Bergen, Peter L. 1962- (Peter Lampert Bergen)
Bergen, Peter L. 1962- (Peter Lampert Bergen)
Born December 12, 1962, in Minneapolis, MN; raised in London, England; son of Donald Thomas and Sarah Elizabeth Bergen. Education: New College, Oxford University, B.A., 1984.
Home—Washington, DC. Office—c/o Cable News Network, 820 First St. NE, Washington, DC 20002-4243; New America Foundation, 1630 Connecticut Ave. NW, 7th Floor, Washington, DC 20009.
Channel 4, London, England, researcher, 1983; ABC News, New York, NY, producer, 1985-90; Cable News Network (CNN), New York, NY, field producer, 1990-92, producer based in Washington, DC, 1992-95, supervising producer of special assignments, 1995, CNN Presents program editor, 1996, CNN Impact program editor, 1997, producer and correspondent, 1998-99, became network's terrorism analyst; freelance journalist and consultant, 1999—. Pew journalist-in-residence at Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies, 2001. Commentator for Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR). Life member, Council on Foreign Relations.
Citation of Merit, Deadline Club, Society of Professional Journalists, 1992; Silver Medal, New York Film Festival, 1992; CINE awards, 1993, 1994, and 1996; Edward R. Murrow Award, 1994, for best foreign-affairs documentary; Cable ACE awards, 1994 and 1996; Christopher Award, 1994; Overseas Press Club Award for best foreign-affairs documentary, 1994, for Kingdom of Cocaine; Emmy Award, 1996, for work on CNN Impact; Joan Shorenstein Barone Award, and National Headliner Award, both 1997; Leonard Silk journalism fellowship, Century Foundation, 2001; North America Foundation fellow, 2002; The Osama bin Laden I Know named one of the best nonfiction books of 2006, Washington Post.
Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden (nonfiction), Free Press (New York, NY), 2001.
The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader (nonfiction), Free Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including New Republic, Washington Times, London Times, Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, Daily Telegraph, and Vanity Fair.
Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Terrorist Network of Osama bin Laden, a television documentary based on Bergen's book, was produced by Story House Productions, and aired on National Geographic Explorer, November 2001.
Award-winning television journalist Peter L. Bergen was one of the few Western reporters to meet with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Bergen joined fellow journalist Peter Arnett in conducting the first interview for U.S. television with the suspected terrorist. Bergen's book, Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, outlines the Muslim fundamentalist's plans for jihad—or holy war—against the West. The culmination of four years of research, the volume follows bin Laden from his early years through his evolution into the mastermind behind one of the most destructive terrorist organizations in the world.
Bergen, who has years of extensive reporting experience in foreign affairs, first proposed his book in 1999; it was supposed to have been published in the summer of 2002. He had submitted the completed manuscript to his publisher in August, 2001, and was looking forward to a lengthy period of revision and editing. After the terrifying events of September 11, 2001, when suspects believed to be members of bin Laden's organization killed thousands by flying three hijacked planes into densely populated buildings in New York City and Washington, DC, Bergen quickly integrated the new information concerning the attacks into his manuscript, and publication was moved ahead to November of 2001. Bergen acknowledges that the rush to update the book may have compromised the strength of its narrative in the absence of detailed editing, but his publisher cited the value in quickly providing the reading public a serious, detailed look at bin Laden. Bergen's book filled a crucial void in the marketplace as Americans grappled with the tragedy that propelled the nation into its war on terrorism.
After almost a decade as a producer specializing in terrorism and international issues for the Cable News Network (CNN), Bergen produced Arnett's 1997 interview with bin Laden at al-Qaeda's Afghanistan hideout. In Holy War, Inc. the author describes bin Laden as a man who views his position much as a corporate C.E.O. would. He is, according to Bergen, motivated by his hatred for "the continued U.S. military presence in Arabia; U.S. support for Israel; its continued bombing of Iraq; and its support for regimes such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia that bin Laden regards as apostates from Islam." In addition to tracing bin Laden's rise to prominence, Bergen also emphasizes that the role of the Soviet-Afghan conflict of the 1970s is crucial to understanding how Islam became so militant. As for the U.S. role in allowing bin Laden to assume such power, Bergen illustrates the mistakes made by the Central Intelligence Agency and other government agencies in repeatedly underestimating the threat bin Laden proposed to national security.
Bergen's book also relates the difficulties the journalist encountered in his quest to interview bin Laden: meeting with three intermediaries in London, followed by an arduous trek that began in Pakistan and took him through a maze-like series of roads and trails in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to a secret, heavily fortified location. Bin Laden, as Bergen explains, began building his al-Qaeda network in the mid-1980s, obtaining financing to establish "guesthouses" for Islamic volunteers who wished to join the jihad, primarily in Pakistan. By the 1990s these guesthouses had evolved into a network of paramilitary training camps ranging across some twenty countries. Bergen maintains that bin Laden has been fighting his war against the United States since the bombing of a hotel in Yemen in 1992, during which time an Australian tourist was killed. Each subsequent assault, Bergen demonstrates, from Somalia to the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 to the simultaneous bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, has escalated in terms of violence and casualties.
With readers clamoring for information in the months following September 11, Holy War, Inc. was appreciated by many. Salon.com contributor Laura Miller called it "without a doubt … the most entertaining of the currently available books on Osama bin Laden" and praised the fact that Bergen "has a newsman's investment in accuracy and solid sourcing." Daniel Fierman, reviewing the book for Entertainment Weekly, described it as "impressive in scope and spookiness." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly found Bergen's book distinguished by its depth of knowledge, and John Green, writing in Booklist, called it a "penetrating examination."
Christopher Andrew of London's Sunday Telegraph recognized that, "rough-hewn though it is" in its analysis of the September 11 attacks, "Holy War, Inc. helpfully disposes of some of the bizarre myths contained in earlier studies of bin Laden," such as the idea that bin Laden issues fatwas, or death sentences, against other Muslims. Also, Bergen counters the oft-held assumption that bin Laden is concerned with American popular culture, citing his decision to target the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—symbols of financial and military power—rather than Disneyworld or Las Vegas.
Critics well versed in the intricate details of Middle Eastern politics were more specific in their remarks. Reviewing the book in Commentary, Marin J. Strmecki wrote that "Holy War, Inc. offers a lively narrative of bin Laden's life and accomplishments, such as they are." Still, the reviewer found several perceived shortcomings in the book, including the fact that "Bergen oddly omits mentioning the moment when bin Laden was forced to leave Sudan in 1996 and the Clinton administration let slip a major opportunity to take him into custody." Strmecki also suggested that it was too soon to tell the complete story of bin Laden and his holy war, concluding that "the superficiality of Holy War, Inc. in some instances, and its incompleteness in others, suggest the need for caution in approaching any book promising to take us ‘inside the secret world’ of a clandestine organization." Assessing Holy War, Inc. in the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani commended the work as a good overview on the topic of terrorism. "Much of this book will be familiar to readers who have followed the many reports about Al Qaeda in newspapers and on television in the last two months [of 2001]," Kakutani wrote, "and though it sheds little new light on the youth and formative experiences of Mr. Bin Laden, Mr. Bergen does a succinct job of pulling together a wealth of information into a coherent if sometimes subjective narrative."
Bergen provides a picture of Bin Laden through recollections of people who knew him in The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader. Friends, relatives, and business associates contribute to the picture of bin Laden, allowing the reader insight into his religious and political beliefs. It is "an authoritative, accessible, and fascinating account," reported Nader Entessar in a Library Journal review. In an online chat reprinted in the Washington Post, Bergen was asked how those in charge of the American government would know when they had won the war on terror. He replied: "The war on terrorism is clearly a metaphorical war…. It would be more usefully described as a war on terrorists, really…. Terrorism's been around in its modern form since the '60s and the '70s, and it's not going to go away. It's a problem that can be managed—once we can manage it, then we can declare a sort of victory."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bergen, Peter L., Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, Free Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Booklist, November 15, 2001, John Green, review of Holy War, Inc., p. 522.
Commentary, January, 2002, Marin J. Strmecki, review of Holy War, Inc., p. 66.
Economist (London, England), November 17, 2001, review of Holy War, Inc., p. 110.
Entertainment Weekly, November 30, 2001, Daniel Fierman, review of Holy War, Inc., p. 86.
Library Journal, January 1, 2006, Nader Entessar, review of The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader, p. 136.
New Statesman, February 20, 2006, Brendan O'Neill, review of The Osama Bin Laden I Know, p. 50.
New York Times, November 6, 2001, Michiko Kakutani, "How Osama bin Laden Became a Global Celebrity," p. E1; November 16, 2001, Caryn James, "Days of War and Wonder in Afghanistan," p. E1.
New York Times Book Review, November 18, 2001, Ethan Bronner, "21st-Century Jihad: A Television Journalist Explores the Network by Which Osama bin Laden Has Launched a War against the West," p. 15.
Publishers Weekly, November 12, 2001, review of Holy War, Inc., p. 52.
Sunday Telegraph (London, England), November 18, 2001, Christopher Andrew, "Bin Laden: The Fanatics' Fanatic," p. 16.
Washington Post Book World, November 11, 2001, Jeff Stein, "Prophet of Evil," p. 1.
Peter L. Bergen's Home Page,http://www.peterbergen.com (February 7, 2007).
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (November 21, 2001), Laura Miller, "The Holy Warrior."
Washington Post Online,http://discuss.washingtonpost.com/ (September 9, 2002), transcript of online discussion session with Peter L. Bergen.