Shortly after 9/11, a Russian scientist named Dmitri Gusev proposed an explanation for the origin of the name Al Qaeda. He suggested that the terrorist organization took its name from Isaac Asimov’s famous 1950s science fiction novels known as the Foundation Trilogy. After all, he reasoned, the Arabic word “qaeda” means something like “base” or “foundation.” And the first novel in Asimov’s trilogy, Foundation, apparently was titled “al-Qaida” in an Arabic translation.

In Asimov’s books, “Foundation” referred to an organization dedicated to salvaging a decaying galactic empire. The empire was hopeless, destined to crumble into chaos, leaving civilization in ruins for 30,000 years. Foreseeing the inevitability of the empire’s demise, one man devised a plan to truncate the coming era of darkness to a mere millennium. His strategy was to establish a “foundation” of scholars who would preserve human knowledge for civilization’s eventual rebirth.

At least that’s what he told the empire’s authorities.

In fact, Asimov’s hero, a mathematician named Hari Seldon, created a community of scientists devoted to manipulating the future. Seldon actually formed two foundations—one in a remote but known locale (sort of like Afghanistan), the other in a mystery location referred to only with riddles. Foundation I participated openly in the affairs of the galaxy. Foundation II operated surreptitiously, intervening at key points in history to nudge events along Seldon’s chosen path.

Seldon’s plan for controlling human affairs was based on a

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