Tag Archives: Osama bin Laden

A wrenching portrait of the human cost of terrorism

A review of Incendiary, by Chris Cleave

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

This entirely original and deeply troubling first novel is written in the voice of an unnamed working class Englishwoman, bright but poorly educated. For starters, she doesn’t have a clue about commas, or just about any other punctuation, for that matter. At first, what seem to be her run-on sentences are jarring, even off-putting. But the story is powerful, and the language shortly becomes easier to take. Before you know it, you’re hooked.

Incendiary is structured as an open letter to Osama bin Laden from a devastated young mother whose husband and young son have died in a massive terrorist attack on a soccer game in London. The book’s four sections cover events in the spring, when the attack occurs, and in the succeeding summer, fall, and winter of one terrible year, perhaps the worst in London’s history. But here’s how the narrator puts it all in context:

“You’ve hurt London Osama but you haven’t finished it you never will. London’s like me it’s too piss poor and ignorant to know when it’s finished. That morning when I looked down at the sun rising through the docklands I knew it for sure. I am London Osama I am the whole world. Murder me with bombs you poor lonely sod I will only build myself again and stronger. I am too stupid to know better I am a woman built on the wreckage of myself.”

However, this statement comes early in the novel. D0n’t get the impression Incendiary is uplifting. It’s profoundly unsettling, both in its devastating impact on the narrator herself and on English society.

Incendiary appeared in bookstores the day of the terrorist attack on the London Underground. The book won numerous awards and was published in 20 countries.

After reading Incendiary, I was surprised to learn that Chris Cleave is a man. His protagonist is so quintessentially female that it’s difficult to understand anyone who pees standing up could have created her. It’s also notable that Cleave is a columnist for the Guardian (Manchester Guardian to us oldtimers), since journalism, and journalistic ethics, figure so crucially in this first novel.

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Filed under Contemporary Themes, Trade Fiction

Getting to the bottom of the conflict between the U.S. and Al Qaeda

A review of The Longest War: Inside the Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda, by Peter L. Bergen

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

If you’ve been an avid follower of the news about the “war on terror” and the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there’s likely to be relatively little in this book that you don’t already know. What sets it apart, though, is that it presents the story of these closely related subjects from both sides, Al Qaeda’s as well as the U.S.’s, and it brings to the table the perspective of a genuinely knowledgeable journalist and not a participant with obvious self-interest at stake.

The Longest War is an able, one-volume history of the fateful two-decade interaction between Osama bin Laden and his followers with three successive U.S. Administrations. The author, Peter Bergen, is an award-winning journalist who in 1997 produced for CNN the first interview with Osama bin Laden and has been following the story ever since. Perhaps more than any other Westerner, Bergen is the best-qualified person to have written this book at this time.

What emerges from a careful reading of The Longest War is that the U.S. government under both Presidents Clinton and Bush Jr. did a truly execrable job of confronting the challenge raised by Al Qaeda. The Bush Administration’s performance was especially shameful: grounded in a stubborn and irrelevant ideology and managed in an abysmally ineffective manner, the Administration seems to have made a tragically wrong decision at virtually every critical juncture during its eight years in office. First, soon after taking office, by ignoring repeated and passionate pleas from knowledgeable insiders to review the evidence that Al Qaeda was planning a major attack on the U.S. Then, responding to 9/11, deciding that an air war in Afghanistan could destroy Al Qaeda and capture Bin Laden, and quickly ending the effort when it inevitably failed. Later, launching a preemptive war on the grounds that the greatest problem was Iraq and not Al Qaeda . . . ensuring years of civil war there by disbanding the Iraqi Army, pursuing mindless de-Baathification, and imposing on U.S. forces in the field a strategy that ensured they could never keep the peace . . . and pursuing a counterproductive alliance with Pakistan’s Musharraf regime that only strengthened the hand of the extremists and ensured them safe harbor across the border from Afghanistan.

The jury is still out on the Obama Administration’s actions to date.

ASIN: B003WEAI4Y

ISBN-10: 0743278933

ISBN-13: 978-0743278935

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Filed under Current Events, Nonfiction