“‘That precisely for us is justice, that the world be filled with the tempests
of our revenge’—so speak they to each other.”

—Friedrich Nietzsche

Ortega y Gasset once judiciously observed that “Man reaches truth with hands bloodied from the strangling of a hundred platitudes.”  One such commonplace is the popular belief that virtually all of the terrorist assaults that have been mounted in recent years against U.S. embassies and servicemen abroad have been the diabolical work of a single network, which is also responsible for the massive destruction of last September 11: the Al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.  This simplistic notion obscures a fundamental feature of what has become a planetary phenomenon: the fact that the jihad now being waged by Muslim extremists against America in particular and the West in general is also, in effect, an ideological civil war in the very heart of Islam—indeed, inside the very holiest of its holy books—with regard to the “correct” interpretation of the “Glorious Koran.”  Let us now see if, with the help of three books written by “experts” who have spent years probing the mysteries of what the French aptly call a nébuleuse, we can begin to penetrate more deeply the galactic mists and periodic explosions of this phenomenon.

The first volume is Au nom d’Oussama Ben Laden (In the Name of Osama Bin Laden), which, because of its hot-off-the-griddle timeliness, created a sensation at the Frankfurt Book Fair last October, enabling the small Paris publisher, Jean Picollec, to sell foreign rights to a dozen non-French publishers, including Duke University in South Carolina.  The author, Roland Jacquard, has for years been writing books and articles about terrorism and terrorists, including one on the Venezuelan terrorist “Carlos,” who, for a time in the 1970’s, was the “most wanted” terrorist in the world.  The expertise acquired from years of investigations into the increasingly planetary underworld of Terror—accomplished, it is clear, with the aid and connivance of French and other secret intelligence agencies—has made Jacquard a recognized “authority” who is often consulted on such matters by the United Nations Security Council in New York City and the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

The inherent weakness of any book largely based on information provided by secret intelligence agents of one kind or another is that the sources cannot be publicly named.  But this is not to say that the factual information thus derived is valueless.  Roland Jacquard has done his best to overcome the unavoidable flaw in books of this kind by adding footnotes at the end of each chapter and providing the reader with a useful index filled with Arabic and other names.  His book even contains facsimile reproductions of Islamic pronunciamentos and bellicose communiqués, presented in the original Arabic script.

It is always an uncharitable error to criticize an author for not having written the kind of book he should have written.  Roland Jacquard makes no claim to being a psychologist, whether Freudian or otherwise, and his book, though it contains the basic facts about the upbringing of the 25th son of a wealthy Saudi Arabian entrepreneur of Yemenite origin, makes no attempt to explain why Osama bin Laden should have suddenly become not merely a maverick but an intransigent critic of the Saudi royal family, with many of whose members—in particular, Prince Turki al Faisal (in the 1980’s and 1990’s the powerful head of the kingdom’s Intelligence Service)—he was once on very friendly terms.  Jacquard has not written a biography of the “most wanted” terrorist in the world.  His aim is more modest; as the title of his book suggests, he has attempted to chronicle the gradual development of an extraordinary conspiratorial network, stretched like a spider’s web all the way from Indonesia and the Philippines to Florida and Toronto.

Not the least surprising feature of this planetary plotter is his almost total lack of any definite revolutionary philosophy comparable to the neo-Marxist ideologies that inspired men like Che Guevara or Carlos.  This doubtless explains something that otherwise would be inexplicable: the close friendship established by this sophisticated, well-educated product of Saudi Arabia’s financial aristocracy with Maulavi Mohammed Omar, an almost totally uneducated peasant from the region of Kandahar in southwestern Afghanistan who, thanks to “divine” visions calling him to become a new prophet of Allah and a gift for fire-and-brimstone preaching, managed to make himself not only a “Mullah” but also (with bin Laden’s support) the “Commander of the Faithful” whom all Afghans were supposed to revere as a model of Koranic probity for the rest of the Muslim world.

The essential cementing factor in this extraordinary friendship was, of course, the sacred jihad fought against the invading Soviet forces in the early 1980’s, in which Osama bin Laden distinguished himself first as a frontline fighter and then as one of the mujahedin’s most active and enterprising quartermasters (for cash as well as weapons in abundance), while Mullah Omar’s heroism cost him an eye.

Although the parallel might be misleading, it can probably be said that the sense of virile camaraderie developed among thousands of Arabic and other Muslim volunteers resembled that of the tens of thousands of foreign volunteers who, with the support of communist movements in Europe, went to fight in Spain on behalf of the beleaguered Republic when the civil war broke out in the summer of 1936.  The veteran survivors of that epic conflict who managed to escape across the Pyrenees into southwestern France when Franco finished off the moribund Republic in February 1939 soon found a new outlet for their martial energies in combating Hitler’s invading divisions.  In Afghanistan, the foreign volunteers, far from being defeated, emerged victorious.  And the heady feeling induced by their successful humbling of the supposedly invincible Soviet colossus was so inebriating that it persuaded many of them that it was the will of Allah, no less than Kalashnikovs and U.S.-manufactured “Stinger” anti-helicopter missiles, that had made this stunning triumph possible.

The chief merit of Jacquard’s book is to provide the reader with a fairly detailed account of the manner in which the Islamic esprit de corps forged in the guerrilla warfare of Afghanistan was cleverly exploited by Osama bin Laden to form “combat groups” in many other countries—notably, in the Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen.  This feeling of wartime camaraderie was not initially anti-Saudi. Indeed, as Jacquard points out, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in December 1990, Osama bin Laden volunteered to join the anti-Iraqi coalition at the head of his “Arabic Legion” in order to defend the territorial sanctity of his Saudi Arabian homeland.  If the Saudi commanders could have foreseen the embarrassing nuisance bin Laden was destined to become, they could have arranged to put this “Islamic warrior” to the cruel test by having him exposed to the frontline fire of Saddam Hussein’s armored divisions.  But realizing, like Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and the Allied High Command, that this motley host of “Afghan veterans” with their bazookas and Kalashnikovs would be ideal cannon-fodder for Iraqi tanks, they politely declined Osama bin Laden’s offer.

The far-reaching consequence of this humiliating rebuff is now fairly well-known history.  Outraged to find the Arabian heartland abominably “defiled” by the stationing on Saudi soil of “protective” U.S. troops, Osama bin Laden became increasingly outspoken in his criticisms of the Saudi princes whom he, his father, and his many brothers had once befriended, and whose lax and “profligate” ways he now condemned from his new “headquarters,” a luxurious residence in a fashionable suburb of Khartoum.  Even so, the rupture was gradual rather than abrupt.  For, as Jacquard writes, when, in May 1996, the axe finally fell, his Saudi citizenship was officially revoked, and the Sudanese authorities were asked to have him extradited, it was into a hired Hercules C-130 cargo carrier—not exactly an inconspicuous aircraft—that Osama bin Laden was able to bundle his four wives, a score or more of children, and no fewer than 150 assistants and retainers for an untroubled trip to Jallalabad in eastern Afghanistan.

Details like this are what make Roland Jacquard’s book worth reading.  Nothing in Middle Eastern politics is simple; this is particularly true of the complex and enigmatic life of Osama bin Laden, who, in “going underground” and adopting a strategy of terror against the “Great Satan,” managed to inculcate in his subordinates a most un-Arabic discipline and technical efficiency, based on meticulous long-term planning and patient watchfulness.  A typical example was the perfectly executed seaborne assault on the U.S.S. Cole, carried out with clockwork precision by two kamikaze terrorists on a high-speed inflatable dingy loaded with dynamite, which crashed into the hull and killed more than 20 U.S. sailors at a moment when the vessel, in the Yemenite port of Aden, was in its most vulnerable condition.

I can also recommend Richard Labévière’s Les dollars de la terreur (Dollars for Terror) as worthwhile reading for anyone wishing to understand what has been happening in the nebulous world of “international terrorism”—let us have the courage to call it, less euphemistically, Islamic terrorism.  More prophetic than Jacquard’s book, its implications regarding the future are even more disturbing.  Yet, when it was presented by Bernard Grasset, a prominent Paris publisher, at the Frankfurt Book Fair of October 1999, it was brushed aside as “fanciful” and unworthy of serious attention by most U.S. publishers—the sole exception being a small New York house named Algora, which later published the English-language version.

A reporter for Télévision suisse romande, Labévière seems to have been awakened from his “dogmatic slumbers” by the mysterious murder, in November 1995, of a diplomat serving with the permanent Egyptian mission to the United Nations in Geneva: Alaa el-Din Nazmi, who was gunned down while parking his BMW sedan in the underground garage of his apartment building.  The Swiss police and the Helvetian authorities were at first reluctant to admit that this might have been a political assassination, even though, five months before, an attempt had been made on the life of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarrak, during an official visit to the Ethiopian capital of Addis-Ababa on June 26.  Immediately thereafter, the Egyptian authorities had accused Denmark and Switzerland of sheltering terrorists, and Switzerland in particular of offering asylum to an Egyptian surgeon named Ayman al-Zawahiri, the military chief of an armed organization calling itself Jihad.

Two days after the murder in Geneva, an organization calling itself the Gama’a [Group] of International Justice claimed that it had had the Egyptian diplomat executed according to the Law of Talion by the “battalion of the martyr Abdallah Azam,” an enterprising Lebanese who had preceded Osama bin Laden as the chief recruiter of Arabic and other volunteers wishing to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan before his mysterious death in 1989.  Six days later (November 19), a delivery van crammed with explosives and driven by a kamikaze driver rammed through the gateway of the Egyptian mission in Islamabad, detonating a huge explosion in which 15 people were killed.  The same Gama’a of International Justice claimed the crime was the work of the “Brigade of the martyr, Khaled Islambouli”—one of the authors of Anwar al-Sadat’s assassination in 1981.

The Swiss police, with Richard Labévière now also in hot pursuit of the truth, soon discovered that Alaa el-Din Nazmi had been assigned the task of tracking down between 200 and 500 million dollars in funds owned by the Ikhwan muslimum (the “Muslim Brotherhood”) and banked in Lugano.  Several exiled members of the Muslim Brotherhood, highly suspect in Egypt because of its implication in Anwar al-Sadat’s assassination, were now trying to “buy their way back” to their homeland by organizing the “repatriation” of the Brotherhood’s substantial funds.  Indeed, not long before Nazmi’s murder, Talaat Fuad Qassem, one of the creators of the Gama’a islamiya had been arrested by the Bosnian police after making a brief visit to Geneva to make sure that not a penny of the Muslim Brotherhood’s secret funds left Switzerland.  The Bosnian authorities had officially “expelled” Talaat Fuad Qassem (incidentally, an “Afghan veteran,” like so many others) as an “undesirable,” but his friends had soon discovered that he had been quietly dispatched to Egypt and ruthlessly tortured by the police there.  The tit-for-tat riposte for this “outrage” was the murder of Nazmi.

These details are merely a sample of what this fact-crammed book contains.  The great merit of the volume, which complements that of Roland Jacquard, is the light the author sheds on an organization that, in terms of duration and ideological significance, is far older than Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network and, in the long run, will likely prove to be even more unsettling and dangerous for an all-too-precarious status quo—in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Richard Labévière’s main thesis—if one can use the singular for such a complex, intertwined, and polymorphous subject—is that Saudi Arabia or, at least, certain affluent Saudi Arabians have been using the kingdom’s “petrodollars” to finance and promote the Muslim Brotherhood’s international activities, the ultimate aim being nothing less than the extension of the Brotherhood’s control over all Islamic institutions in Europe.

What makes this ambitious enterprise so insidious is the camouflaged nature of the Brotherhood’s operations.  On the one hand, like the Irish Sinn Fein, it operates “legitimately,” subtly circumventing the Koran’s explicit condemnation of the ribâ, or usury, through “donations” and “charitable” enterprises; on the other hand, like the Irish Republican Army, it maintains and cultivates a martial activism that relies heavily on the physical elimination of Muslim leaders who are opposed to its fundamental aim: the imposition throughout the Islamic world of sharia, in which the secular power of each state is, in effect, subordinated to its theocratic authorities (i.e., the mullahs, the ulema, etc.).

The story is so complex that I can only leap-frog over many pertinent facts to dwell on essentials.  Founded in April 1929 by a 22-year-old Egyptian schoolteacher named Hassan al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood was designed to combat the secularist tendencies that, with the help of Western “reformers” (such as those who helped found the Baath movements in Syria and Iraq) were undermining the supremacy of Islam throughout the Middle East.  These “pernicious” secular influences were anathema to al-Banna, who specifically condemned the separation of church and state, advocated a reestablishment of the caliphate, wanted political parties to be dissolved as agents of division in the Muslim world, and summed up his philosophy in these lapidary words: “Islam is the doctrine, the cult of the divinity, the nation, religion, spirituality, the Koran and the sword.”

The addition of the “sword” was by no means an empty formula.  Labévière claims that the Muslim Brotherhood’s militant ideology was much influenced by European fascism.  Be that as it may, from 1942 on, the Brotherhood began organizing a secret military branch, composed of “activists” prepared to eliminate secular “enemies” at the very highest level.  Its first major victim was Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Maher, who was shot to death during a parliamentary session in February 1945 after his government had declared war on Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.  In January 1946, another prime minister, Osman Pasha, was assassinated for his excessively pro-British views, and his murder was soon followed by that of Egyptian police chief Selim Zaki Pasha.  When, two years later, King Farouk officially dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood and had 4,000 of its members arrested, the Brotherhood riposted by ordering the assassination of another prime minister, Nokrashy Pasha.

The history of Egypt, ever since King Farouk’s forced abdication in 1952, has been the tortuous chronicle of more or less “secular” leaders—officers like Mohammed Neguib, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar al-Sadat, and now Hosni Mubarrak—seeking to neutralize the vast influence of the Muslim Brotherhood either by mass arrests and imprisonments or by behind-the-scenes negotiations with exiled members, aimed at tempering their dangerous wrath.  Among the astounding facts that Labévière has uncovered is that, during the 1980’s and 1990’s—partly as
a result of the anti-Soviet jihad in Af-
ghanistan in which, along with Pakistan’s ISI and Osama bin Laden, it was closely involved—the Muslim Brotherhood was secretly financed by Saudi businessmen with the connivance of the kingdom’s forceful intelligence chief, Prince Turki al Feysal.  Moreover, there have been times—beginning under John Foster Dulles—when CIA agents, bent on countering the pro-Soviet inclinations of certain Egyptian governments (notably that of Nasser), have actually encouraged the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities.

Perhaps the most fascinating chapter in Labévière’s book is the one devoted to the bloody Luxor massacre of November 1997.  This was, in a quite literal sense, a foretaste of what was to be perpetrated in the New York and Pentagon bombardments of September 11, 2001.  This time, the target was not a military installation—like the U.S. Marines’ barracks in Beirut, blown up by a kamikaze truck driver in 1982, or the similar assault made in 1994 on a U.S. troop encampment in Saudi Arabia.  It was not aimed at any U.S. building, as with the closely synchronized bomb blasts that, in August 1998, heavily damaged our embassies in Khartoum and Dar-es-Salaam.  Nor was the intended victim a prominent Egyptian leader, like Anwar al-Sadat who was assassinated by a commando force of Islamic fanatics inspired, if not actually masterminded, by the Muslim Brotherhood.  No, the targets this time were innocent civilians, no less than 56 foreign tourists (35 of them “neutral” Swiss citizens untainted by any trace of Zionist sympathies) mercilessly gunned down while visiting the temple of Queen Hatsheput by an Islamic commando force composed of six fanatics who, to facilitate their lethal task, had donned the black uniforms of the Egyptian police.

Because the six gunmen later shot themselves after being trapped in a nearby cave, the exact circumstances of this mass murder are still shrouded in mystery.  Realizing the devastating blow this bloody incident could deal to the prestige of the country’s tourist industry—one of Egypt’s main sources of foreign earnings—neither the government nor the police in Cairo were particularly generous in their revelations.  But, according to Labévière, the Luxor massacre was carried out by members of the Gama’a islamiya, whose founder was none other than the Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who had made a botched attempt to blow up the World Trade Center in February 1993.  The Luxor massacre, furthermore, was specially timed to coincide with the opening of the trial of Mustapha Hamza, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood (as well as of its offshoot, the Gama’a islamiya), who had vainly tried to assassinate President Hosni Mubarrak in Addis-Ababa after having, like so many other “veterans,” made the martial pilgrimage to Peshawar and Afghanistan.

The subsequent investigation led Egyptian police inspectors and intelligence agents to London, which had become a haven for Egyptian “refugees from oppression.”  One of these was the now-famous Egyptian ex-surgeon, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the founder (after a quarrel with the blind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman) of an even more dangerously militant terrorist organization calling itself, explicitly, the (Egyptian) Jihad.  Less than one year later, this dedicated anti-Westerner merged his group of militant fanatics with those of Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network.

It is probably true to say that this alliance gave the Saudi Arabian maverick a technical expertise and “scientific” precision in the planning of new terrorist attacks he had previously lacked.  Certain keen observers of the Middle Eastern scene—like Patrick Seale, a fluent Arabic speaker who for years served as an influential journalist with the London Observer—have been struck by the fact that almost all of the pilots who actually steered the Boeing jetliners into their sky-scraping (World Trade Center) or low-lying (Pentagon) targets were of Egyptian origin.  To Saudi Arabs and other Islamic “tough guys” was left the task of knifing and subduing each airliner’s staff.  To state the matter in its stark simplicity: The liquidation of the Al Qaeda network does not mean that the latest Muslim version of “Terrorism as a Way of Life” has been dealt a mortal blow.  Two of the hydra’s heads have been lopped off, but others are certain to replace them.

Many American admirers of the state of Israel naively regret that Egypt should be an autocratic army-ruled state, rather than the kind of genuine parliamentary democracy that Israel unquestionably is.  But this is wishful thinking, geopolitical naiveté of the most deceptive kind.  If President Hosni Mubarak were to agree tomorrow on absolutely free elections, the inevitable result would be a repetition of the catastrophic outcome of the free elections that the government in Algeria staged several years ago, which resulted in the stunning triumph of the FIS-Front Islamique du Salut—whose ultramontane recipe for national “starvation” was nothing less than the imposition of the theocratic supremacy of sharia (Islamic law).  To avert this catastrophe, the Algerian authorities—which is to say, its military chiefs—stepped in and forcibly annulled the “shocking” results of those elections.

It is hardly necessary to add that, were a catastrophe of this kind to occur in Egypt, the consequence would be infinitely more upsetting to the fragile peace of our turbulent planet.  The resultant jihad would inevitably bring on the “clash of civilizations” that Samuel Huntington ominously foresaw as likely to occur, more than eight years ago.  This is why, simply as a pis aller, successive U.S. administrations have agreed not only to finance the state of Israel, but also to keep Egypt and its 65 million restless malcontents from “going overboard” into turbulent Islamic whirlpools, by generously offering each country financial assistance: between two and three billion dollars per annum.

At this point I owe my readers, and not least Ahmed Rashid, an apology for having devoted so much time to the works of Roland Jacquard and Richard Labévière, and so little to Rashid’s delightfully informative book, Taliban.  From the strictly literary point of view, this highly personal narrative of an experienced Pakistani journalist’s observations and adventures in Afghanistan is of vastly superior quality.  It has been quite rightly praised by book reviewers in the United States, and full credit should be given to the Yale University Press for having dared to flout academic prejudices by publishing a book written by a journalist.  No one seriously wishing to understand what has been happening over the past 20 years in Afghanistan can afford not to read this book.

And not one of them should be disappointed.  Among its many delights are invaluable vignettes of the politicians and warlords who have made the recent history of this mountainous wonderland so confused and turbulent, beginning with a fascinating close-up of that would-be Islamic prophet and self-appointed scourge of sinfulness and non-Muslim levity, the half-blind Amir Mohammed Omar, and including a devastating portrait of Afghanistan’s turncoat Uzbek commander, the bon vivant Gen. Rashid Dostum.  Together, they represent the two opposite poles of the multicolored politico-religious spectrum of this strange Aryan land, whose mysterious Afghan name is neither of Arabic nor of Muslim origin but—certain scholars claim—was derived by a process of consonantal distortion from the Greek epigoni: the descendants of the “heroic” officers and soldiers whom Alexander the Great had left behind after briefly marrying a Bactrian princess—three centuries before the birth of Christ.  


[In the Name of Osama Bin Laden, by Roland Jacquard (Durham: Duke University Press) 312 pp., $54.95]

[Dollars for Terror: The United States and Islam, by Richard Labévière (New York: Algora Publications) 408 pp., $24.95]

[Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, by Ahmed Rashid (New Haven: Yale University Press) 288 pp., $29.95]