September 13th, 2010
01:18 PM ET
Editor's Note: CNN's Chris Ford takes a look at a new film about Lawrence Wright.
Author and journalist Lawrence Wright, pictured above, is the subject of a new film, “My Trip to al-Qaeda,” now playing on CNN’s sister network HBO.
Wright’s film tells a brief history of al Qaeda and how its leaders became who they are, citing their imprisonment, torture, humiliation and their general hatred of the West. It also chronicles the United States’ military engagement in the Muslim world after 9/11. He draws on his own extensive experience interviewing, studying, and interacting with both Islamic terrorists and the general population of the Muslim world. Wright gathered much of the information for the film while writing the Looming Tower, a book that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2007.
“Who am I when I’m talking to al Qaeda?” he wonders.
This personal style is anomalous to the many news reports and documentaries concerning Islamic terror that are often told from either candid or decidedly partisan points of view. Wright has explored his emotional landscape in this documentary, especially as the narration is largely from his stage play.
While many might balk at Wright’s intention of opening a dialogue of such an expansive topic with a film that’s partly autobiographical, Wright’s sincerity in his look back at his interaction with Islamic terror is real.
He recalls watching the news on 9/11 and being struck by the “infuriating perfection to the spectacle. It was like a movie.”
For him, it actually was a movie.
One of the most poignant parts of his story is the account of his guilt over an attack on a Planet Hollywood restaurant in Cape Town, South Africa after the release of the 1998 film "The Siege," a film he co-wrote about fictional Islamic terror attacks in New York. The film was the most rented film after 9/11, which Wright points out made him the “first profiteer in the War on Terror.”
The distinctive element of this film is its human component. Wright examines the human emotion involved in terror and those affected by it. Among the film’s most memorable lines is when he explains, “Muslims know that if al Qaeda comes to power, they will be the first to suffer.”
Wright highlights an important distinction among many Muslim extremists. While the majority of Muslims and indeed people prefer life over death, many Muslim extremists are the opposite.
They love death, Wright explains.
During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, a group of mujahedeen were camped in an open field in stark white tents. When a journalist remarked to them how they’d easily be seen and killed, they replied, “We came to die. We love death.”
At a time in the United States when religious tension is on the rise, Wright echoes former President George W. Bush in his sentiments about the struggle against Islamic terror.
“I suppose to me the biggest misconception is that these are Islamic extremists, these are not mainstream Muslims and with all the heated rhetoric that’s flying around in this country and others about Islam, one would get to thinking pretty soon that it’s Islam that is at war with America, which is not at all true,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “The real truth of this is al Qaeda is at war with Islam and we’re getting the spillover.”
The film, due to its subject matter, does contain some graphic images and language, but it is a stark reminder of the consequences of misunderstanding between cultures and it stresses the need for reconciliation and peace. “We must understand the human dimensions of terror,” implores Wright.
“My Trip to al-Qaeda” is a worthwhile watch for anyone interested in America’s relationship with Islamic terror and in a personal account of one man’s firsthand experience with it.
Anyone interested in a recap of the recent history of Islamic terror and America’s reaction to it can join Lawrence Wright and take a look back at the past to see how the United States as a nation has gotten to where it is today.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.