This pathetic tabloid rehash of anarchist-bomber shock-horror achieves zero insight into jihadist terrorism
Beyond the Pale. Television review – Tom Jennings
Channel 4 trumpeted this documentary (shown on 12th October) as exploring “the discontent which fuelled radical sentiment in the 19th century and the anger that fuels it again today”, equating contemporary jihadism and anarchist insurrection in Victorian England. Its principal hook is persuading young British Islamists to parrot carefully chosen pronouncements of Old Bailey defendants a century ago, then gloating over the emotional similarities between these groups. Handily placed to exploit the fallout are racist pundits Gary Bushell and Nick Ferrari relishing their early forebears’ fostering of fear and hatred for immigrants and aliens. Unsurprisingly, the failure to contextualise either situation or investigate the manifold contrasts between their protagonists yields the worst kind of tabloid dishonesty – these spectacular transgressions primarily sharing amenability to early mass-mediated hysteria and current postmodern affairs, suiting the notorious budgetary pragmatism of intelligence agencies since the Cold War opportunistically clamouring for new targets and variously hyping dissidence of all stripes. And this is certainly no disinterested search for ‘truth’ – ominous consequences easily follow, like for the Serbian anarchists now falsely accused (despite no evidence) of bombing Belgrade’s Greek embassy in protest at that country’s government’s increasingly draconian crushing of its youth.
Beneath its tantalising surface, this pitifully lazy and fundamentally pernicious programme panders to terrorology discourses paraded by academic spivs pimping themselves as media experts while propping up the state’s mystifications justifying surveillance and repression in the name of public safety. Its ‘message’ resonates with many other groups you’d normally expect to disagree similarly interested in the obfuscation and reification of history and philosophy in plugging tired agendas. Adam Curtis exposed comparable confluences in the infinitely more thought-provoking BBC trilogy The Power of Nightmares (reviewed in Freedom, 13th November 2004), whose paralleling of neoconservative and Al-Qaeda ideology intelligently questioned the entire basis upon which historical events and processes are interpreted and woven into policy to thus shape future action. The opposite is achieved here, narrowing down and misrepresenting every past and present phenomenon tackled, reinforcing the most simplistic, reactionary and damaging myths and fantasies that might be – and routinely are – trotted out to avoid understanding while bolstering power.
Joseph Bullman has made enjoyable documentaries – flaying The Man Who Bought Mustique’s (2000) toff nutter, and The Seven Sins of England’s (2007) modern ASBO chavs ventriloquising 1800s carnivalesque proletarians. The minimal sensitivity to class and culture, however, doesn’t persist – apparently not even noticing here that motivations of both the 7/7 London perpetrators and the tiny minority of more indiscriminate propaganda-by-deed anarchist bombers of the past often reflect peculiarly middle-class disaffection. Irrespective of the spurious concentration on anarchism (with other ideological currents responsible for far more killing), ignoring wider social struggles and conflicts – especially the monstrous programmes of national states and capitalism – decisively cripples serious insight. The Enemy Within ultimately only demonstrates the intellectually and politically stunted parameters of debate among media-savvy chattering-classes – and their contempt for popular audiences.
Review first published in Freedom, Vol. 70, No. 23, December 2009.
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