Al-Qaeda on Stage
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright turned his many years of covering the Middle East and many contacts with real or reputed terrorists into his bestseller, Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. He adapted the book into a staged monologue, My Trip to Al-Qaeda, which Oscar winning director Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) transformed into a documentary by the same name. My Trip to Al-Qaeda is out on DVD.
Portions of Wright’s production, staged simply with visuals projected onto a rear screen, are integrated with interviews, commentaries and archival footage. The provocative presentation seeks to find the emotional roots of Al-Qaeda and America’s response. According to Wright, Osama bin Laden and his confederates espouse a culture of death, which values martyrdom over victory. And yet, contradictorily, they yearn for victory over the tyrants who have governed the Middle East as well as the American “Crusaders.” Bin Laden’s strategy hasn’t proven entirely inept: he hoped to lure the U.S. into a war it has no will to win, exhausting America’s economy along the way.
Wright puts Saudi Arabia, home to bin Laden and several of the 9/11 terrorists, at the center of the region’s problems and paints the country the darkest hues. According to him, depression is rampant, suicide common and cultural outlets are few, aside from the proliferation of shopping malls. The regime is tolerated by its subjects for fear of the alternative—whether the harsher tyranny of a Saddam or the chaos of the Taliban. Whether or not those observations explain Saudi Arabia, his point about the Al-Qaeda-Taliban axis is cogent: they have no viable political or economic ideas aside from pursuing a dark fantasy world based on their narrow interpretation of Islam. As for America, U.S. policy makers should be wary of conforming to the picture Islamic fundamentalists have drawn of us.