By Robb Leech
25 Oct 2014
Extremism of any kind is a symptom of an unhealthy society and, in order to eradicate it, we should look to treat its cause
As ISIS continues to dominate our collective consciousness, Britain appears to be fumbling in the dark for new ways of stemming the blood from an old wound which refuses to heal; only they seem to be thinking about bigger plasters, which probably won’t do the trick. Meanwhile, somewhere in Britain, another jihadist is born.
I documented the birth of one particular jihadist in my film My Brother the Islamist. The film charted my attempts to reconnect with Rich, who happened to be my stepbrother, to try to understand the new world he had become a part of. Ultimately the shared journey drew us closer together, but a year later he would be arrested for attempting to join the Taliban in Pakistan.
Two weeks before he vanished from the streets of Ealing, we met for a coffee. We talked about our family, football, and albeit fleetingly, the future. I left the meeting with a smile on my face. Six months later he would plead guilty to terrorism charges, and I began making a second film, My Brother the Terrorist.
From the moment he converted, Rich was talking about fighting western oppression and dying a martyr. In a sense, the writing was on the wall. Violent jihad was something he and his “brothers” constantly talked about. When Rich pleaded guilty to preparing to commit acts of terror in 2012, he had been planning to join the Pakistani Taliban.
But I never saw Rich as a terrorist, and didn’t see any of the people he surrounded himself with as terrorists either. What I saw were, and I hate to say it — vulnerable young men — with massive great chips on their shoulders. With their radical new status they felt empowered, superior and perhaps most annoyingly for me, righteous.
In a former life, the world they had been brought up in had wronged them. Perhaps they had family troubles, or maybe society shunned them, whatever it was, they resented it — they were lost, empty and had no stake in the western world. Becoming a radical Muslim reversed the polarity.
It’s a cliquey club from which everything beyond is viewed as imperfect at best, or evil at worst. And it’s the evils that these guys saturate their perceptions of the world with. Horrific, graphic and brutal images of the suffering, pain and death of Muslims at the hands of the West, played out alongside a powerful narrative of oppression and injustice — a narrative that is difficult to dismantle. The irony is that the very shock of seeing such graphic brutality, which plays such a key role in the radicalisation process, eventually becomes ordinary.
People like my stepbrother justify fighting violent jihad out of a sense of responsibility at the plight of fellow Muslims. Yes, fighting on a foreign battlefield and owning your own AK-47 is pretty exciting too (and let’s not forget that dying a martyr is like hitting the afterlife jackpot), but crucially their motivation isn’t to kill innocent people, or to do bad. The story they’re telling themselves is, as confounding as it sounds — one of saving humanity.
The inherent problem in attempting to tackle radicalisation is that often it is too late. By the time its signs begin to show, the scene is already set. Extremism of any kind is a symptom of an unhealthy society and, like any illness, in order to eradicate it; we should look to treat its cause.
Hindustan Times (Delhi)