There’s a moment in this unsettling documentary when Middle England will rise up in improbable support of an Islamic extremist. “Theresa May can solve this problem of extremism very quick,” says Londoner Abu Haleema who when he’s not calling for revolution apparently drives a London bus. “Give all of us back our passports, let us leave and there won’t be a single extremist left in this country.”
Cue e-petitions being launched across the land. Jubilation everywhere.
Truth be told, Abu Haleema and his cohort Mohammed Shamsuddin appear on the face of it to be pretty ludicrous disciples of hate. Though they talk of throwing homosexuals off buildings, of stoning adulterers to death, of raising the black flag of Islam over Downing Street and putting David Cameron and George Osborne on trial for “crimes against muslims”, it’s the spotlight rather than paradise they seem enamoured of. The risk with that view is it’s exactly what film-maker Jamie Roberts thought of another London-based radical he met and interviewed at the start of making this documentary, Abu Rumaysah. “I couldn’t take him seriously at all,” he told me last week.
Abu Rumaysah is the reason this film has been rushed to air and trailed so heavily by Channel 4. He’s thought to be the new Jihadi John, the man who earlier this month fronted up an ISIS execution video and put a bullet in the back of the head of one of five murdered captives. It’s that conversion from soapbox zealot to cold-blooded killer that makes the security services anxious about the likes of Abu Haleema and Mohammed Shamsuddin.
There’s much about Roberts’ film that will undoubtedly anger. The language is inflammatory. And scenes where the two fanatics laugh and eat while watching footage of men being put to death – “wow, the guy is foaming at his mouth” – will cause universal outrage. But be reassured by the delusional nature of much of what is said. Take the veiled woman handing out leaflets in a north London high street encouraging passers by to convert to Islam. “Find out how Islam can free you from the shackles of freedom and democracy,” she urges not grasping perhaps that it’s that democracy and those freedoms that allow her to be there in the first place.
But there are two problems with the film. Firstly it’s one that Roberts acknowledges himself in the commentary. He’s providing a platform – as he did for the knuckle draggers of the far right in his documentary Angry, White and Proud – for a small and unrepresentative group of extremists to spout their offensive nonsense. What’s encouraging to see is the large number of ordinary muslims who rage against these radicals, often violently, on the streets of London.
It also offers no perspective on the real issues of cultural and economic impoverishment – as well as western policy in the Middle East – that drive many young muslims into the arms of the fanatics.
But those two observations aside, it’s a powerful and troubling watch. The question is: will the Home Secretary be tuning in?
The Jihadis Next Door is on Tuesday at 9pm on Channel 4