This volume, a collection of essays and broadcasts by Ayman Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden, does the Al Qaeda leaders no favors. Whatever their capacities as terrorists, Dr. Zawahiri tends toward the wordy and Mr. bin Laden is inordinately proud of his military exploits. As he refights Tora Bora for the nth time deploying the salt cellar and the humidor, we might be in some soporiferous midtown gentlemen’s club.
Given that war, as both Sun Tzu and Mohammed preached, is deception, it behooves us to understand accurately the enemy’s motivations and not be fooled by his deceiving propaganda. Yet in the current war against Islamic jihad, the West has stubbornly refused to take seriously what the jihadists tell us, believing instead what Thucydides called the “pretexts” with which an enemy rationalizes his aggression. Osama bin Laden and his theorist Aymin al Zawahiri in particular have provided us with numerous texts outlining the Islamic foundations of their war against the West. A few of these pronouncements and manifestoes have long been available, but now thanks to Raymond Ibrahim’s The Al Qaeda Reader, writings previously unavailable in English can be studied and analyzed. Such study will provide powerful evidence that contrary to the deceptions of apologists and the naïve delusions of some Westerners, the bases of the jihadists’ actions lie squarely within Islamic tradition, not in the alleged Western crimes against Islam.
Recently, a shoeless President George Bush accompanied by female aides in makeshift hijabs (Islamic prayer scarves) spoke at the rededication of the Islamic Center of Washington. The president sang the praises of a “religion of peace,” despite the fact that the Center is a Saudi-funded promulgator of Wahhabism, a strict form of Islam that critics say has spawned Muslim fundamentalism and extremism. He extolled a “faith that has enriched civilization for centuries” as he stood surrounded by representatives from the