My Brother The Islamist

My Brother The Islamist


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Rich is in his late twenties, white, a former security guard at the BBC, and originally from Weymouth. He's also a recent convert to radical Islam who now prefers to be known by the name Salahuddin. In this very personal documentary his step-brother Robb, a former tree surgeon turned filmmaker, attempts to understand his beliefs and how he came to them.

My Brother The Islamist reminds us that extremists don't exist in a vacuum, that they have brothers and sisters and mums who don't always share their beliefs. It also shows us that they are human beings with warmth and humour and a sense of camaraderie. But Salahuddin believes in a violent global jihad, in the imposition of an Islamic state. He describes himself as disgusted by what, to Robb, are ordinary scenes: weekend shoppers in summer clothes, happy strangers playing volleyball on the beach. He says that women who commit adultery should be stoned to death.

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There are no great insights here. Robb's questions, when he raises them, are not particularly incisive. But there's a reason for that, and that's the obvious love he still feels for this confounding man, even as he wonders if he has ever really known him. In some ways this tells a more important story. It's certainly one we hear less often. Robb's patiently observant camera shows us something of the allure of radical groups like this; it is clear that the group dynamic, as much as the religious element itself, has drawn Salahuddin and others in.

Among those others is Ben. He's 17. He converted whilst his mum was on holiday. Now she's really worried but she tries to bear with him, tries to trust, confident that he is simply seeking a way to be a good person. We are reminded several times that Salahuddin's brand of Islam is far from the most common. It's unfortunate that there is no more temperate Muslim voice here to confirm that for viewers who lack the personal experience to be confident of it. Still, Ben seems like a good kid. Spending time with him, Robb begins to waver. Is it ethical simply to observe? Should he intervene, somehow, to prevent this young men being drawn off course?

Although the perspective of the film is firmly that of an outsider, those who share some of Salahuddin's beliefs will find it balanced by the ample opportunities he is given to speak about his faith. Robb doesn't dismiss him as brainwashed or mad, for all that he can't get his own head around it. He can see that this is a man who has chosen his own path, perhaps because he never found it easy to fit into wider society.

Ultimately, My Brother The Islamist is a film about family and about individuality; the things that bind us together and the inevitable loneliness as we clash in the process of trying to be true to ourselves. It's gently paced, gorgeously shot and, ironically, very English. Are we really looking at two competing cultures or at just one culture with a fundamental dichotomy at its heart?

Reviewed on: 31 May 2011
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A filmmaker watches as his brother embraces militant Islam and begins to encourage young recruits to become involved in a violent jihad.
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Director: Robb Leech

Year: 2011

Runtime: 57 minutes

Country: UK


Doc/Fest 2011

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