Written by Tabbasam Hamid
After watching the BBC’s ‘My Brother, the Islamist’ last week, I was reading some of the comments that had been posted on the BBC blog site, and they seemed to somewhat mirror the tone of Robb Leech’s own experience: mothers grieving for lost sons, friends and relatives distraught and bemused. Their loved ones had been taken from them, except they did not die a physical death, but it was as if a wicked imposter had assumed the physical form of their beloved and initiated an indefinitely long ceremony of cruelty against them. And what led them away? They believe it was Islam. As if the religion hasn’t been denigrated enough, now there are people who believe that the Islamic mission is one of destroying bonds of kith and kin, and conditioning young men to look on any non-Muslim as subhuman.
Robb Leech tries to follow his step-brother ‘Rich’ in this poignant documentary, only to be confronted by a ‘Salahuddin’ and some of his associates. I must clarify that Salahuddin and Rich are the same person, but after Rich’s conversion to Islam, he becomes, in a sense, unrecognisable to his stepbrother. Robb is by no means Islamaphobic, but reacts as any person would to his brother turning against him in such a cold and inexplicable way. He recounts their life growing up together, their closeness, and the mutual affection; and at times when he interviews his brother, you can sense the very feint remnants of a bond. But all this is completely swept away by Salahuddin’s bigotry and vitriol. It really was heartbreaking to see, especially when Robb learns that some of the brothers shake his hand with their left hand because they class him as among the ‘dirty kafir’.
Robb also follows a 17 year old convert to Islam who falls under the influence of Anjem Choudhary and his cohort as well. His mother feels distraught at the thought of her son becoming radical, but resolves to allow him to make his own choices in life, however much hurt that may cause her.
Under the tutelage of Choudhary’s group young men have been led down a path of delusions and falsehood. It is true that they constitute a negligible minority and extremist fringe, but they have a grotesquely disproportionate influence in forming public opinion about Islam. It is a shame that the media converges on these fools to give them a platform to tar our religion. Where is the voice of the ‘moderates’ people ask? It’s not sensationalist, too dull to listen to, is the answer.
Another thing I noticed watching this was that when Salahuddin and his posse film messages in their makeshift studio to upload to youtube, in the background there is always a banner of the shahadah in black and white- black writing and white background, or vice versa. And I think that this black/white colour code they seem to have runs in parallel with their thought processes: their world view too is black and white, incapable of viewing the panoply of human diversity or the goodness in human beings as human beings. Their views also lack any frame of reference, existing at the level of parrot-fashion imitation. They are like machines: capable of saying an array of words in the right order (sometimes!) but never even beginning to understand their meaning or their weight.
This is a beautifully made and thought-provoking documentary, on BBC iPlayer now.