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62 of 69 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some good points but writing seems incomplete
Michael Scheuer is a unique personality in the field of "bin Laden Studies." He's neither liberal nor conservative, although he holds positions that please and upset both parties. However, at times he seems to have nuggets of wisdom, but his insights are limited by his passionate and occasionally sloppy communication. Osama Bin Laden bears all of these...
Published on January 10, 2011 by Enjolras

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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly Impractical
Michael Scheuer, a former Chief of the CIA Bin Laden unit, delivers the most recent sketch of a man simultaneously hated and admired by many. Scheuer's purpose is to correct some common misconceptions and to offer a biography based on primary evidence - not secondary opinions, but what Bin Laden says about himself.

Certain misconceptions, Scheuer argues, have...
Published on April 25, 2011 by J. Taylor


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62 of 69 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some good points but writing seems incomplete, January 10, 2011
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This review is from: Osama Bin Laden (Hardcover)
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Michael Scheuer is a unique personality in the field of "bin Laden Studies." He's neither liberal nor conservative, although he holds positions that please and upset both parties. However, at times he seems to have nuggets of wisdom, but his insights are limited by his passionate and occasionally sloppy communication. Osama Bin Laden bears all of these characteristics.

First, Scheuer goes to great lengths to write an actual biography of bin Laden, not simply diatribe against the man. Scheuer uses many sources both written by bin Laden or by those close to him. It's fascinating to see what Scheuer highlights that goes missing in the typical "war on terror" books. For example, bin Laden loves the outdoors and believes a Spartan lifestyle toughens soldiers. Thus, it should come as no surprise that he's survived quite readily in the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan. More importantly, Scheuer clarifies that bin Laden has never followed takfirism, or the policy of judging certain Muslims insufficiently pure. In fact, his success derives in no small part to his appeals to pan-Islamism, going so far as to chastise his lieutenant Zarqawi in Iraq for targeting Shias.

While I appreciate Scheuer's caution against rushing to villainize bin Laden, at time he goes too far in the opposite direction. Scheuer lambast anyone who accepts what he calls the "Saudi propaganda version" of bin Laden's life, notably that bin Laden as a good Saudi led astray by the Egyptian al-Zawahiri. Scheuer does point out that Zawahiri does seem to have moved closer to bin Laden's positions after they met. But he also recounts - and immediately dismisses - an anecdote by a Saudi journalist about an interview during which bin Laden seemed to change his mind after talking to Egyptian colleagues. It's not clear why Scheuer's guesswork is superior to that firsthand account, which he likens to something "utterly impossible."

A more persistent problem with the book is that Scheuer seems to occasionally lash out at everyone and everything - except for bin Laden himself - for little reason. He blames "New Age" professors for the fact that the U.S. military is unwilling to accept high causalities or engage in total war (isn't that really the fault of an American public?). He insinuates that everybody else in the policy community is stupid by claiming jihad is primarily a non-violent form of struggle (doesn't Scheuer realize American officials have to pretend Islam is a "religion of peace" in order not to incite Muslims further?).

Perhaps most critically, for somebody who worked at the CIA, Scheuer seems to have a poor grasp of policy realities. He lambasts the U.S. military for not invading Afghanistan until October 7, 2001, giving al-Qaeda time to flee. Yet, what other option did it have - we simply could not transport the troops or give the Taliban an ultimatum in time? Likewise, he claims the U.S. airstrike that killed Zarqawi was a boon to al-Qaeda, but what alternative did the U.S. have - to let him live? It's frustrating because Scheuer makes these comments almost as asides, and while they could develop into interesting insights, as is they seem more like snide recriminations.

Finally, the book is not really written for a beginner. In fact, there's relatively little context. Readers who aren't already familiar with Zarqawi or Zawahiri, much less the minor characters like Qutb or Ramzi Yousef, will probably get lost. I didn't have this problem generally because I'd followed the news for the past 15 years, but even so I'm sure I missed the full importance of some of the names he drops.

Despite my criticism, I give the book 3.5 stars because it is an important biography of Osama bin Laden (arguably the first actual biography) and makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the man. Scheuer really tries to understand him and understand the world from his perspective. I do think the book would have benefitted from a readover by somebody who isn't fully immersed in this debate just to ask the questions "Will readers know who that is?" or "What do you mean by that provocative sentence?" As it stands, I can't quite believe this book is almost complete and nearing (as of January 10, 2011) publication.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding who he is rather than who we wish him to be, February 5, 2011
This review is from: Osama Bin Laden (Hardcover)
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Mr. Scheuer does us a great service in telling us the truth rather than what we want to hear. It is difficult to seek to understand an enemy for his merits rather than simple name-calling that portray him as that which we prefer he was. But Mr. Scheuer reminds us that it is not because he wishes to praise bin Laden, but to bury him. He argues convincingly that others have, for various reasons, misjudged and misrepresented bin Laden and al Queda. Some have done so, perhaps for political or economical reasons to cover their own failings. Others more out of ignorance and desiring to say what itching ears want to hear. Whatever the source of the obfuscation it leads to the same result - our defeat. By intentionally covering our ears and eyes to reality we have sealed our own demise. Until we learn to acknowledge this enemy for what it really is, we will never understand how to defeat him.

One such understanding is to stop referring to al Queda as simply a terrorist organization rather than an insurgency. The difference is one of organization and rational planning. Terrorists are not rational nor do they have the networked organization nor organizational skills of bin Laden. Insurgency is not motivated simply out of distrust and dislike of our 'liberal western freedoms.' It is, in the minds of the insurgents, simply fighting what it believes is a defensive war to retain or regain what it feels is rightfully their's. Perception is indeed reality and their perception is that the west is the aggressor against Islam and they do not fight for world domination so much as the prevention of meddling in Muslim lands either by western military and money or by the lukewarm Muslim leaders who cooperate with infidel powers in order to retain their political standing and foreign funding.

The grand strategy in this insurgency is much like past insurgencies guided by the 'eastern way of war' as described in The Art of War (Shambhala classics). The near enemy of the insurgency is the lands of the holy shrines of Islam and their corrupt and compromising leadership. But in order to topple those regimes and restore the holy shrines to true Islam, the far enemy must first be eliminated. As Sun Tzu describes, first remove your adversary's alliances and then defeat him. America is that ally that props up the enemy regimes in those lands that rightfully belong to true believers. So, bin Laden set about a cogent and brilliant plan to draw America into a war it could not win. A war that would bleed her economically and remove her capability to support the near enemies of Islam. The attacks on American interests were not random shots across the border, as it were. They were planned to incite and lure America into a war in Afghanistan - the empire slayer trap. When that was accomplished, the strategy was to widen the conflict and spread American resources so thin that they continue to bleed further in a conflict they can never win. But even America and the collaborating Islamic rulers are the final goal. The final goal also entails defeating Israel and regaining Jerusalem and all of Palestine. After those are accomplished the final goal is a cleansing of Islam by a gradual conquest of the Shia heretics. It is, in the end, and despite the western rhetoric about peaceful Islam, an Islamic insurgency with Islamic goals. We deceive ourselves in denying reality.

So far, America has played into that strategy at virtually every turn. The reason we have is because we continue to ignore a true understanding of a formidable enemy. In order to defeat him, we have to face the truth and stop deceiving ourselves. We can respect this foe as formidable and intelligent or continue to lull ourselves with talk about 'hating our freedom' or 'a simple irrational terrorist.' Will we learn or will we marginalize those like Mr. Scheuer for attempting to tell us the truth?

This is a long awaited and thoroughly researched biography of a brilliant strategist and the organization he created. It is time to face the facts and change our strategy to defeat him.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Subject: Briefing Osama bin Laden, January 11, 2011
This review is from: Osama Bin Laden (Hardcover)
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Michael Scheuer who worked in the "bin Laden" unit while with the CIA has continued is interest if not constant focus on Osama bin Laden. This is not necessarily a bad thing and in his book we have what is the first objective biography of the man who has declared war on not just the U.S.A. but on all who stand in the way of the teachings of Islam of eight hundred years ago. This includes the Royal Family of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

I found this not to be the normal biography and read more like an intelligence briefing with the end notes being an important part of the book. We get a glimpse of Osama bin Laden the educated businessman, family man, farmer, Islamic solider and lover of nature. All that made him the intelligent and patient adversary Mr. Scheur pro-ports him to be. Along with his short biography is the author insight into the thinking and motivations of Osama bin Laden using the hundreds of pages of documents written by bin Laden himself and those close to him for his research.

We see through the writings and broadcast that Osama bin Laden has laid out his philosophy and plan of action and has done so in a way that the over one billion Muslims of the world can understand his reason based on their cultural and religious history. It is obvious that the author has tremendous respect for his subject yet knows he must be defeated. He points out many of the errors that are made by the western politicians and academia who have completely misread this man and his intentions. Though an insightful analysis and based on many facts there is still interpretations made on subjects that can only be known to the subject.

Having lived in Saudi Arabia I do know that many believe that America is a paper tiger that will leave as soon as the populace sees some casualties; as we did in Lebanon and Somalia. I do not judge these decisions for only the President, we hope, has an accurate assessment of all the facts at hand. Some of the author's assessments seem to not take account the logistical abilities that allow armies to deploy in strength. Though Osama bin Laden is the new and real threat the west faces this is a conflict that has been going on since the founding of Islam...and between other factions as far back as history has been recorded.

The author also seems to expect the reader to have a fundamental understanding of the players that have also been involved for over a decade in this conflict but it does shed some light on the man who is Osama bin Laden. An interesting overview on this complex man whose plans according to the author drew the west into war on Islamic lands.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly Impractical, April 25, 2011
This review is from: Osama Bin Laden (Hardcover)
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Michael Scheuer, a former Chief of the CIA Bin Laden unit, delivers the most recent sketch of a man simultaneously hated and admired by many. Scheuer's purpose is to correct some common misconceptions and to offer a biography based on primary evidence - not secondary opinions, but what Bin Laden says about himself.

Certain misconceptions, Scheuer argues, have prevented the West from winning the war on terror. For example, Scheuer debunks the idea that Bin Laden is totally outside the bounds of accepted Islam, though as a violent Salafi Bin Laden is certainly not mainstream. Further, Bin Laden is not looking to conquer the world, but instead he is waging a "defensive" Jihad - sanctioned by the Koran and the Hadith when Muslims and their lands are attacked by outsiders and occupied by Infidels. Indeed, Bin Laden is very concerned with justifying his cause through the Koran and Hadith and so has won support for his cause.

Scheuer's book describes Osama Bin Laden as thoughtful, pious, and as a skilled organizer. Indeed, Bin Laden's al-Qaeda is a multi-ethnic, multinational, hierarchical organization with a real command of the global jihad and a real plan for a (victorious) post-war Islamic governance. Scheuer also notes that Bin Laden and al-Qaeda are relatively tolerant of less strict Islamic interpretations so that unity may be preserved against the common enemy.

Scheuer goes out of his way to contrast these and other views of Bin Laden and al-Qaeda against the received wisdom. Perhaps if I wasn't coming into the conversation so late, I would find his work revolutionary. But as it is, I consistently asked myself the question "so what?" How does Scheuer believe his views should change the West's strategy?

Scheuer states that he is committed to the utter defeat of Osama Bin Laden and that misunderstanding the threat posed by al-Qaeda is so serious that the West is imperiled. Perhaps so. But Scheuer is ever so light on the practical applications of his insights and so only leaves us with perhaps a more thorough, albeit academic, view of the world's most notorious Mujahid.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply enlightening, February 16, 2011
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This review is from: Osama Bin Laden (Hardcover)
Michael Scheuer has written an important book. Read it. I found the first chapter somewhat difficult because of the endless names and terms most of which were foreign (to me) but once over that (a necessity to understand what is coming) the author has produced the definitive documented account on Mr. Bin Landen. And what a story it is. Read some of the other reviews here for more on that.

I must state that the recent NY Times review of the book by FOUAD AJAMI, a certified, Johns Hokins School of International Studies noecon, is a pure hatchet job. Its only aim was only to discredit Scheuer and to cover for the sins of deep thinkers Like Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz, the Likud party and Bush. Mr. Ajami who comes across as so amiable in his endless CNN talking head appearances chalks all of Osama's evil up to Osama's father having abandoned him. Spent a little too much time in therapy (psychoanalysis no doubt)Fouad did...likely.

Scheuer's book is the bible on Osama. Read it a weep. And understand the enemy that Osama is and further know that the fools and knaves who run our own government are not of and will likely not be of much help in killing Osama. We are on our own folks. Good luck to all.
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Credibility and then some, February 6, 2011
This review is from: Osama Bin Laden (Hardcover)
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Michael Scheuer's all encompassing study of a figure Scheuer believes to be highly misunderstood. This incredible work from a scholar with unquestionable bona fides on this subject. Just when I think I've figured out a political agenda with this slim tome, I'm blown away with a non-political insight which is truly terrifying.

The argument on United States preparedness to fight this enigma of a man and his relations with subordinates, the shadowy myths that are often reported as facts, and the potential disaster in the end, is quite terrifying. Yet this book is comforting in a way because it may give a more accurate portrait than any that has preceded it. Five stars. EASILY. WIsh I could give it TEN. I read it in a sitting.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The bin Laden Era, January 19, 2011
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This review is from: Osama Bin Laden (Hardcover)
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If you were going to take one thing from Sun Tzu, it would be 'Know your enemy.' Michael Scheuer has written a genuine biography of bin Laden, versus a polemic, and by using bin Laden's own writing he has created a more complete picture rather than the cartoonish sketch frequently drawn in the media. Osama bin Laden has almost 800 pages of published text that can be analyzed, and what emerges is a coherent plan and a solidly based rationale that he has acted on since his 1996 declaration of war on the United States. Bin Laden advocates a number of simple things, like the removal of U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia, the liberation of Palestine, the removal of non-Shariah regimes throughout the Middle East- the house of Saud in particular- and an eventual resolution of the Sunni-Shia split (which sounds rather ominous.)
Bin Laden is not mad, he is merely pious, ascetic, determined, and patient beyond belief. Bin Laden likes to grow huge sunflowers from a genetic strain that he developed himself. He believes that cities make you soft and that open, challenging spaces build character. Hence Afghanistan and Yemen are ideal training grounds for jihadis, the terrain and conditions ensure tough fighters free from big city influences. Al-Qaeda employs both clerics and scholars, but bin Laden claims to be neither, rather he desires to reintroduce jihad as the sixth pillar of Islam.
Mr. Sheuer is amply qualified to write a bin Laden biography as he was head of the CIA's bin Laden unit for four years. He mentions other prominent books on bin Laden and their citations of material and sources versus the depth of his own. In places we have quite sketchy accounts of bin Laden, but secrecy has been a part of his mantra, and the fact that he is still alive and in good health, (and was never known to be on dialysis) prove his success. Bin Laden laid out a plan to lure the U.S. into Afghanistan, and was then handed the bonus of Iraq, furthering his argument that the West is at war with Islam, and will do anything for oil.
Mr. Sheuer is a long way from perfect; pp138: "The United States invaded Afghanistan to defeat the Taleban and al-Qaeda and failed, stayed to Westernize Afghans, and is now losing to those it swaggeringly came to conquer. It next invaded Iraq and created a Shia-run regime and society; empowering Iran and alienating all Sunnis, radical, conservative, or moderate. In both places it has fielded a slow-moving, over-equipped, and casualty-averse army that failed to win under careerist generals drawing advice from New Age social scientists bent on pursuing hearts and minds and avoiding blood and iron."
Well, loosely, yes, a correct statement, but to write off the army as casualty-averse is to ignore history, and to merely characterize General Petraeus as careerist is rather insulting. The military did the best it could with the mission impossible handed down to it, and the initial progress in Afghanistan was tremendous, such that bin Laden was surprised and would have been killed at Tora Bora if it weren't for a casualty-averse refusal to drop the Tenth Mountain as a blocking force. The "blood and iron" statement implies that we can just kill our way out of Afghanistan and Iraq, exactly what didn't work in Vietnam.
A strength of Sheuer's work is its historical context; bin Laden fits with Islamic history by taking on superior forces and either prevailing or surviving to fight another day. He utilizes propaganda, having learned from the Prophet Muhammad himself, who hired the greatest poets of his time to spread his message. Osama bin Laden has created a quintessential Islamic jihadi archetype, and the United States has played along perfectly with his script.
Sheuer is also able to challenge convention; pp73: "Is al-Qaeda an insurgent organization or a terrorist group? This is not a mere matter of semantics but rather represents a fundamental difference. Terrorist groups are small; obsessively secretive; aim at publicity, not victory; constitute a lethal nuisance, not a national security threat to the nation-state; and are subject to defeat by decapitation or attrition. Insurgent groups, on the other hand, are much larger, balance the need for secretiveness with the need for propaganda; aim at victory and define what constitutes victory; pose genuine security threats to nation-states; and put so much effort into succession-planning that neither decapitation nor attrition is likely. Bin Laden also brought a new dimension to insurgency. Whereas historically most insurgencies are specific to nation-states, al-Qaeda is the first to have a substantial international presence."
In summation, Michael Sheuer has made a significant contribution to the literature on bin Laden, and most importantly, places him in an Islamic historical context, which is actually how he is perceived by hundreds of millions of people.
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Difficult Reading but Worth It!, January 5, 2011
This review is from: Osama Bin Laden (Hardcover)
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This book aims and is successful at explaining Osama Bin Laden's influence, personality, history, and his relationships. Although we know very little about his marriages and children, the author does a brilliant job in laying out his life before the readers.

First, this book is not an easy read. It took me about a week to read the nearly 200 pages because there was so much information and analysis on each page. I would have tried to make it easier for those of us not familiar with Bin Laden and geographic locations.

I would have highly recommended maps to familiarize the reader with those locations. Also, I would have listed the many names of people involved in the organization with Bin-Laden in a glossary style and I would definitely have an index.

This book might be aimed at readers who are very familiar with Bin Laden and his associates but I'm not one of those readers.

Anyway, I found the book to interesting and fascinating at times. The author treats his malevolent subject such as Osama Bin Laden with a great deal of courage and honesty regarding his political and religious backgrounds especially his fundamentalism.

I believe like the author to understand Bin Laden, we are halfway there in finding a solution in stopping the violence and terrorism in the world. Of course, Bin Laden's views are based on his distortion regarding religion and his distaste for western society such as the United States.

The publisher is the Oxford University Press which I believe is highly regarded. This book might indicate that the United States played into the hands of Bin Laden by going to war in Afghanistan. Another issue is Saddam Hussein who was seen as a mutual enemy of the United States and Bin Laden's. According to the author, Hussein was viewed unfavorably as a traitor to the Muslim people. This book might argue that his trial and execution benefited Bin Laden most of all.

Sadly, we can't forget those lives lost in the sake of a needless war. Bin Laden is responsible for influencing Al-Quaeda's actions and developing their infrastructure which has taken years to formulate and process. This book has a lot of issues regarding Bin Laden's actions especially his time in the Sudan.

Despite the hatred for him in the western world, he is highly regarded in his own culture and seen as a martyr or living prophet for trying to reclaim Islam for the Muslims in a fundamental or distorted way. Bin Laden is no hero but a modern day anti-Christ who is set to unlease evil in the world.

This book can be very useful in warning us and educating us about Bin Laden's future actions against his enemies in the world.

But you must be prepared to have an open mind in reading this book to understand and comprehend. You might have to re-read pages, sections, and even chapters to fully grasp the details, information, and analysis.

I deducted one star because I felt this book could have been written more clear even with repetitive information to benefit the reader. I also felt an index is definitely necessary for this book and so are maps and lists of people mentioned in this book to help determine who is on what side. This is a difficult book to read even though it is only 200 pages.

We have not yet finished reading the final chapter on Bin Laden's life. I'm sure the author who was a CIA operative will have more to write in the years to come.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't bother, April 23, 2013
This review is from: Osama Bin Laden (Hardcover)
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A former Chief of the CIA Bin Laden unit, Scheuer does not so much correct misconceptions about bin Laden or Islam as to add new ones.

The chief misconception that has prevented the West from winning the "war on terror" (and that, a term our p.c. culture no longer allows) is obvious: Islam is the problem. And Islam, not the West, is badly in need of reform. No matter what we do, Islam will never like our ways any better.

Scheuer argues, incorrectly, that Bin Laden was not mainstream. In fact, he was cheered throughout the Islamic world precisely because his views are indeed sanctioned by the Koran and the Hadith. Yes, he was pious. Exactly.

As exhibited in Boston on April 15, 2013, and resoundingly affirmed by the surviving terrorist. What bin Laden and the Tsarnaev brothers consider "defensive jihad" in fact is something that most Westerners would consider offensive. And so it is.

Indeed, what on earth is defensive about attacking and killing men, women and children enjoying an annual U.S. racing tradition? These people were not on the offensive. The terrorists were --- as was bin Laden.

God save us from al Qaeda's command of the global jihad and its plans for Islamic Governance. That plan is exactly why we should not consider "immigration reform" (translation, mass amnesty) at this juncture, or ever. And why we should sharply limit the student visas issued to Saudi Arabian students, among others.

Traditional Islam is completely intolerant of our Western ideas, including freedom of speech and the unabashed right to criticize Islam.

If Scheuer was committed to bin Laden's defeat, he sure had a funny way of showing it. He suffers from the same disease rampant in the mainstream press: he completely misinterpreted, or willfully misrepresented, the obvious facts.

This book was complete blather when it came out, and is all the more so now. Don't bother.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scary, spot-on analysis, April 19, 2011
This review is from: Osama Bin Laden (Hardcover)
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Scheuer has done us a great service in portraying osama within the context of his own words and actions. Contray to the stories we are usually told through the media, osama in not an insane maniac with diminished intellect but an evil, patient, calculating foe. Scheuer contends that we in the west are content to tell each other fairy tales of who we are fighting so that we can sleep at night. The osama depicted here is much more formidable than what we have been told to believe. The picture here is of an athletic, determined enemy with very specific strategic goals. Scheuer is correct to point out that osama chiefly seeks the economic collapse of the United States and we would be well served to keep this in mind. No punches are pulled in relating the breadth of al-qeada's appeal across the world. Scheuer repeatedly warns against dismissing osama as a takfiri, but presents him as a man who can rally muslims from all schools. A strong point is to be made that osama still views the Shia as heretical, but otherwise will welcome just about anyone under the al-qaeda umbrella. The extent and success of al-qaeda's media arm are clearly depicted, the roots of which must be pulled up if we are to defeat al-qaeda. osama and his kind can be beaten but we had better get our heads on straight about who we are fighting and how they should be fought. Scheuer's book goes a long way in disabusing us of our comforting fantasies and forces us to contend with reality head on. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about who osama is and the power behind his appeal to so many across the Muslim world. It's time to destroy al-qaeda once and for all.
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Osama Bin Laden by Michael Scheuer
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