Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Frontline: “Terror in Europe” (WGBH/PBS, October 18, 2016)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

After the Tesla program PBS ran a Frontline special, a sort of follow-up to their previous show on the rise of ISIS, about “Terror in Europe,” how the European Union became vulnerable to radical Islamic terror (a name that for some reason itself has become controversial — as I’m writing this I’ve just watched the third and, blessedly, last Presidential debate this year between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and once again Trump couldn’t resist getting in a blast against Clinton and President Obama for not using the words “radical Islamic terror”) with particular emphasis on the horrific attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015 and at the airport in Brussels on March 22, 2016. The show was produced and directed by Ricardo Pollack but largely based on reporting by European journalist Sebastian Rotella, and what seemed odd about the show is that it took a schizoid vision towards how Europe should respond to terrorism. At one point Pollack and Rotella seemed to be faulting Europe for its open borders, which allow terror suspects to move untraced not only from one European Union country to another but to leave for terror hot spots like Syria and Yemen and then come back to Europe with no one the wiser. At other points they seemed to be faulting the various EU countries for not being more united, and in particular for having separate national intelligence services that don’t coordinate with each other. Those who think the U.S. should be even tougher in the “war on terror” and more inclined to forgo civil rights in the hunt against terrorists will fine plenty of ammunition in this program. One thing Pollack and Rotella seemed especially anxious to prove was that the Paris attacks were well coordinated and stemmed from ISIS’s central base in Raqqa, Syria — they weren’t just isolated attacks by individuals inspired by ISIS and recruited online but not connected to the big terror leadership in Raqqa. The show traced the leadership of the Paris attacks to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was a boyishly handsome young man (virtually all these terrorists are boyishly handsome young men) who was for some reason wearing a watchcap with the logo “Thermo Foam” on the stock photo they had of him, but the bizarre networks between him and other suspected terrorists got a bit hard to follow after a while. The main message of this movie appeared to be that the terrorists aren’t going away any time soon and European nations are going to have to do a lot more coordination with each other to stop them — at a time when the fear of terrorism, and particularly the fear that terrorists will take advantage of Europe’s relatively open borders to sneak in and plan and carry out horrific attacks, is one of the main issues that led to the “Brexit” (Britain’s vote to leave the EU) and may encourage other countries to secede from the EU as well.