Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Scott Shane's "Objective Troy"

Scott Shane is a reporter in the Washington bureau of the New York Times, where he has covered national security since 2004.

Here Shane dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone:
Objective Troy strikes me as a natural for a documentary, in part because Anwar al-Awlaki lived so much of his professional life in front of video cameras. But the book might also be translated into a terrific feature film, though as a journalist I would be nervous about what liberties a screenwriter or director might take with the facts. So many moments in the book contain human drama: young Awlaki hurling his Colorado State roommate's TV to the floor in the first flush of his discovery of puritanical religion; his visit to wintry Afghanistan to see the heroes of the anti-Soviet jihad; his tensions with his father, who wanted him to be a technocrat, not a preacher; his time in a national media spotlight after 9/11; his stardom as a lecturer with an increasingly radical message in the U.K.; his imprisonment in Yemen without charges, with American encouragement; his decision to join Al Qaeda and emergence as its most potent English-language recruiter, including his coaching of the so-called underwear bomber. And then there is, of course, President Obama's decision to order the intelligence agencies to find him and kill him in a drone strike, and his final, fiery death. A coda might show how he has survived on YouTube, in tens of thousands of videos that are still radicalizing young Muslims.

So: who might star as Anwar al-Awlaki? I'll offer a surprising choice: the brilliant comedian Aziz Ansari, of Parks and Recreation fame. If he grew his beard and put on wire-rimmed glasses, he'd look the part, and I think he could master the many shifting roles of Awlaki's life. Now an atheist, Ansari grew up in a Muslim American family, which might make some of the pressures of Awlaki's early life especially understandable to him. (If you want to see why Twitter was invented, Google Aziz Ansari and Rupert Murdoch and see how Ansari reacted to Murdoch's proposal that all Muslims should be "held responsible" for terrorism committed by Muslims.) Even after joining Al Qaeda, Awlaki sometimes showed an exuberance, a sharp wit and a sarcastic streak that Ansari could surely nail. Perhaps the great comic would find it an enticing challenge to play a historic figure in a tragic tale. (Aziz, are you listening?)
Visit Scott Shane's website.

The Page 99 Test: Objective Troy.

--Marshal Zeringue