Magazine article The Spectator

World of Hypocrisy

Magazine article The Spectator

World of Hypocrisy

Article excerpt

Television

World of hypocrisy

When I first read that Ronan Bennett had co-written a screenplay depicting the run-up to 9/11 from the terrorist perspective, my reaction was just what you'd expect. I thought, 'Bloody hell. What a tosser. First he joins the IRA. Then says he'd never turn in the perpetrators of the Omagh bomhing. Now this. If he hates us all so much, why doesn't he piss off somewhere more congenial - Chechnya, maybe, or Darfur?'

Then I took the trouble to watch The Hamburg Cell (Channel 4, Thursday), directed (in disjointed, impressionistic, dispassionate snippets) by Antonia Bird, cowritten by Alice Perman who spent two years researching it, and found it to be chilling, plausible, well-acted, thought-provoking, intelligent, measured: TV drama at its very best.

Instead of concentrating on creepy zealot Mohammed Atta with his cold dead eyes, the film chose instead possibly the most human of the conspirators - Ziad Jarrah, a Catholic-educated secular Muslim from a well-to-do Lebanese family who yet ended up piloting one of the hijacked planes - the 'Let's Roll' Flight 93 - on 9/11. His final phone call from the airport to his lovely fiancée Aysel - 'I love you. I love you. I love you' - was eerily redolent of what his doomed passengers would soon be telling their loved ones on their mobile phones once they realised death was near-certain.

You might fear - if you hadn't seen the film - that this was a weaselish way of claiming parity between callous terrorists and murdered innocents; of understanding in order to condone. But what the Ziad Jarrah character (Karim Saleh) actually did was act as a sort of Trojan Horse for the viewer: our one vaguely rational point of entry into a mad, mad world of hypocrisy, ignorance, naivety, prejudice, sexual frustration, bigotry and adolescent thuggery.

Some of the conspirators, the film suggested, were driven to such extremes by their icy apartness, some by their vulnerability to Islamist indoctrination, some by the testosteronal urge so many young men have to crawl under barbed wire with AK47s at remote Afghan training camps, some by their sincere belief that when you die a martyr you really do get to sleep with all those virgins. But what they all had in common was the extraordinary delusion that by renouncing those very virtues which make our world most good - love, compassion, empathy, family ties, friendship - they might somehow make it a better place. …

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