al-Araby al-Jadeed interview with Deeyah

June, 2014

What were the biggest challenges logistically/ personally you had with filming this documentary?

What took the longest was finding the right voices and stories that I wanted to highlight in the film.  I wanted to make a film that goes beyond the usual conversations around radicalization which either centre around western foreign policy or jihadist ideology. I wanted to look at the human face of this topic and the personal stories behind the stereotypes.  I wanted to explore the unique human stories that are found underneath all the bravado, politics and posturing.  It took a while for me to find the stories I wanted to tell and to find people willing to speak on camera and who have had the benefit of retrospection - which has allowed them to process, examine and made them truly able to articulate their experiences with sincerity, detail and precision. It takes great courage for someone to speak with the inner strength and profound truth the way the characters in my film did which is why they were able to express with such clarity both the reasons why they became drawn to the violent jihadi movements and what ultimately made them walk away from violence, anger and aggression.


Did you change your view/ perspective on "jihad" during the making of the doc?  If so, how?

I didn't change my view of jihad so much as I changed my view of the people who were part of it. I started off feeling very apprehensive, that this was going to be a difficult experience, that they wouldn't want to speak to me with complete openness. But I found that the human connections are strong, particularly with the more reflective interviewees, and that I could relate to their stories on a human level a lot more than I expected I would.


There is a history of people from the UK going to fight in other countries - from the Spanish civil war to Jewish teenagers going to the IDF.....what, if anything, do you think is particulary different/ problematic about the "jihad" phenomenon?

People have been inspired by all kinds of overseas struggles, and volunteered to take part in them throughout history, from the Middle Ages onward. What is particular about this case is that it isn't the defense of an existing state, but the creation of a new one: volunteers taking part in an occupation, and one which they promise to be a permanent and expanding colonial regime, bringing more and more people under its autocratic rule. The crimes of the IDF are numerous, but the Islamic State is nakedly genocidal. In this sense, as a religiously motivated land-grab, it's a crusade, or like the Settler movements, but even more violent.


Within the Muslim community in the UK, there seems to be an association - whether true or false - that more religious preachers are more politically radical/ critical and religious moderates to be more apologetic for uk society & foreign policy.  Would you agree with this?  And do you think this is harmful?

The issue with religious teaching is less that most imams are radical, but that most are conservative and out of touch with the realities that young people face. We have a generation who have become invested in their identities as Muslims and how this fits in with their identities as British citizens, and as people with immigrant heritage and so on, but the imams who are available in their communities don't have the skills to help them, might not even speak English. So there's no guidance on how to integrate all the various strands of identity. Here the small number of radical preachers can be very effective: they resolve the identity crisis through proposing this new identity, solely predicated on religious position and then tie into political activism, which then winds up to violent extremism.  For a young person searching for their place in the world, and searching for answers about complex and uncomfortable realities, this black and white simplistic view and approach to the world becomes convenient and appealing.


One of your interviewees said at one point that resentment with the UK and racism ect could be converted into positive activism, but instead channelled into you think there's still a chance for positive activism?  (Because many of your interviewees seemed to have legitimate grievances, and capability for empathising with those suffering abroad could be a good thing!)

That's the tragedy: these forms of extremism take young people's idealism and perverts it into a cult devoted to savagery, and they take people's empathy and limit it to their own chosen group. There are over two million refugees in the Middle East due to the Islamic State, people who have left their homes and livelihoods, and there are minority religions who have existed for millennia and are on now the verge of extinction. They need our help, solidarity and our empathy. Those who are drawn to IS could be working to raise funds for support for the refugees, working democratically to research and inform policy and promote a culture of peace and development. Instead they are creating a humanitarian disaster.  On one hand they rightly reject the violence of the West but then they are themselves inflicting incredible human suffering on a tremendous scale. How can this be justified? Violence and hatred and the complete disregard for human life no matter who the perpetrator, are crimes against humanity, and cannot be justified.  Personally I am against militarism of all sorts whether perpetrated by drones or suicide bombers. Nothing justifies the taking of life.


Abu Muntasir said he didn't know why he wasn't you have any ideas why not?!

At that period in time, the British policy towards Muslim extremism and the mujahideen was very hands-off. Remember that there was support for the Taliban as long as they were fighting the Soviets, and this relationship didn't really sour until the first Gulf War. The UK allowed extremists to operate in the country under this expectation that if any violence occurred, it wouldn't be in the UK. Obviously, that turned out to be a misguided policy in every way – it didn't stop attacks on UK soil, and it was misguided to allow these organisations the space to develop on a global scale.


Your documentary also explores the social reasons for jihad - families, sex, ect - to what extent do you think that these issues are particular to the muslim/ south asian community in the UK? Do you think that dealing with these issues should be confined to these particular communities?

I believe we should never treat any community in isolation. This has been one of the great policy failings that has led to the divided society we live in now. We need to ensure that all people have the same rights and access to opportunities so that society is fair and inclusive, and to ensure that we do all we can to eradicate discrimination, but this also means we can't have any more abuses within families and households excused on the grounds of 'cultural difference or cultural sensitivity.'


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