On the road again

In between Skype calls with Japan, which have to take place when one party is getting up and the other going to bed, I completed my preparations yesterday for my next assignment – partially at work in Cambridge and partially at home.

This morning we left our house at 7 AM, thinking that we would have plenty of time for the 35 minute ride to the airport to catch my 9 AM flight to Detroit and then to Tokyo. But I was wrong. It took us 1 hour and 40 minutes. I was the last person entering the plane, out of breath – not a good start of a very long trip.

I finished the inside Osama story written by his first wife (of 5) and fourth son (of about 12) and then completed it with Nicholas Schmidle’s New Yorker story (Getting Bin laden, August 2011) of the sheikh’s last hours. Imagine Bin Laden’s surprise when he discovered there was such a thing as hell.

The book holds a few lessons about vision. Many of the young men who heeded Osama’s jihad call and streamed into Afghanistan in the 90s to assist the remaining Russian war veterans, hailed from the margins of their native societies – misfits, angry, criminal, border lines who had nothing to lose. Al Qaida gave them a mission, a vision and a sense of belonging. These things matter.

I better understand why so many Afghans detest the Arabs. Like the body snatchers they invaded the country and then brought it to even further ruin than the Afghans had already created themselves. An encounter described in the book between Mullah Omar and Osama is telling. If it wasn’t for Osama’s clever invocation of religious duty, he would have been kicked out of Afghanistan, as he was out of Saudi Arabia and Sudan, much earlier. History is made up of an endless sequence of decisions. Some seem small but the consequences are disastrous.

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