‘Jihadists’ Review: Interviewing, but Not Challenging, Islamic Extremists | Modern Society of USA

‘Jihadists’ Review: Interviewing, but Not Challenging, Islamic Extremists

‘Jihadists’ Review: Interviewing, but Not Challenging, Islamic Extremists

In 2016, France restricted viewing of the documentary “Jihadists” (there called “Salafistes”) over fears that it provided a platform for Islamic extremists to spread propaganda.

The version opening here, said to have been updated and re-edited, begins with remarks from one of the directors, François Margolin, who gratuitously invokes relatives killed in the Holocaust as a reason for making the movie, which features interviews from over several years with militants and extremists in Mali, Tunisia and Mauritania. Margolin defends 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.”

Exactly what Margolin thinks is educational about showing unfiltered extremist ideology, however, is unclear. In an early moment in Mali, Oumar Ould Hamaha, a militant allied with Al Qaeda who was killed 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.

These sit-down interviews were surely difficult to secure, but if Margolin and his co-director, Lemine Ould Salem, offered any pushback, it doesn’t show. At least “Of Fathers and Sons,” nominated for an Oscar this week, captured candid and unsettling scenes of children training to become terrorists, rather than simply inviting jihadists to preach to a camera.

The talking-head footage is supplemented with Islamic State propaganda videos. “It seemed important to show the reality of what is happening in Syria and Iraq when this Salafist ideology is applied,” Margolin says in his closing remarks, stating that it was impossible to film in those areas.

The erasure of the difference between propaganda and reality cuts to the heart of what is appalling about “Jihadists,” a terrorist mixtape that appears remarkably uninterested in presenting these men in a more critical way than they would want.

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