Free «“The Looming Tower” By Lawrence Wright» Essay Sample

In "The Looming Tower", L. Wright attempts to carry out an individual description of the development of al-Qaeda. While locating the origins of the group in the standpoints of Sayyid Qutb, the author not just goes deeply into the historical past of al-Qaeda as an organization, but he likewise displays quite a few signposts overlooked by American intelligence. The book not only refers to citations from the Qur'an, but likewise signifies the threatening occasion -"the Big Wedding" - that appeared to be coming for a long time, yet was undetected and unacknowledged by numerous U.S. agencies.

The author unfolds his thesis by tracking down the background of al-Qaeda back to its beginnings. Yet, it should be mentioned that previously he gives the account of Sayyid Qutb, who was the Egyptian thinker who formed the base for what would ultimately turn out to be the "Muslim Brotherhood". It appeared that Qutb was an arduous antagonist of the Egyptian governing administration, and would appear to exert even more impact after his death. In his manifesto Qutb claims that there is no such phenomenon as Islam, due to the fact to be able to practice Islam, one should reside in an Islamic culture, and in contemporary world this kind of a culture is available no more[1].

In the second chapter, the author brings out Ayman al-Zawahiri. This man had a lot of respect for Sayyid Qutb. He worked with Sheikh Omar, and at some point proceeded to establish al-Jihad, the group that assisted in the murdering of Anwar Sadat in 1981[2]. Zawahiri seemed to be more concentrated on the inside adversaries of Islam, including Egypt, as compared to the outside or "far adversaries" that would take control of Osama bin Laden's thoughts in the future.

The author refers to Osama bin Laden for the first time in the third chapter in relation to the background of Muhammad bin Laden, who was Osama's father. The father seemed to be some sort of a building idol for Muslims, generally speaking, and for the Saudis specifically, primarily because of his remodeling of the Grand Mosque. Osama's father was of Yemeni origin and turned out to be quite a prosperous individual owing to his building initiatives inside the kingdom. He fathered 57 sons, and Osama appeared to be the 17th of them[3].

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The fourth and the fifth chapters outline Osama's financial as well as military contribution to the struggle involving the USSR and Afghanistan in 1980s. It was as a result of this military accomplishment that Osama and his recently established organization obtained its initial genuine fame in the area. It was likewise this achievement that encouraged Osama to deal with Saddam Hussein as he entered Kuwait. Bin Laden felt as though his group was sufficiently powerful to protect the Kingdom, and that there was no necessity to request the U.S. troops to trample the Holy Land. However, the Saudi Kingdom declined Osama's idea, and by contrast America was asked to enter the battle. This occurrence, in addition to America's subsequent supposed "occupation" of the Saudi Kingdom could have caused America’s reaching the top of Osama's list of targets[4].

In the sixth chapter, the author commences to specify the push-pull interaction that endured between the developing al-Qaeda and al-Jihad of Zawahiri . At some point, Osama’s and his followers' aspirations for a big-scope jihad would integrate Zawahiri's more politically minded circle. As a result, al-Qaeda was formally established in 1988. This stage likewise represents an irreversible separation between Osama and Abdullah Azzam, a former Osama's mentor[5].

The author claims that at the beginning of al-Qaeda, approximately in 1988, the United States was not essentially on al-Qaeda's target list. It looks as if the incentive for America’s shifting from a factor of aggravation to the number one adversary was its attempts to assist Israel in Lebanon. The United States continued to stay in the Saudi Kingdom for a longer time that it was invited for after helping Kuwait in its fighting back against Saddam Hussein. Since America had evolved into more of an occupying power in the area of the holy mosques, it likewise turned out to be the target for frustration, rage and vengeance. Therefore, an extended period of the American foreign regulations in the area led the country to take a solid place among al-Qaeda's most wanted objectives.

Although the author meticulously points out the background of al-Qaeda, he additionally refers to why it can be so challenging for America to protect itself against it. The blunder of underrating al-Qaeda was a high-priced one because of September 11th, and the author warns against committing the same blunder a second time. Al-Qaeda is occasionally described as being shattered. In J. Mueller’s article "Is There Still a Terrorist Threat? The Myth of the Omnipresent Enemy" published in Foreign Affairs in September 2006 , it is argued that a shortage of terrorist violence in America after 9/11 amounts to a reduced al-Qaeda hazard. In accordance with Mueller, a shortage of fervent terrorists in America in conjunction with a deficiency of propensity to be attacked from overseas tends to make one determine that the hazard al-Qaeda presented at one time has decreased or vanished. Mueller's book named "Overblown” claims that 9/11 in fact decreased the danger of an al Qaeda financed assault in America as a result of the substantial adverse reaction against the group[6].

However, the Department of Homeland Security may look at the situation differently, thinking that modern-day terrorists could attack from anywhere, whenever they want, and with practically any kind of weaponry[7]. The author's ideas on al-Qaeda appear to be more consistent with Homeland Security's perspective, indicating that its network is structured, motivating, and widespread in its influence. Considering the assistance of technological innovation and globalizing trends, al-Qaeda may be on the lookout for Muslims with the same revolutionary ideas, who wish to become members of the group in its great jihad[8]. The group genuinely functions as a base or platform from which a never-ending, worldwide Islamist movement can be fuelled by enthusiastic potential martyrs. Furthermore, al-Qaeda possibly went on to exercise its  functional capacities: "directing and implementing terrorist attacks, including perhaps the thwarted airline bombings, the 7/7 suicide bombings that occurred in London  and the foiled 2004 plot to stage simultaneous suicide attacks on economic targets in lower Manhattan, Newark, New Jersey and Washington, D.C."[9]

One should merely go back to the author's descriptions of al-Qaeda's two leaders, Ayman al-Zawahiri along with Osama bin Laden, to understand that the group as a persistent, tough, and enduring organization, presenting a constant threat. The two men shared a connection that was made of both harmony and symbiosis. Maybe most significantly, they shared a very close strategic perspective of a worldwide organization, motivated by radical ideological background, accomplished by way of jihad, with the declared objective of reaching an Islamic caliphate[10].

The author dedicates a lot of the second portion of the book to the account of the FBI agent John O’Neill, who spotted Osama's threat  earlier, sought to apprehend him and get him on trial when fellow workers in the CIA would have favored a mere assassination, and who perished in 2001 World Trade Center attack. As early as in 1999, this agent was the single voice in the FBI when he cautioned against the risk al-Qaida presented to the U.S. "He was insecure, deceptive and potentially compromised. He was also driven, resourceful and brilliant. For better or worse, this was the man America depended on to stop Osama bin Laden"[11].

With regard to all O’Neill’s expertise, there is a feeling that the author decided to adhere to the line of his misfortune more in the interest of an oppositional plot as opposed to O’Neil's truly sitting against Osama across the chessboard of international terrorist movement. Heartrending as the paradox of O’Neill’s passing away in the World Trade Center was, it occurred due to the fact that he had quit the FBI to accept the occupation of the security boss in the Center. Nonetheless, the author's personal story clarifies that the United States could not rely on any individual person to stop Osama.  It appeared to be a mission which unavoidably relied on the cohesiveness of a number of agencies and scores of professionals. Osama's American antipode was not an individual, it was an organization, and the malfunction of that organization, as the author puts it quite obviously, was more breathtaking than any kind of O’Neill’s accomplishments.  In terms of the possible setbacks of the book, it would be worth mentioning at this point that Wright's story of the two central characters in al-Qaeda as well as of the deep ideological background that forced the 9/11 storyline forward is to some degree sidetracked by the account of O’Neill which, even though intriguing, would possibly be more effectively presented as a some form of a subplot. It should also be noted that even though book rightfully takes a developmental perspective on the formation of Al-Qaeda and its leaders, it could also provide a more unfolded historic account of the cultural, religious and, generally societal differences between the West and the East, culminating in the formation of Islamic militant organizations.  

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Despite the fact that Wright never eliminates bin Laden’s accountability for the demise of thousands of ordinary people, his depiction of the terrorist is strangely appealing. While Zawahiri seems to be a harsh, shifty, envious exploiter of other people, bin Laden is a trusting, beneficent and idealistic man, which, coupled with the truth that he was a mass assassin, tends to make him the more menacing personality.

The majority of the several thousand Arabs, who ended up in Afghanistan for jihad in fact did not participate in the battle against the USSR. Osama frantically desired to, and did, but his premature initiatives to build and take an Arab legion into fight were awkward setbacks. Azzam as well as other people attempted to convince him to give up on his legion and allow his fighters to be spread throughout the front, yet Osama was persistent in his wish to be in the lead of his own group of Arab fighters. This permitted him to produce ridiculous statements about his major function in beating the Soviet troops when in 1987, in a minor short-term fight close to Tora Bora, he and his group obtained a one-time success[12].

It is not that Osama seemed to be a cowardly man. His soldiers along with him experienced napalm bombardment for several weeks. There are various reports of the ultimate fight, which concluded in a regional Soviet getaway, yet Osama was in a sufficiently close proximity to the Russians that bullets whizzed near and grenades blew up close to his head as he put his finger in the salt bag and suck it for keeping up his blood pressure[13]. However, it was Osama's military professional, Abu Ubaydah from Egypt, who thought through the tactical aspect of the triumph. This was not important for bin Laden, but it appeared to be sufficient to permit Osama to enjoy the honor of an outstanding jihadist, prepared to take martyrdom. He believed in that himself and made his group believe in that too.

Yet, the impression that comes forth from his profile is of a more wavering, fanciful Osama, poorly notified of the American state of affairs, aware of that this world is of full of injustice, and filled with a perception of his own unique fate. He had Zawahiri, who envisioned his funds and circles to serve Osama's aspirations. The relationship that put together the future command of al-Qaida matured when Zawahiri assigned a security guard to Osama, when he gave his initial fuzzy message in opposition to America at the end of 1980s[14].

 Al-Qaida began to form as a well-ordered Arab jihadist top-notch power that Zawahiri and bin Laden wanted it to become. It possessed a training camp in Afghanistan. New recruits proclaimed an oath of commitment to Osama, vowed secrecy, and enrolled in for a wage of around $1500 per month, with a free-of-cost return flight, one-month vacation annually and individual medical care[15]. However, after three years down the road, it somehow seemed that Osama possessed no determination to anything similar to Zawahiri’s or Azzam's perspective. The setting altered. Osama together with al-Qaida ended up in Sudan. At this time Afghanistan was undergoing a civil war while Saudi Arabia was uncomfortable for his group. Osama looked like he had found peace and metamorphosed into a Sudanese countryman. He began to be a horse breeder. He enjoyed the meetings with many guests at his guesthouse, slaughtering a lamb on a daily basis.  His sons went on picnics with him along the Nile's riverbanks. He clothed himself in the Sudanese manner and took a walking stick typical for Sudan. He began to grow sunflowers. Moreover, he purchased large areas of land in return for constructing roadways, and wanted to turn Sudan into a global cornucopia. Preaching at the Khartoum mosque, he focused on peace. Osama was 34 at that time. "He kept members of al-Qaida busy working in his burgeoning enterprises, since there was little else for them to do. On Fridays after prayers, the two al-Qaida soccer teams squared off against each other. Al-Qaida had become largely an agricultural organization."[16]

Nonetheless, it was at the second part of 1992 that al-Qaida, headed by Osama, undertook the initial modest measure in its worldwide terrorist strategy opposed to the US, the strategy that would enhance by means of the assaults on the American embassies in Africa, on USS Cole and finally to the attack in New York in 2001. What ultimately brought Osama in the direction of battle versus the United States, when he looked to be so near to stepping into countryside happiness in Sudan? In the role of a backdrop, the author provides the perception by the jihadists that the USA was the heart of Christianity, and that Christendom had been successful in the religious struggles since the Islamic troops were pushed back from Europe in the 17th century[17]. He remarks that al-Qaida didn’t make an apparent difference between the USA as the country and a more cultural America, the incarnation of all that was materialist, contemporary and consequently non-Islamic. However, none of these features seemed ground-breaking in 1992.

 However, when it comes to 9/11, the problems of American intelligence appeared to be so repulsive that skepticism is overwhelmed. A certain combined effort by the CIA, NSA, as well as Saudi and even Malaysian intelligence detected a group of identified al-Qaida agents getting together in Kuala Lumpur still in 1999. If the get-together had been bugged, not just the events of 9/11, but also the scheme to damage the USS Cole would likewise have been hindered. Nevertheless, the CIA wound up with the names as well as pictures of the al-Qaida operatives, who were planned to fly one of the hijacked aircrafts on September 11th, 2001. However, inter-organizational competition and mistrust resulted in that they did not convey the details to the FBI.

An FBI agent cooperating with the CIA inquired if he could inform the FBI that Khaled al-Mihdhar, an al-Qaida member, obtained an American visa and could possibly take a trip to America. He was instructed that he should not. The CIA discovered that one more man, named Nawaf al-Hazmi, took a flight to L.A. in 2000. Eventually, the CIA figured out that Mihdhar was in America with Hazmi. They appeared to be there to figure out how to fly huge aircrafts. Nonetheless, the CIA shared nothing with the FBI. The lack of information exchange appeared to be one of the major premises for the tragedy[18].

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In 2001, Tom Wilshire, one of the CIA agents, spotted the connection between Hazmi and one more al-Qaida member, who used the pseudonym of Khallad. In fact, they had previously been taken pictures of together when they met in Malaysia. The CIA agent realized by that time that Khallad appeared to be one of Osama's security guards and had planned the strike on the USS Cole. Wilshire likewise was aware of that Hazmi was in America. He inquired if he might inform the FBI. The CIA bosses didn't seem to respond to that.

The overloaded idea of intelligence downfalls might have had mercy on those engaged from total embarrassment and shame. Yet it seemed that in 2001 the boundaries dividing the FBI and the CIA arrived at genuinely ridiculous levels: both organizations understood how critical the information was, yet the CIA rejected to reveal it completely. The problem culminated at a gathering involving the two parties in June, when the CIA demonstrated the FBI three pictures from the Kuala Lumpur’s get-together and inquired whether the FBI agents identified any of the men. Yet, they rejected to point out who the men really were, or the fact that some of them had come to America. They did not demonstrate the photograph of the one person they would definitely have identified, Khallad. What is worse, the two groups of agents began to shout at one another. "The FBI agents knew that clues to the crimes they were trying to solve were being dangled in front of their eyes"[19].

Ultimately, one of the several US intelligence men who were able to speak Arabic, named Ali Soufan, who was also one of O’Neill’s primary FBI associates,  was demonstrated the pictures. It was the following day after the disaster, and he was aware of O’Neill's perish. When he realized that the CIA had been informed that for more than 18 months two of the hijackers had been in America, he felt sick from the terror of it.

Prior to these situations, the American intelligence institution (as well as the British) had shut their ears to Islam’s radical raucous message that it planned to make the world a different place. Wright’s work encourages the observation that the immediate battle between radical Islam and the rest of the world started at some period before the Cold War finished - particularly, in 1979. That is known as the year of the revolution in Iran, wherein Islamic revolutionary forces overrode not just the pro-USA Shah, but likewise their left-wing rivals. The USSR directed troops to Afghanistan to safeguard its communist ideology against those rebels. In Mecca, the Grand Mosque, the most holy place in Islam, was captured by a group of Islamic extremists. The Saudi forces had to spend more than a couple of weeks to defeat approximately five hundred rebels engaged. They wanted that the Saudi government to separate itself in a political as well as a cultural manner from the West, do away with the royal family, send away all Westerners and cease offering oil to America. Prior to the end of the fight, females among the rebels distorted their dead male associates' faces not to let them be identified. It appeared to be the initial two weeks of the year 1400 according to the Islamic calendar, the start of Islam’s new century. The remainder of the world was still running in accordance with another calendar.


More than eleven years back, the events of September 11th, 2001 transformed our world. Looking for answers regarding who masterminded the strikes, why they were schemed, and why the United States did not manage to hinder them,  "The Looming Tower" is not only advised, it is necessary to be read. Whereas some other publications, including the 9/11 Commission Report, provide background, investigation, and suggestions, one might be careless to overlook this personality-driven story of those who were engaged in 9/11. The question is, though, how far can one go developing the idea of this kind of personality-driven explanation of the causes of 9/11. It can be tied in to the both sides of the conflict, which are the stories of the personal mistakes of the American agents involved in the “turf wars”, and one of  development of Osama bin Laden into a full-blown aggressor, treating America as the personal number one enemy. It should be agreed that organizations are led by passionate leaders and their vision. Thus, bin Laden’s al-Qaeda was driven by his passion for retribution and administration of justice according to his worldview. The lack of cohesion between the CIA and the FBI was sustained by the behavior of their superior officials who reinforced the competition between the agencies. However, it should also be mentioned that there is an intrinsic collision in the systems within which the above-mentioned representatives arose as a personification of their extreme values and beliefs. With Osama and the West, it is the conflict of Islam and Christianity that had been long before the birth of all the individuals involved in the masterminding the New York attack. They were born and raised in their culture, and happened to find themselves at the spearhead of its extremist militant beliefs. Sooner or later it would happen for sure. As history shows us, there is always a time for certain extreme nationalist movements to gain momentum and change history as we know it. If it had not been for Osama, it would have been someone else, likewise formed on the basis of the disagreement between the two cultures, belief systems and life practices. I cannot claim that Osama was unique. He was a product of a certain moment of his culture’s development. The same is true of the disagreements between the agencies. They had existed long before 2001. Yet, they found their culmination in 9/11. It was a kind of correspondence of two opposite negative phenomena developing for a certain time, then  coming together to reach their acme in causing two thousand deaths. Thus, it could be claimed that 9/11 was not only the outcome of personality-driven premises, but also driven by the cultural and procedural processes seeking to find it full extreme expression at a certain moment in history.       

Though the book appears to present al-Qaeda as a wild offshoot from the essential ideas of Islam, the work does not in the slightest show Islam as a demon-driven force. Probably owing to the author's distinctive comprehension and practical knowledge of Middle Eastern way of life, he is careful to provide a historical consideration of al-Qaeda as well as its ideological background from a neutral stand. Al-Qaeda is shown as an organization with a vast reach and a profound network. It would be logical to agree with that, even taking into consideration the death of Osama bin Laden, America should take the Islamic militant threat most seriously and never make the same costly mistake. New charismatic leaders tend to replace the dead ones at a certain moment, and the threat may escalate to even a higher potential than before.  

Any adverse thoughts that the author appears to suggest are related to the different American organizations that overlooked the signs, or merely neglected to properly reveal and link them. He is very straightforward when it comes to  the U.S. inter-agency fights, struggles for territory and power, personality clashes and secrecy of data, particularly for the reason that any or possibly all of the issues could  have warded off the 9/11 disaster. The author has a tendency to emphasize the reality that America not just did not acknowledge the extent of the danger presented by al-Qaeda, but likewise that the CIA and the FBI  were clumsy when provided with the details to protect against it. Additionally, Wright provides particulars to al-Qaeda as an intricate, worldwide organization that should not be underrated (once more), ignored as unable, or considered to be active. "The Looming Tower" is the kind of book that occurs seldom and which best accounts the watersheds in our history. It should be read by everybody. The sole drawback is that it might not be referred to as amusing, since it cannot be neglected that we are discussing a day in which over 2000 people perished.

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