Beyond the myth

 Osama bin Laden, by Michael Scheuer, OUP, RRP£8.99, 278 pages

In his biography of Osama bin Laden, Michael Scheuer demolishes popular myths about al-Qaeda’s founder, many of which derive from an embarrassed Saudi regime in the wake of the atrocities of 9/11 and were warmly embraced in the US. Scheuer dispassionately builds a picture of him as a scholar, a hands-on leader and media-savvy strategist whose promotion of jihad lured Washington into a decade of war.

Scheuer distinguishes between the limited, local impact of terrorism and the resilient multi-national network of training and logistics that al-Qaeda offers. A former chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Scheuer is scornful of Washington’s ignorance of Islam and its assumption that bin Laden’s death in 2011 has curtailed al-Qaeda’s power. Balancing biographical detail with political analysis, he argues persuasively that America’s “democracy-mongering” foreign policy and wilful misunderstanding of bin Laden pose a significant threat to western security.

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