Osama: The Making of a Terrorist. By Jonathan Randal; published by Alfred A. Knopf, www.randomhouse.com (Web); 340 pages; $26.95.
The face of terrorism today is Osama bin Laden. Yet for all the publicity surrounding him, he remains an elusive figure who has become larger than life throughout the Muslim world. Merely mentioning his name evokes adulation among his devotees and revulsion in the Western world. When he issues a video or audiotape, terror alerts spike all over the world. Therefore, knowing as much as possible about him is useful for those tasked with trying to counter his activities and those of his supporters. This book is an excellent effort to do just that.
Author Jonathan Randal is a veteran Middle East correspondent who is one of the few Western journalists to have spent considerable time in the presence of bin Laden. Through personal interviews and other sources developed over more than 40 years of covering the region, Randal places the phenomenon of bin Laden within the larger context of the clash between Islam and the West. In so doing, he raises a number of interesting questions, such as the possibility that bin Laden offered his organization’s help to Saudi Arabia when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991.
Though Randal does an excellent job of explaining who and what bin Laden is, he seems less able to deal with Western responses to bin Laden’s terrorism, falling into the standard criticisms of U.S. foreign policy and in some ways blaming the West for terrorism in general. Nonetheless, Osama is a worthwhile book for security professionals, policymakers, and academics. Its insights into bin Laden will help us understand how and why al Qaeda has become the international threat we now confront.
Reviewer: Mayer Nudell, CSC (Certified Security and Safety Consultant), is a California-based independent consultant on crisis management, contingency planning, and related issues. He is a member of ASIS International.