Lost? Your location is the world of terrorism non-fiction. We are not in an airport paperback or violent teen video. Authors who wrote these words and scenes wish the books that contain them to be taken seriously. We are reading a Harvard law professor, a Middle East scholar, a CNN analyst educated at Oxford, and a PBS documentarian. These voices come to us from Simon & Schuster, W.W. Norton & Co., and Yale University Press. Scrambling reduces these works unjustly. Yet it is impressions, rather than the revelations their blurbs promise, that stay in mind when reading the terrorism books debuting this fall.
The professor teaching Western Terrorism Literature 1970-2002 might open with the observation that the works of the period have their roots in The Hardy Boys adventure stories–The Sinister Signpost, The Secret Warning, While the Clock Ticked, Mystery of the Desert Giant. A common leitmotif: Only real men are capable of saving an affluent, soft society from foreign predation and apocalypse. The period’s overarching theme: Terrorists are bad.
Such a literature might be all we needed before 19 men incinerated 3,000 innocents by flying commercial planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field a year ago. Reading the post-attack books, I thought often of George Orwell’s 1945 words on bad writing: “A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks.” Bad writing works the same way, Orwell wrote. It “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” I have always believed this. But in truth, I had forgotten about it. It took these books during these times to bring this prodigal back to creed.
Not all of the fall terrorism books will be slovenly or foolish. But they will come in great numbers. “Whether publishers are motivated by plucky optimism or cannibal instincts, they are pushing an astonishing number of September 11-related books into the market,” Publishers Weekly warned this summer. “Estimates for the fall season range from 65 titles (a number floated at BookExpo America) to 150 (the number calculated by Ingram)–clearly a high-water mark for book tie-ins to a single news event.”
In such a crowded field, the author with name recognition has an advantage. As in political campaigns, television is mainlining, newspapers only snorting. Television is expensive. But writers never pay for it as candidates do. Or rather, they pay, but the currency is not cash. It is the degree to which they are willing to leave out what they know. Some might call this intellectual dishonesty. But they’re not really lying. Lying is when your mother asks you if you ate the cookies and you say no. This is cookie eating for gifted adults.
Terrorism writers who were on television the most this past year made the bestseller lists this past year. After September 11, Peter L. Bergen, the author of Holy War Inc., has been on the airwaves (and sometimes the radio waves) at least 800 times. Bergen has been a CNN producer in foreign postings for a decade. He went from behind the camera to onscreen as its terrorism analyst after the September 11 attacks. With a British accent and an Oxford history degree, he was calm, reasonable. His book made the New York Times list, and others. Right behind him was Steven Emerson, author of American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us, with almost 400 appearances. He, too, made the bestseller lists. Next came Harvard law professor Alan M. Dershowitz with 340 appearances. Behind, but still making a strong showing, was Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes, with about 150. Dershowitz and Pipes have new books this month. Their television exposure might well make their books bestsellers.
Together, these four men frame the way terrorism is discussed for millions of viewers, and for hundreds of thousands of readers. The prose of Bergen, Emerson, Dershowitz, and Pipes avoids the problems of Orwell’s time–jargon, long words, passive tense, pretentious diction. Nor does their prose rationalize the indefensible. As Orwell famously put it, “People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.”
Hiding truth under abstraction was the bad writing of Orwell’s day. In our day, Bergen, Emerson, Dershowitz, and Pipes hide truth under entertainment. Their books use hackneyed plotlines, stock characters, and omission of inconvenient facts. They replace the blunt actuality of terrorism with the reassuring thematics of the adventure tale, the spy thriller, the cloak-and-dagger story, even Perry Mason. Their books exhibit the symptoms that Orwell deplored–“staleness of imagery” and “lack of precision.”
In television-speak, Bergen was “one of a handful of Western journalists to have interviewed the world’s most wanted man face to face.” Bergen, charmingly free of self-regard, puts it this way: “When you go looking for Osama bin Laden, you don’t find him: he finds you,” he writes. “It was March 1997 when the phone rang.”
We hear bin Laden’s booker say, “There are matters I do not want to discuss on the telephone.” We get “games of chicken” among the “mangled hulks of buses” on the Grand Trunk Road. We get cocktails at the Pearl Continental Hotel. We get Afghanistan, “the very word is an incantation . . . something out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.” We get “mystery” and “movement back into a time of medieval chivalry and medieval cruelty.” After a blindfolded drive, we finally meet the man behind the buildup. Bergen describes him thus:
“He is a tall man, well over six feet, his face dominated by an aquiline nose. Dressed in a turban, white robes, and a green camouflage jacket, he walked with a cane and seemed tired, less a swaggering revolutionary than a Muslim ascetic.” Bin Laden “rails” in Arabic, coughs softly, drinks tea, smiles ambiguously. Others in the room listen to his “diatribe” with “rapt attention.” That’s it. The others could be wearing space suits for all Bergen tells of them. The information culled from bin Laden’s soliloquy: Muslims hate Americans. His men were among those who killed U.S. soldiers in Somalia. Bergen supplies context: “This was the first time that bin Laden had told members of the Western press that American civilians might be casualties in his holy war.”
Who does this serve? Not the reader, who knows bin Laden has killed 3,000 Americans, wears a white scarf on his head and has a long nose. It’s hard to accuse Bergen of self-congratulation, but it’s easy to wonder why writing about incantations and diatribes shows anything more than Bergen loves foreign corresponding and bin Laden is a madman. Perhaps 90 percent of his book was written when September 11 turned the topic from a foreign-policy-establishment backgrounder to a public preoccupation. But the conventions of the adventure tale were as distorting before September 11 as after.
Bergen’s interviews too often serve adventure more than insight. He explores Yemen after al Qaeda terrorists have bombed the U.S.S. Cole and killed 17 American sailors, arranging to visit Muhammad bin Shajea, a tribal leader he hopes will “shed some light on their nation’s most infamous son.” The government provides a Toyota pickup with soldiers and a machine gun bolted to the floor. Our intrepid narrator loses them by pretending to visit a tourist site and presses on alone. Suddenly, bin Shajea’s gunmen appear and climb aboard. They drive for miles across “barren rock-strewn hills where we saw not another living being . . . That is, until two shots rang out above our heads. Bin Shajea’s lead gunman, a dead ringer for Omar Sharif circa Lawrence of Arabia, leaped out of our van, his well-oiled Kalashnikov at the ready.” They escape the would-be kidnappers, and bin Shajea tells Bergen about how bin Laden wanted to set up his terrorist camps in Yemen, but the tribal leaders told him no. Buildup equals so what.
Consider also Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian who appears in so many of the terrorism books it would be possible to write a term paper titled, “Different Versions of Abdullah Azzam in American and European Terrorism Non-Fiction.” Bergen introduces us to Azzam as a college professor of bin Laden’s in Egypt: “It was there that bin Laden first became associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group, and first came under the spell of two prominent teachers of Islamic studies, Abdullah Azzam and Muhammad Qutb. The influence of these men on bin Laden cannot be underestimated–it’s as if Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman’s brother had taught him about capitalism. Azzam would go on to create the modern world’s first truly international jihadist network.” What does that mean, exactly?
Unlike some books I read, Bergen’s is not marred by chronic misleading. Maybe the adventuring was intended to thin the hedge of Arabic names, add levity, and turn pages faster. Whatever the cause, by the time Holy War Inc. was between hard covers, its thinking was as commonplace as its writing was bad.
Steven Emerson, like Bergen, came from CNN. He was a domestic correspondent between 1990 and 1993. Emerson gained attention with a 1994 PBS documentary he made called “Jihad in America,” warning that militant Islam was organizing inside America.
Muslim and Arab-American organizations trying to correct the stereotype of Muslims as terrorists were devastated. They and Emerson came to hate each another. On April 19, 1995, a truck bomb at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killed 168 people, including 19 children. Emerson speculated on television that militant Muslims might be to blame. When it turned out to be anti-government activist Timothy McVeigh, the era of distrusting Emerson began. It ended when the planes flew into the World Trade Center. Simon & Schuster published his first book in 11 years this February. It is Emerson’s “I told you so.”
But did he? In the book’s prelude, Emerson finds himself with nothing to do on assignment for CNN in Oklahoma City on Christmas Day 1992. He wanders into the convention center and finds coloring books on “How to Kill the Infidel,” and others preaching “jihad” and extermination of Jews and Christians. He goes to more conferences in more places. His translator tells him the speakers are representatives of Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Emerson tells readers he discovered the FBI could do little to monitor these radical Islamic groups one of its deference to civil liberties. After the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, Emerson left CNN to do what he alleged the FBI could not. He started The Investigative Project and hired assistants. After “Jihad in America” aired, Emerson writes, FBI intelligence learned of a plot to kill him. This chapter, titled “How I Made ‘Jihad in America’ and Lived to Tell about It,” ends with Emerson trying to tell disbelieving U.S. officials that a big Islamic attack on America is on its way.
In the Clancyesque prose of this book, Emerson writes like a case officer, divulging facts to his readers “on a need to know basis.” Take the first episode, starring that terrorism-book archetype, Abdullah Azzam, whom Emerson introduces as a “Palestinian mullah” who made “the first calls for worldwide jihad.” Cut to Emerson in Israel. A taxi driver directs him to Azzam’s brother-in-law. The brother-in-law tells Emerson that Azzam had relatives in Chicago. Cut to Bridgeview, Ill. A nephew of Azzam’s says one of Azzam’s sons is “trying to hold together his father’s organization in Peshawar.” Cut to the Bridgeview mosque. Emerson writes, “I could tell immediately we were deep in the heart of Hamas territory.” How did Emerson know? The camera pans to posters: “It was all in Arabic, but you could see daggers plunged into Jewish hearts wrapped up in American flags.”
Zoom in to prayers in the mosque. “The Friday service was a rather strange experience. Out of 800 people, I was the only one wearing a red ski jacket.” Cut to the mosque’s leader, Jamal Said. Emerson asks him if he had known Abdullah Azzam. “He was very defensive. ‘I’ve never met him,’ he said quickly and then dismissed me.” The scene ends with a voice-over narration: “Earlier that year, two Hamas operatives, congregants of the mosque, were arrested in Israel for transferring money from the United States to terrorists on the West Bank. One of these men, Mohammad Jarad, told the Israelis that he was sent on his mission by Jamal Said.”
Emerson doesn’t tell his readers that Azzam came to the United States with the blessing of the CIA, FBI, and State Department to recruit American Muslims to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. He also leaves out that Azzam was four years dead when Emerson began the chase for Azzam’s American network. As for Jarad, Israeli police did arrest him in 1993. He served a six-month sentence for “attempting to rebuild the infrastructure of the Hamas,” according to the Israeli consulate in Chicago. He returned to the United States legally.
There are other omissions. One of the bigger ones is that Emerson’s book says he monitored the precursor to al Qaeda. But his focus for the last 10 years was on terrorist groups that have never attacked American soil. And they didn’t on September 11. None of the 19 hijackers was from those groups.
There is a map at the end of Emerson’s book, “Current and Recent Militant Islamist Groups in the United States.” Terrorist groups Al Gama’at al Islamiyya, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al Muhajiroun are in Philadelphia. The Algerian Armed Islamic Group is in Seattle, San Diego, and Los Angeles. There are many more in many cities. To the common reader, the United States looks like occupied territory.
Thanks to Claus von Blow and O.J. Simpson, Alan M. Dershowitz, Harvard law professor, is famous. He helped to acquit Simpson and to overturn von Bulow’s conviction. He has written books about both cases. One was made into a movie.
Since Simpson, Dershowitz has busied himself with a self-reinvention that has included books such as The Genesis of Justice: Ten Stories of Biblical Injustice That Led to the Ten Commandments and Modern Morality and Law. This month, Yale publishes Why Terrorism Works. In it, he argues that terrorism has brought Palestinians more land, Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, and hope of a state. From here on, every attack should take land from any future Palestinian state. On the home front, Dershowitz says we can do “far more than they are actually doing, even if law and morality require us to fight terrorism with one hand tied behind our backs.” One thing we can do is torture.
Dershowitz says torture is constitutional. The Fifth Amendment prohibits compelled self-incrimination, and he allows that statements given under torture may not be introduced in court as proof of guilt. But the 1972 Supreme Court ruling in Kastigar v. United States, he writes, allows torture–if a suspect is first given immunity from prosecution. Consulting Kastigar, a layperson notices that torture never entered into the facts of the case. The Supreme Court ruling merely says that a witness who has entered willingly into an immunity agreement must uphold his end of the bargain, even if it means incriminating himself.
Next is the Eighth Amendment. Dershowitz writes that its bar on cruel and unusual punishment applies only to punishment after conviction. He quotes selectively from the 1977 Supreme Court ruling in Ingraham v. Wright, telling the reader that the case affirmed a “long-standing limitation” that the Eighth Amendment bars cruel punishment only for those “convicted of crimes.” So, cruel and unusual punishment before conviction is okay. But in Ingraham, the justices merely held that the amendment didn’t apply to corporal punishment in schools.
Next come the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Here Dershowitz relies on the 1984 11th Circuit Court decision in Leon v. Wainwright. The case concerns a kidnapper who tried to pick up ransom money, only to be ambushed by police who hit him until he told them of the victim’s whereabouts. Later, the kidnapper confessed at the police station. The defendant said the confession was invalid because of the previous beating. The court didn’t agree. But Dershowitz says that if the courts think it’s okay to beat to find one victim, they surely wouldn’t mind torture to save thousands.
With the Constitution cleared, Dershowitz heads for the moral hurdles. He writes of how he was criticized for “even discussing torture” (in an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 8, 2001). His critics, he reports, insisted torture does not work, arguing that “it produces many false confessions and useless misinformation, because a person will say anything to stop being tortured.” Dershowitz counters, “The tragic reality is that torture sometimes works, much though many people wish it did not. There are numerous instances in which torture has produced self-proving, truthful information that was necessary to prevent harm to civilians.”
He mentions only one instance, that of Philippine police torturing al Qaeda terrorist Abdel Hakim Murad in 1995. Dershowitz footnotes his source. It is a Sept. 23, 2001 Washington Post story. Dershowitz leaves it at that. Further reading shows that the Post story has two sources, “an investigator intimately knowledgeable of the investigation,” and Under the Crescent Moon, a book by journalists Marites Vitug and Glenda Gloria.
Here is the entire quote in the Post from Under the Crescent Moon: “For weeks, agents hit him with a chair and a long piece of wood, forced water into his mouth, and crushed lighted cigarettes into his private parts. His ribs were almost totally broken and his captors were surprised he survived.” Turning to the book, there are no footnotes nor is the source of this passage in the text.
Dershowitz then goes on to draw conclusions not in the Post story. He writes that after torturing Murad, the Filipino officers “turned him over to American authorities, along with the lifesaving information they had beaten out of him.” Dershowitz makes it seem that with bombs ticking on airplanes, lives were spared by Murad’s torture. What solved the case, court records show, was that Murad was stupid enough to have started a fire from the explosives, which brought police. In the apartment, they found a computer that detailed the plot, which entailed using liquid explosives to simultaneously destroy 12 commercial planes carrying Americans. Police easily confiscated the explosives in the apartment; the computer supplied names and numbers for the plotters. All were arrested and convicted.
Dershowitz, who has distorted the plot and left out the computer, concludes that police may torture a terrorist if a bomb is about to blow and the terrorist won’t reveal its location. Dershowitz advocates the use of advance judicial approval obtained through a “torture warrant.” The goal, he writes, is “to reduce the use of torture to the smallest amount and degree possible, while creating public accountability for its rare use.”
Daniel Pipes has a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern history from Harvard. He is the director of the Middle East Forum and a columnist for the New York Post and the Jerusalem Post. He has served in the departments of state and defense. As a writer of more than 10 books on Islam and the Middle East, Pipes has been on television at least 150 times since September 11.
He joins the fall terrorism books with Militant Islam Reaches America, which puts forth the proposition that “the danger within is no less ominous than the danger abroad.” Pipes is dismayed by George W. Bush’s public statements that terrorism, not Islam, is the problem. “The situation is more complex than the president would have it. The Muslim population is not like any other, for it harbors a substantial body–one many times larger than the agents of Osama bin Laden–who have worrisome aspirations for the United States. Although not responsible for the atrocities in September, these people share important goals with the suicide hijackers: both despise the United States and ultimately wish to transform it into a Muslim country.”
Although he says there are many others, Pipes names five men–Ismail al Faruqi, Siraj Wahhaj, Ahmad Nawfal, Zaid Shakir, and Shamim A. Siddiqi–to support his views. If he interviewed them, he did not include it in text or notes.
Pipes identifies al-Faruqi as a Palestinian professor at Temple University who is a “key figure” in the movement to make the United States an Islamic state. Pipes supplies one quote from al-Faruqi to demonstrate: “Nothing could be greater than this youthful, vigorous, and rich continent turning away from its past evil and marching forward under the banner of Allah Akbar, God is great.” A footnote explains that al-Faruqi wrote this in an essay collected in a 1983 book. Pipes neglects to mention that the 65-year-old Al Faruqi and his 59-year-old wife were murdered in their Philadelphia home in May 1986–a full 15 years before the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.
Wahhaj leads a mosque in New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. In 1993, Pipes writes, Wahhaj was recorded on videotape telling a New Jersey Muslim audience that a Muslim state should replace the American secular state. In addition, Wahhaj was a character witness for Omar Abdul Rahman in the 1996 conspiracy trial in which Rahman was convicted of plotting to blow up the United Nations, the Federal Building, and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels. “The U.S. attorney for New York listed Wahhaj as one of the ‘unindicted persons who may be alleged as co-conspirators’ in the sheikh’s case,” he says.
Pipes leaves out that there were 172 unindicted co-conspirators in the case, and that Wahhaj also testified against terrorists, in the East Africa Embassy bombings trial on March 29, 2001. “Remember what Imam Siraj Wahhaj said,” prosecutor Kenneth Karas told the jury. “No religion kills innocent people.”
Ahmad Nawfal lives in Jordan, but Pipes says he speaks often at American rallies and quotes Nawfal as saying during one of them that if Islamists “stand up, with the ideology that we possess, it will be very easy for us to preside over this world again.” A footnote indicates this is from a videotape of a 1989 lecture in Kansas City. The quotes Pipes cites from Shakir and Siddiqi come from more than decade-old materials–a 1992 videotape and a 1989 pamphlet, respectively.
Pipes’s other worry is “sleepers,” “seemingly law-abiding individuals who live quietly and inconspicuously near the scene of their future operations, waiting for orders to spring into action.” Pipes says catching sleepers has been hampered by regulations, immigration law, and prohibitions on ethnic profiling. Ethnic profiling remains illegal. But the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) has provided for the surveillance of domestic terrorist groups since 1978. The FISA court approves about 1,000 surveillance warrants annually, and has rejected only a single application from the government since its inception. Since the Cold War ended, most of these warrants targeted Islamic groups.
Pipes says that immigration law does not consider membership in a terrorist organization as grounds to exclude a foreigner. The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, passed in 1996, gave the State Department the power to designate foreign terrorist organizations. Under the law, the INS can bar (and has barred) members of those groups from entry.
Pipes lists 42 “telltale indications,” to help citizens spot sleepers: Sleepers avoid contact with the larger society by being “friendly but standoffish.” They enroll in university studies in the liberal arts, and then switch to engineering or the sciences. They choose to live in areas where “many cultures are represented and an easygoing attitude toward different customs is evident (northern New Jersey, southern Florida, Leicester or Bradford in England, Hamburg in Germany).”
For more than 20 years, Mary Anne Weaver has written about the Muslim world. In 1999, Farrar, Straus and Giroux published her first book, A Portrait of Egypt: A Journey through the World of Militant Islam. Weaver has a passion to know, not bicker. She refreshes my belief in interviewing, on the record, with names firmly attached. She asks questions I want to ask, and lets me listen to full answers. She follows up. She assumes my intelligence by summoning context.
In her prose, I found the Abdullah Azzam and the Osama bin Laden that Bergen, Emerson, Pipes, Dershowitz, and the other terror books truncated, or left out entirely. Azzam was bin Laden’s philosophy professor in college. Azzam was a man who hated the Israelis, wanted their women and children dead. But he devoted his life to recruiting Muslims to kill Soviets, not Israelis.
When the U.S.S.R. invaded Afghanistan, Azzam went to help because the Afghans were Muslims. It was his idea, and it was a new one. Bin Laden, in his twenties, liked the idea of Muslims from many countries helping each other. His country was a mess. His rich family made its wealth from construction for the Saudi royal family, but bin Laden, as college boys do, rebelled. He said he cared that jobs for the middle class were scarce, and hard-working people under the Saudi monarchy couldn’t even vote to change things. Worse, the family pretended to be the strictest Muslims. But bin Laden had played with them as kids, known them as young men. It was all playboying, while the little people lived by the rules. The pious middle class took it without complaint. To bin Laden, his college professor’s idea of an Islamic volunteer corps to help the pathetic Afghans was radical chic.
Azzam’s closest friend was Omar Abdul Rahman, a “fiery cleric” in this fall’s terrorism books. Rahman was from Egypt. His country was another dictatorship, with a “president” unelected, a pious middle class, and too many jobless college boys. He was old and frustrated. It was great to escape the home mess for the purity that was helping Afghan refugees rise out of Peshawar camps to fight Soviets. “They cut vastly different figures, Sheikh Omar and Sheikh Azzam, as they toured the Peshawar refugee camps and traveled together inside Afghanistan: one, a short, blind man wearing a red-and-white fez-like cap who, because of lifelong illness, looked much older than his years; the other, tall and strikingly attractive, in his Palestinian kaffiyeh and Afghan tribal robes. But both men–who produced hundreds of audiotapes and videocassettes popularizing the jihad–were exceedingly charismatic in their different ways.”
The CIA loved them. The college boys with no jobs loved them more. As Rahman traveled in and out of Peshawar between 1985 and 1990, Weaver writes, his “stature continued to grow, which pleased the CIA and Special Forces officers who were there.” Then, in 1989, his friend Azzam was murdered by killers still unknown. By 1992, the Soviet Union had withdrawn from Afghanistan and collapsed. “In July 1990, after visiting the grave of Sheikh Azzam, Sheikh Omar left Peshawar for the last time. He flew first to Saudi Arabia, then to the Sudan and onward to New York, traveling on what would be his last U.S. visa issued by an undercover agent of the CIA.”
Three years later, an FBI sting in New York brought Rahman’s arrest for conspiracy. The plot, among other things, would have blown up the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels. Pipes, Dershowitz, and Emerson lead readers to believe preaching like Rahman’s is not criminal under U.S. law because of soft notions about free speech. But a New York jury convicted Rahman.
Sightless from diabetes and in his sixties, Rahman is in solitary confinement–no mail and no calls apart from his lawyers–at a Midwest federal prison. He is conclusively jailed, but his words are harder to confine. After September 11, the Justice Department indicted Rahman’s New York lawyer Lynn Stewart, charging she had transmitted messages from Rahman to militants in Egypt. The indictment did not mention any murders Rahman’s messages ordered or caused. Some defense lawyers who read the indictment worried the government had gone too far.
Weaver interviewed Rahman three times. In one meeting at the New York jail where he was awaiting trial, she asked why militant Egyptians had stabbed the elderly Nobel laureate novelist Naguib Mahfouz. Rahman’s answers reveal a man able to chase one part of his mind into corners he can dissolve with another part of his mind.
At first, Rahman said Islamic militants could not be responsible. “Why?” Weaver asked. They knew where the novelist was for decades, he replied. Why stab now? he shrugged. Weaver then asked Rahman if he issued a fatwa declaring Mahfouz an apostate. Rahman said he did not. He elaborated: Before Mahfouz’s stabbing, a journalist had interviewed Rahman about another matter entirely, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Rahman told Weaver he told the reporter that if “we had punished Naguib Mahfouz for what he wrote in Children of Gebelaawi,” Rushdie would “never have dared to write that book.”
Weaver asked, “How should Mahfouz have been punished?” Rahman explained that Mahfouz would be brought before a committee of religious scholars who would judge whether his novel had abandoned Islamic beliefs. Mahfouz could have presented a defense. If the scholars judged him guilty, he would be given a chance to repent.
Young men often asked Rahman if certain violent acts were permissible under Islamic law. They heard different things in his different answers. When one New York plotter asked Rahman if it was okay to bomb the United Nations, he thought Rahman said it was fine. But when another asked five days later, Rahman wasn’t sure.
Since September 11, Weaver has appeared on television 22 times, making her bestseller chances remote. Her second book, Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan, comes out in October. It has the same strengths as her first, but it’s about Pakistan, not terrorism. I feel as if I am only beginning to think about criminalizing speech and killing novelists and what it means to talk to bloodthirsty young men about drowning children in minivan car seats as the Hudson River breaks into the Lincoln Tunnel. The bad writing of adventure, espionage, adamantine legalisms, and sleepers is everywhere. The old ways of thinking seem inadequate. The new ways are still in the making. I want to tell her, as I suspect Orwell would: Write again, Mary Anne, write, and help us to think.
Reading these books, one longs for rest. Finding the stone of fact or the relief of insight amid the acreage of bloviation takes deadening patience. This is not due merely to the accumulation of Arabic names, organizations, villages, movements, concepts–Abdullah Azzam, Omar Abdel-Rahman, Sidi bel Abbes, Souk Ahras, Hezb-ut-Tehrir, Hizb-i-Nehzat-i-Islami, hijrah, hijab, shehada, sharia, ummah, ulema. As a student of elementary Arabic, I managed. What pained was trying to domesticate the writhing abundance of books into recognizable shapes. I capitulated, finally, to an imperfect taxonomy.
This fall, the most recognizable phylum is the journalistic compilation. All contain the we-were-eating-bagels-we-heard-a-boom story. Among the dozens: What We Saw by CBS News with an introduction by Dan Rather. Out of the Blue by Richard Bernstein and the staff of The New York Times. Ground Zero: The Young Reporters Who Were There Tell Their Stories, edited by Chris Bull and Sam Erman.
The second discernible grouping is dramatic narrative. Two of its celebrity practitioners go for the goose bumps and tear ducts. On the bumps is Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, whose publisher Simon & Schuster is preparing 600,000 copies of Bush at War. Joining him is Washington Times White House correspondent Bill Sammon with Fighting the War on Terrorism Back From Inside the Bush White House’s. In the ducts is James B. Stewart, who once penned Den of Thieves (1980s Wall Street, Ivan Boesky, Michael Milliken). Now he writes Heart of a Soldier, A Story of Love, Heroism and September 11th (2000 World Trade Center, Rick Rescorla, Vietnam veteran, and Morgan Stanley security chief).
The third cohesion, of a sort, is high-dudgeon investigative. Publisher Regnery brings columnist Michelle Malkin’s Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists Criminals and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores. Washington Times investigative reporter Bill Gertz gives us Breakdown: How America’s Intelligence Failures Led to September 11. Doubleday brings Weekly Standard contributor Stephen Schwartz and his The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Saud From Tradition to Terror.
In the internationally and intellectually acute genus, we have Scottish scholar Malise Ruthven’s book from Granta, Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America. It joins a welcoming species of what I’ve come to think of as the intelligent literates. Two of the best are Harvard University Press’s Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam, an English translation out this spring of French scholar Gilles Kepel’s 2000 book, and Yale University Press’s Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia by Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, out this March.
There is the “a former official said” book. Clinton courtiers Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon (near-the-top terror boys, National Security Council, 1994-1999) can be expected to justify their judgments in The Age of Sacred Terror, due out from Random House in October. The pair wrote a New York Review of Books essay last December defending the 1998 bombing of a Sudan factory in retaliation for the East Africa Embassy bombings. The plant, Clinton said, made nerve gas. Forensics later said otherwise.