Of Fathers and Sons: Undercover With Al Qaeda in Syria

Brainwashing starts at a young age among extremist groups.

At a boot camp of the Al Nusra Front group in Syria, boys are fed propaganda all day long.

“Who defends the Muslims of Afghanistan? Al Qaeda. Who defends Muslims of Chechnya? Al Qaeda. Who defends Muslims of Burma and India? Al Qaeda. Who is fighting in Syria? Al Qaeda. So, what’s our duty towards Al Qaeda? To follow them, help, and support them in doing what God Almighty sees fit,” teenager Osama and other boys chant.

Of Fathers and Sons is a documentary film about the Al-Nusra Front, the Syrian arm of the Islamist group Al-Qaeda. It follows a father, Abu Osama, 45, and his two oldest sons, Osama, 13, and Ayman, 12, in their journey into becoming jihadists of Al-Nusra Front over the course of two and a half years.

The documentary was directed and produced by Berlin-based Syrian director, Talal Derki, a former freelance cameraman for CNN and Reuters. It has won the Grand Jury Prize (World Documentary) at the Sundance Film Festival and was one of the films nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars this year.

After his award-winning documentary “Return to Homs” (2013), Derki decided to go back again to his native country that was devastated by a civil war. There, he met Abu Osama and his family. Making them believe he is sympathetic to their cause, he was able to gain their trust while living with them for over the course of two years. He wanted to capture what it was like to grow up with a radical Islamist father whose vision was to see his children be a part of the jihad. “I wanted to penetrate the psychology and the emotions of this war, understand what made people radicalize and what drives them to live under the strict rules of an Islamic state,” the director said on the documentary’s official website.

“This film has given me an insight on what the fight is all about. I felt a very deep human connection with Abu Osama’s family, especially Ayman because he seemed like the outcast for not wanting to be a part of it all,” Fadeke Lipede, an International Relations student at AUD, told the MBRSC Post.

“This documentary is very problematic. It only shows one side of the entire picture. I would have loved to see something about the Americans or anyone from the other side of the fight,” a viewer who asked not to be identified, told the MBRSC Post.

Cinema Akil is screening Of Fathers and Sons throughout this month.

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Hauwa Buhari-Abdullahi

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