'TERRORISTS IN LOVE': THE PSYCHOLOGY OF EXTREMISM
DAVE DAVIES, host: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Our guest, Ken Ballen, is a former federal prosecutor who spent five years trying to figure out what motivates Islamic extremists to carry out violent attacks against the United States and others they consider enemies of Islam. Ballen is founder and president of Terror-Free Tomorrow, an organization devoted to investigating the causes of extremism.
He interviewed more than 100 Islamic radicals, both in and out of prisons in the Middle East and Indonesia. His book about the personal lives and motivations of six of the terrorists he spoke with is called "Terrorists in Love: The Real Lives of Islamic Radicals."
The first profiled is Ammad(ph), the disfigured survivor of his own suicide attack. Ballen interviewed him and many others in a Saudi Arabian prison devoted to re-educating terrorists. Ammad grew up as a middle-class Saudi, hanging out with friends, driving cars and smoking hash. I asked Ballen why he thought Ammad turned toward a radical version of Islam and sought to become a jihadi.
KEN BALLEN: What I found by spending so much time with these fellows who are profiled in the book is that there are complex forces that drive them. Ammad had a very difficult relationship with his father. He was very close to his mother. He was almost his mother's pet. Yet with his father he had a lot of difficulty. In fact, he had one incident where his father hit him, and he felt that because his father hit him, he was going to hell.
This drove him into the behavior and this drove him towards - ultimately towards religion, because he wanted to redeem himself, and in essence he wanted to find his father's love.
DAVIES: And why would his father hitting him make he think he was going to hell?
BALLEN: Because in that culture, in that belief system, a father's approval is the most important fact of your life. Your being revolves around it. And so for him to think that his father hated him or didn't approve of him made him think he was going to hell, and hell to him was a very literal place.
You know, half the classes in Saudi public schools, government schools, are on religion. And the Quran is taught in a very literal way. So the idea of going to jihad to redeem himself, to find his father's love, if you will, was a very powerful motivation.
DAVIES: The other thing that struck me about the account was, you know, you might have expected that he would have found a group with which he felt tremendous emotional and religious kinship. They're all in this together, they're going to make the ultimate sacrifice. In fact, he was treated harshly by people who seemed almost indifferent to him and his commitment.
BALLEN: That's absolutely right, Dave. And you know, there's a very interesting moment when he arrived in Iraq. He was with 19 other jihadis from all over the Arab world, and the al-Qaida leader exhorted them to go on a suicide mission and wanted people to volunteer. Nobody volunteered. Not one of the 19 volunteered.
As Ammad said to me: Well, wait a minute, I came to Iraq to fight for jihad, not die right away and go up to heaven. What about helping my fellow Muslims here on Earth? And apparently all the other would-be jihadis felt the same way. Yes, they were treated harshly. They were never trained. The way al-Qaida saw these recruits was to simply use them, manipulate them to commit suicide attacks, and they were almost human fodder.
DAVIES: So tell us about the mission that led to the explosion, the injuries.
BALLEN: Ammad was told he was going into Baghdad. He went with two other jihadis. It's a very interesting scene in the book because he's driving in this tanker truck with two other jihadis, and it's the first time in months since being away from home he felt lonely and isolated. He missed his parents. He missed his brother. He missed his family. He missed his grandfather, who he loved dearly.
And he's in this truck with these two others, and it's the first time that any of the jihadis have actually talked to him the whole time was there. He existed in this terrible world of isolation and loneliness, and they were actually talking to him and joking around. And he felt very happy because it was the first time someone had showed him human companionship.
And he didn't know he was going on a suicide mission. They never told him that. They told him he was to drop off this tanker truck. And about 1,000 yards, Dave, before they got to these concrete barriers that Ammad showed - saw coming, the two other jihadis just jumped out of the tanker, said just drive it straight ahead, we'll be right there to meet you.
And he didn't know what to do, and he had to grab hold of the steering wheel. He had to grab hold of the clutch or the tanker truck would go out of control, and before he knew it, it blew up. Eight people died.
DAVIES: So this horrific explosion, many people are killed, many are injured. He is taken to a hospital among them and treated as if he is one of the innocent victims.
BALLEN: That's correct.
DAVIES: And then he eventually, of course, says no, no, here's my story, at which point he's taken in by Iraqi security forces and tortured, right, tells them his whole story.
BALLEN: He is tortured. He's tortured brutally, in fact. I mean, they take a knife and run it through the wounds that he already has, and you know, he's unable to control his bowel movements, he's unable to properly speak, and he is just vilely tortured by the Iraqis, who feel he is a Saudi and a foreign â a foreign invader. And for them, he was.
DAVIES: Well, things are very different then when he gets into American hands, right?
BALLEN: You know, Dave, he's sent to Abu Ghraib, of all places. This was his motivation to go to Iraq to fight against the infidel Americans, against the satanic Abu Ghraib, and he goes there, he's absolutely petrified of what's going to happen to him.
Instead, he's treated with kindness. Instead, he's treated with respect. And for the first time in his life, Ammad meets a woman outside of his family, an Army medic who takes care of him, who's about his own age. And he's transported by that experience and healed by her and the other Americans who helped him.
DAVIES: All right, so what becomes of his beliefs?
BALLEN: Well, his beliefs go through a metamorphosis. By being treated by the Americans, he realizes, as he says, I was used as a tool, as a piece of rotten lizard meat, is his term, by al-Qaida, as a bait. And the Americans who I came to Iraq to fight against were the ones who treated me decently, who were the ones who cared for me as a human being.
And he became a very pro-American person in his heart as a result of his experiences. I mean, he's still deeply religious. He believes very strongly in the Islamic faith. But he no longer sees Americans or infidels as the enemies because his whole(ph) life experience was the Muslims he came to Iraq to help used him and tried to kill him; the Americans he came to fight against ended up being his protector and indeed friend.
DAVIES: And it is his mission in his home nation of Saudi Arabia now to warn people his age against following the path that he chose.
BALLEN: That is absolutely his mission, and he has a dream, Dave. His dream, ironically enough, is to come to the United States. Now, I don't know whether that's possible, given his al-Qaeda past, but it is a very interesting dream to have, and his transformation is remarkable.
DAVIES: And all of this happened to him at what age?
BALLEN: Nineteen and 20.
DAVIES: You met a lot of terrorists and former terrorists at this facility in Saudi Arabia where people are re-educated. But you met many who were not in custody, I gather through journalists and activists that you had come to know through your work. This sounds like very risky business. I mean, some Western journalists who've been - who've tried to make contact with Islamic radicals have been abducted, some killed.
How did you contact these folks and ensure your own safety?
BALLEN: Well, Dave, I used to be a federal prosecutor. I used to be a congressional investigator. So I have long experience interviewing, interrogating people who are criminals, and many terrorists are, in fact, criminals. And so I'm used to taking certain steps to protect myself.
I must say this, though: One of the people that I interviewed spent two decades as, in his words, a career terrorist for Islam on the payroll of the Pakistani government, which we can talk about some more. But he said to me, Ken, I wouldn't be planning on any vacations in Pakistan anytime soon because in our country coincidences seldom happen, but accidents do. So I think there's some risk.
DAVIES: Now, the guy that you're referring to, I believe, is this guy you call in the book Zedi(ph), right?
BALLEN: That's correct, Zedi.
DAVIES: Right, who says he spent a lifetime as a warrior for Islam, killed countless people, and his - I mean, you have his words running many, many, many pages. It's quite a story. He is kind of shocking, he's a braggart, and I had to wonder at times whether I could believe him. He was first in his class at this, and he was a better killer than anyone at that, and knew all of these important jihadis. How - could you corroborate much of his story?
BALLEN: Actually, I did, and I corroborated it with American intelligence officials. But also if you - over the last couple months there's been several reports in the New York Times of people very much like him, if not perhaps him, who have also been talking now to outsiders.
So I was able to corroborate some of the principal facts of what he told me, and it was pretty shocking. One thing he told me at the time, and this - when he first told me this was 2008, and nobody thought this at the time. But he said the Pakistani ISI was protecting bin Laden in northwest Pakistan, and basically he nailed it.
DAVIES: That's the inter-intelligence services, right, the...
BALLEN: That's correct.
DAVIES: And that's been very much in the news lately as, you know, Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, accused them of - the ISI of being involved in some way in attacks on American forces in Afghanistan. And I wanted just to ask you a bit about this because he - part of what he said was, you Americans, you're all so obsessed with bin Laden - this of course was when bin Laden was alive - you're missing the real story, which is what the Pakistanis are up to. What did he tell you?
BALLEN: He said that's exactly right, you're missing the real story. And you sit across the table from generals who talk the democratic talk, who dress up and speak in queen's English to you, yet harbor sympathy towards radical Islam as fervently as bin Laden himself.
Zedi said these people are the real danger. They have access to nuclear weapons. They're inside the government of Pakistan. They have access to money, they have access to arms, and in fact, he said, they were arming the Taliban and that they were in alliance.
So think about this, Dave. We spent $20 billion since 9/11 directly in payments to the Pakistani government. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government is hiring this fellow, Zedi, to run a training camp where he trains terrorists who fight against us in Afghanistan, who fight against India, and he's smuggling arms to the Taliban that we're fighting.
As Zedi said to me, you Americans really are funding both sides in the war on terror, literally.
DAVIES: Right, what's interesting about his account is he's not simply saying there are ranking Pakistani intelligence or military officials who are sympathetic to the Taliban or al-Qaida. They're doing it. He would go to a meeting at which there was - the Taliban were to move arms or set up some operation, and there would be these ranking officials of Pakistani intelligence in the room running it, right?
BALLEN: That's correct, that's correct. He even went to one meeting after 9/11 where he met with one of the top al-Qaida operatives near Abbottabad, where bin Laden was, and a leading high-level ISI Pakistani army guy, and they talked about how to smuggle illicit weapons from the former Soviet Union, nuclear.
DAVIES: And Zedi was never caught and brought to justice, right? He...
BALLEN: Zedi was never caught and brought to justice. He lives comfortably today in Pakistan, as all of these folks do. No one has ever come - been held to account for their activities in that country when it involves radicalism. So he was a very colorful figure, very well-educated. His English was impeccable, very bright guy and disillusioned by his time as a terrorist, very bitter about what happened to him, which I think provided part of the motivation to open up.
I mean, he carried a lot of guilt with him. It was almost a confessional.
DAVIES: Yeah, and what was he bitter about, what disillusionment?
BALLEN: First he was very - and this is a story that's not told in the West. He worked for the radical Islamic party in Pakistan, and he was very embittered by the corruption. The radicals, there was a tremendous amount of theft. This is true. Another one of the Taliban fighters that I spoke to talked about the corruption of the Taliban, people stealing money.
And this is a story we don't expose very much here in this country, and people are really unaware of the kind of rampant corruption that's inside these radical groups. You have - it's very interesting, Dave. You have almost two sides to the movement. You have the true believers, who are religiously convinced that what they're doing is the right thing and they're going to fight for God and die and go to heaven.
And then you have some of the people involved in the movement who offer a religious veneer but are as ruthless and corrupt as the worst politicians anywhere.
DAVIES: We're speaking with Ken Ballen. His new book is "Terrorists in Love." We'll talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with Ken Ballen, he is the founder and president of the nonprofit Terror-Free Tomorrow. And he's written a book about his interviews with terrorists and former terrorists about their lives and motivations. It's called "Terrorists in Love: The Real Lives of Islamic Radicals."
You know, I think we've all had the experience of, in our lives, spending some time, some days or weeks, in another cultural or religious community, you know, a visit to distant family or traveling in another country, and you know, we have this experience of finding ideas or practices that initially seem alienating, maybe even offensive, over time seeming normal. They make sense.
And I'm wondering, I mean you're a Jewish man and a former prosecutor, and you spent so much time among Islamic radicals. Was there a point at which their ideas didn't seem so nonsensical to you, they seemed, you know, to make more sense?
BALLEN: Well, within their framework they do make sense, and I know this may be a controversial statement, but within their belief system what they're doing makes sense, and they really believe, most of them, the ones that aren't corrupt, really believe that they're - and even the ones who are corrupt justify it this way - they really believe they're doing good in the world.
They're fighting for good. They're doing the right thing. They don't see themselves as evil at all. They see themselves as saintly, not evil, and they feel like they're doing the right thing.
So if you're immersed in this world, you see the logic within it. Now, that doesn't mean I'm sympathetic. I mean, when I was a prosecutor and prosecuted organized crime, literally I spent years living among the people, both from listening to their conversations every day on a wiretap for over a year and then arresting them and spending months interrogating them and understanding their world in order to prosecute them.
And I think that's what we've been missing in this whole war on terror. We've never sat back and say let's really understand our adversaries, let's understand what makes them tick. And you have to dive in and talk to them to understand.
DAVIES: You know, that was the next thing I wanted to ask you, was what can American policymakers learn from these conversations?
BALLEN: I think they can learn that we don't understand the world that these - the radicals come from. We don't understand their cultural milieu. We don't understand their thinking. And we need to understand their thinking to respond effectively.
You know, they are motivated by ideas and beliefs, and a completely militaristic response to someone's ideas and beliefs will not defeat them. They'll continue to even push harder for those ideas and beliefs. So I think we have to understand. And by understanding, then we can do things.
For example, if we understand some of the religious motivation, we can respond in ways that are appropriate, if we understand some of the corruption and other things that are happening. And their societies have to undergo a transformation for them to be changed. And that's probably the first lesson in American foreign policy, is you know, first do no harm, the old Hippocratic oath.
DAVIES: Right, and it's clear that the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the invasion of Iraq, I mean, led many of these folks to believe that America is in a war against Islam.
BALLEN: Yes, Abu Ghraib was certainly a recruiting poster for the jihadis. I mean, yes, there's a desire to get rid of the United States, the infidels, but there's also desire to go to heaven, and heaven is a literal place. It's not a notational kind of ideal to these folks. It's a very real place that you're going to go to with your family and live in glory and happiness and love whomever you want to love.
DAVIES: So if you're an American policymaker, how do you undermine the notion that, you know, a suicide attack or joining, you know, a violent terrorist group is going to ensure you a place in heaven?
BALLEN: Honestly, as American policymakers we are not able to undermine that notion. The change has to come from within the Muslim world itself. It has to come from clerics who interpret the religion. It has to come from scholars who say that this is not the teachings of the holy book. It has to come from the Islamic world itself, not from the United States.
We cannot impose what we want on the rest of the world. I'll tell you something interesting in Saudi Arabia. We did a public opinion survey there that I led, and the thing - the one thing that most Saudis wanted above anything else was a free press, free elections - democracy, in other words. Yet the one policy they hated the most was the United States trying to impose its vision of democracy on them.
So the change has to come from within. It can't come from the United States.
DAVIES: And where does that leave American policy?
BALLEN: It leaves American policy at the point where when President Bush campaigned for election in 2000, he said we need a humbler foreign policy. We did not get that, but that is what we need. We need a humbler foreign policy. We need to listen. We need to dialogue. We need to hear. We need to defend ourselves when we have to defend ourselves, but we need to know what we're really fighting against and not overreach, because when we overreach, we play into the radicals' hands. That's what they want us to do.
DAVIES: Well, Ken Ballen, I want to thank you so much for speaking with us.
BALLEN: Thank you very much, Dave, it's been a pleasure.
DAVIES: Ken Ballen is founder and president of Terror Free Tomorrow. His book is "Terrorists in Love: The Real Lives of Islamic Radicals." You can read an excerpt on our website, freshair.npr.org. I'm Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.
IN 'HOMELAND,' IT'S HARD TO KNOW WHOM TO TRUST
DAVE DAVIES, host: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. Howard Gordon is a TV writer/producer was made a specialty out of telling unusual stories in unusual ways. He wrote and produced for the "X-Files," wrote scripts for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," and "Beauty and the Beast," and was executive producer of "24," the high speed, often highly controversial adventures of counterterrorist agent Jack Bauer.
His latest series, the Showtime drama "Homeland," which started this month, also deals with terrorism and counterterrorist investigators. But this time we aren't sure, at least initially, who's the true hero of the story. In this scene from the pilot, CIA officer David Estes, played by David Harewood, his briefing agents on the results of a mission in Afghanistan, which led to the discovery and rescue of a prisoner of war who was missing and presumed dead for years.
The rescued prisoner is Nicolas Brody, played by Damian Lewis. But while watching the video of Brody at the briefing, one CIA agent, Carrie Mathison speaks up with the question. She's played by Claire Danes.
(SOUNDBITE OF SHOWTIME TV SERIES, "HOMELAND")
DAMIAN LEWIS: (as Nicolas Brody) I'm an American.
DAVID HAREWOOD: (as David Estes) Turns out he's one of ours. Marine Sergeant Nicolas Brody, MIA since early 2003 and presumed dead, until now.
CLAIRE DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) What happened to his partner? Brody was a scout sniper. They worked in pairs. Corporal Thomas Walker also went missing that day.
HAREWOOD: (as David Estes) According to Sergeant Brody, Walker was killed during their captivity. But that shouldn't damper what is a major win for the agency and for everyone in this room. You should all take a moment, give yourselves a big hand. Because of you, an American hero is coming home.
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DAVIES: What makes "Homeland" so unusual and so dramatic is that Brody is either a hero, or as Carrie suspects, a double agent was turned by al-Qaida. While Carrie acts with certitude, others aren't so sure. And unlike Jack Bauer on his missions in "24,"she could be dead wrong.
Our TV critic, David Bianculli, spoke with "Homeland" co-creator Howard Gordon last week, days before the program's premiere.
DAVID BIANCULLI: Howard Gordon, welcome back to FRESH AIR.
HOWARD GORDON: Thanks, David. It's good to be here.
BIANCULLI: How much time was there between the ending of "24," in terms of you're working on it, and your deciding that "Homeland" was going to be your next project?
GORDON: Well, in typical Hollywood fashion, I was halfway through the season on "24" and Rick Rosen, who was my agent, represents this Israeli company called Keshet, which produced the HBO show "In Treatment." And Rick had come back from Israel on a trip visiting his clients, and said I have your next show. So this was an Israeli format and I said, you know, again, I was so distracted with "24" I said sure, sounds great, and kind of signed on blindly. And Alex Gansa, my old friend and writing partner and someone who was working on "24" at the time - I chatted with him and we wound up saying yeah, let's maybe do this together. It would be fun.
BIANCULLI: Now when you signed on for American rights for it or to adapt it for America, didn't even exist yet as a television program or was it still in script form?
GORDON: In Israel it had been - the first 10 scripts had been written and were actually being shot at the time we took it on as an adaptation. But it really does bear very little similarity to its Israeli version. It's really about two guys who were POWs for a very long time and come back. There were three, two of them come back. And it really is more of a Rip van Winkle story that was very specific to that country and to the residences Gilad Shalit and the sensitivity, you know, that's very specific and idiosyncratic to an Israeli audience that really - because we don't have POWs - or at least none that we know of, or very few of them - it's not a national issue for us. And so we created this character and this ongoing implication of a returning soldier. So there was something of it that really we took from that that was valuable, but we really re-created an entire layer then maybe the thriller, where before, it wasn't.
BIANCULLI: So was that the most compelling thing about it for you, was the idea of using the POW experience?
GORDON: The character of Nicolas Brody, a returning veteran, someone who actually had been presumed dead and was now discovered alive 10 years later, was just a really compelling idea for us to ask a lot of questions about the war, the wars and our response to what happened 10 years ago and how our world has changed. And who better than a returning warrior, to explore some of the issues?
I mean it goes back to Odysseus and the "Iliad" and, you know, the returning warrior is a staple in literature. And frankly, we were stunned that it wasn't on the air or hadn't really been treated in movies in a way that we felt it needed to be treated. We think the long frame of - Alex and I both talked about this at length - and it really kind of needed or novelistic approach that even a movie could accommodate. So we loved that character and we loved the idea, reciprocally, of a hero on the other side of the table who was trying to stop some bad thing from happening, who herself was unreliable, who herself, you know, whose own account and whose own fears might or might not be valid. Very different from Jack Bauer.
BIANCULLI: Let's play a clip the first time that they were on opposite sides of the table. From the premiere episode of "Homeland." It's the first time that the returning POW, Marine Sergeant Nicolas Brody, comes face-to-face with CIA officer Carrie Mathison. Everyone else at the debriefing, including her boss, played by David Harewood, sees Brody as a hero but Carrie suspects he may be a traitor, and after a softball introduction, questions him accordingly. Damian Lewis plays Brody, Claire Danes plays Cary.
(SOUNDBITE OF SHOWTIME TV SERIES, "HOMELAND")
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) My name is Carrie Mathison. I served as a case officer in Iraq. Your picture was on our MIA wall. I saw it every day for five years. It's good to meet you in person.
LEWIS: (as Sergeant Nicolas Brody) Thank you, ma'am.
DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) I'm sorry we were unable to find you sooner.
LEWIS: (as Sergeant Nicolas Brody) I appreciate that.
DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) I'd like to start with the first few days of your captivity, if you don't mind.
LEWIS: (as Sergeant Nicolas Brody) Not at all.
DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) How soon after you were taken did the interrogations begin?
LEWIS: (as Sergeant Nicolas Brody) Pretty much right away.
DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) What did they want to know?
LEWIS: (as Sergeant Nicolas Brody) Anything I could tell about U.S. ground operations, supply routes, communication codes, rules of engagement.
DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) When you were debriefed in Germany you said you gave up no such information.
LEWIS: (as Sergeant Nicolas Brody) My SERE training was excellent.
DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) And Corporal Walker?
LEWIS: (as Sergeant Nicolas Brody) Ma'am?
DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) Did he give anything up?
LEWIS: (as Sergeant Nicolas Brody) We were never interrogated together so I don't know.
DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) But still, you must have wondered, especially after you learned of his death.
HAREWOOD: (as David Estes) I'm assuming this point to all this, Carrie.
DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) Oh, there is, sir. As you know, the first 72 hours after a soldier is captured are critical. What he knows can be used by the enemy during that period to devastating effect. The point is, Sergeant Brody stopped being a source of actionable intelligence fairly quickly and yet he was kept alive for almost eight more years. I'd like to ask him if he knows why.
LEWIS: (as Sergeant Nicolas Brody)I often wondered that myself.
BIANCULLI: If you're just joining us, our guest is Howard Gordon, one of the executive producers and writers of the new Showtime drama series "Homeland." Can you talk about the subtlety of the acting and reacting in that clip?
GORDON: Well, it's a very tricky and very high-stakes game that's happening here, because Carrie has got the suspicion that she's not shared with her superiors so she can't show her hand. He obviously cannot show his, to the extent that he has one, although we do learn in a privileged point of view that he has a memory that shows that he's lying. So as it turns out, the hunted and the hunter and, you know, are, at the same time, very much alike as people. Psychologically they're both very broken people. They're both veterans of the same war and they're both damaged.
But the two of them are just spectacular. I mean we pinch ourselves every day that Damian and Claire heading up the cast.
BIANCULLI: I've previewed the first three episodes and for the first three episodes, except for a scene or two, Brody and Carrie are kept apart and yet they are so together for those first three episodes because she set, up surveillance equipment and watches him and he's usually alone, so they're sharing this a long time together. I thought that was, not only a fascinating structure, but clearly one that you had to do intentionally and for a reason. So what's the reason?
GORDON: Well, the reason was to develop a sort of lopsided intimacy from Carrie. Carrie is this person who has given up the idea of having a family, let alone even a loving relationship. In it she watches and invades the privacy - and by the way, the constitutionally guaranteed privacy of this family - she winds up becoming attached in a very voyeuristic way. And, you know, Alex and I discussed some inspirations like, you know, "Rear Window" in "The Lives of Others" and "The Conversation." That really was it. And what's the price of this invasion of other people's privacy, what does it do to the watcher?
BIANCULLI: There are a couple of scenes where she is watching something on surveillance. I don't want to say what it is, but where she decides that she doesn't want to watch it anymore and literally turns the monitor away so she can't see it. And it is during the scenes where Brody is with his wife, played by Morena Baccarin, if I am pronouncing her name correctly.
GORDON: That's right.
BIANCULLI: And it is when they are the most intimate, they're in the bedroom, Carrie has installed a camera in there, so we are seeing what I think we are meant to believe is the only time where Brody really lets his guard completely drop is when he is having physical relations with his wife. But these relations, it's an emotional intimacy, not just physical. And sometimes it's more violent, it's more distant, and it's creepy. But viewers are still voyeuristically drawn into the scene â scene - and it sort of makes us complicit in a way that I thought Alfred Hitchcock used to do. And again, what are the lines that you're trying to draw about how the audience is supposed to perceive this and accept it and want to see or not see these different images and scenes?
GORDON: Yeah. Well, you're hitting exactly on something that Alex and I talked about at length, that this really is a series about perception; and in some ways, you know, frames, how people are framing other people with their expectations. And, of course, at the biggest level, here's Nicholas Brody who's greeted by a public and he's on inside the frame of the television as this great hero home from the hill, who actually is political office later. So he's the charismatic perfect family with this dramatic story. From the privacy of Carrie's voyeuristic, you know, invasion of their privacy, we're seeing this awful drama unfold in the privacy.
I think the thing you're referring to is very uncomfortable. You know, we created about as uncomfortable a moment as one can imagine - that you feel yourself wanting to turn away but compelled to stay watching. And so the audience is complicit, as you described, in this voyeurism as well. So we also were treated to the objective views of Nicholas Brody imagining or remembering his own past and filling in for us the story of what happened to him while he was there, while he was a captive. But is that a real or is that, you know, how reliable is memory itself? So it really is about perception, about perspective, and about this, where the fault lines between all those points of views.
BIANCULLI: Our guest is Howard Gordon, one of the executive producers and writers of "Homeland," a new drama series on the Showtime cable network. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BIANCULLI: If you're just joining us, our guest is Howard Gordon, one of the executive producers and writers of the new Showtime drama series "Homeland."
The idea of a man coming back after being totally isolated from civilization and from America for so many years, it plays on two levels. In the pilot, you have a very rare laugh being shared by Brody and his daughter, and the wife is standing outside the door, totally amazed and confounded about what they might be laughing about.
BIANCULLI: And when they talk the next day, he's talking about something that she showed him on YouTube and it was about a dog talking about a meal.
GORDON: He's talking. Right. Right. Well, I mean part of the fun of this and whatever fun there is, is the idea of kind of a Rip van Winkle. I mean it's a guy who has been out of this country for the time, I mean, he didn't know - first of all, he didn't even know the name of the vice president and he tells that to his buddies at the platoon. He goes and there I was shaking his hand, I didn't even know his name. And he talks about YouTube and at one point he says, what is this FaceBook thing? I mean...
GORDON: So there is some fun and I think it's not a tragic thing, but it's one of the things we talked about a couple times.
BIANCULLI: What are American TV viewers ready for now in this subject? What do you most want to explore, politically?
GORDON: Well, Alex and I really thought about this. Again, we thought obviously we want to make a compelling and entertaining thriller first and foremost, but there were a lot of ideas that we felt we wanted to accommodate. And again, none of them, we didn't want them to be a â this to be a polemic or at all propaganda or try to use this as a platform to make any points, except that the world after 9/11 and 10 years after these two wars and after we've revised and adapted the way we conduct our wars, and our image abroad, those are questions, you know, that are very complex. What does it mean to be a hero? What's the price of war? Why are we fighting? What are we fighting for? How are we treating our veterans? What do we have to be afraid of? And those were questions that don't have any easy answers. So we just wanted to ask a lot of questions and the questions that say, you know, during "24" things seemed a little clearer. Our fear was a little more pitched and our idea of who is good and who was bad, you know, maybe a little clearer. But at the same time that was 10 years ago.
BIANCULLI: Now that you can step back from "24" and looked over at as a whole, what about that show in terms of its reactions from the audience, from the media, from columnists surprises you the most? Was it, you know, the reaction to the politics, to the polarization, to the popularity of it?
GORDON: I have a lot of reactions to it and some of them were really were wonderful and some were I felt unfortunate and frankly unfair. But the show became a kind of ink blot, or the Rorschach test...
BIANCULLI: Such as?
GORDON: Well, for instance the allegations that we were somehow handmaids to a national policy condoning torture. That was the most vexing one. I mean the show after all was a thriller. And I think if you looked at Arnold Schwarzenegger movies or Bruce Willis or Clint Eastwood roughing up a suspect is a staple of the genre and suddenly, you know, I think unfortunately, the unfortunate events of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo made what was a very strong wish fulfillment that Jack represented, a guy who's just going to cut through it and stop the bad guys from hurting innocent people became cluttered by, or I should say distorted by current events. And I think unfortunately, there was a conflation with some of the people behind the scenes on the show's politics by the media and they came to sort of I think read into it and deconstruct the show in ways that I really think if you look at it I could match point by point were, you know, unfair.
I think, you know, "24" also, you know, it was a hot button show. It really did, you know, it did inspire a lot of passion and it inspired a lot of criticism from people. What amazed me always is that people across the aisle, whether it was, you know, Barbra Streisand and Bill Clinton or, you know, Rush Limbaugh and John McCain were all tremendous fans of the show. Michael Chertoff, who was our former Secretary of Homeland Security, put it best to me when said, you know, Jack Bauer really reflected some truth because in terms of what we do here in the Homeland Security because there aren't any really good choices, there are just the better of two bad choices. And I think that was really weird that show lived. And in some ways it's where the show "Homeland" lives as well.
BIANCULLI: And one last question. What's the current status of the "24" movie?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GORDON: I knew you can ask me that. The current status of the "24" movie is, look, it's there are so many...
BIANCULLI: I will ask you that until there is a "24" movie.
GORDON: No, they're moving â look, I'll tell you something. We all want there to be a "24" movie. So I think all the people were invested in it, including the studio, wants this to happen. I know Kiefer does. I know I do. There is a script in development. I think it's going to be finding - Kiefer now has a show coming out so it's going to be finding the right, you know, the right script at the right time. But I will say it's definitely a work in progress and I hope we have something to report soon.
BIANCULLI: Well, Howard Gordon, thanks for being on FRESH AIR.
GORDON: Thank you so much, David.
DAVIES: Howard Gordon, co-creator of the new Showtime drama "Homeland," speaking with our TV critic David Bianculli. David is founder and editor of TVworthwatching.com and teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey.
Coming up, Kevin Whitehead business to a CD of unreleased recordings of saxophonist and composer Gigi Gryce. This is FRESH AIR.
UNEARTHED SESSIONS FROM A SAXOPHONIST WHO DROPPED OUT
DAVE DAVIES, host: In the 1960s saxophonist and composer Gigi Gryce wrote the jazz standard "Social Call" and "Nica's Tempo" and worked with great trumpet players, including Clifford Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Farmer and Donald Byrd. Gryce arranged music for big and small bands, recorded with his friend Thelonious Monk and led and made LPs with his own groups. Then Gryce walked away from jazz and never came back. But a new CD of unreleased Gigi Gryce is out. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead digs in.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC FROM CD, âDANCIN' THE GIGIâ)
GIGI GRYCE: (Instrumental)
KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Gigi Gryce's Sextet in the busy middle section of "Dancin' the Gigi," 1961. It's time you grab bag of rare Gryce called "Doin' the Gigi" on the uptown label. Nowadays, Gigi Gryce is not so well remembered as he might be, given his crafty composing and tart playing. He's one of a few alto saxophonists who came up with their own styles after absorbing Charlie Parker's fleet swing, unvarnished tone and love for quoting other tunes while improvising. Gryce had plenty of ideas as a player and writer, and he'd pack a lot of them into a short solo.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WHITEHEAD: The live and studio sessions on the CD "Doin' the Gigi" span 1957 to '61, and showcase Gigi Gryce as a swinging saxophonist, a writer of quirky melodies good for launching improvisations, and a promoter of catchy tunes that he published, written by his colleagues. There's also Gryce the arranger for punchy small groups. For one 1960 session, he wrote a few cleverly modernized takes on swing-era standards, but not so clever they slowed the players down. Gryce worked with some great trumpeters, and his foil on most of these dates is spitfire Richard Williams, he threatens to play rings around everyone in "Take the 'A' Train." But Gryce's arrangement sets him up.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE THE 'A' TRAIN)
WHITEHEAD: Trumpeter Richard Williams and pianist Richard Wyands, mainstays of Gigi Gryce's band around 1960. The new Gryce sampler honors a musician who vanished from the scene, and also a vanished era when live jazz turned up on commercial radio and TV. There's a 1961 radio broadcast from Birdland, hosted by disc jockey Symphony Sid like it's still the '40s. The band gets to stretch out there. But on a 1957 segment on an early version of "The Tonight Show," Gryce's quintet squeezes five pieces into 11 minutes. One breakneck blues clocks in under a 1:20, and still finds room for solos by Gryce, Cecil Payne on baritone, pianist Duke Jordan and drummer Art Taylor.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
HUGH DOWNS: Well, that's the kind of song that musicians have good reason to believe will outlast rock 'n roll or any other kind of fad music that comes and goes. Nearly everybody thinks that but teenagers. I don't know.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
WHITEHEAD: That's right Hugh Downs, you didn't know. Jazzers would be moaning soon enough about the British invasion killing the business, but Gigi Gryce dropped out before the Beatles landed. The music publishing business he ran to help musicians take control of their lives wreaked havoc on his, partly owing to friends' high expectations and the ill will it earned him in the record business. Gryce gave it all up, began using his Muslim name Basheer Quisim, and started a second career teaching music in New York schools. P.S. 53 in the Bronx is named for him. Like other artists who deserved better, Gigi Gryce hasn't really been forgotten, thanks to bands that play his music, biographers, discographers, collectors and plucky independent labels. Say this for jazz nostalgia: The community has a long memory for the good stuff.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead is the jazz columnist eMusic.com. His recent book is "Why Jazz." He reviewed "Doin' the Gigi" on the uptown label.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: On the next FRESH AIR, a new strategy called REDMAP to engineer a Republican takeover of state legislatures where redistricting is pending. And the multimillionaire who funded the effort in North Carolina, a battleground state where Republicans won both Houses of the legislature. We talk with Jane Mayer about her article "State for Sale" in the current edition of The New Yorker. Join us.
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