Nov 21, 2001

Holy War, Inc. By Peter L. Bergen

Esquire Magazine 11/21/01 Holy War, Inc. By Peter L. Bergen "The airwaves quickly filled with blathering bloviators, who called this an attack on 'the American way of life,' " writes Peter L. Bergen in the afterward of his intelligent and witty (who would have thought?) exploration of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. In such a spirit, I'm going to do everyone a favor and not make any 9/11-summing-up statements, and just tell you that Bergen has a wonderful ear for the absurd and a great sense of humor, is a marvelous storyteller and a companionable escort on this journey into bin Laden's world. In 1997, Bergen, a journalist for CNN, nabbed the Evil One's first television interview in the English-speaking world, an encounter from which "we were not going to find out, Barbara Walters-style, what kind of tree bin Laden thought he was." (The questions, naturally, had to be submitted to bin Laden's people beforehand, and the ones about his personal life were, naturally, removed.) During the interview, bin Laden delicately sips his tea, coughs demurely (tough winter), and reveals the now-familiar claim that his network was involved in the 1993 slaughter of American troops in Somalia. Bergen goes on to explain how Al Qaeda is structured (like a holding company), the reasons for bin Laden's hold on the Muslim world ("bin Laden is perhaps better understood as the Pied Piper of jihad"), and bin Laden's non-madman rationale ("he's not some 'AY-rab' who woke up one morning in a bad mood, his turban all in a twist"). The book is at its most engaging when Bergen is on the subject of the absurdities he has encountered on his travels, such as his translator's hundred-year-old belt (which held both his dagger and his pager) and his experience chewing qatin Yemen. "No wonder," Bergen writes of his qat-induced bonhomie, "every Yemeni male from the prime minister on down is an ardent advocate of the 'chew.'" —ADRIENNE MILLER Adrienne Miller is Esquire's literary editor