Saturday, February 05, 2011

Peeling back the layers of Bin Laden

It's a crucial question and reminds us, once again, how important it has become to gain an understanding of the fundamentalist Muslim theological current called Salafism and of its contemporary expression through political Islam, since the Brotherhood grows out of the former and is the modern godfather of the latter. Such an understanding can help explain — in part — one of the central paradoxes in the West's ongoing conflict with political Islam's martial manifestation, jihadism: the fact that Al Qaeda's founding leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri come not from some hostile quarter of the Arab street, but from the privileged classes of two American allies, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Peter L. Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, and Michael Scheuer spent three years in the late 1990s heading the CIA unit assigned to track Bin Laden. Their new books — "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al Qaeda" and "Osama Bin Laden," respectively — make useful contributions to our growing understanding of these issues, even though neither matches the foundational importance of Lawrence Wright's definitive "The Looming Tower," Steve Coll's indispensable "The Bin Ladens" or Mary R. Habeck's lucid, learned "Knowing the Enemy."

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