I began writing this book after I had read the letter found in Mohammed Atta's luggage on September 11, 2001.1 What fascinated me was the letter's tone of calm serenity and its counterintuitive appeal. How could a statement inciting its receivers to kill, to destroy and be destroyed, I wondered, exude such solemn serenity? The utter strangeness of this document captivated me. If given attentive reading and decoding, I felt, it promised to open a window to a mind otherwise hermetically closed and enigmatic to us.
Reading the letter, I sensed that the contrast between the presumed function of the letter and its emotional tone held the key, or at least one of the keys, to the mystery of what lay behind the attacks. As always, when reason and feeling seem disjointed, or even clash, what counts, what is believed by the receiver—whether observer, listener, or reader—is the feeling tone. This is what needed to be attended to first. Obviously, the affective register of the letter in no way expresses the mental state we would expect it to express. Direct hatred and fury, condemnation of the people who were to be killed, and a pitch made to hit them hard—all these were missing. The letter carried an altogether different mood. What this different mood was, how it was generated, and what its psychic purpose was, will be one of the focuses of this book.
Although drawn from various sources, this work is primarily psychoanalytic. Reading the letter through the prism of psychoanalysis, with attention