Many experience excitement, shock and even dread as they await the birth of their offspring, but Morgan Spurlock is different. Motivated by the news of his wife’s pregnancy, he embarks on a journey to make the world a better place for his yet-to-be-born child by capturing the most notorious man of our age: Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda and architect of 9/11. Co-written, produced, directed by and starring the Academy Award-nominated Spurlock, “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?” documents Spurlock’s relentless hunt. As he tours Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Jordan, Israel and Pakistan, Spurlock offers his audience, along with humor and irony, a genuine and unbiased view of the Middle East and its much-feared people.
While preparing for his onerous odyssey, Spurlock receives security training, Arabic lessons and a serious of immunizations, and remembers the words of Dick Cheney: “They hate us, they hate our country, they hate the liberties for which we stand.” But who really are these people? How do they differ from us, and why do they hate us? As he is inquiring the whereabouts of bin Laden, Spurlock discovers a rather painful fact: It is America’s tainted image abroad that has been sustaining fundamentalist Islam. Spurlock’s Middle Eastern interviewees all agreed on one thing: “We like Americans, but we do not like the American foreign policy.” As Spurlock notes, America’s desires to support anti-communism during the Cold War and to preserve its interests in oil right now have exacerbated the poverty of the Middle East. And it is this poverty that gave birth to Islamic radicalism and inexorable anger towards the “imperialist America.”
To understand the Middle Easterns, Spurlock shows, we should first understand the economic and political conditions that nourish their way of thinking. The West Bank particularly horrifies the director as he observes the immense shortage of food and shelter. In the Gaza Strip, where a new school is blown up every other day, the issue of safety is out of question. During his visit to a Saudi high school, Spurlock is allowed to interview only two hand-picked students under the supervision of their instructors, who promptly stop the recording when the questions fail to meet their approval. Isn’t it then almost unfair to expect these people, who have drowned in poverty, danger and oppression, to be on the same page with us? As a Moroccan interviewee remarks, isn’t terror the only way the poor can have their voices heard?
To lighten up the otherwise gloomy mood of his documentary, Spurlock successfully integrates scenes of flash-animated bin Laden dancing to MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” and animated sequences appropriating the Mortal Kombat video game. While Spurlock’s oftentimes overstated sense of humor is not free of criticism, it certainly helps the director get his message across in a downright manner. Conveying facts and intuitions regarding the unknown Middle East, Spurlock’s informative documentary comes in the form of a survey college course — accessible by all and enjoyed by many.
As he is finishing up his tour on the streets of Pakistan, Spurlock asks a teenage boy how he feels about bin Laden and receives a sincere, but painful answer: “I wish we, too, had someone like Osama bin Laden…” Spurlock helps us realize that finding bin Laden is not the solution to the problem of terrorism since the ideology that feeds bin Laden continues to corrupt countless young minds all over the Middle East. “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?” makes clear that terrorism can be stopped only when the American government tries to understand the complicated social, cultural and economic structure that the Middle East is composed of.