Among the credits for author Paul L. Williams listed on the back cover of Al Qaeda: Brotherhood of Terror, is his role as “consultant on international terrorism and organized crime” for the FBI. It is difficult to determine the type or quality of consultation Williams offers the FBI. Judging by the content of Al Qaeda, Williams seems to have done little more than compile newspaper clipping files and fact sheets from the FBI. Indeed, Al Qaeda is the sort of book one would expect to receive free of charge as inducement propaganda to a kooky sect or medical cause. It reflects FBI approved “factual information,” lot and lots of photographs of terrorists from FBI files and precious little else.
The back cover carries four bulleted questions which this book purports to answer: Who are they? Where do they operate? Do they have biological or nuclear weapons? Why do they hate us? As a college research paper, this book would receive a failing grade. As basic research for a source book, on the order of Al Qaeda for Dummies, it might be exemplary. Most, if not all, of the information bundled here could be gleaned in an evening of Web surfing, or by simply recalling content from the saturation-bombing of the viewing public by the American mass media over the past year.
To be fair, Al-Qaeda does provide, for those with no prior knowledge, serviceable information about the history of Islam, the history of Arab-Western relations, and a review of Islam’s age of Enlightenment (which preceded the West’s). Strikingly laid out in Al-Qaeda is the uninterrupted passing of the religious tenet of “an eye for an eye” revenge from Judaism to Christianity, and on to Islam; the three wisdom paths share a remarkably similar life-negating sensibility.
Williams parrots the Bush regime’s black-and-white Us-versus-Them world view. The danger—and absurdity—of this is that America’s projection of who and what the enemy might be is mostly ill-informed fantasy. And America’s “response” to recent terrorism is in reality a reactive fantasy scenario projected onto the Islamic “Other.” Al-Qaeda, to be sure, acts out of its own seriously misinformed fantasy of the “Great Satan” of America, materialism, and the West.
As Lee Harris points out in a brief, but illuminating, article on “Al Qaeda’s Fantasy Ideology” (in Policy Review 114), the assault on the Twin Towers was a symbolic assault by Islamic extremists on an enemy found only in their fantasy projection. For the Al-Qaeda, demonstrating America’s vulnerability on the world stage was the whole point of their action. American intelligence has read this act as but a foretaste of a far vaster battle to come. America’s response–that this was but the first of act of war by alien terrorists–fulfills the same old collective nightmare-fantasy of invasion by atheistic-communistic monsters or hostile, fire-breathing, gun-toting, green-skinned extraterrestrials.
As long as America believed itself invincible, we could always force the (inferior) rest of the world to speak English to us. Now that it has been discovered that dangerous communications conducted in Arabic had been gathered but not translated, there is a manic rush to make up for centuries of deliberately not-knowing Arab and Islamic culture. Alas, in classic American isolationist tradition, “know thy enemy” is precisely the first principle that was swept under the rug after the first wave of shock and disbelief one year ago.
Sadly, any training in the cultures or mindset of this new enemy will come at the price of patriotism—Near East Studies in the name of reinforcing Western preconceptions of the Islamic world will be funded; open inquiry will be censored as “un-American.” Worse, the deepening misreading of the terrorist enemy will only serve to pour fuel on the fire.
It behooves anyone with a conscience to morally condemn the murder of innocent people (and the destruction of the priciest real estate in the U.S.) on 9/11. However, branding the acts “senseless” and the agents of destruction “[inscrutable] terrorists” is to preclude the possibility of any meaningful understanding of this new enemy. Matters can only worsen.
Anyone interested in insightful and nuanced understanding of the current global condition, of Arab and Islamic positions, or of the how and why which have brought us to this point would do well to read almost anything else. In particular, the reader may wish to start with the following titles: Taliban: Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia; Dollars for Terror: The United States and Islam; Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence; or Jihad vs. McWorld.