For Scriptural interpretation, N.T. Wright is the right Wright. But for historical context on the uniqueness of bin Laden, for appreciation of the complexity of the Al-Qaeda movement and for deep wisdom born from years of careful attention to the post-9/11 milieu, the right Wright to listen to is Lawrence Wright. A writer for the New Yorker and the author of The Looming Tower, the definitive book on Al-Quaeda, Wright is a font of measured insight rooted in years of front-line reporting. Here are some of the insights he has provided this week.
Unlike N.T. Wright, Lawrence Wright does not see the death of bin Laden as an automatic “escalation” in violence, but rather a hopeful moment for the broader Muslim world:
Democracy and civil society are the cure for the chronic misery of Muslim countries that has fed the rise of Islamic extremism. The death of the most notorious terrorist the world has ever seen, whose mission was to create a clash of civilizations, will allow the door to open more widely to the tolerance, modernism, and pragmatism that is so badly needed and so long awaited in a part of the world where despair, corruption, brutality, and fanaticism have laid waste to so many generations.
On the significant difference between bin Laden and his successor as leader of Al-Qaeda:
Al Qaeda will have a difficult time finding a successor. Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s chief lieutenant, has few of the qualities that would make for a successful leader. He’s anti-charismatic. He ran his own Egyptian terror organization, al-Jihad, into the ground. Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric now underground in Yemen, will continue to cause trouble, but it is unlikely that he will ever gain the standing of his Saudi predecessor.
On the approval given by Pakistan for the United States to carry out drone attacks on Pakistani soil (attacks that many on the Left say are a violation of international law because they encroach on Pakistani sovereignty.)
Pakistan has covertly supported the drone program for years, in return for the U.S.’s targeting of Taliban forces that it cannot vanquish on its own.
On why U.S. military aid to Pakistan is counterproductive:
Not only has American military aid been wasted, misused, and turned against us; it may well have undermined the Pakistani military, which has feasted on huge donations but is far weaker than its nemesis, the Indian military. If the measure of our aid is the gratitude of the Pakistani people and the loyalty of their government, then it has clearly been a failure. Last year, a Pew Research Center survey found that half of Pakistanis believe that the U.S. gives little or no assistance at all. Even the Finance Minister, Hafiz Shaikh, said last month that it was “largely a myth” that the U.S. had given tens of billions of dollars to Pakistan. And if the measure of our aid is Pakistan’s internal security, the program has fallen short in that respect as well. Pakistan is endangered not by India, as the government believes, but by the very radical movements that the military helped create to act as terrorist proxies.
On the likelihood of Pakistani intelligence being involved in the hiding of bin Laden and therefore untrustworthy for any type of intelligence sharing in the hunt for bin Laden.
Within the I.S.I., there is a secret organization known as the S Wing, which is largely composed of supposedly retired military and I.S.I. officers. “It doesn’t exist on paper,” a source close to the I.S.I. told me. The S Wing handles relations with radical elements. “If something happens, then they have deniability,” the source explained. If any group within the Pakistani military helped hide bin Laden, it was likely S Wing.
Eight days before Osama bin Laden was killed, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the head of the Pakistani Army, went to the Kakul military academy in Abbottabad, less than a mile from the villa where bin Laden was living. “General Kayani told the cadets, ‘We have broken the backbone of the militants,’ ” Pir Zubair Shah, the reporter, told me. “But the backbone was right there.” Perhaps with a touch of theatre, Hamid Gul, the former I.S.I. chief, publicly expressed wonder that bin Laden was living in a city with three army regiments, less than a mile from an élite military academy, in a house that appeared to have been built expressly to protect him. Aside from the military, Gul told the Associated Press, “there is the local police, the Intelligence Bureau, Military Intelligence, the I.S.I. They all had a presence there.”