BOYS, hardly yet men, play football, have wheelbarrow races, and joke. It is an innocuous enough start to the documentary Path of Blood (Cert. 18), about a Jihadi boot camp.
Film shot by al-Qaeda, plus footage taken by Saudi Arabian police, outlines terrorist activity since Western military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is much to ponder, not least the trainees’ general level of ignorance. An instructor repeatedly asks one young recruit to justify bombing infidels. The response is embarrassed silence, requests for simpler questions, or laughing it off.
The Almighty peppers their conversation. “What do you think of my sparkling gun?” one young man asks. “It’s lovely. May it serve God.” They are prepared to be joyful martyrs, but it is does not seem to be about achieving the posthumous sexual pleasures that are so often alleged to be suicide bombers’ motivation. A leader has emblazoned “72 Virgins of Paradise” on the number plate of his car, but nothing from the recruits themselves indicates they need this incentive.
Path of Blood hints only implicitly that their motivation comes through the camaraderie, bravado, and lust for excitement. We hear no profound discussions about the evil West. Their al-Quaeda superiors and radical imams are the ones claiming that it is their religious duty to drive out infidels by any means. The documentary cites extracts from the Taliban website Voice of Jihad: “The squadrons of truth rose up to destroy the fortresses of the Crusaders and set fire to the ground beneath their feet. The operation was completed and God exalted the hearts of Muslims.” It is uncomfortable language.
Overall, what emerges is the suicide bombers’ naïvety. On the way to blowing up a refinery, their car is almost out of petrol, and they haven’t any money to buy more. Executions, fire fights, and torture are perpetrated by people who, off duty, seem as normal as can be. Little children, kitted out in camouflage uniforms and balaclavas, play with their parents at being freedom-fighters. It is chilling, but also so similar to the games of cowboys and Indians of my own childhood.
Frequently sustained moments of blackness fill the screen before Samuel West, the narrator, tells us what is occurring. It put me in mind of Lord of the Flies, when Ralph, witnessing his school friends’ descent into unrestrained barbarity, “wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart”.
Jonathan Hacker’s film shows us people imbued with utter certainty. They are sure that they are doing God’s work. The philosopher John Gray recently praised many traditions of Christianity for having learned to live or co-exist with doubt (Features, 25 May) as an element of faith. This is something that is lacking not only in radicalised young Muslims.