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9:11 Security Camera

“What the [9/11 hijacking] recruits tended to have in common — besides their urbanity, their cosmopolitan backgrounds, their education, their facility with languages, and their computer skills — was displacement. Most who joined the jihad did so in a country other than the one in which they were reared… The imams naturally responded to the alienation and anger that prompted these men to find a spiritual home. A disproportionate number of new mosques in immigrant communities had been financed by Saudi Arabia and staffed by Wahhabi fundamentalists, many of whom were preaching the glories of jihad. […]

Although they would often be accused of being a fascistic cult, the resentment that burned inside the al-Quds mosque, where Atta and his friends gathered, had not been honed into a keen political agenda. But like the Nazis, who were born in the shame of defeat, the radical Islamists shared a fanatical determination to get on top of history after being underfoot for so many generations.

Although Atta had only vaguely socialist ideas of government, he and his circle filled up the disavowed political space that the Nazis left behind. One of Atta’s friends, Munir al-Motassadeq, referred to Hitler as ‘a good man.’ Atta himself often said that the Jews controlled the media, banks, newspapers, and politics from their world headquarters in New York City; moreover, he was convinced that the Jews had planned the wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Chechnya as a way of holding back Islam. He believed that Monica Lewinsky was a Jewish agent sent to undermine Clinton, who had become too sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

The extreme rigidity of character that everyone detected in Atta was a Nazi trait, and no doubt it was reinforced in him by the need to resist the lure of this generous city. The young urban planner must have admired the cleanliness and efficiency of Hamburg, which was so much the opposite of the Cairo where he had grown up. But the odious qualities that Sayyid Qutb [the founder of modern Islamism] had detected in America — its materialism, its licentiousness, its spiritual falsity — were also spectacularly on display in Hamburg, with its clanging casinos, prostitutes in shop windows, and magnificent, empty cathedrals…

Atta was a perfectionist; in his work he was a skilled but not creative draftsman. Physically, there was a feminine quality to his bearing: He was ‘elegant’ and ‘delicate,’ so that his sexual orientation — however unexpressed — was difficult to read…

On April 11, 1996, when Atta was twenty-seven years old, he signed a standardized will he got from the al-Quds mosque. It was the day Israel attacked Lebanon in Operation Grapes of Wrath. According to one of his friends, Atta was enraged, and by filling out his last testament during the attack he was offering his life in response.

Although the sentiments in the will represent the tenets of his community of faith, Atta constantly demonstrated an aversion to women, who in his mind were like Jews in their powerfulness and corruption. The will states: ‘No pregnant woman or disbelievers should walk in my funeral or ever visit my grave. No woman should ask forgiveness of me. Those who will wash my body should wear gloves so that they do not touch my genitals.’ The anger that this statement directs at women and its horror of sexual contact invites the thought that Atta’s turn to terror had as much to do with his own conflicted sexuality as it did with the clash of civilizations.”

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An excerpt from Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.

If you’re yet to see it, spend two hours watching the new HBO documentary Going Clear, based on Wright’s book of the same title. It’s an eerie, engrossing, and absolutely scandalizing look at the Church of Scientology and its hucksterish origins and practices.

Wright is interviewed throughout the film. His speech is always clear, never hyperbolic, and tuned to challenge viewers’ easy assumptions and reflexive piety. His command of the material shows through. I was impressed and liked the guy, so I decided to read his book on 9/11 — and I encourage you to do the same. It reveals the origins of not only that day — the most important day of any of our lifetimes — but also of the kind of fiendish, extremist worldview (what Martin Amis once called “the dependent mind”) that we’re now confronting in nearly every country on earth. It’s a stranger and even less coherent creation story than you’d expect.

Read on:

Lawrence Wright