In recent years, we've witnessed a growing number of otherwise respectable westerners fall victim to radicalization under the tutelage of terrorist organizations. What's behind this troubling epidemic? Director and filmmaker Deeyah Khan who also made Banaz: A Love Story - herself the victim of threats from Islamic extremists – spent the better part of two years speaking candidly with figures from all sides of this complex issue, including high-profile recruiters and their prey. Her award-winning documentary Jihad: A Story of the Others is the searing and perceptive result of these efforts.
One of the major revelations in the film is that this phenomenon is nothing new. We hear from Abu Muntasir, a well-regarded Muslim preacher in the U.K. who began teaching extremist views as an increasing intolerance for all other beliefs and religions began to take hold within him. It all started in the 1980s as he witnessed the emergence of the Islamic Jihad movement in response to invading Russian forces in Afghanistan. He was the first Muslim in Britain who traveled to the war-torn region to join the fight, and he set the precedent for many others to come.
These actions proved inspiring to many in his close-knit congregation. The film features conversations with two of his most impressionable recruits. They both testify to Muntasir's power of influence, his strength and wealth of knowledge, and his status in their lives as a father figure of sorts. In many respects, the qualities that make someone susceptible to the lure of extremism are all too common. Feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, coupled with an intense need to belong, are eased by the illusion of family, acceptance and an outlet for their growing frustrations.
Thankfully, many of the film's subjects have left these extremist positions behind, and their harrowing experiences inform the deeper and more compassionate message of tolerance and peace they share today. Jihad: A Story of the Others is a brave and noble endeavor simply for its willingness to relate to the human motives behind extremism. In this world of rampant racial and religious intolerance, it promotes the most important message of all: that meaningful change can only come through understanding.