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Although al-Qaeda was unvanquished it was also unable to repeat its startling triumph. America was sinking ever more deeply into unpromising, fantastically expensive wars in the Muslim world—following the script that had been written by bin Laden. Repeatedly, he had outlined his goal of drawing America into such conflicts with the goal of bleeding the U.S. economically and turning the War on Terror into a genuine clash of civilizations. His attacks, from the twin U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa in 1998, to the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, and ultimately to 9/11, were designed to goad the United States into Afghanistan, where he expected that America would experience the same catastrophe that befell the Soviet Union in 1989, when it withdrew in defeat and then simply fell apart. Bin Laden’s plan was that the sole remaining superpower would dissolve, the United States would become disunited states, and the way would be open for Islam to regain its natural place as the dominant force in the world.

Ten years after 9/11, al-Qaeda is not defeated. It has shown itself to be an adaptable, flexible, evolutionary organization, one that has outlasted most terrorist enterprises in history. One day, al-Qaeda will disappear, as all terrorist movements eventually do. But the template of asymmetrical warfare and mass murder that bin Laden and his confederates have created will inspire future terrorists flying other banners. The legacy of bin Laden is a future of suspicion, grief, and the loss of certain liberties that are already disappearing from memory.

Wright, Lawrence. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Vintage Books, 2007, 2011. p. 428–9


The fateful decision of the Bush administration to invade and occupy Iraq in 2003 revivified the radical Islamist agenda. Simultaneous wars in two Muslim countries lent substance to bin Laden’s narrative that the West was at war with Islam… Although bin Laden and his cohort were essentially reduced to virtual presences on the Internet and smuggled tape recordings, the apocalyptic al-Qaeda took root, not only in Muslim countries but also among Muslim communities in the cities of Europe and eventually even the United States.

As early as 1998, following the bombing of the American embassies in East Africa, al-Qaeda strategists began envisioning a less hierarchical organization than the one that bin Laden, the businessman, had designed. His al-Qaeda was a top-down terrorist bureaucracy, but it offered its members health care and paid vacations—it was a good job for a lot of rootless young men. The new al-Qaeda was entrepreneurial, spontaneous, and opportunistic, with the flattened structure of street gangs—what one al-Qaeda strategist, Abu Musab al-Suri, termed “leaderless resistance.” Such were the men who killed 191 commuters in Madrid, on March 11, 2004, and the bombers in London on July 7, 2005, who killed fifty-two people, not counting the four bombers, and injured about seven hundred. The relationships of these emulators to the core group of al-Qaeda was tangential at best, but they had been inspired by its example and acted in its name. They were tied together by the Internet, which offered them a safe place to conspire. Al-Qaeda’s leaders began supplying this new, online generation with a legacy of plans, targets, ideology, and methods.

Meantime, the War on Terror was transforming Western societies into security states with massive intelligence budgets and intrusive new laws. The American intelligence community became even more deeply entrenched with the worst despots of the Arab world and grimly mirrored some of their most appalling practices—indiscriminate and often illegal arrests, indefinite detentions, and ruthless interrogation techniques. That reinforced al-Qaeda’s allegations that such tyrants only existed at the whim of the West and that Muslims were under seige everywhere because of their religion.

Wright, Lawrence. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Vintage Books, 2007, 2011. p. 425–6


One can ask, at this point, whether 9/11 or some similar tragedy might have happened without bin Laden to steer it. The answer is certainly not. Indeed, the tectonic plates of history were shifting, promoting a period of conflict between the West and the Arab Muslim world; however, the charisma and vision of a few individuals shaped the nature of this contest. The international Salafist uprising might have occurred without the writings of Sayyid Qutb or Abdullah Azzam’s call to jihad, but al-Qaeda would not have existed. Al-Qaeda depended on a unique conjunction of personalities, in particular the Egyptians—Zawahiri, Abu Ubaydah, Saif al-Adl, and Abu Hafs—each of whom manifested the thoughts of Qutb, their intellectual father. But without bin Laden, the Egyptians were only al-Jihad. Their goals were parochial. At a time when there were many Islamist movements, all of them concentrated on nationalist goals, it was bin Laden’s vision to create an international jihad corps. It was his leadership that held together an organization that had been bankrupted and thrown into exile. It was bin Laden’s tenacity that made him deaf to the moral quarrels that attended the murder of so many and indifferent to the repeated failures that would have destroyed most men’s dreams. All of these were qualities that one can ascribe to a cult leader or a madman. But there was also artistry involved, not only to achieve the spectacular effect but also to enlist the imagination of the men whose lives bin Laden required.

Wright, Lawrence. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Vintage Books, 2007, 2011. p. 375


Although the notes don’t reflect it, a vote was taken [in August 1988] to form a new organization aimed at keeping jihad alive after the Soviets were gone. It is difficult to imagine these men agreeing on anything, but only Abu Hajer voted against the new group. Abu Rida summarized the meeting by saying that a plan must be established within a suitable time frame and qualified people must be found to put the plan into effect. “Initial estimate, within 6 months of al-Qaeda, 314 brothers will be trained and ready.” For most of the men in the meeting, this was the first time that the name al-Qaeda had arisen. The members of the new group would be drawn from the most promising recruits among the Arab Afghans, but it was unclear what the organization would do or where it would go after the jihad. Perhaps bin Laden himself didn’t know.

Few people in the room realized that al-Qaeda had already been secretly created some months before by a small group of bin Laden insiders…

On Saturday morning, August 20, the same men met again to establish what they called al-Qaeda al-Askariya (the military base). “The mentioned al-Qaeda is basically an organized Islamic faction, its goal to lift the word of God, to make His religion victorious” the secretary recorded in the minutes of the meeting. The founders divided the military work, as they termed it, into two parts: “limited duration,” in which the Arabs would be trained and placed with Afghan mujahideen for the remainder of the war; and “open duration” in which “they enter a testing camp and the best brothers of them are chosen.” The graduates of this second camp would become members of the new entity, al-Qaeda.

“The meeting ended on the evening of Saturday, 8/20/1988,” the secretary noted. “Work of al-Qaeda commented on 9/10/1988, with a group of fifteen brothers.” At the bottom of the page the secretary added, “Until the date 9/20, Commandant Abu Ubaydah arrived to inform me of the existence of thirty brothers in al-Qaeda, meeting the requirements, and thank God.”

Wright, Lawrence. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Vintage Books, 2007, 2011. p. 152–3


Truvada, a brand name for a cocktail of emtricitabine and tenofovir, is a daily oral prophylactic medication which has been found to be highly effective at preventing the uninfected from catching HIV. Now, a new drug is being tested which could provide the same protection in a way that’s more convenient and would be easier for people to use:

Cabotegravir is an integrase inhibitor—meaning that it works by stopping hiv copying its genome into the chromosomes of its host cells, an important stage in its life cycle. Unlike Truvada, which must be taken daily, by mouth, prophylactic cabotegravir is delivered as an injection once every two months.

In combination with the antiretroviral (ARV) drug rilpivirine, cabotegravir may also allow those who are already infected with HIV to be treated with periodic infections rather than multiple daily pills.



The most pressing challenge for bringing climate change under control is replacing the world’s energy sources for electricity production, building heating and cooling, and transport. At the same time, humanity needs to learn how to do everything necessary to maintain a technological civilization without fossil fuels. That includes agriculture, as well as the production of crucial raw materials including steel.

This may be one area where hydrogen is a real solution:

[O]ne of the biggest industrial sources of carbon dioxide is not directly energy-related at all.

This is the reduction of iron ore (usually an oxide of iron) to the metal itself by reacting the ore with carbon monoxide made from coke. That produces iron and carbon dioxide. React the ore with hydrogen instead, and the waste product is water. Several firms—including ArcelorMittal, a multinational steelmaker, and a conglomerate of SSAB, a Finnish-Swedish steelmaker, LKAB, a Swedish iron-ore producer, and Vattenfall, an energy company, also Swedish—are examining this possibility.

Climate-safe sources of raw materials are necessary both practically and politically, since people point to the use of fossil fuels in their production as reasons why they cannot be abandoned.

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