Tuesday, 17 July 2018

PATH OF BLOOD: JONATHAN HACKER'S JIHADI DOCUMENTARY

Path Of Blood opens with Ali, a young jihadi, struggling to record his suicide video. He is distracted by his comrades, he wants coffee, he is to all intents and purposes a class clown brought to the front of the classroom to recite a lesson for which he is not prepared. Ali struggles to read the script written for him; he doesn't seem to understand it; in fact he doesn't seem to understand. In April 2004, Abdul al-Mudyaish carried out a bombing aimed at the Traffic Directorate in Riyadh.

The footage of Ali was a small part of a horde of jihadi home-movies captured by Saudi security services which makes up the bulk of Path Of Blood—the only additional material is police and other video shot in the aftermath of terror attacks, during police assaults on jihadi hideouts, and Saudi leaders on inspections or meetings. It is presented without narration or commentary, and it provides a mesmerisng look inside the world of Islamic terror at the very heart of Islam itself, Al Queda's war on the House of Saud, which Osama Bin Laden ordered in 2001, and which has been being fought since at least 2003.

Since 2001, the West has been focused on Islamic terror as it strikes at western targets. It has launched invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and seen much of the Middle East crumble into chaos. Yet in the heart of Islam, Saudi Arabia, from where most of the 911 terrorists came, the threat is just as great. Where we see the Saudis subtly propagating terror elsewhere, they also face a fundamentalist assault from those who see them bending to the will of the West.

At the heart of this paradox lie these young men—drawn to the simple answers fundamentalism offers, drawn to the excitement of violence, drawn to the camaraderie of the jihadis. The parallels with various fundamentalist and nationalist organisations in the West is not hard to draw, especially as the footage in Path Of Blood shows their thrill at fighting the repression of Saudi security, their conviction that theirs is indeed a holy war. It also shows with chilling starkness, their manipulation: when a young jihadi is chosen for a suicide mission, we are struck by the detachment of the leaders sending him, not themselves, to die.

There is an element of The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight here too. These kids are not worldly wise, they are just kids. We watch their drive to a training camp in the desert, like boys off to summer camp, and the thanks they give to Allah for the beauty of the setting. When they arrive the camp is a quagmire pelted by fierce rain, the tents ill equipped to cope with the muddy morass. As we watch the final raid on oil storage facility, the car with the bombs is about to run out of gas short of the target. We half expect the driver to ask if he needs to fill the tank.

This does not mean they are not dangerous. Such lightness contrasts sharply with the violence and destruction we also see. But by turning the terrorists into real people, Path Of Blood makes clear that these youngsters are victims themselves, while raising the painful spectre that their attraction to the cause is inevitable under our present circumstances, and likely to increase.

I was reminded more than once of the documentaries of Frederick Wiseman—for the way the producer/director Jonathan Hacker leaves the viewer free to make up his own mind, but more for the careful way in which the story, and the options, are presented. As with Wiseman, he does not moralise, he presents material which requires that you moralise, and as with Wiseman, the audience comes to see the problem lies deeper, it's more systematically ingrained in the situation, that we are led to, or like to, think. This is a remarkable, bravura piece of documentary making, a must-see for anyone concerned with the problem of terrorism, which should be everybody.

Path Of Blood is on show at Picturehouse in London

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