Nov 17, 2001

Boston Globe review of Holy War Inc. documentary

Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company The Boston Globe November 17, 2001, Saturday ,THIRD EDITION SECTION: LIVING; Pg. G10 LENGTH: 439 words HEADLINE: TV & RADIO / Review National Geographic Explorer's Holy War, Inc. Produced by: Peter Bergen, Carsten Oblaender, Andreas Gutzeit On: MSNBC, tomorrow night Time: 8 p.m.; 'HOLY WAR' EXPLORES BIN LADEN BYLINE: By Mark Jurkowitz, Globe Staff BODY: America's crash course in Al Qaeda 101 continues tomorrow night (at 8 on MSNBC) with the airing of "Holy War, Inc." a "National Geographic Explorer" documentary that draws on the expertise of Peter Bergen, the telegenic terror expert who interviewed Osama bin Laden four years ago and is author of "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden." With so much media focus on bin Laden these days, the relevant question for viewers is whether they can learn anything new from "Holy War, Inc." Judging from a preview tape of the program (which was still a work in progress late this week), the answer is a qualified yes. The show largely rehashes the often-told history of bin Laden's activities, from the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the '80s to the Sept. 11 attacks. But it does offer a few illuminating detours. And though it is not exactly a unique overview of the crisis, "Holy War, Inc." is a subscriber to the clash-of-civilizations interpretation of events. It opens at a madrassa, a religious school, in Pakistan, where young boys are feverishly chanting verses from the Koran, and it closes at the same site, as Bergen warns that such places are breeding grounds for future generations who will carry on bin Laden's jihad after he is gone. Among the more intriguing aspects of the documentary is some rare footage of a younger bin Laden and a nuanced examination of his appeal to Muslims who deeply admire his decision to foresake a life of material pleasure in order to spend his money and energy fighting the two superpowers. The most fascinating reporting in "Holy War, Inc." follows an Egyptian "sleeper" agent who actually became a US military instructor at Fort Bragg before moving on to Afghanistan and then playing a role in the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Kenya. The rest of the program is essentially a smartly produced whodunit that tracks a decade of anti-American terrorism - from the killing of US forces in Somalia to the foiled millennium bombing plot - and chronicles the painstaking learning curve as investigators slowly discover the breadth and scope of bin Laden's network. However well executed, it's a story we've all become sadly familiar with during the past two months. With bin Laden demand running high and the supply of fresh material running low, "Holy War, Inc." relies heavily on the credentials and charisma of Bergen, who is easy to watch and seems to have a real sense of the Qaeda ringleader. The problem is that as CNN's terrorism expert, Bergen has already shared most of what he knows with anyone watching the cable news channel. November 19, 2001