Feb 17, 2006

Review of OBL I Know in Asharq Al Awast

CNN terror analyst and author of Holy War, Inc, Peter Bergen presents a comprehensive portrayal of the world's most wanted Terrorist; Osama Bin Laden. The Biography titled "THE OSAMA BIN LADEN I KNOW" is a chronological record of everything that is known and documented about the Al-Qaeda leader. The book by one of the only western journalists to have interviewed Bin Laden in person took eight years to research. It is comprised of interviews with more than fifty people who have known personally known Bin Laden, including his brother-in-law, high school English teacher and former members of Al Qaeda. The book also features conversation transcripts, declassified counter terrorism reports, Jihadist literature, and other compelling information that appears for the first time in any book. This gives the reader a fascinating insight into the origins of Bin Laden as well as the reasons behind the current state of affairs of politics in the Middle East. In the past, most books about Al-Qaeda have come across as half-baked attempts to cash in and capitalize on the 9/11 tragedy, or conspiracy theory-based books designed to cater to a Middle Eastern audience. What sets apart "THE OSAMA BIN LADEN I KNOW" is Bergen's dedication to his subject matter. It is worth mentioning that his interest in Osama Bin Laden dates back to when the Mujahdeen were generally considered freedom fighters and Osama had yet to become a household name. The book dispels many of the popular myths that surround the Bin Laden legend, including his past association with the CIA (not true), his past as a great Mujahid (Bin laden did participate in some military activity during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, but was more active in the awareness, and fundraising aspect of the war), whether a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein existed before the US led invasion of Iraq in 2003( Despite claims by the Bush administration , Osama abhorred the former Iraqi leader ), and lastly, asks if US troops had Bin Laden surrounded at Tora Bora (Yes, despite some members of the Bush Administration claiming the contrary). However, a number of flaws should be mentioned, namely the lack of information on how the Al-Qaeda of today operates and Bin Laden’s position in its current hierarchy. Regarding the interviews with Bin Laden old friends, it is worth pointing out that 9/11 sparked a cottage industry in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Osama's home town, of people claiming to have known or befriended him. This has led to numerous conflicting accounts about Bin Laden’s earlier life. One example of this that Bergen highlights is whether Osama ever travelled to America, as one of his childhood friends claimed. Overall, "THE OSAMA BIN LADEN I KNOW" is a very significant and informative book, which can be directly credited to Bergen's enthusiasm for painting as accurate a picture as possible, without resorting to any unnecessary editorializing or sensationalism on his part. It will remain the standard on which other books on Bin Laden will be judged for years to come.