All entries for Monday 01 August 2005

August 01, 2005

Discussion Primer: the new al–Qaeda

Follow-up to Discussion Primer: Understanding terror networks, asymmetric warfare from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

A response to Peter Taylor's BBC documentary.

Not much to say really, and not much of a discussion primer either. All I can say is "so what?". The journalism was conventional and unimaginative – looking for physical connections when only distant connections would suffice, and making suppositions based on fragments of evidence. He barely addressed the really important issue:

al-Qaeda and other new terrorist networks may well be quite different to the terrorist organisations of the past

The connection to organized crime was made, and should be explored a great deal more. But the strange motivations of the terrorists, the most important thing to understand, was barely mentioned. Interestingly, we were told that at least two of the suspects lived 'double lives' as both 'criminal playboys' and Jihadists – that is fascinating and highly significant. There are strange subcultures of violence, criminality, and male power behind this, but that doesn't quite fit with the Islamic conspiracy theory.

Sadly this documentary failed. We need journalists with imagination, capable of creating adequate concepts to match the innovations of the terrorists and the forces behind them.

This raises an interesting question about the purpose of TV documentaries. The BBC are wrong in thinking that even a good investigative journalist is capable of creating a solid and thorough case of evidence in such a complex situation as this. Too much detail is required, hence the high degree of supposition and grasping at connections. In reality it is so complicated and difficult that national governments, judiciaries and intelligence agencies struggle. Why then does the BBC think it can do the job?

I would argue that the role of TV documentary is to come up with alternative ways of seeing the world, examining the implications, and suggesting ways in which those theories might be tested. Unfortunately, TV journalists are either not brave enough or just not up to that challenge. It's easier to play the role of the detective.

Comments welcome.