Since September 11, 2001, Americans have wondered how their nation had become such an anathema in the Muslim world. What fostered the rise of Islamic extremism? What do the radicals want? And why are the jihadists so angry with the West?
"The Road to 9/11" is a detailed look at the forces that have shaped the modern Middle East, crafted to give a better understanding of the current crisis. Viewers are taken on a narrative journey beginning after World War I -- a chronicle of steadily worsening social, political and economic conditions, the growing power of religious fanaticism, and the increasing problem of terrorism.
"The Road to 9/11" airs throughout September on PBS stations nationwide. The one-hour documentary is a production of Kunhardt Productions and is presented by WETA Washington, D.C.
On October 7, 2001, with the world still reeling from the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Osama bin Laden recorded a video message celebrating the acts of mass destruction. Praising his followers as "the vanguard of Islam," he twice made reference to the historical roots of his rage, citing the "humiliation and disgrace" that the Middle East has suffered "for more than 80 years." In the West, most observers had no idea to what he was referring. His Muslim listeners, however, were not confused.
From the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I through the carving up of the Middle East by the British and French colonialists, the rise of Arab nationalism, the Cold War, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the oil shocks and social upheavals of more recent times, "The Road to 9/11" provides the background and context to enlighten the American audience. In the process, the program makes critical observations around such issues as the treatment of women in some Islamic countries, the rise of extremism and violence, the alliance of clerics and authoritarian regimes funded by oil money, and what many perceive to be the misuse or misinterpretation of the Koran.
This chronicle is told through the use of rare -- and sometimes shocking -- footage from the past century, as well as the insight of leading scholars , journalists and experts, including Bernard Lewis, Fareed Zakaria, Thomas Friedman, and Irshad Manji.
Among the many insights are those of Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, provided early in the program: "The problem is not with Islam as a whole," Zakaria said. "The problem really is the Middle East -- and the Arab world in particular. This is not inherently a religious issue which is therefore unanswerable, but a political and historical issue which has very specific roots and causes And can have specific cures."
Early in the program, Friedman also provides a blunt assessment of the historical context of today's crisis. "For the past 50 years, we basically treated the Arab world as a series of big gas stations," he said. "And all we cared was that you keep the pump open, the prices low and be nice to the Jews -- and you can do whatever you want out back. You can treat your women however you want. Teach whatever you want in your schools -- whatever you want. Well, guess what? On 9/11, we got hit with everything going on out back."
"The Road to 9/11" addresses a series of crucial events and themes, each of which relates to the critical question of how the West encourages progress in the Middle East:
* The impact of European domination on the Middle East after WWI, and the widespread resistance to Westernization and secularization.
* The rise of Muslim fundamentalist groups in the 1930s, their use of assassinations, and their targeting of women's rights.
* Nazi sympathy and support in the Middle East during WWII, and the dueling powers of the Soviet Union and the United States in the post-war years.
* The emergence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its use as a political tool for troubled Arab regimes, and the culture of blame that developed in the wake of the Six Days War.
* The corrupting influence of oil on Middle Eastern governments, and the use of oil revenues to strengthen autocratic rulers and Islamic fundamentalists.
* The Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the global rise of political Islam.
"The Road to 9/11" also looks at the deep historical roots of Al-Qaeda, and the theological and political background of bin Laden and his goals. The result is an engrossing, fast-paced history lesson that looks forward as well as back, lending perspective to today's events and policy choices.
The producer and writer for "The Road to 9/11" is Sabin Streeter. The executive producers are Peter W. Kunhardt, Philip B. Kunhardt III and Bill Siegel. For WETA, the executive producers are Dalton Delan and David S. Thompson.
For 16 years, Kunhardt Productions has been responsible for critically acclaimed programming, with a reputation for high editorial standards. Among its most celebrated works was "In Memoriam," a co-production tracing how Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his staff coped with the September 11th attacks. It was nominated for five Emmys, winning one. Company productions for public television include ""Freedom: A History of US," "The American President" and "Echoes from the White House."
WETA is the among the three largest producing stations for PBS and is the flagship public broadcaster in the nation's capital. WETA productions and co-productions include "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," "Washington Week" and documentaries by filmmaker Ken Burns, including "The Civil War," "JAZZ" and, most recently, "Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson." Sharon Percy Rockefeller is president and CEO of WETA. For more information on WETA and its programs, please visit the Web site at weta.org.
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