesday supporting Israeli allegations that Al-Qaeda had penetrated the Gaza Strip during the recent breaching of the Gazan border with Egypt. Al-Qaeda has now allied itself with Hamas, Abbas said.

Concerning the future of Al-Qaeda Wright told Daily News Egypt, “I don’t have a new script, but I am working on one.

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