in search of al qaeda
homethe journeyinside the tribal areasground zero: pakistandiscussion
join the discussion man with a gun islamabad


Dear FRONTLINE,

I'd like to thank the team for a most remarkable piece of reporting, and the executive team of Frontline for giving them them a long leash. In watching the show I wondered how they could be so sanguine in the face of what I could see were dangerously unpredictable situations. Reading the web diary reveals their fears in the situations.

The ending piece with Rahma was particularly chilling. She conveys intelligence without knowledge, the same impression I have after reading bin Laden's communiques. She mistakenly believes the US is out to attack Islam, when the reality is much more prosaic - it's the oil, otherwise the US would totally ignore them like so much of the globe.

There is no doubt that the US government has many ways to exert influence on governments. Where the worldview of Islamic fundamentalists becomes confused is the egocentive view that they, and by definition Islam, are the target of the US government. Quite simply, the US government, and the American people, are also egocentric. We as a nation care more about our comforts. A primary comfort is the personal car, symbolizing social status, sexual attractiveness, freedom of movement, freedom of action, as well as mastery of technology. Therefore, obtaining oil from the Middle East fulfills a need that the Islamic fundamentalists don't grasp. The paradox is that oil has funded the expansion of Wahhabism.

They, and we, are locked in a conundrum where one side is obsessed with paying any price to acquire oil to fuel our self-image, while the other side is obsessed with returning to ancient traditions.

The messengers of Wahhabism seem to send a remarkably confusing message, not unlike the Inquisition. For example, bin Laden's communiques demand that we all become Muslims under threat of death. But it's my understanding that the Prophet only welcomed those who submit willingly. Yet bin Laden says if we're Muslims and US citizens we're still under threat of death. I find these kinds of religious dogma a tremendous incentive to remain an agnostic.

san francisco, california


Dear FRONTLINE,

I have been a fan on Frontline for the last 20 years. I watched your first one with Jessica Savich on KKK murders in Greensboro, NC twenty years ago. Your programs have always been thought provoking, but you are always without exception way ahead of corporate owned network Public Relations news programs, designed to sell products, in useful information.

This program in Search of the Base, has got to be the most courageous journalism I have ever seen!!! Only Jon Alpert and Don North have taken more personal risks. I have been telling all my friends about how important this particular program is to our learning curve as peacenics and political activists. I cannot tell you how excited I am to find this entire program available in real player "on line." No one can ever claim that Frontline is not at the frontlines! Amazing writing, GUTSY questions, camera work = zowie, I felt like I was there. What a service! I will continue to tell the rest of my on line friends about this particular program and hope that you can keep it on the web for a little while. I am going to recommend that my prof friends in the J school of my Alma Mater use this program.

rob roethig
la motte, iowa


Dear FRONTLINE,

I'm a US citizen who had the experience of having a Pakistani college roommate in the late 1980s. He was a member of Benazir Bhutto's party (PPP), pro-democracy, moderate, and tolerant of people of all faiths and nationalities. Many of his friends were from other Islamic nations, but others were from France, Mexico, and the U.S.

In the year we were roommates, I got the sense that he felt optimistic about his personal future and that of his country. I also sensed he felt peaceful, positive relations between Pakistan and the U.S. would be a good thing for his people... and that many of his peers felt the same way.

Fourteen years later, I'm saddened by the fact democracy has, for now, failed in his homeland... and that the U.S., as a result of sanctions bred by an inconsistent foreign policy, undermined democracy there. It's also both sad and ironic that PPP had to resort to trying to form a coalition with militant anti-American parties (despite their differences in world view) in an attempt to reclaim a piece of Pakistan's political process for democracy. (for more on this, click the "Ground Zero: Pakistan" link on this page)

Saddest of all, Frontline's documentary points out that voices like my roommate's of 14 years ago are hard to hear in Pakistan... partly because people in power have squelched such voices, and partly because it now may be too hard for most young (under 40) Pakistanis to believe in improving their lot by any means other than jihad.

Ian Kerr
phoenix, az


Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for your increadible work in bringing this story to us.

I do not know if the fact that very little of this perspective has come to us through more media sources belies a lack of funding, or a smug laziness.

toronto, on


Dear FRONTLINE,

Simply the best and most informative documentary yet on the post-911 reaction in the Muslim world.

Despite the simplistic rhetoric coming out of Washington, Al Qaeda people are not stupid. They know perfectly well they cannot defeat the U.S. militarily - but they very badly want to take control of their own governments and return their nations to a state of Islamic nirvana. To the credit of America, she did not respond with a knee-jerk reaction immediately after 911, but with a thoughtful and specific military action which brought about a regime change in Afghanistan. Perhaps we should leave well enough alone - an invasion of Iraq now may yet play into the hands of Al Qaeda.

The risk that such a war may spread to engulf the entire region seems very real. It may prove to be the event which unites and mobilizes the majority of Arab people not against America, but against their own corrupt and impotent governments. In such an atmosphere Al Qaeda would present themselves as a legitimate alternative to the current corrupt and impotent regimes which rule throughout the area. Maybe that's all they want.

Terrence Schell
kelowna, british columbia


Dear FRONTLINE,

Excellent reporting carried out under apparently very dangerous circumstances.

I was struck by the irony that as the US pushes relentlessly for a war against Iraq, which probably does not yet have nuclear weapons, Pakistan - which already has several nuclear weapons- is alarmingly close to being pushed into the control of the jihadis.

At least Saddam Hussein did not use his chemical and biological weapons against the U.S. in the Gulf War. I doubt that a radical Islamic government in control of Pakistan would exercise the same restraint.

Steve Hilles
hampton bays, ny


Dear FRONTLINE,

This is by far the best and balanced report i have seen on american media, Congrats. Hope to see more of them in the future.

Interview with the women gives us great insight into general public feeling in Muslim countries. The problem has escalated way too much to even find a solution.

J S
sf, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

This was truly a great piece of journalism. For too long the American public has been indoctrinated with a mainstream media that falls short on providing the whole picture. Couple this with the barely legitmate administration in Washington who fuel this fire with tough talk against Iraq and any supporters of terrorism.

Only when Americans begin to disseminate the staggering amount of lying from the truth will foreign policy be changed for the better.

Keyton Eyres
los angeles, california


Dear FRONTLINE,

A magnificent piece of journalism.

After watching this, I had so much more understanding of both sides of the issue. Most of America only thinks of Al Queda as cave dwelling barbarians and extremists. If only everyone would have watched this program. The things that stand out in my mind most, are what the head of the London Mosque was saying.

Watching the History of Islam, directly afterwards, also promoted more understanding. There were so many events in history that almost mirror what is going on now.

The number of people the Muslims have killed today does not yet begin to compare with how many Muslims, Jews, etc, the Christians killed during the Crusades. And all for possession of the Holy Land.

Our foreign policy seems to forget the reasons it all started. We are becoming part of the problem. We are just fueling the fire more and more. Why do we always have to take a group of people by force in order to teach them about democracy? There must be other ways.

Rob Donnan
portland, or


Dear FRONTLINE,

I agree that U.S. policies have earned us bad will, and that Americans continue to have little understanding about the day to day realities in those countries. But the thought that struck me while watching last night was whether or not 9/11 could have happened without access to the internet.

The terrorist threat has been there for a very long time but Americans never appreciated it because we didn't understand the depth of the bitterness towards us. Very dangerous people hate us very much and they now have good tools to do effective damage. I think we're talking about these problems today because communication technology helped bring destruction to our doorstep.

I'm not sure how to react to this Frontline documentary. Maybe I should feel more frightened. Maybe I do.

The information presented last night was different in tenor and tone from the pablum presented in the mainstream press. It makes me skeptical about trusting that we are getting the full story from the Bush administration. I think our nation continues to earn ill-will and the terrorist threat could become more powerful if we continue to misunderstand, and misidentify, our enemies. ....Houston, we have a problem.

phila, pa


Dear FRONTLINE,

The program was great. After viewing it, I am seriously thinking about our foreign policy towards Pakistan. No country on earth, then or now, was or is more critical to U.S. geopolitical and strategic objectives than Pakistan. But when the first war in Afghanistan was over -- the United States walked away from Pakistan, leaving behind a country awash with drugs, with arms; a country where sectarian violence was on the rise; a country where political assassination had become common.

A year after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, what was our thank-you note to Pakistan? We clamped economic and military sanctions on Pakistan. We have been very uneven, very inconsistent, and very hypocritical in our policies toward Pakistan. I think our political leaders in Washington should really rethink our policy towards Pakistan.

John Nalley
atlanta, ga


Dear FRONTLINE,

Your report supports the fanantical relationship between the people of the Northwest Territory and Islam. I spent 15 months in Lahore, Pakistan. I went to Peshawar numerous times. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for Americans to understand how ones religion becomes the total basis of thier lives.

Once convinced by religious leaders that a particular point of view is the religious right, these people will do everything in their power to support that goal. I am not sure it will ever change.

san antonio, tx


Dear FRONTLINE,

I find these programs transformative, and the unusual opinions and strange spins on the events of the past 15 months are unsettling--as they should be. I found it very useful for the producer to chronicle the dead-ends and frustrations encountered during his journeys.

It was striking the difference between the older people in power who have do deal with the U.S. and the complexities of their own nations and the angry young people who can't stand us.

It is certainly clear that our problems are not just related to poverty, lack of democracy, and poor education. This comes through each time a journalist interviews someone like the Yemeni journalist. And thanks for printing her essay.

I hope you assemble some collection of the tribal areas video for sale or broadcast. What little we were shown was amazing. Reminds me of footage taken by local Mayans in Chiapas in 1995. No crew from Mexico City or the US could have taken it. Kudos to your Pushtoon journalist.

Steve Cisler
san jose, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

It is possible to describe the interview with the female Yemeni reporter in very clinical terms putting the whole thing immediately into the larger geopolitical context.

On a human level, I could not bear to imagine the horror that would be caused to someone who lost a loved one on September 11th hearing this woman speak. One could imagine this individual losing all reason and scream that they could inflict every single torture known to man on this sickening woman. I could as well of course, but that would make me in many ways similar to her.

What I could merely wish is that this woman in the course of some future interogation merely be forced to read a translation of the New York Times obituaries book that was recently published of the September 11 victims. Though I knew none of the people, I read each and every one of the obituaries published day after numbing day. To her they are merely abstractions and her fondest wish that there would have been ten times as many.

Perhaps, we do need to consider for a few milliseconds what specific American policy caused her to believe in such a way. Anyone has the right to pick this apart all they like. Then let me state merely that I was not seeing any abstraction but a specific individual showing the face of pure evil. Evil in the context of ANY of the world's great religions.

Andre Abramovich
seattle, washington


Dear FRONTLINE,

Under the circumstances it might behoove us to look beyond the immediacy of media and the strategic myopia infecting foreign policy at this time to consider past and possible future conditions. While the western world became adept at the manufacture of things, those whose cultures or circumstances mandated developed otherwise. One of the developmental traits common to those who live on the Arabian Peninsula and shared, coincidentally, with the Pashtuns and others in Afghanistan is memory. A good part of this is these are paople who know from whence they come. A bad part is that one can remember bump in the road - and whose fault it is. So grudges and fueds, fueled by long memories are of long standing.

The U.S. asked the Yemeni leader to do something that would make his great-grandchildren enemies. The State Department is not designed to operate on such a timetable. And, perhaps more woefully, the country is contemplating initiating a foreign policy (to define war as politics by other means,) that will result in in increase in defense spending and foreign aid to support more and more repressive governments in countries largely populated by people with long memories who will bear us emnity, such as to be unsupportable within a decade. Or does no one recall that this is pretty close to what undid the Soviet Empire? Well, if the fear of national bankrupcy isn't enough, wouldn't we all rather be remembered for all the good we've done?

bailey jepson
pacific palisades, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

Is it too late for the U.S. to surrender? Do you think that our withdrawal from the Islamic world, physically and culturally, would encourage a peaceful reaction from Al Qaeda and its sympathizers? Or, must we practice Islam in the manner they dictate?

pacifica, ca

more

home - introduction - mapping the journey
inside the tribal areas - ground zero: pakistan
discussion - interviews - producer's dispatches - readings & links
producer's chat - teachers' guide - tapes & transcripts - press reaction - credits - privacy policy
FRONTLINE - wgbh - pbs

photograph ©afp/corbis
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

NEXT ON FRONTLINE

The Rise of ISISOctober 28th

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS