Nov 20, 2001

‘Holy War, Inc.’ peers into bin Laden’s terror firm

Copyright 2001 Gannett Company, Inc. USA TODAY November 20, 2001, Tuesday, FINAL EDITION SECTION: LIFE; Pg. 5D LENGTH: 922 words HEADLINE: 'Holy War, Inc.' peers into bin Laden's terror firm BYLINE: Deirdre Donahue BODY: Holy War, Inc.:Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden By Peter L. Bergen Free Press, 283 pp., $ 26 --- If any good could possibly emerge from the tragedies of Sept. 11, it would be that regular Americans develop more of an interest in the world beyond their borders. Yes, U.S. diplomats, government workers, think-tank dwellers and academics possess a more global perspective. But not until 9/11 did serious books on Islam and Afghanistan become sellouts at chain bookstores. Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, by CNN terrorism expert Peter Bergen, presents an accessible, comprehensive, non-hysterical examination of who the man is, where he comes from, the terrorism he has masterminded, and what motivates him. ( Bergen interviewed bin Laden with Peter Arnett in 1997.) Writes Bergen: "What he condemns the United States for is simple: its policies in the Middle East. Those are, to recap briefly: the continued U.S. military presence in Arabia; U.S. support for Israel; its continued bombing of Iraq; and its support for regimes such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia that bin Laden regards as apostates from Islam. Bin Laden is at war with the United States, but his is a political war, justified by his own understanding of Islam." In this portrait, bin Laden is not the cave-dwelling religious madman of the American press. Rather, he is a charismatic, shrewd political leader with tremendous organizational skills whose followers have brilliantly mastered the technological tools of globalization, from the Web to the fax to international travel. Bin Laden is "the Pied Piper of jihad: his invitation to holy war resonates among disaffected and underemployed Muslim youths from Algeria to Pakistan to California." Raised and educated in England and widely traveled through his career in journalism, Bergen brings a cosmopolitan feel to Holy War, Inc., which adds immensely to the book. (At appropriate points, Bergen also displays a sense of humor, such as when he describes how the visa application area of an embassy often reflects the reality of the country.) He describes visiting the leafy London neighborhoods that house many Islamic dissidents. (The Egyptian imam from the Finsbury Park Mosque "is in the Rolodex of every talk-show booker in London.") Bergen captures the complexity of the Muslim world, the vast number of countries it includes, its rivalries, its histories, and the enormous variation among the people and their approach to Islam. Compared with Yossef Bodansky's dense Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, Bergen's book is less detailed. But Bodansky presents a vision of a monolithic Islamist horde in the same way Cold War tracts used to describe the communists as an implacable united front with one agreed-upon agenda. (Human nature is a little more complicated. Just look at Christians and Jews for a start.) Bergen also punctures holes in Samuel Huntington's theory in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Huntington, Bergen writes, sees "Islam itself as the Dark Force in tomorrow's world. . . . Huntington correctly points to an 'Islamic resurgence' in the twentieth century, but he mistakenly conflates this resurgence with violence. In this he resembles those American journalists . . . who blame the Christian fundamentalist revival in the United States for the assassinations of abortion clinic doctors; the Christian revival is a movement of millions, but the violence at abortion clinics is the work of a handful of zealots." Holy War, Inc. is one of those books that makes the reader want to read passages aloud to other people because it so clearly reflects the opinion of someone who knows what he is talking about from firsthand experience rather than just espousing some geopolitical agenda. Bergen ends on a cautionary note: "Bin Laden and his men are not willing to negotiate or to surrender. They seem more than happy to martyr themselves in a holy war, taking as many hated Americans with them as possible. In this sense, the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks may well have served as a giant -- and ominous -- come-on." TEXT OF EXCERPT BEGINS HERE Excerpt It was sometime before midnight when bin Laden appeared with his entourage. . . . He is a tall man, well over six feet, his face dominated by an aquiline nose. Dressed in a turban, white robes, and a green camouflage jacket, he walked with a cane and seemed tired, less like a swaggering revolutionary than a Muslim ascetic. Those around him treated him with the utmost deference, referring to him with the honorific "sheikh." . . . As he sat down, he propped up next to him the Kalishnikov rifle that is never far from his side. His followers said he had taken it from a Russian he had killed. . . . Bin Laden began to rail in Arabic against the injustices visited upon Muslims by the United States and his native Saudi Arabia: "Our main problem is the U.S. government. . . . By being loyal to the U.S. regime, the Saudi regime has committed an act against Islam," he said. Bin Laden made no secret of the fact that he was interested in fomenting a revolution in Saudi Arabia, and that his new regime would rule in accordance with the seventh-century precepts of the Prophet Muhammad. . . . Throughout bin Laden's diatribe . . . his followers listened in rapt attention as he went on to clarify . . . the call for jihad.