If the "high risk" terror threat has you hiding under the bed, come out, please. There's something you can do besides buy duct tape and bottled water. "Through Our Enemies' Eyes," by Anonymous - a man who's worked for 20 years in the US intelligence community - is now available in paperback. (This reviewer has spoken with the author several times, once in person.)
His book isn't another self-help treatise to help you remain safe should terrorists strike again. It is much more. It's a primer on Osama bin Laden - the experiences and primary religious beliefs that resulted in his jihad against the West.
The author considers everything bin Laden has said and done - including not only interviews and speeches available in the American press, but also those in the Pakistani and Arab press. The evidence is convincing: Bin Laden has telegraphed his every intention. We just have to pay better attention. As tragic as the 9/11 attacks were, "Anonymous" believes US leaders should have anticipated them. In fact, his book was completed by June 2001 and was going through government review prior to publication when the hijackers struck.
"The United States has never had an enemy who has more clearly, calmly, and articulately expressed his hate for America and his intention to destroy our country by war or die trying," the author writes. "For five years in media interviews, public statements, and letters to the press, bin Laden told us that he meant to defeat the United States and that he would attack - and urge others to attack - US military and civilian targets both in the United States and abroad."
The author sets out on the bin Laden odyssey with words the Al Qaeda leader uttered shortly after 9/11, crediting God for the attacks' unprecedented success. Immediately following, the author quotes Abraham Lincoln speaking about the split between the North and South in 1862: "The will of God prevails."
Throughout the book, the author uses these juxtapositions - comparing bin Laden to the forefathers of the United States - to examine the man's religious, ideological, and political underpinnings. It's daring, maybe downright shocking, but it helps explain the complexity, drive, and lasting legacy of bin Laden's ideology.
Researching the life of antislavery militant John Brown, the author began to think about the way heroes and demons are created by different political groups. "I found that scholars have shown that Brown was a multifaceted character who combined virtues and vices.... He combined iron resolve, religious zeal, and physical courage with a single-minded devotion to the goal of doing what he saw as God's work by annihilating the institution of slavery."
At the same time, he says, "Brown was overwhelmingly self-righteous, excelled at cold-blooded murder, seldom repaid debts, and cultivated a self-centeredness so great that he often left his large family without support."
Throughout this book, the author illustrates the unsettling parallels between the way Americans regard their founding forefathers and the way bin Laden's followers apotheosize him. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.
"Anonymous" takes readers through bin Laden's life - from his childhood of advantage through his conventional education and religious indoctrination to his rejection of palatial residences for the mountain caves of Afghanistan.
The author shows that bin Laden has long espoused the same goals: evict the West from Muslim lands, stand up for the Palestinians against the Israelis, and end the sanctions on Iraq.
Moreover, the author brings the reader through the formation of Al Qaeda to where the group finds itself today. He shows how bin Laden sparked a movement of international insurgencies against Western ideals. The book closes with what we're likely to see in the future from Al Qaeda. Unfortunately, it's playing out much the way he predicts. The events of the past 20 months seem to bear witness to the insidiousness of the "mortal threat" bin Laden poses. Members of his group or affiliates have struck in Tunisia, Bali, Yemen, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco.
To be sure, the US routed the Taliban from Afghanistan, denying sanctuary to Al Qaeda's headquarters for planning, training, and recruiting. And the US and its unprecedented 90 partners in this war on terror have rounded up some 3,000 suspected terrorists, including at least five high-level associates.
But bin Laden; his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri; and a corps of experienced, Egyptian military leaders have evaded capture. Moreover, they have continued to carry out attacks - arguably much lower-level in intensity than 9/11, but nonetheless, lethal and terrorizing.
The author says he "tried to present a portrait of Osama bin Laden that will prompt better understanding of the man - and understanding does not connote sympathy - and a debate about how best to identify, confront, and defeat the threat he poses and personifies." It's a sobering success.
• Faye Bowers is a Monitor reporter in Washington.