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Author Dissects People, Politics Prior to 9/11 Attacks

Lawrence Wright, author of "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11," discusses his book which describes the people, politics and roiling theology behind Islamic terrorism and the terror attacks leading up to and including Sept. 11, 2001.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, two post-9/11 stories, beginning with a new book conversation about the people and events behind the attacks, and to Jeffrey Brown.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian writer who visited the United States, before penning a manifesto that would galvanize several generations of Muslims to turn toward a more militant Islam.

  • AYMAN AL-ZAWAHRI, Muslim Leader:

    We are Muslims. We are Muslims!

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Ayman al-Zawahri, an Egyptian doctor who railed against his own government in a Cairo jail…

  • AYMAN AL-ZAWAHRI:

    We tried our best to establish this Islamic state and Islamic society.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    … and later became the number two in Al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden. Raised amid privilege and wealth in Saudi Arabia, he liked to quote poetry and verses from the Koran, like this one: "Wherever you are, death will find you, even in the looming tower."

    Their stories and much more are told in a new book called "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaida and the Road to 9/11."

    Its author is Lawrence Wright, a staff writer with "The New Yorker" magazine.

    Lawrence Wright, welcome.

    LAWRENCE WRIGHT, Author, "The Looming Tower": Thanks for having me, Jeff.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    One way of looking at 9/11 is the big picture…

  • LAWRENCE WRIGHT:

    Right.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    … clash of civilizations. You write about big shifts, but you have decided to focus and tell the story through individuals. Why?

  • LAWRENCE WRIGHT:

    Well, there are two reasons.

    One is, it's an easier story to tell, when you're following the biographies of individuals, because they're interesting in themselves. And characters like that are — are great for a writer, because they can carry the information.

    But the second is that there were individual decisions that made al-Qaida. It wouldn't be what it is if it weren't for a few men, Ayman al-Zawahri and bin Laden being two of them. Al-Qaida, in its present form, is the creation of individuals. It's not just a historical phenomenon.

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