Reporting on Terror: A Q&A with VICE Co-Founder Suroosh Alvi

Reporting on Terror: A Q&A with VICE Co-Founder Suroosh Alvi

Photo of Suroosh Alvi from VICE docuseries “TERROR”.

VICE co-founder Suroosh Alvi has traveled the world investigating the world’s deadliest terrorist organizations. He will discuss how VICE has reported on the growth of terrorism during the past fifteen years tonight at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. In anticipation of this program, Alvi talked with 9/11 Memorial staff via email to discuss some of the topics that will be explored during the talk. Tickets for the talk are sold out but you can watch live here or on Facebook. Below are highlights from the conversation.

Tell us why you co-founded VICE.

A void existed in media. Countless stories weren't being told and an entire world not being covered. We started our magazine to fill that void. Twenty-two years later, having evolved into a diversified media company with a global footprint, the overarching goal and philosophy remains the same. We challenge ourselves to create authentic content, find remarkable stories, and report on the news with rigor and honesty. After all this time, the urgency of our mission has never been greater than it is today

What topics do you explore in your new five-part special docuseries “TERROR” and what do you hope to accomplish with this series?

"TERROR" is a historical deep dive into the five main players of modern-day jihadist groups. We start with al-Qaeda and end with the Islamic State, with Al-Shabaab, the Taliban, and Boko Haram in between. We wanted to gain a deeper understanding of these groups by examining their motivations, origins, and how they've evolved. We also wanted to look at how western foreign policy and the policies of their own governments have impacted their respective evolutions, which meant getting seriously into the history. These groups didn’t just appear overnight, and, sadly, they aren’t just going to go away.

Photo of Suroosh Alvi from VICE docuseries “TERROR”.

Do you think we can end the war on terror? Or do you think terrorist organizations will continue to grow and evolve?

I have a hard time seeing the end, but I hope I'm wrong. In the short-term, it feels like we are caught in a vicious cycle of counter-terrorism programs and strategies that aren’t eliminating the groups. Rather, they've triggered a back-and-forth volley of attacks and counter attacks, leaving death, destruction, fear, and suffering in their wake, ultimately creating a Frankenstein of terrorism that is continuing to grow and evolve globally.

Was it difficult to get members from terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda to do an interview with you? Why do you feel it is important to give members of these organizations a chance to explain their views?
Yes, it was very difficult. In the case of al-Qaeda, it took months of covert communication before they agreed to an interview. There was also the issue of the raging civil war in Yemen that made it extremely difficult to enter the country. But with [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], we didn't go in blind. They told us that they wanted to get their message out to western media so we had an informal invitation of sorts. Unfortunately, when we arrived they changed their minds, but we eventually succeeded in sitting down with a few of their members. We were very conscious about not giving them a soapbox, but felt that having a discourse with them would help us gain a better understanding of the issues at hand. VICE has always believed in getting as close to the story as possible, so conducting these interviews is in lock- step with our philosophy. That said, as the world becomes more and more polarized, and as terrorism is viewed as a civilizational conflict not just by terrorists, but even by the current U.S. president, I believe it’s more important than ever to have a conversation. Things aren’t black and white, and it's not that simple. There is some nuance.

Have you visited the 9/11 Memorial & Museum? If so, please describe your experience.

We filmed the conclusion of the final Islamic State episode at the Memorial. It’s an incredibly special place. And beautiful. I've yet to visit the Museum but plan to very soon and am looking forward to it.

By 9/11 Memorial Staff