photo & text by nacrowe
back during my first 3 months as a PEACE CORPS volunteer in ALBANIA during the requisite training awkwardly termed PRE-SERVICE TRAINING (in my opinion the minute you got off the plane in country you became a volunteer despite what anyone says to the contrary) i read LAWRENCE WRIGHT's PULITZER PRIZE-winning book THE LOOMING TOWER (KNOPF DOUBLEDAY, 2006) bout the philosophical roots and systematic/organization machinations that lead to the 9/11 ATTACKS.
you know, some light reading.
the book is expansive and really gets into the long-term friction between AMERICAN CAPITALISM and the rampant tribalism that marks the ARABIAN PENINSULA that lingers on to this day. that friction is first seen in a young foreign exchange student SAYYID QUTB who is crestfallen by what he perceives as the loose morales of the AMERICAN society he encounters during his time at the UNIVERSITY OF NORTHERN COLORADO in the 1940s. his writings on his return to EGYPT mark the beginnings of the extreme strain of ISLAM that calcifies and much later is exploited by the likes of AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI and OSAMA BIN LADEN.
the book is very much about how ideas are birthed, spread and imposed organizationally by those with the means and vision. it just so happens here that this idea is terrorism.
what made this book interesting for me as a PEACE CORPS volunteer was ALBANIA's inclusion in the book. during the nearby KOSOVO conflict of the late 1990s, SLOBODAN MILOSEVIC was basically ordering the genocide and ethnic cleansing of MUSLIMS in the region (also including BOSNIA). this provided the perfect platform to franchise their organization in EASTERN EUROPE, and so in the capital TIRANA. with the help of the AMERICANS, this cell was caught in 1998 and provided key information in understanding the structural implementation of the AL-QAEDA operation en masse.
as a PEACE CORPS volunteer more than 10 years later this information was, of course, omitted from what we were told of the region. most of the volunteers were idealistic idiots anyways, so it wasn't like they were seeking out outside information anyway. when i brought up the 1998 cell in an information meeting the security officer almost turned white, attempting to provide proper context for this omission. but whatever. i got it even then. ALBANIA is one of those countries that can go either way, having a complicated and interesting history that finds it at the crosscurrents of influence by the east and west, christian and islam, land and sea. as an act of self-preservation it is understandable that they would maintain dialogue with all actors in the region, and they do. i always felt as a volunteer that we were the canary in the gold mine, but that is a story for another day.
this book is informative and expertly written in an approachable, very readable manner. i highly recommend it and i'm glad that there is now a mini-series on HULU that is attempting to share its insights. it should be required reading for all AMERICAN citizens interested in understanding the power of religion to corrupt absolutely.