With 11-Part ‘Crossroads,’ PBS Looks Many Ways
“America at a Crossroads” answers the question “ Is there still a purpose for public television?” And the 11- part PBS series replies in the affirmative, because it’s hard to imagine another national network that would attempt a project this ambitious, this challenging and this relatively esoteric.
Starting tonight with two hours of “ Jihad: The Men and Ideas Behind Al- Qaeda” and concluding Friday with “ Security vs. Liberty: The Other War” and “ The Brotherhood,” this magnum opus tackles some of the toughest subjects of our time. “ Crossroads” asks plen- ty of salient, crucial questions — and works slavishly to find sane, satisfying answers.
Even the format and length of the special series are on the gutsy side: 12 hours over six consecutive nights of prime time. Several decades ago, CBS News aired a landmark report on “ The Defense of the United States” — five hours over five nights, although not all in prime time — but the focus of “ Crossroads” is more specific, and that gives it added urgency. When you’re at a crossroads, you have to do something; you can’t just watch the world go by and hope there aren’t collisions.
“ Crossroads” puts the dominant issues in the cross hairs, its goal occasionally just to make sense of Islamic radicals and what they envision as their global “ cause.” The series’s more ambitious purpose is to hold a seemingly insoluble conflict up to the light and study it from as many angles as possible.
The approach is bound to strike some viewers are flagrantly one- sided. There doesn’t seem to be any attempt by the other side to “ understand” us — only to obliterate us. If communists were won over, or undone, by the allure of American pop culture — by tight jeans, catchy ditties and such inspirations as a bugeyed talking sponge who works at an underwater diner — such magnetic entities are viewed as poison by, for lack of a better term, The Enemy.
When Muhammad bin Laden — father of 54 chil-