by Bill Monson


When the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Afghanistan in 1979, it united much of Islam against the atheistic communists. Young men rushed from all parts of the Middle East to join the holy jihad.

One was a young man from a wealthy Saudi family, who used his family's wealth and connections to become a leader in the fight. He held a degree in public administration, but he was also a product of the puritanical faith of the Wahhabi version of Islam. From 1979 to 1982, he collected funds and materiel for the jihad. In 1982, he finally entered Afghanistan, bringing large quantities of construction machinery. He set up camps and commanded forces who became known as Arab Afghans. He proved himself to be a selfless and dedicated mujahid or "holy warrior."

His efforts were applauded by the Saudi government, which along with the United States, made a heavy commitment to supporting the jihad against the Soviet Union. When the Soviet troops withdrew in 1989, the holy warrior came home a hero. He spoke at mosques and private gatherings about what he'd learned in Afghanistan. This soon brought him into a collision with the Saud royal family, because he believed Iraq was going to invade Kuwait. The Saudi policy was to use Iraq as a check against Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran. (Both Saudi Arabia and the U.S. had supported Iraq during the Iraq-Iran War from 1980 to 1988.)

The holy warrior's prophecy proved correct. Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990; and the warrior wrote to King Fahd, offering to bring Arab Afghan mujahidin to Saudi Arabia to defend the kingdom. Instead, the palace announced that American forces would defend the House of Saud.

Admitting forces of Israel's greatest friend into Islam's holy land radicalized the holy warrior. When the non-Muslim forces went into permanent deployment in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War, he spoke out fervently. Trying to silence him, the Saudi government restricted his movements; but in 1991, he escaped back to Afghanistan and from there to Sudan where he began to support the training of guerrilla warriors. In 1994, Saudi Arabia revoked his citizenship and moved to freeze his assets in the kingdom because of his support for radical fundamentalists.

In 1996, under pressure from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, Sudan expelled him. Sudan offered to extradite him to Saudi Arabia or America; both refused to take him. In 1993, bin Laden had voiced support for the World Trade Center bombing, but there was not enough evidence to indict him.

The "holy warrior," now a dedicated enemy of the U.S. and his native land, went back to Afghanistan where he supported the Taliban and resumed his training of international terrorists. It was the followers of the "holy warrior"--Osama bin Laden-- who struck at the U.S. on September 11, 2001.

This is just one of the stories revealed by John L. Esposito in his book UNHOLY WAR: TERROR IN THE NAME OF ISLAM. Esposito, an expert on the Middle East, has told bin Laden's story and that of most of the Muslim terrorist organizations in a book which explains with admirable clarity why U.S. involvement in the world of Islam is such a complex and dangerous undertaking. It closes with the following statement: "...we will not defeat global terrorism solely by military or economic means. Public diplomacy must be a critical component... Quick and easy responses, such as moves to quiet the Arab street through overwhelming force, may be emotionally satisfying but will in the long run prove ineffective and contribute to greater radicalization and anti-Americanism. While some forms of terrorism, like some forms of cancer, respond to radical surgery, this deadly disease can only be effectively countered first by understanding how it originates, grows stronger, and spreads and then by taking action. The cancer of global terrorism will continue to afflict the international body until we address its political and economic causes, causes that will otherwise continue to provide a breeding ground for hatred and radicalism, the rise of extremist movements, and recruits for the bin Ladens of the world." This excellent book should be read by every American, especially by Washington policy makers. Esposito is no apologist for terrorism-- he roundly condemns it--but he also explains how it fits into the complicated world of the Middle East.

The book is available at Knox's Seymour Library and is on order at Galesburg Public Library. Personal copies can be ordered through local bookstores or on-line.

John L. Esposito is University Professor of Religion and International Affairs and Founding Director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. He is past president of the Middle East Studies Association, Editor-in-chief of the OXFORD ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE MODERN ISLAM WORLD, Editor of THE OXFORD HISTORY OF ISLAM, and the author of numerous books on Islam.

UNHOLY WAR: TERROR IN THE NAME OF ISLAM, John L. Esposito, Oxford University Press, 2002, 196 pp. $25.