Twenty-two years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the biggest threat to the United States is not al-Qaeda or another foreign terrorist group, but domestic terrorism, says writer and journalist Lawrence Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. “The present enemy, as far as the United States is concerned, is domestic terrorism,” Wright tells Democracy in Exile in an extensive interview. “And what has happened is that the domestic terrorists are copying al-Qaeda. Look at The Base,” the militant neo-Nazi and white supremacist group that emerged in the U.S. in 2018, “which is what al-Qaeda means in Arabic. They’re deliberately not hiding the tribute that they are paying to al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations of past and present. This is our biggest problem—domestic terrorists, our own people.”
Wright, a longtime staff writer at The New Yorker and a fellow at the Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law, is a prolific author, screenwriter and playwright. In 2003, he spent time in Saudi Arabia mentoring young reporters at the Saudi Gazette, an English-language newspaper in Jeddah. It was there that he met Jamal Khashoggi, who at the time was the deputy editor of another Saudi paper, the Arab News, and, as Wright recalls, “a magnet for foreign journalists like me because he wasn’t afraid to analyze the situation.” They were friends for the next 15 years, until Khashoggi’s brutal murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
“Jamal was a wonderful personality and a brave man,” Wright says, reflecting on the upcoming five-year anniversary of Khashoggi’s killing on Oct. 2. “One thing I’ve learned from spending a lot of time in tyrannical societies is that dictators create cowards. People are afraid to speak up for good reason. Jamal was not afraid. And that really set him apart.”
Wright also discusses the legacy of America’s long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, calling the invasion of Iraq “one of the greatest diplomatic blunders in world history.” He describes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as “walking in the footsteps of Vladimir Putin.” And he details his visit to Hebron in the occupied West Bank earlier this year, where an Israeli soldier beat prominent Palestinian activist Issa Amro directly in front of Wright and another journalist, who filmed it.
The Biden administration’s effort to secure a normalization agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, he says, “comes at a time when Israel is devolving into maybe what it was always going to be: a one-state entity, that is, a Jewish entity from the sea to the Jordan River.” As he warns, “There will have to be a reckoning with the change in Israel and its demography, and what appears to be just continuing ethnic cleansing of the West Bank.” [Continue reading…]