The World Since 9/11, in Detail and Sorrow (TV Documentary/'America at a Crossroads')

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Apparently, a church dance in Greeley, Colo., led to 9/11.

In 1948 Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian writer who became the father of the radical Islamist movement, was sent to the United States to temper his contempt for the West. What he saw over two years — postwar consumerism, suburban lawns, men and women dancing “breast to breast” — only further inflamed his conviction that the West was the enemy of Islam and doomed.

Mr. Qutb went on to work up a pseudospiritual justification of Islamic terrorism that inspired and emboldened many, including Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri. And that modest Colorado mixer — back then, Greeley was a dry town — was Mr. Qutb’s “epiphanic moment,” as Malise Ruthven, a Middle East expert, puts it in “Jihad: The Men and Ideas Behind Al Qaeda,” the first documentary in the weeklong, 11-part PBS series “America at a Crossroads.”

The title alone suggests the series’s ambition: “Crossroads” is an attempt to look at the post-9/11 world as broadly and deeply as possible. It’s a worthy and worthwhile examination of the clash between Islam and the West, but it’s also the kind of sorrowful, all-knowing look backward that makes viewers wonder why all these journalists, experts, scholars and former government officials were not more outspoken about the impending crisis before it blew up the twin towers and drove the Bush administration to invade Iraq.

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