- The 9/11 Encyclopedia, and: Diccionario de Islam e Islamismo
As the years pass since 9/11, it remains [End Page 155] ever more evident that the events of that day pose particular problems for academic analysis, let alone for sheer human understanding. Even more than cataclysmic moments like the onset of a war or the outbreak of major political disorder, 9/11, by its very singularity —the sudden, brutal impact it involved, realizing a plan prepared thousands of miles away, and involving conspirators who themselves perished on the day —continues to strain human understanding. At the same time, the inevitable second-guessing of decisions taken or not taken prior to the day, and which, some argued, could have prevented the al-Qa'ida success, makes retrospective analysis all the more difficult.
Rather than the conventional narrative, public polemic, or, in some cases, fiction which 9/11 has occasioned, the two publications reviewed here try a different, and in its own way classical, route to understanding history, that of the reference work. Stephen J. Atkins, Associate University Librarian at Texas A&M University, and author of several other works of reference, has, in two volumes, brought together a mass of information, clearly laid out, and thoroughly annotated, on 9/11 and its most immediate aftermath. Volume 1 contains the 158 entries of the Encyclopedia itself, while Volume II offers a chronology of the main events associated with 9/11, including a minute-to-minute breakdown of what happened on that day itself, 42 documents relating to both al-Qa'ida and US government policy, and a 20-page annotated bibliography.
Beyond documenting the events, personalities, and institutions most closely associated with 9/11 on the American side, Atkins' work would appear to have two broad purposes. The first is to provide as much documentary material as he can on the hijackers and their associates themselves: in Volume 1 there are entries on the 19 men who seized the planes on 9/11, on their precursors and associates, and on other terrorist actions, while Volume 2 contains numerous statements by al-Qa'ida in addition to documentary material on US counter-terrorism policies prior, and subsequent, to 9/11. The second goal is, while recognizing the range of opinion that exists within the United States on 9/11, and while giving due, and fair-minded, attention to alternative views, to provide as much support as possible for the most reasonable explanation, one that may fault US officials for lax security, but which does not endorse any broader conspiratorial analysis.
In general, Atkins does a good job and has provided a very valuable work of reference. Occasionally entries could do with more editing —for example, the entry on "Operation Bojinka," the first attempt to blow up commercial aircraft (in the Philippines), does not give the dates of the events it describes. More contentious is the lack of any extended discussion of the causes of 9/11: Buried in the biographical details of particular individuals are some of the factors that led them to act, but there is inadequate discussion of the ideas and worldview that lay behind al-Qa'ida actions or of those political conflicts in the Middle East that fuelled the anger of the radical Islamists. There are no entries on Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, Palestine, or Saudi Arabia —to name but some of the issues that led to the rise of transnational Islamist violence. A reader wanting to know why 9/11 occurred would not find an answer in this book.
By contrast, the work of Professor Luz Gómez García, Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the Autonomous University of Madrid, provides a rich, and fascinating, insight into the vocabulary and mindset of Islamist fundamentalists, ranging from the most militant, violent, groups, such as al-Qa'ida to the ideas of more conventional Islamist parties...