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Jihadists* - France 2016

By Claus Mueller

French director, Claude Lanzmann, interviewed about Jihadists.

February 15, 2019

Decades ago the distinguished German philosopher Juergen Habermas identified in a seminar in New York as one of the principle problems of advanced industrial society its inability to develop a plausible belief system or renew an existing one which provides motivating symbols and is grounded in interpersonal communication. Its absence can certainly be noted when observers of conflicts with radical movements often labeled as terrorist deplore our vacuum of ideas which could overcome the growing opposition the west faces in much of the world and point out the obvious to wit, socially grounded radicalism cannot be overcome with bombs. Claude Lanzmann who directed Shoah and recommends viewing the 2016 JIHADISTS documentary which was banned in France as unsuitable for minors suggested that this documentary was more enlightening as a true masterpiece than any expert book treatise on Islam.

Opposition in France to Francois Margolin and co-director Lemine Ould M. Salme's controversial film which is finally now available in the United States was based on the directors unblemished depiction of the violence committed by a radical Muslim minority, the Jihadists fighters and their Salafists theoreticians' interpretation of the Koran. The documentary was effectively banned in France by rating it NC18 normally used for pornographic productions. Salafism is a global radical Sunni ideology with groups adhering to it now virtually present in all countries with a Muslim population, including Western Europe. In the documentary the viewer finds gruesome images of Jihadists killing people in cars they are passed, the rigorous application of the Sharia such as stoning to death a married male adulterer while single man get whipped, amputating the right hand of a thief though providing subsequent medical care, and killing homosexual by throwing them from rooftops. Whipping people for the slightest infraction of Sharia is customary such as the use of tobacco, drugs, and alcohol. Violations of dress codes are forcibly corrected by roving Islamic police. We also learn how the court room functions and that the mother of a killed son can overrule the judge to have the murderer executed. The film makers use footage they shot in Mali, Tunisia and Mauritania and other countries and of extensive segments from propaganda films produced by ISIS and the Islamic state. These excerpts from videos shown through the internet globally demonstrate the brutal use of force, the execution of local prisoners and foreigners but also the sophisticated application of up to date media technologies. The film makers show everyday life under Sharia with superb images from Timbuktu and other venues.

What apparently most antagonized the critics of the film is that the directors did not editorialize their material. Rather they contrast the unfiltered articulate statements by Salafists from different African countries where radical Islam rules to the actual practice of their beliefs. The Jihadists admit that preaching was not sufficient to have strict obedience to Sharia but that the use of armed force was necessary. They stress that intervention of western military powers will export their struggle to Western countries where their followers are ready to act. Installing fear through open application of violence and brutality thus the management of savagery is from the radicals' perspective an important strategic tool. Israel's conflict with Palestinians is a perennial theme condemning Israel and Jews as is the firm conviction of Salafists that the more Muslims are killed by the west the stronger the power of radical Islam will become. For the Salafists it is obvious that on the long run Islam will prevail growing from 1.5 billion people now to 3 billion in a couple of decades. Their audience are moderates from the Islamic faith who have not yet converted to their radical ideology. Participation in a democracy is by necessity only to make them heard but according to the Salafists it is contrary to Islam. For them return to the source, to the times of the prophet before modernity is an articulated objective. Though Margolin's views are presented in brief statements he refrains from offering counter interpretations to the points made by the Salafist intellectuals or officials. Using quotations from the Koran women are declared inferior and two women equal the value of one man. The prophet justifies male bound sexism and violence against non-believers. If they do not convert deadly punishment can be used as well for all those who do not respect the prophet.

Francois Margolin demonstrates effectively the reality of Salafists ideology and stresses that political and military solutions are not enough to combat the firmly implanted radical Islamic belief system. It can only be fought with values and ideas derived from moderate Islam and Western traditions. By providing original access to Salafists intellectuals and footage he recorded with collaborators in areas ruled by the Salafist agenda and assembling material from ISIS propaganda films spreading he global message of radical Islam, Margolin offers unparalleled insights into the practice of Salafism. As Claude Lanzmann noted, the documentary is superior to most experts' books on the same issues. Margolin meets the most important objective of a socio-political documentary: to have viewers engage in reflections and change their preconceptions.

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*Originally released in France as SALAFISTES.

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Claus Mueller