Ghazi al Qusaibi and the True Believer

By Mshari Al-Zaydi

I was lucky enough to finish reading a book translated by the well-known Saudi 
intellectual and politician Ghazi al Qusaibi, may God give him a speedy 
recovery, in which the author researches the causes of extremism. As I read the 
book, a conference was being held in Medina researching the same problem. The 
conference was held under the supervision of one of the religious education 
universities, the Islamic University. 

The conference, along with its participants, sheikhs, sessions and symposiums, 
the nature of the discussions, and even heated criticism between lecturers and 
participants, were all the topics of newspaper articles and reports recently. 

Numerous research papers were presented, and those who presented them should be 
thanked for their efforts. However, according to what we read in the press, I 
have not seen any critical or analytical writing that goes further beyond what 
has been written over the past few years. 

The idea of holding the conference and devoting days to research and discussion 
is wonderful in itself. University Director Dr. Muhammad al Oqla is also to be 
praised for his open mindedness and the freedom of the press should also be 
praised for covering the events. As for the recommendations presented by the 
conference, they were just as expected due to the nature of the conference that 
was attended mostly by religious scholars and sponsored by a university 
specializing in religious education, therefore, the recommendations were 
suitable to this climate, and the abstracts and the do's and don'ts were 
typical to the conference. However, what was really eye-catching was the new 
flavour to the recommendations that included the following: 

"The conference urges the leaderships and governments of Islamic countries to 
do the following: support human rights associations and organizations, support 
development projects and reduce unemployment, deal with substandard housing and 
eliminating social isolation of the youth, and protecting the lower classes 
from deterioration and marginalization." 

These are all new ideas being introduced to the religious discourse that is 
against the Al Qaeda current and they do deserve praise and consideration. In 
view of such recommendations and their emphasis on aspects of development, 
human right and humanitarianism, I would like to return to Ghazi al Qusaibi's 
book. Even though he only translated this book into Arabic, I think of it as 
his own because he presented it to Arab readers after taking in the ideas and 
adopting them. It is such a pleasant, deep and amazing book, as it "thinks 
outside the box." Written by Eric Hoffer, 'The True Believer: Thoughts on the 
Nature of Mass Movement' is co-published by Dar Kalima Publishing house 
affiliated to the Abu-Dhabi Cultural and Heritage Authority and the Saudi Al 
Obeikan Publishers. 

Eric Hoffer (1902-1983) was a self-made man and worked for some time in 
restaurants and on farms. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Eric earned a 
living loading and unloading ships in San Francisco for a quarter of a century. 
He wrote more than ten books, including 'The True Believer,' which he wrote 
whilst working in San Francisco in the 1940s where he preoccupied himself with 
his own philosophical research. Of his ten books, 'The True Believer' was the 
first and the most important and was a bestseller [in the US] after President 
Eisenhower quoted it in a television interview. 

Ghazi al Qusaibi, the translator, championed the book, and he was right to do 
so. In the preface, the translator set out his reasons for focusing on this 
book and revealed the goal of this translation. He said that even though it was 
written in the 1950s and it did not gain much publicity, he translated this 
book just because in it he "found a clear answer to a question that bewildered 
him from when the world first began to become preoccupied with terrorism; that 
question is why does a terrorist become a terrorist?" 

The extent to which al Qusaibi is convinced by Hoffer's results and analyses is 
apparent in his denial that there are writings that can shed light on the mind 
of a terrorist that might help us understand this astonishing and frightening 
world. Al-Qusaibi says, "I looked at a number of references and discussed the 
issue with a number of experts and I realised that none of the large amount of 
information about terrorism, its organizations, leaders, mechanisms, 
literatures and supporters, could shed light on the mindset of a terrorist." 
However, he indicates that he found his long-sought objective in Hoffer's book 
and even though the book does not tackle terrorism per se, as it is understood 
today, it presented a clear answer in its discussion on "extremism" and in fact 
terrorism is the product of extremism. 

Al Qusaibi concludes his brief introduction by making two requests: there is a 
responsibility on researchers to present the author's analysis of the reality 
of contemporary terrorism and then accurate field studies can prove whether 
these analyses are correct or incorrect. Al Qusaibi goes on to add "and I 
believe these analyses would be proven right." The second request is more 
important as it sums up why the translator champions this book. He said, 
"Second, which is more important and serious, Arab countries should shoulder 
the responsibility to make opportunities available, should have flourishing and 
active civil societies in a way that curbs or eliminates depression among the 
youth. By curbing depression, terrorism would come to an end. In my opinion, 
this is the only successful means to end a problem that has long devastated the 

This is how the Saudi intellect and political expert views the situation. 
Having taken into account the similar conclusions drawn by Ghazi and "some" of 
the proposals made at the Medina conference, both of them share the common 
objective of raising morale among the youth and getting them to partake in the 
development process. In addition, Ghazi stressed the idea of activating and 
publicizing "civil work." 

But two remarks can be made here: firstly, even though it is his right to do 
so, by denying that there are studies and writings that could enlighten us on 
the thinking behind terrorism and the mentalities of terrorists, al Qusaibi is 
making a broad generalization. Suffice it to mention the book that revealed a 
great deal about the "Al Qaeda" organization being the engine and the largest 
intellectual, practical and psychological attraction for terrorism. The book I 
am referring to is the 'The Looming Tower' written by the investigative 
journalist Lawrence Wright. I've read the book, but cannot claim that I found 
all the answers in it. However, I found highlights and profound investigations 
about the character of Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri and Sayyed Qutb. A 
critic from the Wall Street Journal described Lawrence Wright's book as "deeply 
researched, immaculately crafted." 

The second remark is that I think that Dr. Ghazi, with his intelligence, 
proficiency, distinguished style in translation, unique flavour and his own 
distinct features, opinions and objections that come through in the book, 
wanted us to understand something that goes further than just being in a state 
of terror. He wanted us to research neutrally and descriptively, rather than 
morally or in a preaching manner, the character of a terrorist and the 
incentives behind his involvement in revolutionary activity, regardless of 
whether this extremism is religious or not, Marxist, nationalist, or religious 
fundamentalist. This is necessary for us to abandon the preaching framework and 
to understand the concept as a prerequisite to treating it. Understand the 
disease as it is, not as you want to see it, and then remedy it, or even remedy 
your inner self. This is the lesson we can draw from the book's translation 
into Arabic. 

As for the book itself, it requires a long time to explain, and I have spent a 
wonderful time reading its 316 pages. It is exciting and unique in the way it 
analyzes the character of a potential terrorist who is ready to become involved 
in revolutionary activity. It includes unusual analyses that contradict our 
understanding of the natural reservoir of people who are ready to take part in 
mass revolutionary activity. 

There is no room for further explanation, but I am satisfied with giving one 
example of the analysis of poverty and the poorer class and whether or not they 
represent potential revolutionaries just by being poor. The author does not 
answer in the expected manner. Eric Hoffer has delved deep into the ins and 
outs of poverty and considered the "nouveau poor" as the driving force behind 
any mass movement. Likewise, those whose economic condition has slightly 
improved to a level that would allow them room to think are also potential 
vanguards. In other words, not all poor people are supporters of revolutions 
but only the nouveau poor and those whose conditions have slightly improved. 
This does not necessarily mean that the members of this class will 
automatically be part of any revolutionary act. As for those who are extremely 
poor, they are far away from supporting revolutionary acts; rather they can be 
classified as conservatives owing to their permanent fear of the future, 
according to the author. 

Therefore we may find a variety of different and new analyses [in this 

Ghazi has presented an excellent piece of work for Arab readers. The book is 
not about terrorism or extremism. Despite its old age, the book researches the 
crisis of the relationship between reform, religion and politics. It is the 
author's analysis and the translator's testimony to this period through the 

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