Unethical Morality in "Documenting" Terrorism: Terror at the Mall, Nowhere to Run, Wolves of Westgate


Fleming D (2016) Unethical Morality in "Documenting" Terrorism: Terror at the Mall, Nowhere to Run, Wolves of Westgate. SubStance, 45 (3), pp. 66-83.

First paragraph:  The enemy must fear us. When this is over, there will be much more fear in the world. […] Give the government an ultimatum. Say, “This was just the trailer. Just wait till you see the rest of the film.”   The overhanging statement – which draws attention to troubling links interconnecting action cinema and acts of terrorism – is delivered towards the end of Dan Reed’sTerror in Mumbai(UK, 2009), an insightful documentary that unfolds a balanced enquiry into the November 2008 massacre by the South Asian terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (the Army of the Righteous). The film weaves hours of phone intercepts between a Pakistani handler and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba agents into a collage of recovered CCTV footage, live news reportage, survivor testimonies and interviews. The documentary also embeds alarming images from Mohammed Ajmal Kasab’s interrogation, the sole captured terrorist, as he describes his background, training, and the motivation behind his participation in the attacks. The mosaic film thus builds up a complicated three-dimensional story that offers viewers an atypical glimpse into and behind this phenomenon. The police interview with Kasab in particular sheds rare light into a dark world of hate, want, and ignorance lurking behind extremist violence; where war, poverty, destitution, death, exclusion, indoctrination and inculcated desires lead to desperate acts. These sketchy details immediately complicate banal one-dimensional tabloid narratives of Islamic terrorists being inhuman embodiments of pure Evil. Thus, contra the aphorism that proposes “if you do not understand why terrorists do what they do, then it might be because you are watching it on television” (Whittaker 91), Reed’s televisual documentary allows viewers to perceive these South Asian terrorists as flawed and desperate human beings who are forged in pressurized crucibles of poisonous socio-political forces, discourses, factors, and actors. At the same time, the film refrains from painting the inverse picture, wherein the West becomes the geopolitical straw man solely responsible for producing this growing army of anonymous ideological puppets. As such, Reed’s multi-perspectival treatment of this complicated subject matter emerges as a thought-provoking ethical documentary about early twenty-first century terrorist violence.

SubStance: Volume 45, Issue 3

Publication date31/01/2016
PublisherUniversity of Wisconsin Press
Publisher URL