Monday, January 5, 2009

The Siege of Mecca or Forge of Empires

The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam's Holiest Shrine and the Birth of al-Qaeda

Author: Yaroslav Trofimov

On November 20, 1979, hundreds of gunmen who believed that the Saudi royal family had become a craven servant of American infidels stunned the world by seizing Islama (TM)s holiest shrine, the Grand Mosque in Mecca, seeking a return to the glory of uncompromising Islam. The Siege of Mecca reveals how Saudi reaction to this two-week uprising in Mecca set free the forces that produced the attacks of 9/11 and the harrowing circumstances that surround us today.

The Washington Post - Thomas W. Lippman

The subtitle of Yaroslav Trofimov's fascinating and important book about the 1979 takeover of the Great Mosque in Mecca by heavily armed fanatics refers to that event as "the forgotten uprising." Perhaps it has been forgotten here but not in the Muslim Middle East, where it was a seminal event of the region's most traumatic year in modern times…In a relatively brief narrative that can be read in a weekend, Trofimov manages to explain who the radicals were, what they wanted, how they smuggled their weapons into the mosque, why the takeover traumatized the Saudi royal family and why the story still matters. Many works of far greater length are less illuminating.

Publishers Weekly

Trofimov, a Wall Street Journalwriter and observer of the Muslim world (Faith at War), tackles an incident unreported in the West: the violent takeover of Islam's holiest shrine by Muslim fundamentalists in 1979. Carrying out his investigations in one of the world's most closed societies, Trofimov has crafted a compelling historical narrative, blending messianic theology with righteous violence, and the Saudi state's sclerotic corruption with the complicity of the official religious institutions. Trofimov aptly points out endemic regional problems with enduring repercussions for fighting terror, but is hampered by his sensationalist style ("The world was twelve months away from the tumultuous events that would cover the mosque's marble courtyard with blood, spilled guts and severed limbs"). In 1979, the Saudi intelligence services apparently had no accurate blueprints of the Grand Mosque, and knew nothing of the underground labyrinth where many of the militants took shelter; they eventually received plans to the site from Osama bin Laden's older brother. Ringleader Juhayman and his followers have inspired al-Qaeda and countless other Islamic revivalist movements to ever greater acts of violence, even though they were mesmerized by their limited understanding of an obscurantist theology and were convinced that that one of their unassuming members was the Messiah. Casual readers will be well served by this introduction to Muslim fundamentalist terrorism. (Sept. 18)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Kirkus Reviews

Had there been no 11/20/79, there might never have been a 9/11/01: 20-20 hindsight meets solid journalistic and storytelling skills in this latest work by sometime Wall Street Journal correspondent Trofimov (Faith at War: A Journey on the Frontlines of Islam, from Baghdad to Timbuktu, 2005). At the dawn of the 15th century, by the Islamic calendar, an armed gang led by radical Islamist Juhayman al Uteybi seized the Grand Mosque of Mecca, one of Islam's most sacred sites, to protest the Saudi government's corruption and illegitimacy as an ally of the West. The new year's celebration was a day on which natives of the city mingled with foreign visitors, allowing the conspirators, among them Saudis, Pakistanis, Indians, Egyptians, Burmese, Afghans and even one American, fairly easy access into the holy precinct. There they holed up and battled a succession of Saudi military assaults, "a drawn-out battle that would drench Mecca in blood, marking a watershed moment for the Islamic world and the West." These events were overshadowed by the seizure in Iran of the U.S. embassy, but it did not escape watchful militants in the Islamic world that the siege was finally broken when French special forces commandos entered Mecca-supposedly off-limits to infidels-and restored order. Saudis formerly loyal to the House of Saud were so shocked at the intervention that they became radicalized opponents of the regime; one such convert was Osama bin Laden, whose family was closely allied with the royals. These newly forged militants were also emboldened by the decision, under the Carter administration, to reduce the formal American presence in the Muslim world after Tehran and Mecca. Juhayman's Islamistmessage, writes Trofimov, was in great degree the one Al Qaeda and its allies espouse today-and, as today, though Sunni in origin, that message is also turning Shiites to the cause of anti-Western jihad. It has taken nearly 30 years to comprehend these events in their proper context, and Trofimov does excellent work in narrating them in that light. Agent: Jay Mandel/William Morris Agency

Book review: Renaissance Guide to Wine and Food Pairing or Diabetic Desserts

Forge of Empires: Three Revolutionary Statesmen and the World They Made, 1861-1871

Author: Michael Knox Beran

In the space of a single decade, three leaders liberated tens of millions of souls, remade their own vast countries, and altered forever the forms of national power:

  • Abraham Lincoln freed a subjugated race and transformed the American Republic.
  • Tsar Alexander II broke the chains of the serfs and brought the rule of law to Russia.
  • Otto von Bismarck threw over the petty Teutonic princes, defeated the House of Austria and the last of the imperial Napoleons, and united the German nation.

The three statesmen forged the empires that would dominate the twentieth century through two world wars, the Cold War, and beyond. Each of the three was a revolutionary, yet each consolidated a nation that differed profoundly from the others in its conceptions of liberty, power, and human destiny. Michael Knox Beran's Forge of Empires brilliantly entwines the stories of the three epochal transformations and their fateful legacies.

Telling the stories from the point of view of those who participated in the momentous events -- among them Walt Whitman and Friedrich Nietzsche, Mary Chesnut and Leo Tolstoy, Napoleon III and the Empress Eug - nie -- Beran weaves a rich tapestry of high drama and human pathos. Great events often turned on the decisions of a few lone souls, and each of the three statesmen faced moments of painful doubt or denial as well as significant decisions that would redefine their nations.

With its vivid narrative and memorable portraiture, Forge of Empires sheds new light on a question of perennial importance: How are free states made, and how are they unmade? In the same decade that saw freedom's victories, one of thetrinity of liberators revealed himself as an enemy to the free state, and another lost heart. What Lincoln called the "germ" of freedom, which was "to grow and expand into the universal liberty of mankind," came close to being annihilated in a world crisis that pitted the free state against new philosophies of terror and coercion.

Forge of Empires is a masterly story of one of history's most significant decades.

Publishers Weekly

Journalist and historian Beran (Jefferson's Demons) provides a lively and entertaining look at a pivotal decade, in which three "revolutionary" leaders took actions that, he says, would shape world events "for a dozen decades": Lincoln's role in the emancipation of slaves and winning the Civil War; Bismarck's unification of Germany and the rise of that country's continental hegemony; and Tsar Alexander II's part in freeing the serfs and the short-lived moderation of czarist rule. Making superb use of short vignettes, Beran provides fascinating insights on the importance of these events, noting, for example, that had Lincoln not triumphed, the institution of slavery "would have derived fresh strength from... 'scientific' racism, social Darwinism, jingo imperialism, [and] the ostensibly benevolent doctrines of paternalism." However, the book gives insufficient background on the events covered, and there is only cursory treatment of Reconstruction and the Polish revolt against Russian rule in 1863. Nonetheless, Beran captures the decade's importance in a style that is both informative and dramatic. (Oct. 16)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Kirkus Reviews

A sprightly work of scholarship by journalist-historian Beran (Jefferson's Demons: Portraits of a Restless Mind, 2003) cuts suspensefully among decisive moments in the lives of Abraham Lincoln, Otto von Bismarck and Russian Tsar Alexander II as they revolutionized their respective countries. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and united a bitterly divided United States; Bismarck wrestled the German states from Hapsburg control and created a modern militaristic Prussian stronghold; Alexander gambled on reform by freeing the serfs and ushering in a rule of law. The three leaders essentially fashioned their countries into "machines of freedom," the consequences of which still reverberate today. In alternating segments moving chronologically from 1861 to 1871 and after, Beran sets his vivid historical characters against increasingly dire backdrops. In Russia, the people were growing restive under a decaying autocracy, and Alexander, influenced by the British Enlightenment, wisely eschewed the traditional course of coercion followed by his forebears in favor of an uneasy brand of liberalism. Beran provides portraits of Turgenev and Tolstoy to flesh out these revolutionary ideas, which ultimately failed and led to the tsar's assassination. In Germany, Bismarck, acting as minister-president for the ineffectual King Wilhelm on the motto "blood and iron," broke with Berlin's Parliament and challenged Austrian authority, using the music of Wagner and the poetry of militant nationalism to whip up popular support for his furious campaign of annexation. Most American readers will find the Lincoln sections the most riveting, as Beran re-enacts the agonizing decisions of the president as hetenaciously held to executive power in spite of Southern treachery, standing by dilatory General George McClellan just long enough to gain one decisive victory and stave off foreign intervention. The author also skillfully interweaves selections from Mary Chesnut's diary and Walt Whitman's work. The wind goes out of Beran's sails after Lincoln's assassination, but he handles well the intriguing biographical histories of three legendary leaders. Agent: Michelle Tessler/Tessler Literary Agency

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