NRK is screening the documentary Jihad on September 28, the latest film from former artist and documentary maker Deeyah Khan. Through interviews with young, British Muslims, the film depicts how the often frustrated youths fall for jihadism as it is interpreted by some religious leaders. «I want to show the human side of people who are often treated as monsters, » said Deeyah Khan to Modern Times. «This does not mean that I defend what they have done. But I believe the unmistakable regret felt by many of those who defected these groups, have a far greater impact than any condemnation I could ever muster. »
Some will recognise the Norwegian-Pakistani director as the artist Depeeka, who saw success in Norway during the 1990s. In 2013, she received an Emmy award for her breakthrough film Banaz – a love story, which focused on honour killings.
Jihad premiered on the British TV-channel ITV in June to mixed reviews. Some Muslims reacted with panic, whilst others described it as a Jihadism recruitment film. To Khan, it was important to enable people with different experiences linked to extremism speak. «I let the people in the film talk, and show their complex stories – stories which make us understand what happened prior to their violent and extremist actions, » she states. «Despite personally finding violent jihadism evil and disgusting, I spent two years interviewing current and former jihadists in Britain and Europe. I did this because I feel we need to learn more about what actually drives young people into this. This way we can become more efficient in the fight again radicalisation. We must be better at reducing the number of young people who join these violent groups. Radicalisation is about pain,» says Khan.
Exclusion. Much of the film’s work focused on gaining entry to and the trust of the people she wanted to interview. One of these was Abu Munatsir, long known as the «Godfather of jihadism». For a long time, Munatsir functioned as Bradford’s central Muslim leader. He used his position to incite to Jihad, and enticed many young men to enlist. Kahn explains that the feelings of exclusion and alienation is a fundamental reason for young people becoming vulnerable to recruitment to extremist groups. She feels that the media must shoulder part of the blame for many Muslims in Western society feel excluded. «One of the most frustrating things about the media, is their constant insistence of promoting some of the most extreme voices as typical Muslim. They invite them to debates, knowing fully well that the extremists will utter something provoking, and thus making the debate even more sensational. Every time they do this, they reinforce negative stereotypes, and reject the progressive voices of this environment. Truth is, many Muslims are not interested in either politics or religion. Most Muslims in Norway are like all other Norwegians – more interested in repaying their loans and make sure their children are doing well in school, than establishing an Islamic state. But the media prefer to focus on the conservative and extreme, something which both promotes bigotry and gives free advertising to extremist viewpoints,» explains Khan.
More women. Khan’s own organisation Fuuse is organising the «Fuuse Forum» conference on September 18th. Among the participants are three people who used to be involved in Islamic extremism. «Among the people I spoke to in the film were two young men who suffered racially motivated violence. They felt distanced to their parents’ cultural background, whilst simultaneously felt there was no room for them in British society. There are many reasons young people are recruited into extremism, and these reasons vary from case to case. The overarching message is that we need to create a society where everyone is secure in the knowledge that they are treated fairly, and as equal members of the community, » continues Khan.
Yasmin Mulbocus, one of the conference participants, was a member of a British illegal extremist group from 1996 to 2000. In the film, she explains that when she, a couple of years ago, was raped, the police dropped the case due to the evidence’s standing. «In a way, I took revenge by becoming an extremist foreign fighter, » she explains in the film «I thought a Sharia law would ensure that the guilty would be executed, and I felt this would have been fair. » To Mulbocus, the turning point came the day she was called in for a conversation at her daughter’s school: «I understood that I had to leave the Jihad environment when my daughter’s teacher called me in for a chat and said ‘Well, your daughter told her class mates that it is ok to kill non-Muslims’.»
Mulbocus currently works to counter the recruitment of young people extremist groups. Khan explains that more and more women join such groups. «To some it is about escape. My point is that women can be as furious, blood thirsty and politically active as men. Another dimension is the life that many of these women live, with strict demands on how to live and not to live. Sometimes, these demands are so strict that the women break out. It is an escape which can seem like a liberation, since it might be the first time ever they make their own decision. This way, they are able to wrap it up in religion and not be accused of leaving their faith, which they would if they broke out to be part of Western society. It becomes a choice which seems more right for these women, » says Khan.
« One of the most frustrating things about the media, is their constant insistence on promoting some of the most extreme voices as typical Muslim. »
Dialogue. In March, Yousef Bartho Assidiq and Faten Mahdi Al-Hussaini founded the organisation JustUnity. Assidiq converted to Islam as an adult, and was himself part of an extremist group. Through JustUnity he works to create a dialogue. Kahn feels that people who have been part of extremist movements in Norway or abroad, can be a resource when they return. «Part of what makes young people join radical and extreme movements, is naivety. We can recognise that youths make mistakes, and we can recognise that it takes courage to admit mistakes. I feel that defectors can be vital resources. They can help dissuade other young people from making the same mistake. We need people who can reveal the brutal reality on the inside of these Jihadist movements, and this way come into contact with other youths who are in danger of being radicalised, » she says. «We must break down the ghettoes, and ensure that we do not end up as strangers to one another. Our children must grow up side by side, and we must ensure that young people receive the support they need at school, » Khan concludes.
The film will be screened by NRK on September 28th.