Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Road to 9/11: Fundamentalism Run Amuck

In the days after 9/11 it was fashionable to say "we condemn the atrocity but..." and then lecture down to America that America practically invited the attack. The reasons offered were projections of each persons own animosity towards America. Ranging from Sujatha Ranagarajan writing for a South Indian vernacular magazine to Noam Chomsky, considered the greatest genius in Cognitive psychology, the advices were variations of a meme: America's super power attitude, propping up dictatorial regimes, middle east policy, military adventurism etc. That the 19 suicide attackers left no note made it convenient for each person to trot out his or her own theory as to why they did it. Recently I finished reading Lawrence Wright's Pulitzer winning "The Looming Tower:Al Qaeda and The Road To 9/11". Around the same time Osama's killing happened and Washington Post published an article titled "Five Myths about Osama Bin Laden". The first myth was that Osama was trained by CIA.

A columnist for Frontline, a fortnightly from Chennai, helpfully wrote about the possible motivations of the hijackers, "Betrayal of the Palestinians, the destruction of Iraq! One can reasonably assume that these two great devastations of the Arabo-Muslim world were vivid in the memory of those 19 hijackers on September 11 this year". (Note the Iraq war the author refers here is the 1991 Gulf War that was fully supported by UN, Gulf States etc). Palestine. Iraq. Support of US to middle east potentates were all the most repeated reasons.

Lawrence Wright, based on extensive interviews and deep research, unravels the puzzle of who the actors and what were  their 'possible' motivations. As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches I thought I shall write a few blogs on this topic and allied issues not just as a book review but as a history that not many are aware of and would lack the patience to accumulate by reading a 600 page book (its a page turner).

The suppression of free speech, the military state etc are offered as reasons that fueled terrorism since legitimate expression of dissent was prohibited. The support offered by US to such middle east oligarchies notably the Saudi Royal family is cited as cause. Bollocks.

Anger at suppression of democracy or democratic processes was the least of concerns for the hijackers or Al Qaeda. In fact Bin Laden, Zawahiri, Azzam all pay fealty to fundamentalist Wahhabi sect that was founded by US educated Sayyid Qutb. Sayyid Qutb quit USA only because he was disgusted that USA was un-Islamic. Most left wing people who espouse social justice, affirmative action etc decried what they called US hegemony and used 9/11 to pillory US. What is worse is that they did not realize that Al Qaeda'a intellectual godfather Sayyid Qutb,Wright notes, hated egalitarianism. Qutb used to quote the Koran, "we have created you class upon class".

Sayyid Qutb rebelled against Nasser, not for more democracy, but because he said Nasser's Egypt was not Islamic enough and required to be overthrown. Sayyid was arrested, tortured and finally hanged.

Anwar Sadat is supposed to have told Golda Meir, "if you make peace with me you will go back to Israel a hero. If I make peace with you when I go back to Egypt I will be assassinated". Sadat's wife had made it easier for women to get divorce. Sadat, after the Yom Kippur War, made historical peace with Israel. His prophecy came true tragically. Sadat was assassinated. How was his killing justified? How did they justify killing a fellow Muslim? Sayyid Qutb's ideology of 'takfir' helped. By declaring that a muslim has become un-islamic by his/her acts, a takfir, the respective person is removed from being protected as a fellow muslim. Wright acidly notes, "the pious Anwar Sadat was the first pro-medern victim of the reverse logic of takfir".

Democracy was repugnant to the followers of Qutb. "Democracy was un-islamic. Therefore anyone who voted was an apostate and forfeited his life". Naguib Mahfouz, Egyptian Nobel laureate, was declared an 'infidel' and suffered a near fatal knife attack.

Often the apologists for terrorism speak fondly of how youth get attracted to terrorism due to lack of education and opportunities in life. Wright quotes a study of political prisoners in 1970's Egypt, "majority were sons of middle-level government officials, educated in science and engineering,...,They were not the alienated, marginalized youth that a sociologist might expect. While tomes are written excoriating the CIA coup in Iran to install the Shah as examples of US hegemony and US support of totalitarian regimes little have we heard on how Islamists engineered a coup in Sudan to install a Islamic regime. It is Sudan that was home later to Bin Laden before he ventured to Afghanistan.

In the murky world of middle east the attempt on Mubarak was another watershed event. Egyptian police abused a thirteen year old boy and blackmailed him into infiltrating Zawahiri's organization that was suspected of a hand in the attempt on Mubarak. The boy and another friend were used by Egyptian agencies to kill Zaawahiri and his associates in Sudan during a meeting. Sudanese intelligence discovered the plot and the boys were abandoned by the Egyptians. Many members of Al Qaeda objected to putting the boys on trial. Zawahiri, to prove that the boys had attained manhood, stripped them and then shot them. The boys confession and shooting was videotaped. The outrage infuriated the Sudanese government which chased Zawahiri out.

Bin Laden's own journey was an odyssey that culminated in 9/11. Incidentally, Wright says, Bin Laden hated Yasser Arafat. In Bin Laden's opinion Arafat was a secular and not islamic enough.

The presence of American troops in Saudi after the 1991 Persian Gulf War is cited consistently by Bin Laden as something that offended him. It did not matter that American army was stationed in Suadi at the behest of the government which feared Saddam more. Bin Laden loathed the fact that the gulf states took US help to stop Saddam Hussein. Incidentally Bin Laden hated Saddam (Iraq was more westernized than any other gulf state). Bin Laden tried convincing the Saudi king that he would stop Saddam with his mujahideens from Afghanistan. By the way nowhere in the book Wright establishes any link between CIA and Bin Laden (a fact confirmed by Peter Bergen, the only US journalist who interviewed Bin Laden).

What not many lay readers know is that Americans troops stationed in Saudi, not anywhere near Mecca, is nothing compared to how French troops entered Mecca itself at the behest of Saudi king. In 1979, yet another Islamist group, took Mecca by siege during Haj period. It shook the Islamic world. Saudi King after vacillating and unable to clear the holiest shrine invited French troops who then entered Mecca where no non-Muslim could ever go. (Saudi Arabia denies this happened). For something that the US had nothing to do with Khomeini blamed US and for good measure blamed Israel too. Needless  to say Anti-American demonstrations including burning down of an embassy ensued. It was the Bin Laden family that provided vital clues to the French on the building details.

An event that crystallized Al Qaeda as a terrorist organization was, according to Wright, the botched bombing in Amen on Dec 29th 1992. The bombing was supposed to kill American soldiers going to Somalia as part of an international relief effort to that impoverished country. The bomb went off but killed no American. A Yemeni and and and Australian had died. Bin Laden's deputy and mentor, Abu Hajer, justified it based on a fatwa by Ibn Tamiyyah. In a chilling rationale that defied any sane logic killing of innocents was justified. Wright, ends the chapter with a ominous note, "Al Qaeda would concentrate not on fighting armies but on killing civilians".

The last chapter, titled, "Revelations" rounds it all of. On 9/12, the day after the carnage, Soufan a Muslim FBI agent went to interrogate Abu Jandal who was apprehended for the Nairobi Embassy bombing. Abu Jandal, Wright says, 'was confounded by Soufan and what he represented: A Muslim who could argue religion with him, who was in the FBI, who loved America'. Sofan asked about the innocent women and children who died in that bombing. In particular Soufan asks about a woman on a bus 'who was clutching her baby, trying to protect him from the flames. Both had been incinerated'. Jandals reply was "God will give them rewards in the Hereafter". About them being innocent he reasoned cruelly, that the bombings took place on a Friday when Muslims were supposed to have been in mosques. If she was not in a mosque what was she doing on a bus. She was not a Muslim then but a 'takfir' and deserved to die.

Time and again the recurrent theme in the biography of each actor is a fiendish fundamentalism that cloaked itself in causes that were never consistent or helpful to the people they were supposed to help. Palestine, American imperialism etc were all fig leaf causes only to hide their desire of establishing a Caliphate. Re-establishing an Ottoman style Caliphate was their desire. In a post cold-war world the only remaining obstacle was USA.

No wonder Lawrence Wright got a Pulitzer for a landmark book. Wright patiently pieces together the jigsaw puzzle and leads us through the twisted world of terrorism. I shall continue with a couple more blogs. The 9/11 hijackers chose to meet in Hamburg for a reason. After 9/11 US citizenry was aghast at how agencies did not share information. The reasons for that and more await a little.

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