BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Exploring the darkness behind 9/11

This was another of those occasional dollar store finds. Unlike some others, this did not scream out the question “why is this here?”, as it is a rather niche book … but a fascinating one. Penned by two journalists, Yosri Fouda, an investigative reporter from Al-Jazeera, and Nick Fielding, who's with the London Sunday Times, Masterminds of Terror: The Truth Behind the Most Devastating Terrorist Attack the World Has Ever Seen takes a ride through the festering underworld of Islamic extremists. Fouda, of course, was the key to this access, being a Muslim employed by an Arab TV network. A mere seven months after the 9/11 attacks, he had been contacted, at the new London offices of Al-Jazeera, by a member of the cabal responsible for those atrocities. It turns out that Fouda had done coverage on his show that al-Qaeda leadership felt was “balanced”, and they reached out to him as a way of furthering their message. In fact, following the initial vague phone calls was a highly-detailed 3-page fax, outline what they wanted him to do for a follow-up report (on the anniversary of the the attacks).

Fouda was a bit shaken by this, but followed up with the contacts, and was invited to come to Pakistan for his research.
From now on it was all going to be about survival. Getting back home in one piece was his main concern. If he got a reasonable story on the back of the trip, that would only be a bonus.
Although it isn't specifically split out, one assumes that the “research” parts here are from Fielding, and the “narrative” parts (as well as materials leading to the research) are from Fouda. The book swings back and forth from uncomfortable descriptions of Fouda's time among these most notorious of terrorists, and in-depth looks at the background of various “main players”.

Obviously, by this point, the “foot soldiers” of 9/11 were long since dead, but the book digs as deep as possible into their backgrounds, with particular attention paid to Mohammad Atta, from his youth in Egypt, his school years in Hamburg, and the shadowy path into the heart of al-Qaeda. It is chilling to see how little, even with a middle-class upbringing in a major urban setting, and a technical education in Western colleges, Western values effected Atta. He was cold to the entire culture from the start, and only became more hateful as he mixed with the outer fringes of Islamic extremism.

However, by the time Fouda was contacted, Atta was gone, and the main focus of the book is on the activities of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, two of the main planners of the attacks, and their circles of influence. Again, it is disturbing how hostile these people are to the West, totally taken up with a mythology of the time of Mohammed, and the periods of past Islamic conquest.
The 'Hypocrites', as the half-hearted supporters of Islam were called, had long been a thorn in the side of the Muslims. It is a moving and commanding section of the Koran and Ramzi was entranced by it. In a fearful, shaken but beautiful voice, Ramzi wept as he went on reciting more of the same surah:
Lo! Allah hath bought from the believers their lives and their wealth because the Garden will be theirs: they shall fight in the way of Allah and shall slay and be slain, It is a promise which is binding on Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Koran. Who fulfilleth His covenants better than Allah? Rejoice then in your bargain that ye have made, for that is the supreme triumph. (Surah 9, Verse 111)
It was this very surah, it has since become known, that the hijackers were instructed to recite as they carried out the hijackings on 11 September …

Irresistibly, this period in the history of Islam has a unique flavor of magnetic nostalgia: its own aroma, rituals, myths, visions, metaphysics, and even its own vocabulary. People are rigidly divided, according to this way of thinking, into believers and disbelievers, and hypocrites. No one can have a personal philosophy, for there is no such thing as philosophy.
Needless to say, this is somewhat bizarre to the Western eye, as though a substantial sub-set of Christianity was still trying to live as the romantic vision of knights, combat and all. Interestingly, this form of Islam, is described as “almost heretical” in its reliance on dreams, visions, and borrowings from the time of Mohammed.

Masterminds of Terror attempts to trace an intentionally murky web of connections across several continents and years of development, and does a very respectable job of this. The authors should be congratulated for their efforts here, as not only was this dangerous, but certainly frustrating. Fouda was faced not only by a violent, secretive, and unpredictable organization, but one that appears to have been facing internal divisions, as there was a constant back-and-forth regarding a set of video tapes that he had been initially supposed to have been provided – that ended up being repeatedly made unavailable as different power centers in al-Qaeda influenced control.

This is a fascinating look at the “other side” in that tumultuous first year following the 9/11 attacks. It's not a particularly pleasant read, being a view into a world that would wipe out our way of life and replace it with a brutal medieval theocracy, but sketches a perspective into a blood-thirsty sub-culture that few other books that I've encountered provide. It appears to be out-of-print currently, but the new/used guys at the on-line vendors have both hardcover and paperback versions available for as little as a penny (plus shipping). If you have an interest in trying to make sense of September 11, this, while uncomfortable, is quite a unique resource.

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Tags: book review

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