Excerpt from Bin Laden by Yossef Bodansky, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Bin Laden

The Man Who Declared War on America

by Yossef Bodansky

Bin Laden
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    Sep 2001, 464 pages

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The wealth and worldly character of Jedda also transformed it into a shelter for Islamist intellectuals persecuted throughout the Muslim world. Several universities, primarily King Abdul Aziz University in Jedda, which bin Laden attended from 1974 to 1978, became a hub of vibrant Islamist intellectual activity; the best experts and preachers were sheltered in the universities and mosques, providing an opportunity to study and share their knowledge. They addressed the growing doubts of the Saudi youth. Their message to the confused was simple and unequivocal -- only an absolute and unconditional return to the fold of conservative Islamism could protect the Muslim world from the inherent dangers and sins of the West.

In March 1975, in the midst of the oil boom and the Islamic intellectual backlash against it, Saudi Arabia's King Faisal was assassinated. The assassin, Prince Faisal ibn Musaid, was the king's deranged nephew. He was also thoroughly Westernized and had visited the United States and Western Europe frequently. Both Islamists and Court insiders expressed apprehension that exposure to Western ways had caused Faisal ibn Musaid to go insane. Although the succession process worked and the kingdom suffered no ensuing crisis, the seed of doubt and discontent was sown. The assassination was a turning point for Saudi Arabia. For both the Saudi establishment and the conscientious elite, the assassination of the beloved king served as proof that the Islamists' warning against the sinful and perilous influence of the West had been on target. The shock of the assassination brought home the real and communal ramifications of the Westernization of the country's educated and affluent youth, creating a grassroots backlash and sending many of these youth, including bin Laden, back into the fold of Islamism.

In the mid-1970s unfolding events in Egypt -- the undisputed leader of the Arab world and politics -- were also having a major impact on the Saudi educated elite. Jedda was the key entry port for printed material arriving from Egypt, and many of the Islamist intellectuals operating in the city's universities and mosques were Egyptian. They maintained close contacts with their colleagues still in Egypt and advocated their views, exposing the students of Jedda's universities, including bin Laden, to their works and opinions. Already attuned to and tilting toward Islamism, bin Laden was influenced by these Egyptian studies and the events that prompted them. In the mid-1970s Egyptian president Anwar Sadat courted the Americans to gain political and economic assistance in working out a series of interim agreements with Israel. In the process of courting the United States, Sadat's image changed from that of a traditional village leader to that of a thoroughly Westernized world leader. The personality cult that Sadat developed domestically only alienated the educated elite, whose knowledge of and firsthand experience with the West caused them to fear its adverse impact on the traditional values of Muslim society.

The Islamist fundamentalist movement in Egypt was rejuvenated in the mid-1970s by young activists with Western -- mainly secular and technical -- educations who gave up their attempt to define their communal place in a world dominated by the West and its values. Intellectually active and curious, they produced high-quality literature that was widely circulated among the young Arab elite. In 1975 Egyptian writer and engineer Wail Uthman, one of the early influential ideologues of the most militant branch of the Islamist movement, published The Party of God in Struggle with the Party of Satan. This book divided the world into two social entities -- the Party of God and the Party of Satan -- and urged believers to fight to restore the rule of the former. In the preface to the second edition of his book, Uthman emphasized that in writing about the unbelievers, the members of the Party of Satan, he was actually referring to Sadat's regime. "Many thought I meant the Communist party when I wrote the Devil's party," he admitted. But although according to Uthman the Communists are an "essential support" of the Party of Satan, to him they are not the source of evil. "The Party of Satan is that group of people who pretend to believe in Islam but in reality are Islam's first enemies," Uthman wrote. He considered exposure to Western everyday life the source of the mounting crisis of Islam and saw no solution but Islamic militancy.

Excerpted from bin Laden by Yossef Bodansky Copyright 2001 by Yossef Bodansky. Excerpted by permission of Prima Lifestyles, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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