January 26, 2021

“The Looming Tower” on 9/11’s Aftermath

By Chaplain Mike

One way I thought about the tenth anniversary of 9/11 this week was to read Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. I hope to do a review tomorrow; for today, I offer a few thought-provoking quotes for your consideration and discussion.

I want to focus especially on the Afterword that has been added in the 2011 edition. What, in Wright’s view, is the significance of what has happened in the aftermath of the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001?

“The fateful decision of the Bush administration to invade and occupy Iraq in 2003 revivified the radical Islamist agenda. Simultaneous wars in two Muslim countries lent substance to bin Laden’s narrative that the West was at war with Islam. New terrorist leaders came to prominence in Iraq — most notably Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who slaughtered many more Muslims in Iraq alone during his three-year killing spree than the sum of all other al-Qaeda attacks around the world.” (p. 424)

“Meantime the War on Terror was transforming Western societies into security states with massive intelligence budgets and intrusive new laws. The American intelligence community became even more entrenched with the worst despots of the Arab world and grimly mirrored some of their most appalling practices — indiscriminate and often illegal arrests, indefinite detentions, and ruthless interrogation techniques. That reinforced al-Qaeda’s allegations that such tyrants only existed at the whim of the West and that Muslims were under siege everywhere because of their religion. The audacity of al-Qaeda’s attacks had given radical Islamists credibility among people who were desperate for change. And yet the worldwide effort to contain al-Qaeda prevented the organization from repeating the spectacle of 9/11 and thwarted its aim of taking over a Muslim country.” (p. 425)

“The years immediately after 9/11 had offered an opportunity for the Islamists to offer their vision of a redeemed political system that would bring about real improvements in people’s lives. Instead, they continued to propagate fantasies of theocracy and a caliphate, which had little chance of happening and did nothing to address the actual problems of Muslim youth — illiteracy, poverty, joblessness, and the desperation that comes from watching the rest of the world pass them by.” (p. 425)

“America was sinking ever more deeply into unpromising, fantastically expensive wars in the Muslim world — following the script that had been written by bin Laden. Repeatedly, he had outlined his goal of drawing America into such conflicts with the goal of bleeding the U.S. economically and turning the War on Terror into a genuine clash of civilizations. His attacks, from the the twin U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa in 1998, to the boming of the USS Cole in 2000, and ultimately to 9/11, were designed to goad the United States into Afghanistan, where he expected that America would experience the same catastrophe that befell the Soviet Union in 1989, when it withdrew in defeat and then simply fell apart. Bin Laden’s plan was that the sole remaining superpower would dissolve, the United States would become disunited states, and the way would be open for Islam to regain its natural place as the dominant force in the world.” (p. 428f)

The legacy of bin Laden is a future of suspicion, grief, and the loss of certain liberties that are already disappearing from memory.” (p. 429)

“I was deeply stirred as I watched that drama [in Egypt] play out. Freedom has been postponed for so many decades. So many lives have been stunted. And yet rapid change brings chaos as well as progress. Certainly al-Qaeda and its kin will seek to exploit the turbulence that is bound to ensue. Perhaps the generation that will genuinely transform the Arab world has not yet arrived. The daunting problems within those societies will certainly frustrate the reformers, if not defeat them. But radical Islam has encountered a force far larger than itself an much more deeply rooted in the longings of Arabs to be a part of the future, rather than the past.” (p. 431f)


  1. I’ll get back to this in a second, I need to finish some comments on John Piper 😉 Another outstanding book if people want to learn and understand September 11 in context is called “Ghost Wars”. It was written by Steve Coll and won a Pulitzer I believe for best history book. It puts 9-11 in the context of the the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the following occupation and war, rise of Islamic jihadists from that war, civil war in Afghanistan in the 90’s and the rise of the Taliban. The book details the plot and goes to September 10, 2001. Riveting book…


  2. David Cornwell says

    In the aftermath of the attacks we reacted with a mixture of fear and hubris. We will reap the results of both for many years. I have more to say about this, but do not have time right now to comment further.

  3. One thing that struck me in the years after 9/11 is so many people’s inability to understand the nuances of how something like the terrorist attacks happen. Most of us try so hard to make it black and white. People cheered the invasion of Iraq…now we’ll get those S.O.B.s and life will be good. Except that, of course, it wasn’t. The so called Arab Spring took place and we all want to sit back, smile, and say, “See, those people really just want to be Americans like us!” Except, of course, that they don’t. We don’t want to see the chaos that comes after the revolution, or put ourselves into the mind of a terrorist and try to understand what would drive him to that point.

    I remember being in elementary school in the 1960’s and it was so simple to us then. We white, protestant Americans were good and we were going out into other countries to try to bring them the great way of life we had. No one ever discussed that maybe others didn’t want our way of life, or maybe they didn’t need it, or maybe they had things that we wanted and we were trying to “persuade” them to give them to us. Unfortunately, I think too many adults still want to think of America like I did in 4th grade; that we are ordained by God to spread the American way of life throughout the world, and because it is ordained by God, we will succeed ( if we can just get all those unbelievers to think the way we do.)

    • There’s truth to what you’re saying, but America is not fully responsible for anyone who chooses to hate it. There is twisted religious ideology for capital gain at play much more that is politically correct to speculate. Nothing justifies terrorist activity. Nobody is driven to acts of terror, they are expressions of hatred. The terrorists who attacked us spout religion as their motivation, not backlash for economic oppression. If economic independence were their highest goal, why are they moving here in large numbers if their way of life is so sacred to them and they don’t want our liberties? You’re right about the 4th grade perspective, I think, but the truth isn’t necessarily the opposite extreme all the time.

      Terrorists are not victims. I think the slaughtered innocent are ahead of them in the line for compassion.

      • I do not wish to seem to consider those that died as anything but innocent victims, but I echo the words iMonk quoted in his post today: “On 9/11 I thought, For the most powerful, militarized nation in the world also to think of itself as an innocent victim is deadly. “

  4. I think the one thing the US government did that outraged me the most following 9/11 was to allow internment without trial under the Patriot Act. That simply equated in my mind the government of the US with the worst aspect of Northern Ireland. I have never really forgiven the US government this. The shoes off in the airport I can live with, the body scans, fine. But internment without trial? Nope.

    • I worked with someone when I was going through college. It was an elderly American of Japanese descent. He and his family wre rounded up during WWII and lived in an internment camp. I was shocked to know that….

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