"The Looming Tower" treats Qutb rigorously and poignantly. Qutb possessed a brilliant intellect, and his American sojourn (1948-1950) had a profound effect on the man. Qutb visited New York and California, and attended college in Greeley, Colo. Wright says the freedom of American women led Qutb to conclude that "Islam and modernity were completely incompatible." Qutb was palpably threatened by, yet deeply attracted to, Western women. Personal repulsion and fascination fed a lurking sense of cultural and political humiliation.
Qutb key facts: Qutb was born in 1903. He died in 1966 -- executed by Egypt's Gamel Abdel Nasser, who at the time was a Soviet ally.
Qutb's rage fed Zawahiri and ultimately shaped bin Laden. The same rage continues to feed disaffected and isolated young Muslims trapped in corrupt autocracies and denied other political, cultural and aesthetic avenues of expression.
Both Zawahiri and bin Laden grew up in comparatively privileged circumstances. Wright's sources on Zawahiri's early years include family members and family friends, providing a remarkable psychological record of a young, politically active intellectual on the road to global murderer. Wright documents bin Laden's inept record during the Afghan war against the Soviets. Hardened mujahideen regarded bin Laden as a buffoon and poseur.
Azza Zawahiri, Ayman's wife, also receives tragic attention. Trapped in the debris of an air attack in Afghanistan, Azza chose to remain beneath the rubble rather than take the risk that men would see her face. She died there. The Wright vignette illustrates the fierce, unbending will of al-Qaida's most committed cadres. And demonstrates why they remain a threat.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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