PrintPrint CiteCite
Style: MLAAPAChicago Close


The Road to 9/11 [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service, Inc.]

Speaker: Sabin Streeter, Co-writer and co-producer, The Road to 9/11, Kunhardt Productions
Presider: Ethan Bronner, Deputy foreign editor, New York Times
October 25, 2005
Council on Foreign Relations


Council on Foreign Relations
New York, NY

DYLLAN MCGEE (executive director, Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation): Good evening. Welcome, everyone. If you can see me, I'm standing on my tippy-toes, looking over this podium. My name is Dyllan McGee. I am the executive director of the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation. The Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation is the not-for-profit responsible for creating the film you're going to see tonight.

It is amazing to see this turnout. You all are troupers for coming out in his horrendous rain, and we promise to make it worth the trip.

I'd like to thank Richard Haass and the Council on Foreign Relations for sponsoring this event, with -- (applause) -- go ahead. (Applause continues.) With a special thanks to Stacey La Follette, whom many of you may know, and she coordinated the whole thing and did a terrific job. (Applause.)

This film is a true labor of love for all of us. Under the leadership of our executive producer, Bill Siegel, Peter Kunhardt -- (applause) -- and Philip Kunhardt -- (applause) -- we worked for about two -- over two years to produce this film. And during that time, Sabin Streeter, our dedicated producer, who you will hear from tonight, he led a -- he worked closely with an eminent historian, Bernard Lewis, and an esteemed group of scholars and journalists to help shape the narrative. It was an incredibly collaborative process, and one that we are very proud of.

The film aired on PBS in September. The response has been so positive that the foundation is actually putting together an educational outreach plan to distribute the film to schools and universities and educational organizations. We've just begun fundraising on that project, and our hope is that we can get materials to schools by the fifth anniversary of September 11th, which is next year.

I'd like to acknowledge the sponsors of the film, some of whom are here tonight: the Smith Richardson Foundation, the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, Susan and Roger Hertog, the Asper Fund at Brandeis University, the Margaret S. Rice and Henry Hart Rice Foundation, the Summer Foundation, the David Burke Foundation, the Alan B. Slifka Foundation, Lawrence Kadish, and Anita and Yale Roe. We really appreciate all your support and belief in this project. Without you, it couldn't have happened, and we are eternally grateful.

Lastly, this film is just under an hour. After the screening, we will have a discussion with Gregory Gause, Sabin Streeter and Ethan Bronner. And after that, members of our team will be around if people have any informal questions you want to ask. We have also brought newsletters from our foundation in case any of you are interested in learning more about what we do.

So on behalf of The Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation, we're honored all of you could be here tonight, and we hope you enjoy the film. (Applause.)

(Film is shown.)

ETHAN BRONNER: So, welcome to tonight's Council on Foreign Relations meeting. I'm asked to ask you to turn off cell phones and Blackberries and wireless devices and so on, and to remind you that the meeting is on the record.

We're going to talk here for 25 minutes or so, and then the second half of the hour will be questions from you guys. Our two panelists are F. Gregory Gause, III, who's an associate professor of political science and a Middle Eastern scholar at the University of Vermont, and Sabin Streeter, who co-wrote -- or wrote and produced what we just saw, The Road to 9/11. I'm Ethan Bronner, and I'm the deputy foreign editor of The New York Times.

I thought it was a really terrific piece of work. (Applause.) And, I mean, to me -- what struck me is that often, it's -- Americans say, why do they hate us? What is it? You know, what did we do? And one of the things -- one of the strengths, I thought, of this hour-long documentary was a full explanation of all the ways in which we have been -- we, the West, entangled and involved in that part of the world, and helps us understand it didn't come out of nowhere, the sense of rage and humiliation, and some of it, of course, justified and some of it, from our perspective, utterly unjustified. But one of the things that the film also does is it seems to suggest that in some ways the entire century of Middle Eastern history led to 9/11. And I wanted to ask you, Greg, whether you think that that's an accurate presentation.

F. GREGORY GAUSE: Yeah, I'd like to say I like the film very much too. I like the historical depth, and I'm a sucker for that old archival footage. (Laughter.) I love seeing that kind of stuff. And I'll be using it in my class.

I do think, though, that if I had one major bone to pick with it, it is the sense that there's a teleology that begins a hundred years ago, almost, and it culminates in 9/11. I think that a lot of the things that the film talked about -- authoritarianism, frustration with dealing with Western political power and influence in the region -- are constants over that period, but this kind of direct attack on the United States is something very new.

And when I tell the story, I actually give Afghanistan a much higher profile as, I think, something that is -- just speaking with someone who works here, Steve Cook, today, he said that he thinks Afghanistan is the mother of all blowbacks. And I think in many ways it is. Not that anybody in Washington or anywhere else, when the jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union began, could have foreseen this; but when you think about it, I think Afghanistan did what Professor Lewis mentioned, which is it was the first time in the modern Middle East that they'd won. They'd been losing. And they'd lost under quasi-parliamentary, quasi-liberal regimes. They'd lost under authoritarian nationalist regimes. And here are these guys with World War II rifles and a deep faith in God taking on a superpower. And as Professor Lewis said, they don't think that they just defeated the Soviet Union, they think they destroyed the Soviet Union. All right? So if you fight in the path of God with faith, and pick up your rifle, you can do enormous things.

And I think that the blowback from Afghanistan came -- it came into places like Egypt and Algeria and Saudi Arabia, where -- in Saudi ongoing -- there were insurgencies after Afghanistan, where the guys who went and fought there came back and said if we can do it there, we can do it here. Well, they failed. I mean, Algeria, 100,000 dead, but the military regime's still in power basically, the FLN.

Egypt, of course, the Mubarak regime's still in power. But I think that the marriage in Afghanistan of the narrowness and intolerance of Wahhabism with the political radicalism of Said Qutub and the more extreme Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood combined with a victory really produced an extremely potent ideological message which none of the governments in the region felt like taking on in the `90s. The `90s was the time to nip this in the bud. The Saudis refused to confront it; other governments refused to confront it, or they treated it solely as a security issue: the people who are fighting this government we have to put down. But they didn't take it on ideologically. I think Afghanistan had an enormous role.

BRONNER: Well, let me -- I mean, that makes a lot of sense. On the other hand, if there had not been all those losses before Afghanistan, if there had not been all that frustration and all that colonialism, it might not have meant quite what it meant.

Sabin, do you want to talk about it for minute, the sort of previous history or take issue with what Greg said, up to you.

SABIN STREETER: I don't want to debate an expert here. The one thing I would say --

BRONNER (?): It's never stopped me.

STREETER: I tell you -- I -- well, you know -- as a filmmaker, you know, as it is, I think, made clear by Dylan and should be made clear again, this is a project that is collaberations. I'm sitting up here. My name is on the project, but really all of the scholars that were involved and many other people from the producers, Peter, Philip and Bill, have a lot of input into this. I'm speaking monkey in some regard, but I'll take on that.

And it was -- I agree with you; when you watch it, there is a certain sense that this 80 year of history leads up to 9/11. I think it was intended, at least internally, to be much more that 9/11 is a useful window to look into this 80 years of history, not something teleological, where, you know, each step is a building block towards 9/11. I think it's more -- 9/11 is -- first of all, for public television audiences and for general audiences -- is something people were familiar with that you could talk back into and you could unpack in a certain way, that you could not unpack necessarily Afghanistan. You certainly not unpack other fascinating, you know, things that Americans have no familiarity with such as the Hama massacre in Syria, which is a very interesting event that is a predecessor to all of this, it's not discussed in the film. But I agree that much more could have been made of -- you could make a whole film about Afghanistan.

I mean, you could also say they won in Iran though, and I think you could legitimately make an entire film about how Iran transformed Islamic fundamentalism. We were trying for various reasons to hit certain beats and to give people that sort of, as you suggested, sort of broad, possibly over teleological view of the hundred years, but that would at least give you -- and at one point we had an area to film that started with Napoleon. And, you know --

MR. : Right. (Laughter.)

STREETER: You could go back even further.

MR. : It's tough to get footage from that period. (Laughter.)

STREETER: It's remarkably -- (laughter) -- it's remarkably tough as a Westerner to get footage of all of this stuff. The amount of time we spent getting this footage -- and some of the footage that we tried to get, that we were unable to get -- and again, speaking -- that's my area of expertise in a certain sense -- is remarkable. And in terms of the challenges to Westerners trying to look at these cultures and these politics and make them publicly available, there are tremendously important events that have occurred in the Middle East for which there is almost no documentation.

Again, there's a reference in the film to the seizure of the grand mosque in Mecca, which was basically -- is basically one of the major holy sites -- if not the major holy site -- of the Islamic world. One day a large army of Wahhabis take control of it with machine guns, and there's like a five-or-six day battle in the streets. There's almost no imagery of it. The tiny fragment you see in the film is really all -- I mean, it would -- you know, it's very hard to communicate the scope of some of these things without the imagery. And just bringing it to light I saw as, to some extent, a function of the film and just bringing --

BRONNER: Now, the other element about all this history, whether we go back to Napoleon or to the 13th century, when Bernard Lewis says that "this is a culture very much fueled by its focus on history and the gap between its sense of what was and its sense of what is," do you think that that's right, or do you think he overplays that?

GAUSE (?): I think he overplays it some. I mean, without a doubt, the Middle East is steeped in history and people know the history. I mean, you just have to live in Cairo and you see the pyramids, right? I mean, there's a lot of history right in front of you all the time. Not so much in Saudi Arabia. But in places like Cairo and Damascus and Baghdad, history's right in front of you.

But again, I guess I wonder about the teleology. I mean, take it even further back centuries, right? And I tend, when I look at new things -- and I think that this kind of jihadist attack on America is a new thing -- I tend to look to more recent changes that might have spurred that new thing. And without a doubt, I mean, bin Laden speaks a language that resonates with people. You know, I think one of the problems that somebody like Nasser and Arab socialism had is that it's really ugly in translation, all that Marxist stuff. It doesn't sound good in Arabic, right? And bin Laden has stuff that sounds really good, that does in fact resonate. And that's why the history is undoubtedly important.

MR. : And it does link in directly to the holy book, which it cannot be challenged in terms of what is said to have happened.

BRONNER: Right. Right.

MR. : And every society cares about its history. In America, we obviously -- it is, in some sense, a fatuous comment. The thing I thought was interesting, though, coming out of it, is that if you actually read -- I've only read it in translation, but if you read bin Laden's statements, which are widely available, they are very much steeped in a kind of history that American politics does not participate, you know.

MR. : Right. I mean, you could argue that our society is in fact singularly unsteeped in history, and the sort of conflict between the two is, you know, an odd -- people can't understand one another.

MR. : I think Lewis -- I mean, actually, we have a lot of footage of Lewis making that very argument, and I used some of it in the film. But yeah --

BRONNER: Now, another thing I wanted to ask you is Farid Zaqaria (ph) says in there that, you know, it's not a Muslim problem, it's an Arab problem.

But, A, I want to know whether you agree; and B, if you think Afghanistan was so central, and Afghans are not Arabs, how do you fit that in to what he's saying?

MR. : Well, neither are Iranians, neither are Turks. So we're talking about -- although I think it is uniquely troublesome in the Arab world for a number of reasons, which I think were brought out well in the film.

But one of the phenomena of Afghanistan married up to kind of a globalized information age, is that Islamist politics is going global. I think one of the things that was interesting about Afghanistan is these Arab fighters come in and they meet these Kashmiris, Pakistanis, and they go, "Oh, you guys have this problem?" Or the Chechnyans, "Oh, you guys have that problem?" And non-Arab Muslims from Indonesia. So when the Palestine issue was never a big deal, all of a sudden they say, "Oh, yeah, Palestine, that's a Muslim issue, too."

And I think one of the dangerous changes that we've seen in Arab-Israeli stuff is it's gone from being a nationalist conflict between Jewish nationalism and Arab Palestinian nationalism to much more of a religious thing on the Muslim side. I mean, that's Hamas. Hamas says this isn't a nationalist thing, although they appropriate a lot of the language and symbols of Palestinian nationalism, which is becoming -- you know, I mean, nationalism's always developed in conflict with somebody else, so the Palestinians have a real good "other" to develop their nationalism against, but they steep it in religious language, which is a rather new thing on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and dangerous because it opens up the scale to people in Indonesia, saying, "Oh, yeah, I got a stake in this."

MR. : And, I mean, to further your point, when you were saying that the Afghan moment was the central moment, you could also argue that other things in that same year across the Muslim world, ditto; the Iranian revolution --

MR. : '79.

MR. : -- of course, '79-'80, the Iranian revolution, Camp David, and the rise of Saddam Hussein. It's when he took over, essentially, as president, right?

MR. : Becomes president of Iraq in '79. So it really is sort of a pivotal moment. Looking back, it's easy to say, "Damn, we should have saw that." But clearly --

MR. : Somebody actually wrote a book, one of my colleagues who teaches at Trinity University in Texas, named Dave Lesch, actually wrote a book about 1979 as the pivotal turning year in the Middle East.

BRONNER: Another thing that's brought out in this movie -- I forgot the name of the woman from Canada who does it --

MR. : (Inaudible.)

BRONNER: -- is this question of the role of women in these repressive societies and in the sort of troubles that they have. Do you think that something about Muslim ideology and Arab ideology is focused on repressing women as part of some other psychosexual set of problems that the society has?

GAUSE: Do you want to handle that one? (Laughter.)

STREETER: Well, you know, that's a common interpretation that I encountered. You know, I have no qualifications to judge that whatsoever. I find -- and I included it in the film because I think it's -- because just for that reason, it was commonly voiced. I found more compelling the argument made by the woman, Aroya Bormond (sp), who just -- is not a native speaker of English, and it's not terribly clear what she's saying, but I left it in there because I thought it was very interesting, the idea that in a lot of these, you know, situations, the ability to subject women to this wholly, largely made-up tradition of -- you know, that they have to wear the burka -- you know, the Koran doesn't actually say this. It has a set of prescriptions for Mohammed's wife, and is much looser with regard to all women in society. This is largely an invention -- or, you know, accretion of a hundred years of thought, not a thousand years of Islam.

But in any case, I mean, just the idea that it is a symbolic act, that it is something that in Iran they were able to do almost immediately and does tend to galvanize, polarize the population, which, I think, is -- and gets them to accept a kind of everyday violence in their lives, at least an everyday, you know -- things are changing, and then things are -- you know, people are going down on the ladder, people are rising up on the ladder. I think it's an interesting -- and it comes up frequently. It's a big issue in many of these -- it's a big issue in Turkey, it's a big issue in Kuwait. It's a big issue all over the Islamic world -- what you do with women, and whether it's a psychosexual element or whether it just has a strong political function in terms of repression, I don't know, but I think it's fascinating that it comes up in all these different places. And it is largely an invented issue, or, you know, it is not an issue that you can point back to Mohammed as saying all women must wear burkas.

MR. : I'm not a strict Freudian, so I won't get into the psychosexual aspects of it, but I think that the women's issue is the biggest political football in the Muslim world, and it's kicked around by men, and it's kicked around by men for their own purposes. But we shouldn't ignore the fact that one of the most interesting social phenomenon has been women taking the hijab, not under the duress of a government that says you must do this -- say, Saudi Arabia or Iran -- but, rather, in places that have had secular traditions, be it in Egypt or in Damascus in Syria, or now in Iraq, where they had enforced secularism for the period of Ba'athist rule. And people are now -- women are, to some extent, taking this -- it's not only sometimes -- it's in response to social pressures within their neighborhoods.

But the phenomenon of taking the veil, of wearing more modest dress, I think is in itself a fascinating effort by some women to assert themselves, but within a tradition that would be acceptable by what appears to be the rising political forces of the country.

There's one other point I want to make about women. What would we call the emancipation of women in the Middle East has only taken place in severely authoritarian regimes. Ataturk was not a democrat, right? Ataturk forced women to take their veils off, right?

MR. : And Saddam --

MR. : Saddam Hussein.

MR. : Of course, the shah --

MR. : The position -- the formal position of women in Iraqi society under the Ba'ath was better than probably anywhere else in the Arab world, and the shah, of course, being the other example that was pointed out in the movie.

BRONNER (?): So I mean, one of the -- toward the end of the film, there's this whole question, so what do we do, right? And it seems to me one challenge faced by Arab reformers, because it was sort of thrown at Arab reformers by Tom Friedman and by Lewis and so on -- you know, that they've got to do these things, and that seems quite reasonable. But they seem to be in a kind of Catch-22, which is that everything that we think they ought to be doing and that reformers seem to buy into comes from the West --

MR. : Yeah.

BRONNER (?): -- at least seems to come from the West. And so I want your thoughts on how that can be overcome, that paradox of, you know, we're not asking you to Westernize, but everything we think you ought to do actually is what we do.

MR. : Right. Right.

BRONNER (?): And it's not -- and it's -- you know, it really is, and every time someone in the region tries to go down that road, suddenly, whether it's democracy or women's rights or individual rights, it is seen as buying into colonialism. What hope is there? Of either of you --

MR. : I must say that the ending of the film perplexed me and challenged us, I think, more than any other part of the film, for those very reasons. And I think if you listen to what the experts are saying in the film, it is, in some sense, internally contradictory. And I don't know. I really, honestly -- that, to me -- I think you've summed it up very well. I think it's -- you may have a better thing to say on it.

MR. : Right.

MR. : But I really am perplexed as to how to go forward.

MR. : Well, I think that the big issue right now is whether Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have made democracy their own, right, have made political participation, pluralism, the democratic rules -- democracy is fine if it's going to get you to power; I mean, that's great. And I think most of these Islamist groups would win elections in the Arab world -- free elections.

We should also note that in Turkey there's an Islamist government right now -- nice Islamists, Islamists we like, but Islamists nonetheless. And so they do very well at the polls. The question is have they inculcated the pluralist and more liberal notions of democracy that we automatically in the West associate with democracy these days: tolerance of opposition, willingness to step down when you lose power. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who spent time in jail in Egypt, talked to the Muslim Brotherhood guys a lot. And if you ask Saad now, what do you think of these guys, he says, "They get it. They believe in democracy. They realize that authoritarianism puts them in jail. And they really have inculcated these democratic principles." I don't know. I think that that is -- the jury is still out on that.

MR. : But they're not going to win in Egypt.

MR. : Well, no, if you have a free election, I think they will win.

MR. : You think they would?

MR. : Oh, God, yeah. I think the Muslim Brotherhood is the best organized political force in Egypt right now.

MR. : More than the NDP?

MR. : Well, the NDP is the government. And if you have a free election, the government can't -- you know, they can't do all the things that they've done to give the NDP the enormous, farcical majorities that they've earned in Egyptian elections in the past. You know, I think if you open up the political systems in the Arab world -- Iran's a different story because they've had -- they've tasted this for 20 years. But in the Arab world, I think the Islamists do real well.

BRONNER: Let me press this, the same point, though -- we'll get to democracy in one minute -- this question of values. Because one of the things that has always struck me in trying to sort of square the circle of Westernism versus reform that seems acceptable to them, is that it seems to me in some fundamental way what we are suggesting to them they ought to do really is to put aside the values that they hold of land, clan, honor, shame, and so on, the sorts of things that they really do live by; that we actually are challenging them in ways that it's very spooky and freaky for people who are, you know, being told this is the way to go.

Do you think I'm right, or do you think I'm overstating it?

GAUSE (?): Yeah, I tend not to emphasize the kind of shame and honor and all that kind of stuff, which is real, but I think that you can -- I mean, honor was a lot more important in America, I think -- or at least the way we understand it -- was a lot more important in America back in the 1770s when we founded our system. I mean, people killed each other duels, right? Right across the river, a famous duel killed a Founding Father.

And so I don't think that that's a bar. But I think that one of the real interesting things about democracy is you've got to have some agreement on what the community is before you can say we're going to govern ourselves. And if there are profound differences over what the community is -- are the Kurds in or out of Iraq? -- I mean really kind of basic questions, democracy can't work unless there's almost -- I don't want to say "can't work." It's really problematic if you don't have a basic agreement on what this community is that's going to govern itself.

BRONNER: In the film, by the way, the point was made that some of these states were formed in ways to divide and conquer. That is to say, you know, the David Fromkin notion. Does that seem to you true?

MR. : I wish they'd divided Iraq more. It might be easier to deal with. In some places the colonists divided and conquered. The French in Syria tried to do it. The British in the Gulf -- all those little states that we love so much now because they take our military bases, are all products of British efforts to divide and conquer. However, the Brits put Iraq together, and that's kind of problematic too.

MR. : Well, Fromkin would argue that they put Iraq together precisely the way it's presently constructed, with Shi'ite, Sunnis and Kurds to prevent -- you know, to keep a sort of large power vacuum in the middle of that -- of this crucial area. I mean, he argued in his book that Iraq was constructed precisely to yield the kind of crisis you now have -- or to -- you know, never yield it, but prevent it from unifying.

BRONNER: Right. Well, maybe we'll talk about Iraq for a couple of minutes, and then we'll turn it to the audience.

So today's news is that the constitution has passed. But in the three largely Sunni provinces, it seems that virtually every member of the Sunni community voted against. It's just that in --

MR. : Well, in two of them, right? Because if --

BRONNER: Well, no. But in Nineveh --

MR. : In three of them, then it would have failed.

BRONNER: No, but I think Nineveh is mixed, sufficiently mixed.

MR. : Yeah, Nineveh's mixed.

BRONNER: And so it went down by 55 percent, but you had to go down by 60 percent --

MR. : Yeah, by --

BRONNER: -- for it to be defeated. Okay?

So it does seem that -- and 79 percent of the voters of Iraq favored the constitution. We think that Iraq is about 20 percent Sunni. I rest my case.

MR. : Right.

BRONNER: Okay. So it doesn't look too promising at the moment. I just have a little beat on the news because I just came from the newsroom. You'll read it in the paper tomorrow! (Laughter.)

MR. : Local editors, please --

BRONNER: Yeah! (Laughs.)

But so, you know, talk for a minute or so about what your sense of the prospects of this project in Iraq is, and then we'll ask the audience to help out.

We'll let you do it, Greg.

GAUSE: Yeah, okay.

Well, no matter where you stood on the war, we are where we are, and we got to hope that this thing works. It seems to me that Ambassador Khalilzad did a pretty good job of trying to get Sunni participation in the election itself. The fact that they overwhelmingly voted no, okay, that's a problem, but they came out and voted. And if they come out and vote in the parliamentary elections in December, they get a decent Sunni representation -- there's going to be more Sunni representation anyway because they're going to do it by province and not by the country as a whole. But with this promise that you can have amendments. Now, the Sunnis can't push amendments through. They're just not big enough. Right?

BRONNER: Right, they don't have the numbers.

GAUSE: But our own constitutional process, of course, depended upon a promise of amendments after the fact, and that helped get our Constitution through. You know, we can hope for the best there. I'm a pessimist about Iraq in general, but it seems to me that that has to be the political process. You get these Sunnis in who, hopefully, have some sway in their communities, who can bring people along, and you say, "Okay, what do you need?" And then we use our arm twisting with our friends the Kurds and our friends the Shi'a to say you've got to give these guys enough to bring them in.

That's a best-case scenario. That's what I would do if I were in --

BRONNER: And do you think that by bringing them in, you'll actually reduce the strength of the insurgency? Because the link between the insurgency and that process is not entirely clear to me.

GAUSE: Yeah, I think you do reduce it. I think you reduce it if you can -- if you can divide the foreign fighters, who are a small percentage, but a very incredibly violent part of the insurgency, from Iraqis, or at least some Iraqis, if you can get more Sunnis providing the intelligence -- and these are all things that are not -- I mean, I'm not a genius here. This is stuff that all sorts of people have talked about. But I think that right now that is the path. I mean, I don't see an alternative path.

BRONNER: And do you think that the American invasion has made the war on terror more or less successful?

GAUSE: I think it's made it less successful. I would have rather made bin Laden a real loser. I would have rather found him, I would have rather killed him, killed him on Al-Jazeera live so everyone could see what happens to you if you mess with America. I would have much preferred more concentration on the al Qaeda element.

STREETER: I completely concur.

BRONNER: Okay. So I think we're -- my next job is to ask that you not speak before the microphone gets to you, but if you'd raise your hand, I'll be happy to pick on you.

Please? I think you're to identify yourself.

QUESTIONER: Hi. I'm Moush Mikhail (sp). I'm an attorney in New York. I actually -- I'm usually not at a loss to ask a question. But in this case, I have to -- my question is, what is the point of this movie?

And what I mean by that -- and you have to indulge me. As a Muslim non-oppressed, fasting, praying woman, I hope you'll indulge my comment that I really found this movie and the discussion singularly unhelpful in the dialogue between different groups. And what I mean by that is that I really find that this movie has done a very good job of kind of making us feel like, well, we know what -- these are the foreboding -- the, you know, barbarians, what they're thinking. And then it somehow comes back to the U.S., and you know, everything that they're doing is because they want to come out and lash out to the U.S. Now it's about us.

And I don't think it does a very good job at all of analyzing, you know, why the shah was deposed, in terms of his corruption, in terms of any of these other issues. And I don't find it to be helpful at all in bringing any kind of dialogue between the different groups. And frankly, it's indicative of why there is that schism between a billion of the world's population and the rest of us. And I include myself in both of those.

MR. : (Chuckles.)

MR. : Other than that, it was great!

MR. : Yeah. Do you -- would you like to answer?

MR. : Sure. Yeah, no, I mean -- and I'm going to paraphrase from what I'm hearing from you, and I'm sorry if I'm not doing it well -- it seems to me there are two things.

And there's the part of not encouraging dialogue. And I would say that it's very tough, with a public television documentary film, to encourage dialogue beyond just putting out there a coherent set of viewpoints and letting people talk about them. A film is a static thing that comes over the television set.

That said, what's on the film is -- it represents a narrow spectrum of the viewpoint on the region. I know that as well as you do, obviously.

We -- the point of making the film was to try and talk about something that is not widely known in the, you know, public television viewing audience. We were able to get this on television in part because there are so few films about it, you know. And one of the struggles in making it is simply that there's almost no footage of this stuff. There are no documentaries that you can -- you know, we were able to go cannibalize from about the history of Muslim Brotherhood. And finding images of them was incredibly difficult and a multi-year process.

Now you may find the perspective unhelpful, and all I can say is that's completely within your rights. There are many other perspectives. There are also many other kinds of talk shows and television programs and ways of addressing this. It's a much-discussed subject, what caused 9/11, what led up to it. There have been numerous Frontlines on it that present different points of view. There are also many television programs where you get talking heads from one side or from the other yelling about whether we should be in Iraq or not.

We were trying to do something that took a slightly longer view. By nature of making our documentary about a hundred of years of history, you're going to reduce things and simplify things. So you look at the shah, why the shah is deposed, it's summarized in two sentences. You're quite right, it's not sufficient. That's the nature of doing a one-hour documentary on a hundred years of history.

And I would love to be able to work in a public television market where we could have made an eight-hour program about this and really spent two hours talking about Iran. The funding and the public television interest is not there for that at the moment. That's a larger cultural problem, I think.


QUESTIONER: Bruce Gelb. I used to be the director of the United States Information Agency about 15 years ago. And I couldn't help but be extremely interested in the question that was asked, "What is the film all about?" My orientation for looking at it was, first of all, have you shown this to a cross-section of Muslims to get a reaction of what it means to them? Because my read of this is it's something I would not want to send to the Middle East to try to help bridge this gap, because what I see, being a believer in one picture being worth a thousand words, this is the finest job of showing a Christ-like figure, Osama bin Laden, in all kinds of situations, calm, talking his point of view, and ending up with a document which is, I don't think, what you originally set out to make, which is kind of a historical thing, "How did this all happen?"

MR. : You're saying -- I'm sorry -- you're saying it's a veneration of bin Laden?

QUESTIONER: I think it makes Osama bin Laden look like a Christ-like figure, and to Muslims who are maybe on the fringe, it would enforce whatever feelings they have that this is the way of the future.

STREETER: Well, that's interesting. That was not intended. (Laughter.) I agree it perhaps venerates him more or takes him more seriously than many other things on television.

One of the things I was struck by in producing this was the relatively rich amount of material that bin Laden and al Qaeda have produced that is coherent. You know, oftentimes they're presented as just insane, crazy, cave-dwelling terrorists who want to blow up the West, whereas, actually reading into it, they have a developed history, a developed political program, something that can be engaged with and thought about more.

And there's a real history behind it all. It didn't just -- although Afghanistan, as you point out, is very important, it didn't just spring out of nowhere, it sprang out of a set of historical events that -- you know, maybe tracing it back a hundred years is making a bit too much of it. But I think it's not something that is commonly on television again, and I thought it was worth doing just for that reason -- just to get out there something that is not well-known and well-discussed.

BRONNER: Okay. Okay. There's another question here. Please wait for the mike, if you would.

QUESTIONER: Do I sit or stand?

BRONNER: It doesn't matter. Just as long as you wait for the mike.

QUESTIONER: I'm Ted Sorensen of Paul Weiss. Before I ask a question about the movie, first let me tell you I thought it was just tremendous -- comprehensive, factual, powerful, educational.

My question, though, is if you do make a second edition sometime, since it's called The Road to 9/11, don't you need a little more about why the United States was singled out? Centuries of humiliation of the Muslim world by the West, mostly the French and the British, not the United States, which never had any colonies there -- and our relations with the Islamic world were not all that bad 40 years ago. And now all of a sudden you have one sentence in which bin Laden says, "Let's go for the head of the snake." I'm not even sure that's an accurate description of the United States. And yet 9/11 -- later on, of course, they hit France and Spain and others, but don't you think there could be -- I'm sure there is more as to why they singled out the U.S.?

BRONNER: Let me ask Greg to answer it.

GAUSE: I think one of the reasons is that they failed to overthrow governments back home, which they tried to do. I mean, people who were experienced, who had the experience of jihad in Afghanistan went to Algeria, went to Egypt. They did try to overthrow those governments, even to some extent in Saudi Arabia in a very mild way after the Gulf War. But I think that the Gulf War also -- put yourself in bin Laden's shoes. He thinks that he's defeated the Soviet Union and helped to preserve the independence of the Muslim world against a superpower. Literally within months of the completion of that historic task, he turns around and he sees 500,000 American troops in his home country, in Saudi Arabia. And I think that basically from that point, he says, well, we got another superpower we have to take care of. All right?

Now, bin Laden was never pro-American. From what I hear from people who are in Afghanistan, he and the Arab volunteers would have nothing to do with the Americans; if the Americans came, they'd go away, you know -- there wasn't a lot of deep, tactical or strategic cooperation between the two. But there was a common enemy. But once communism and Soviet Union departs, I mean, these guys look around and say, "Well, who's the outside force that's most dominant in our world," and without a doubt that's the United States. And I think they see the United States -- again, rightly or wrongly; one can argue these things -- but they see the United States supporting regimes that they hate, Egypt, all right, Jordan, Saudi Arabia --

MR. : And Israel.

MR. : -- Algeria. And then you add the Israeli thing on to it, and you see American -- the American military laying concrete in Kuwait, in Bahrain, in Qatar. Saudi Arabia was a different story. We left there for the most part. But we're laying concrete in these places like we're going to stay for a long time.

So I think that that's an explanation. You know, explanation isn't apology. I mean, I think that you can try to understand why they target us without saying, "Oh, well, if we understand it, there must be some -- we must accept it." No. I mean, but we have to understand why they're aiming at us. Bin Laden -- the president says it's about our freedom; they hate our freedom. Bin Laden had a really interesting response to that. He said -- he quoted the president, and he said, "They say that we hate America because of their freedom." He said, "We do not hate Sweden." (Laughter.)

MR. : Actually, Gary Sick here has a question. Just --

MR. : You've abandoned me.

QUESTIONER: Gary Sick, Columbia University. This was a beautifully produced film. And unlike my colleague, who was concerned that it wouldn't sell in the Middle East, it wouldn't. It clearly was not aimed at the Middle East. It was aimed at the America audience, and it was clear that it was trying to deliver a message to an America audience. And I think -- going back to the original question, the first one -- about what is that message, and I think that is worth asking and is worth actually pondering, as to where we come out.

There were a number of things -- as somebody who works in and around the Middle East a good bit -- when you look at a carefully developed movie, you think about what was on the cutting room floor, what didn't make the cut. And you know, as you've said, eight hours probably wouldn't have been enough to take care of everything that you wanted say. But let me just address a couple of things that I think were -- that I didn't see in the movie, which I think are worth thinking about.

And one is really a sympathetic Arab or even a sympathetic Islamist. I look at Abdoulkarim Soroush, for instance, in Iran as somebody who is in fact challenging the existing dominant view of clericism, which I think is losing in Iran. The woman vice president of Iran. You showed all those pictures of chadors and ignored the fact that over 60 percent of the present population of the Iranian universities are women, including in engineering and a whole range of things.

Not that that solves the problem. But to just ignore it and to pretend that that doesn't exist, that there isn't, in fact, something going on -- and then I think of all of the things that are counter-intuitive about some of the things that we've seen recently: the Shi'a revolt against Saddam while that process was going on; the Kurds, and what they were doing to free themselves. Those -- that whole range of things is completely missing. The Islamic Brothers in Syria who were put down brutally but were challenging Assad; not so bad, from our point of view, in fact. And it's not the kind of message that I think is being delivered here, that there are people actually fighting for their rights in these countries. And that was completely missing. These were passive populations who were just being pushed around and they're being told what to do, but they don't have any mind of their own. Even the attack on the Great Mosque. You talk about the Wahabism of the royal family; well, these were wahabis, too.

MR. : Yes.

MR. : What's going on here? They were challenging the royal family at its most vulnerable point and making a very powerful point.

I know that there are things that you can't get in. I know that in an hour, talking about that much history, there are things that you can't include. But the choices were kind of one-sided, if I may say so, in terms of what was left in and what was left out.

BRONNER: Thanks.

This person over here -- I mean, unless you desperately want to respond.

MR. : (Inaudible) -- it's very true. Everything he says is.


Sir, back there. Yes, you. (Laughs.)

QUESTIONER: I think we're missing the point a little bit. A great movie isn't a perfect movie. Sorry. I'm Marty Gross (sp). A very good movie doesn't have to be a perfect movie, number one.

If you compare this to what you see in many other examples on public TV, and you try to give that a comparison -- and we don't even have to bother to grade it, because they don't give it that high. I mean, it would be a great movie -- this is a very serious movie because I was very impressed with the number of different people that gave a presentation on the historic perspective. It wasn't two or three people. Okay?

Part of this movie was about cancer. It was about the cancer of what happens to a society's mind when it produces people of a certain type. It's correct that not everybody in that society is like that. It's correct there are reformers in those societies. It's correct that those societies are convulsant. Okay? But what's happened here with this terrorism is, from a Western perspective, it's the destruction of the category of the innocent. In traditional Western thought there's a category of the innocent: people go to work and they don't expect this to happen to them. They take -- the grandmother takes the child to a place for ice cream, and they don't expect to get blown up, okay? And this is coming from this particular part of the world, a certain aspect of this part of the world, and -- (audio break).

MR. : (Audio break ) -- (inaudible) -- and a lot of other players in the field, and the fact that Afghanistan itself -- the problem in Afghanistan was enlarged for us by the fact that we left Afghanistan after our so-called victory in 1982 -- (inaudible) -- and there was chaos.

And the Taliban really didn't come in until a later period. And a lot of the true fighters of the original war against the Russians were the Northern Alliance, who you don't even mention, of course. I don't think you have time to mention it, so it's understandable.

But it in a sense is -- I think you understate a little bit the nature of the forces of the Cold War that were forcing the United States, for tactical chessboard reasons, if you will, to take some of the actions that they did.

As far as Afghanistan's concerned, I only will give you one quick -- I remember a speech by President Reagan in which he referred to the mujaheddin and used the word "freedom fighters," when a much more accurate translation, of course, would be "holy warrior."

Going to the second point, which is really the point that you omitted -- (inaudible) -- at the end of the film, I really think a follow-up study could be very useful, on two countries that you -- one of which you talked about at length, that sort of ended with Ataturk and Turkey. And you haven't really carried forward what has happened in Turkey or what is going on -- where is Turkey going.

But this -- the one area that I wish you'd touched on at all was Algeria, where indeed the democratic means were the -- were looking like they were going to be -- (inaudible) -- you were going to put the extremists in power, and the military cracked down. It was a move that was deeply troubling to many of us at the time, and it's a dilemma. And that's what I think requires a lot of careful analysis and careful thought in the future.

BRONNER (?): Great. Thank you.


QUESTIONER: Hi. My name is Rob. I'm sort of a dilettante. And I actually have a question. I wonder what significance you would give to the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1982 (sic; means 1983) to "The Road to 9/11."

MR. : Well, that of course was Hezbollah, Shi'a. It certainly was -- it wasn't the beginning of suicide attacks in the Middle East, but it was the most -- for Americans, the most spectacular introduction to that --









More on This Topic


Unspeakable Kerry

Author: Elliott Abrams
Weekly Standard

In an article for The Weekly Standard, Elliott Abrams discusses John Kerry’s remarks on terrorism that seem to distinguish attacks...