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“JIHADISTS”— Extremist Islam
Banned in France (as ‘Salfistes’), the film , “Jihadists” looks at the Salafi movement and reveals the inner workings of extremist Islam.
Two Western filmmakers, Lemine Ould Salem of Mauritania and François Margolin from France were granted unparalleled access to fundamentalist clerics of Sunni Islam who proselytize for a “purer” form of Islam–including jihad of the sword and they do so in Mali, Tunisia, Iraq and Afghanistan. We see their theoretical interpretations are juxtaposed against images and footage from recruitment videos showing the hardline application of sharia law. The film, gives us a stark look everyday life under jihadi rule.
An earlier version of the film was released following the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris where it was mistakenly interpreted as an empathetic portrayal of jihadism. If you have ever wondered what indoctrination by an extremist group would be like, you can find out by watching this.
We see “a context-free series of interviews with hardline fundamentalist clerics and believers from sharia strongholds in Mali, Tunisia, Iraq and Afghanistan, interspersed with propaganda videos of varying levels of queasiness and horror”. We hear from ultra-pious adherents who want to turn back the clock and the result is an uncritical presentation causing the film to almost being banned in France because it sounded like propaganda. We see reality including everyday violence, unapologetic defenses of cruelty, killing and hatred wrapped in soft-spoken praising of God.
What we see is an observed lesson that reveals the inner workings of a vocal minority. To know what’s out there is valid and director Margolin says we should “fight with ideas.”In 2016, France restricted the documentary “Jihadists” (there called “Salafistes”) over fears that it provided a platform for Islamic extremists to spread propaganda.
This version is updated and re-edited and features interviews from over several years with militants and extremists in Mali, Tunisia and Mauritania. Co-director Margolin tell us about the importance of listening to them. “They are not crazy,” he says, as if madness were the sole reason for withholding a soapbox. “They have not escaped from psychiatric wards. However, it is not clear what Margolin thinks is educational about showing unfiltered extremist ideology. In an early moment in Mali, Oumar Ould Hamaha, a militant allied with Al Qaeda who was murdered in 2014 claims that there has been no more theft “since we started stonings” and “cutting off thieves’ hands.” As the film proceeds, subjects praise the Sept. 11 attacks and the Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2015 and inveigh against women, gays and Jews
Those interviewed openly discuss their ideology and have no shame in admitting that homosexuals anyone who doesn’t agree with and obey their laws and ideologies are killed. The jihadists appear brainwashed, simple-minded and cruel. The filmmakers are quite courageous and bold for risking their lives to bring attention to these people and their twisted ideologies that fuel ISIS. Anger toward such hatred, bigotry, extremism and evil.
What the film does not do and should is look at the nature of evil and if it is banal or not. This, however, is very difficult to do and I can tell you first hand that my own experience in teaching courses on Hannah Arendt and the banality of evil have proven that to me and that we really are at a loss to define the word evil as a stand-alone noun. We tend to see evil as the opposite of good and there is so much more involved.
“Jihadists” is an alarming and controversial film especially when it describes plans for taking on the President of the United States. During its brief 75 minutes’ running time, you will be accosted by words that will make you shudder, encourage you to shelter yourself and your small children. After agreeing to cut some of the scenes that went too far over the top—such as images of a police officer killed in France—the French Ministry of Culture lifted the ban. There are those who wonder whether this film is an apologia, or defense, of ISIS ideology and it is indeed possible that watching it might sway people to the cause because those who are interviewed appear mentally fine. They explain their positions calmly, as though implying that they would be perfectly willing to debate the opposite side but as equals.
Specifically “Jihadists” deals with the Sunni Islam extreme sect of Salafistes, the spokesmen—all men by the way—lecture us without a smile or laugh on their faces. And that’s a good thing because if they came across as entertainers they could influence far more people than they have done to date. We see one guy whose hand is amputated for stealing and we see two homosexuals tossed from the roof because their “crime offends God” and makes them “no better than animals.” In one unexplained strip of film, a couple of jihadists drive by in their car gunning down people with automatic weapons and we are not told why.
The film ends with a final scene of an elderly gentleman smoking his pipe despite criticism from a passing ideologue. He demanded and received the return of what gives him pleasure saying that his health is not anybody else’s business.
The film is in French, English, Arabic and Bambara with subtitles.