Documentary Review: CNN’s In the footsteps of Bin Laden

I have been browsing the web in search of old articles that I had not blogged or that I had blogged but somehow had disappeared from the web. My blog Reflections on the Bangsa Moro vanished when the bloghost BLOGSOME.COM closed shop. This one is a review of Christian Amanpour’s CNN documentary “In the Footsteps of Bin Laden” published in the Philippine Journalism Reports (PJR). Fortunately, it is archived at the website of PJR’s publisher, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR). I wrote a longer critique of Amanpour’s documentary in my column Quantum Cinema, Mr. & Ms. magazine. in_the_footsteps_of_bin_laden   Journalism Review

Getting lost in the footsteps of Bin Laden


CNN international correspondent Christiane Amanpour’s much-heralded documentary, “In the Footsteps of bin Laden,” sought to show the world the social forces that shaped the life of the “most feared terrorist of our time.” This two-hour documentary consisted of interviews with people who had met Osama bin Laden at least once in their lives. It also included news clips of Osama and the various bombings he or his group allegedly committed.

One could easily be lost by the many personalities involved and be confused by the strange-sounding Arab names that ring unfamiliar to the Christian audience. One is supposed to think it unusual for young Arabs to spend time in the desert–the alleged training ground for would-be terrorists.

Or, one is supposed to be impressed by exotic concepts like the Sahwa or the Islamic Awakening which, the documentary implied, turned many Muslims suddenly into holy war freaks. This Sahwa was largely due to people like Syed Qutb (1906-1966), who, according to Amanpour, “inspired jihadists” as he “justified holy war that attacks enemies first.” Qutb, one of the greatest Muslim political thinkers of the 20th century, was framed as the patron saint of Islamic terrorists.

The documentary pictures Osama as popular and even revered in the Muslim world. Yet, Osama’s brothers and sons, who spent some time “training” in the desert, did not follow him to Afghanistan. Neither did childhood friends like Khalid Batarfi nor his university schoolmates like Jamal Khalifa. Strangely, even his co-mujaheedin (freedom fighters) in Afghanistan like Huteifa Azzam, the son of Osama’s mentor in Afghanistan, and Abdullah Anas did not become al-Qaeda members.

Instead, his followers included a US citizen and member of the US Special Forces in Fort Bragg and a Moroccan couple living in Belgium who fell in love with Osama’s image on TV.

In the chapter called “The Awakening, 1975-79,” there was absolutely nothing that made Osama’s experience different from that of millions of Muslims of his generation.

The chapter “The Holy Warrior” is about the Afghani fight against Russia. Here, the complete absence of America’s role in Afghanistan is noticeable. Everybody knows that the US trained and armed the Muslim fighters, especially the Taliban, against the Russians. These facts were well-documented by Western media.

Viewers get the impression that Osama bin Laden lives in his mountain lair and people come to him to propose potential terrorist targets. Sheikh Osama gives his blessings and when the event occurs, he faces the cameras and claims the deed.

Osama denied knowing Ramzi Youssef but the docu-mentary insisted on linking them through an imam in the US.

In the “Battle of Torra Borra,” the US used its biggest and most advanced bombs and missiles. But the documentary failed to explain why the US fielded only about 60 men on the ground, despite demands by the officers for more, to hunt down the world’s “most dangerous man.” So Osama escaped. And the hunt and the drama go on.

—Jamal Ashley Abbas


See related post:

Osama bin Laden — dead at long last!


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