The Wright Man

Lawrence Wright returned last night to his hometown, which he wrote about in 1988's In the New World.

Last night at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library, writer Lawrence Wright made a return to his hometown to take part in the Friends of the Library's "Evening at the Library" fundraiser, during which he reminisced about growing up here, attending Woodrow Wilson High School and going to the Lakewood Library every summer with his mother to fill a cardboard box with books. Wright also talked about his more far-flung experiences--like teaching journalism to college students in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, where the female students were veiled and, at first, not allowed to talk to their teacher.

Wright's best known as the author of such books as In the New World (about coming of age in conservative Dallas in the 1960s) and Remembering Satan; he also penned the screenplay for the eerily prescient 1998 movie The Siege, in which sections of Manhattan are bombed by Arab extremists protesting the arrest of a terrorist leader. He has revisited that territory in his new book, the best-selling The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, and during his talk last night he provided the audience with some startling statistics.

Among them: Muslims comprise one-fifth of the world's population but one-half of its poor. Five million Finns produce more wealth than 300 million Arabs; the Muslim world produces less than one-half of California's gross national product. "We're talking about economies that offer young people very little promise," Wright said. "There's a constant sense of falling behind, a lot of despair."

He looked around the room and pointed out that in the Muslim world, there's nothing like the Western idea of civil society. For starters, all the women would be in another room. "For my young reporters, there were no movies, theaters or plays, no political life," he said, "Few museums, no dating." All of his students, Wright said, were depressed. "There's nothing between the government and the mosque except shopping."

Think that's insignificant? Well, as Wright pointed out, "It's not easy to be a terrorist if your girlfriend won't let you." Something to think about the next time you go to the mall. --Glenna Whitley

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky