IT WAS MID-OCTOBER 2001, and night was closing in on the border city of Peshawar, in Pakistan, as my friend – a reporter and political man of letters – approached a market stall and began to haggle over a batch of t-shirts bearing the likeness of Osama bin Laden. It is forbidden to depict the human form in Sunni Islam, lest it lead to idolatry, but here was Osama’s lordly visage, on display and on sale right outside the mosque. The mosque now emptied after evening prayers, and my friend was very suddenly and very thoroughly surrounded by a shoving, jabbing, jeering brotherhood: the young men of Peshawar.
At this time of day, their equivalents in the great conurbations of Europe and America could expect to ease their not very sharp frustrations by downing a lot of alcohol, by eating large meals with no dietary restrictions, by racing around to one another’s apartments in powerful and expensive machines, by downing a lot more alcohol as well as additional stimulants and relaxants, by jumping up and down for several hours on strobe-lashed dance floors, and (in a fair number of cases) by having galvanic sex with near-perfect strangers. These diversions were not available to the young men of Peshawar.
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