Overview: Terrorism made front-page headlines again in late 2015, due to events in Paris and San Bernardino, Cal. Both incidents were linked to extremists who pledged allegiance to ISIS, and proved just how difficult it is for counter-terrorist agencies to avert such threats in advance. Directed by Greg Barker (HBO’s Emmy-winning MANHUNT) and based on the upcoming book “United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists,” by Peter Bergen, HOMEGROWN: THE COUNTER-TERROR DILEMMA is a gripping insider’s account of the homegrown terrorist threat in America, told from the perspectives of those who helped construct our counter-terrorism machine – as well as those who are its targets.
This documentary explores the real and perceived threat of homegrown Islamic extremism through firsthand accounts from those on the front lines of this battle, including family members of convicted terrorists, those trying to dissuade young people from embracing extremism, Muslim Americans facing fear and suspicion in their communities, and victims of terrorist attacks. The documentary also features insights from counter-terrorism officials, experts and prosecutors who worked homegrown terrorist cases.
Expectations: I wondered when a documentary on this topic was going to surface and now here it is. More and more cases of American Muslims taking up the extremists cause or violently acting out in the name of Islam or ISIS seem to be occurring. I can’t help but wonder what the fuck they are thinking? At least, now we should look at a few examples and get some answers on why some are turning to this militant and destructive ideology. It makes no sense to me. but, then again, I’m not a disillusioned Muslim.
Gut Reaction: My first immediate takeaway from this documentary is the jumbled way it was edited. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a smoothly told investigation of the issue. The scenes jump back and forth between the key participants too much. Also each of them have some heady comments and questions to ponder, but you are given little time to do so as the next person is continuing with their story. That does not make this a bad documentary by any means.
The stories that are our tool for examining this dilemma are interesting. [Lifting from a press release now] We have a young Muslim man living in the U.S. who was targeted by U.S. authorities after attending an Islamic boarding school. After traveling to Washington, D.C. with a friend and filming what prosecutors called “casing” videos of the Pentagon and other sites, he was arrested and convicted of conspiracy, and is now serving 17 years in federal prison. His family finds it hard to reconcile the government’s view with their own memories of him. In 2009, U.S. Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire on fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas. Nidal’s cousin, Fairfax, Va. attorney Nader Hasan, speculates that Nidal, who feared the thought of combat, may have become unhinged upon learning he was about to be deployed. After identifying himself to the media as Hasan’s first cousin, Nader found himself to be considered “guilty by association,” and lost friends and clients. Chicago professor and Imam Omer Mozaffar knows firsthand the dangers of Muslim extremism. Though he admits he once considered joining the Taliban, he says he “could not rationalize killing innocent people,” or accept its interpretation of Islamic doctrine.
All three of these instances plus the expert commentary mixed in draws us into a unique problem with no clear answers. Just how far do we delve into the lives of Muslim Americans to stop the few bad seeds that are there? There is no clear cut solution spelled out here, but we must be diligent and aware in our communities without violating human rights of our citizens. I wish one more narrative could have been added to this film. If only they could have interviewed a truly disillusioned youth, either one in prison or someone known to be toying around with the notion of becoming an extremist; that would have been riveting.
In Conclusion: I’m glad the topic was broached. As the film states in the title it is truly a dilemma. But I also believe that we may just become a bit paranoid. There are “bad people” everywhere, but there are more good people including Muslims. It can’t end on witch hunts or detainment camps. It can’t be handled based on fear and across the board discrimination. We do, however, need to be alert to the threat and forthright with justice in the matter. Think on it a bit.
This timely film debuted Monday 02.08 at 9:00pm. And still airs on HBO; it is also available on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand.