The documentary, "Jihadists," opens with a scene of armed men in a truck chasing down a gazelle and shooting it. Was it killed for food or for amusement? It's unclear, but it serves as a symbolic harbinger of the story to come.
Director François Margolin and journalist Lemine Ould Salem are the team behind the film previously released in France (2016), under the title "Salafistes." At that time, the movie ran into problems with the French Ministry of Culture. Though accurately depicting life under Shira law in Mali, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Tunisia, there were questions about the intensity of the violence depicted and the "message" delivered.
Now, American audiences will be able to make their own determinations when "Jihadists" opens in New York And Los Angeles.
The current version has been cut to include contextualizing monologues delivered by Margolin. He gives private back story and insights into the evolution of his interest in the subject matter.
Margolin is not a stranger to tough topics or dangerous filming conditions. He has tackled the plight of child soldiers in Liberia, and Taliban opium dealing in Afghanistan.
An interest in radical Islam, jihad, and global terrorism has preoccupied Margolin for over the past quarter-century. He has been in contact with members of extreme organizations since the 1980s (after the assassination of Anwar Sadat), as well as during the period of the Soviet-Afghanistan conflict. A year before 9/11 occurred, he was conducting interviews with members of the Taliban.
To secure sit-downs with leaders from the Salafist movement, major risks were undertaken. Margolin was operating in locales that were out of the jurisdiction of United Nations forces. Other law-enforcement officials were 1,000 kilometers away.
Determined to contact representatives of the Salafist philosophy and belief system, Margolin used email, Twitter, and Facebook to communicate. He relates a meeting with members of Boko Haram, based in northern Nigeria, which almost ended in his death. He survived by escaping to the border.
What drove Margolin to put himself directly in harm's way under such precarious conditions? He qualifies it as a "personal" mission.
Margolin's desire to hear the motivations of extremists is informed by the loss of family members at the hands of the Nazis. They were killed during the "Holocaust by Bullets," which took place in Ukraine and Lithuania. Mass shootings were the format for genocide.
Margolin's impetus is the desire for this not to "happen again." He believes it is imperative to show the ideas and actions of the Salafist fundamentalists, via an unvarnished exposure. He is bearing witness to what he terms "an important minority inside Islam." He underscores that the majority of Muslims are not in line with Salafist ideology, the most radical faction of Islam. Disturbing video of random shootings of Shiite Muslims by Salafists clearly documents the divisions between the two branches of Islam.
The Salafi movement began in the late 1800s in Egypt, as a reaction to European influences. Adherents wanted to emulate the model of the first three generations of Muslims, the Salaf (predecessors), who were the initial followers of Prophet Muhammed. The aspiration was to "return to the source," or, as Margolin suggests, "Before a modern world existed." Within this movement evolved a group who believed armed struggle and violent action were needed against threats from perceived enemies to their vision of Islam.
The viewer is set up for what life is like on the ground with a shot of a sign stating, "You are entering an area where Sharia law is applied."