Mar 25, 2003

New York Times review of Al Qaeda 2.0

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company The New York Times March 25, 2003, Tuesday, Late Edition - Final SECTION: Section E; Page 5; Column 1; The Arts/Cultural Desk LENGTH: 1308 words HEADLINE: TELEVISION REVIEW; How a Nightmare Began and Might Continue BYLINE: By NANCY RAMSEY; Nancy Ramsey is a freelance writer in New York specializing in the arts. BODY: Their tones may differ, but in each of three documentaries about the roots of 9/11 and its aftermath in the Muslim world there is one truly terrifying moment. In "Al Qaeda 2.0," which will be shown tonight with "Terror's Children" on the new Discovery Times Channel and includes dramatic scenes of suspected Al Qaeda terrorists being hunted down in the caves of Afghanistan and the slums of Karachi, Pakistan, Dr. Saad al-Fagih, a leading Saudi dissident, says, "There is an impending attack coming, and this attack is immense, huge and either as big or even bigger than Sept. 11, and this attack is full of surprise." In "Terror's Children" a boy of 10 who has bright eyes and a curiosity that is being stifled in a religious school in Pakistan visits a swimming pool where men and women frolic together. He surveys the scene, turns to an interviewer and says, "Everyone here is going to hell." In "Searching for the Roots of 9/11," which will be shown tomorrow night on the Discovery Channel and on April 1 on Discovery Times, Thomas L. Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times, visits Al Azhar mosque in Cairo. Once the sermon ends, young men take over the mosque and "in an instant we went from prayer to politics," Mr. Friedman says. While most of the worshipers had left the mosque, he adds, "it struck me that in some sense they were letting Islam and its spiritual message of a God of mercy and compassion be hijacked." Each program is straightforward, an individual search by a journalist trying to understand some aspect of 9/11. Mr. Friedman's quest is twofold: "First, what motivated those 19 young men, those hijackers, to board those planes and kill 3,000 of my brothers and sisters? And second, why did so many of their fellow Arabs and Muslims applaud what they did?" His approach is measured and thoughtful as he travels to Belgium, Egypt, Bahrain, Indonesia, even to the studio of Al Jazeera television in Qatar. ("I, little Tommy Friedman, Jewish boy from Minneapolis, have been interviewed" on Al Jazeera, he says. "They get in my face, and I get back in theirs.") Dyab Abou Jahjah, a young Muslim leader in Belgium, offers one root of 9/11: he says the United States has been supporting bullies in the Middle East for 50 years. Mr. Friedman's friend Rami Khouri, a Jordanian writer, tells him he thinks the United States has a "hypocritical policy and applies one standard here," another there. In Cairo, walking in the old neighborhood of Mohamed Atta, a leader of the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Friedman and Ali Salem, a playwright, talk about Mr. Salem's idea that in Egypt art, education and the economy had been leveled, making the hijackers feel like dwarfs. Consequently, they searched for tall buildings to bring down. Throughout the program, produced by New York Times Television, Mr. Friedman returns to a softly lighted room and a comfortable chair, which paces the hour effectively, making it easy to absorb the ideas and information being presented. No such calming effect is in order for Peter L. Bergen's quick-paced, action-packed "Al Qaeda 2.0." Mr. Bergen is the author of "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden" (The Free Press, 2001). In March 1997, while working as a producer for CNN, Mr. Bergen, along with Peter Arnett, interviewed Mr. bin Laden, and "Al Qaeda 2.0" opens with Mr. bin Laden saying, "Targeting the Americans and the Jews by killing them in any corner of the earth is the greatest of obligations and the most excellent way of gaining nearness to Allah." "Al Qaeda 2.0" asks, Where will Al Qaeda's next move be? If watching the hour is a bit dizzying, that is perhaps appropriate to the subject. A United States government counterterrorism coordinator says of Al Qaeda, "We're after them from the North Pole to the South Pole; there's no place to go, no place to run," but it is hardly reassuring when that statement is juxtaposed against the comment from a former C.I.A. operative that "they're everywhere and nowhere; we don't know where they are." "Everywhere" is reinforced by the program's locations: Tora Bora, Karachi, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh. If "Searching for the Roots of 9/11" is the intellectual quest and "Al Qaeda 2.0" the on-the-ground, cloak-and-dagger search, then "Terror's Children," also produced by New York Times Television, is the personal one, and the most moving. Sharmeen Obaid, a recent graduate of Smith College, returns to Karachi, where she grew up in relative affluence. Her purpose in "Terror's Children" is to meet and understand the Afghan children living in a refugee camp, children she sees wandering the streets of Karachi, "picking through trash and hustling odd jobs at the local markets," children most Pakistanis consider a nuisance, children who "are being brainwashed and trained as terrorists." A first-time filmmaker, Ms. Obaid is compassionate but not sentimental. She speaks openly and matter-of-factly and, by letting the audience know her background, avoids the posturing of reporters who go to places with third-world conditions and assume an unctuous familiarity with their subjects. Individual children come alive, if only for a brief time. It's hard not to wish the camera or editor had stayed in the company of some of them longer, but it was not always possible. Following people with a camera means calling attention to them; one boy who works as a garbage picker is hassled by private security forces more than usual. "Our first attempt at getting close to one of the refugees has only made his life more difficult," Ms. Obaid acknowledges. "Without notice he slips away." She is professional, but she cannot help but grow close to some of the children. Abdur Raheem, a 13-year-old working as a carpet weaver, helps support his four brothers, including an older one who spends his time "pursuing personal pleasures" like using opium. Offended by his living off his younger brother, Ms. Obaid takes him to task a little. "As an outsider, and a woman," she says, "interfering any more with this Afghani man might be dangerous. But I hope life improves for this little family." So, too, do we. AL QAEDA 2.0 Discovery Times Channel, tonight at 8, Eastern and Pacific times; 7 Central time Directed by Carsten Oblaender; Peter L. Bergen, Mr. Oblaender and Vicky Matthews, producers; Ms. Matthews, co-producer; Andreas Cutzeit, executive producer; Mr. Bergen and Mr. Oblaender, writers; Christoph Senn, editor. For The New York Times, Douglas Frantz and Don Van Natta Jr., editorial consultants; Lawrie Mifflin, director of television programming; Michael Oreskes, executive in charge. For Discovery Times, Bill Smee, executive producer; Vivian Schiller, executive in charge of production. TERROR'S CHILDREN Discovery Times Channel, tonight at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8 Central time Sharmeen Obaid, Mohammed Naqvi and Jay Keuper, producers; Ahmad Khan, director of photography; Mr. Keuper, editor; David Rohde, reporter for The New York Times. For New York Times Television, William Abrams and Ann Derry, executive producers; Philip A. Boag, senior producer; Lawrie Mifflin, director of television programming; Michael Oreskes, executive in charge. For Discovery Times: Bill Smee, executive producer; Vivian Schiller, executive in charge of production.