Sunday, December 9, 2012

Osama Bin Laden by Michael Scheuer

Michael Scheuer's biography of Osama bin Laden, although slim, speaks to the understanding we in the west have of a figure that can be claimed to have changed the United States like few others could only imagine. Granted, he was not alone in ushering in that change (our government and 'think tanks' are a huge part of that transformation), but at the time Scheuer was writing this biography, some ten years after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, much of the US was still ignorant as to who and what Bin Laden actually was and represented. Unfortunately, Scheuer is not a trained historian, his analysis of the material he has to work with is good but it is riddled with ideas that intelligence analysts concentrate on rather than historians. This is a good beginning for understanding where Bin Laden came from and what he believes in/fights for, but some of the accusations made against other authors (be they journalists or former acquaintances of Bin Laden) are more polemical than they are scholarly. While much of what Scheuer points out makes sense - the idea that Bin Laden is regularly depicted as suffering from some kind of medical condition, yet there has been no real proof of such - how or why this came about is not based on factual information or any real insight. The most interesting sections of the book deal with the strategy that Bin Laden has set up with the organization that we've come to know as al-Quaeda (for those that believe it is a fictitious organization, Scheuer would disagree, and he makes an excellent case for his position) and under what rules they operate in foreign territory. There is no doubt that Bin Laden has largely influenced US history for the past decade, and now with his recent death, perhaps we can begin to have a more objective an analytical look at both his life and his ideas which led to the events of 9/11 and took the US to the far corners of Iraq and Afghanistan.

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