Undercover Jihadi

What drives a person to extremism?

Undercover Jihadi Each time a young man leaves a quiet suburb and runs off to join ISIS, the baroquely violent group determined to carve out a caliphate of brutality, we are shocked. Why do they do it? How can they be stopped? Or brought back to our world? And if they come back, what to do about them? These are the questions that drive Mubin Shaikh on his quest to stop potential jihadis. Mubin Shaikh went from militant extremist to undercover operative, exposing a major terrorist cell. Now as a well-connected Counter-Terrorism expert, Shaikh takes to the frontlines of the battle against violent extremism around the world.

Making The Film

Statement from director Barry Stevens

Terrorism is a problem. There’s something about it that triggers our greatest fears. Last year, I was on the Paris Metro. I had gone there a week after the Bataclan attack. Nearby sat a young Muslim man. I thought that he looked angry. I found myself checking the exits, watching his hands. I hated this about myself; I hated my fear and suspicion. But this is common now in diverse societies. Fear. It’s not pleasant to think that people among us are willing to kill us. And it’s not pleasant for Muslims to think that people want to deport them, or are willing to bomb their homelands.

All my life, I have been fascinated by conflict, and the way that humans group themselves into teams and go to war. Perhaps this has something to do with having a family that was part English and part German, during two world wars. (And I am genetically part Jewish.) I have made numerous films about war and conflict. All of them have been about the loss of humanity in war, or about seeking justice and finding ways out of conflict.

Now I want to make a film about how to deal with the threat of jihadi violence. I want to explore the problem that confronts us in the “West.” The first reaction, especially on the political Right after an event like the Orlando atrocity, is to bomb Daesh, to enhance surveillance of Muslims, and even (in the case of Donald Trump’s supporters) to ban them from entering Western countries. The Left and liberals emphasize the fact that the Muslim community are needed as allies, and that alienating the community will drive more young Muslim men into the arms of the extremists, in fact making us less safe. (And the violent reaction is of course exactly what Daesh wants, because they think it will provoke a Muslim counter-reaction leading to a war between God’s armies and us.) While any intelligent child can see the dangers of overreaction, many adults cannot. But sometimes we do need to use force to stop violence. The problem is to know how and when. It’s a problem from hell, only made worse since Paris, Brussels and Orlando.

I also want to get inside the minds of those people drawn to support or approve of violent extremism in the name of Wahabist Islam -- to listen to and understand them. I want to explore this using Mubin Shaikh as the guide and entry. He’s a remarkable man. He went undercover, at great risk, to expose the Toronto 18. He is now working on his PhD on countering violent extremism (CVE). Mubin is the only expert on CVE who is both a devout Muslim and who actually busted a terrorist group. He is unique in the world. It is impossible for me to talk to angry Muslim young people in the same way that a Muslim like Shaikh can. So he is our Virgil leading us into the inferno. But I am Dante. I am the author of this journey.

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