Today I devoted a good chunk of time to reading Lawrence Wright’s lengthy biography of Ayman al-Zawahiri republished from the New Yorker. It originally ran in September 2002. Anyone who’s interested in what we must do to defeat al-Qaeda and its ilk should read this article. Osama bin Laden gets a lot more press than Dr. al-Zawahiri, but in many ways his story is less interesting, and more importantly, less applicable to learning about the types of people that al-Qaeda recruits. The evolution of al-Zawahiri from young Islamist political activist to leader of global terrorism is enlightening. It includes of all the ingredients that people talk about when discussing the conditions that terrorism thrives under. Egypt’s dictatorship, which alternately encouraged and brutally suppressed Islamists, failed states where terrorists can hide out with impunity, and conflicts involving Muslims that are magnets for would-be martyrs. If we’re going to put a dent in terrorism in the long term, we have to find a way to eliminate the conditions that encourage intelligent, educated people to choose the path of al-Zawahiri.