The Charlie Hebdo murders in France have me heartsick and worried. What is going on? I am moved by ‘Je Suis Charlie’, which, like #illridewithyou, is a communal rising up of so many voices for moderation and tolerance. But what is happening? What is happening? How do we make sense of the complex and terrifying nature of Islamic fundamentalism?
I am so far from an expert – I struggle to keep up – but I have read a couple of books recently that have helped me try and make sense of Al Qaeda and I thought I would share them with you here.
This week I have been reading Mariane Pearls book A Mighty Heart, the story of the kidnapping and murder of her husband, Washington Post journalist Daniel Pearl, by Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan in 2002. Pearl is a remarkable woman and writer, pregnant with their only son at the time of Daniel’s murder, and her book is a heartbreaking read. Her tale of fighting for justice for Danny – a gifted musician as well as a journalist – paints a vivid portrait of the massive Al Qaeda network. As she tries to understand what has happened, the team she works with cover a wall with a vast, unwieldy map of people, contacts and locations. The map, as a symbol, feels indescribably daunting.
‘My impression, ‘ Pearl says, ‘is that the terrorists know much more about America than America knows about them, which is why the West needs to embrace the world better.’
Secondly, I’d love to direct you towards The Looming Towers – Al Qaeda and The Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright, an investigative journalist from the New Yorker. Wright won the Pulitzer for this study on the origins and development of Al Qaeda, and in particular Bin Laden, and he does an incredible job of ordering the complex and messy history of modern Islamic fundamentalism into a coherent narrative. I feel the need to read this book again, after this week. Where Marianne Pearl’s story is an intensely personal story, the Looming Towers tries to locate this brand of fundamentalism in history. Both books are fantastic reads.
These two books are both published before the modern ISIS era, which has changed the landscape again, so dramatically, and they represent only what I myself have found helpful. If any of you have read anything else that has shed some light on the topic, especially something more recent, I’d love to hear from you.
All we can do is try to understand why these things are happening, so they we might be some part of the solution. How, I don’t know. Only that knowledge holds power, in these days when forces of hatred would try and shut knowledge down.