by David Cornelius
Pierre Rehov pulls no punches in his film, right down to the title: “Suicide Killers.” Not bombers. Killers. Just as others have attempted to alter the terminology, calling them “homicide bombers,” Rehov uses his own phrase, emphasizing that these are people who do more than simply off themselves quietly in a moment of solitude.Rehov’s documentary is a study of Islamic extremism and the terrorists that are born from such teachings. He is afforded remarkable access to his subjects, interviewing them both from their training camps and, when dealing with the less successful ones, their prisons. This is frightening stuff, these clips of young men unflinching in their talk of glorious martyrdom. Their nickname for the detonation button on their bombs? “The Gateway to Paradise.”
"Great footage, lousy movie."
Equally disturbing is the imagery of their families. Mothers and siblings beam over the memories of their fallen loved ones, who have been immortalized in large, framed portraits reminiscent of garish action movie posters. Men are seen showing off their rifles, handguns, even grenade launchers while striking heroic poses. If the homes we see in this movie are any indication, suicide bombers become well remembered long after their demise, which, of course, makes the job all the more tempting. Youngsters yearn for the day when they can obtain similar glory.
Through television footage, interviews with victims, talking head segments featuring various European scholars, and shots of the terrorists themselves, Rehov eventually comes to his main point. Terrorism, his film says, is a result of a culture smothered in sexual repression. This is more than societal repression, in which religion preaches how “men are the keepers of women’s bodies.” It is something more, something deeper: in a society in which sex is deemed shameful, natural urges bubble up through other, violent means. As one scholar explains, all those guns and bombs are phallic symbols at their most extreme. Here, the promise of heavenly virgins is the pay-off: avoid sex in this life, and you will be rewarded with it in the next.
Rehov has a point, for a while, at least. One interview reveals a generation growing aggravated with social rules. A Muslim youth tells of a friend who was deeply in love, yet unable to marry as he had no dowry to offer, no property to put up as signs of personal worth. Strict traditions are hindering love and happiness.
But this example eventually gets muddled in the presentation. Clearly these young men are not terrorists, nor are they bound to turn to violence. Yet Rehov puts their stories next to those of more disturbed sorts, thus implying that all Muslims are destined for extremism. The filmmaker emphasizes this point by refusing to offer any anti-terrorist sentiment from Islamic figures (Europeans are the only ones to denounce violence). Nor does he select any footage that might undermine his point in any way; we are given numerous clips of Arabic television, all of it of extremists preaching oppression and death, and he asks us to believe that every Muslim is a violent Muslim. It’s one-sided to a disturbingly bigoted fault.
More problematic is the haphazard layout of the material. Rehov zigzags from idea to idea without focus - one scene he’s talking about sexual repression, the next, he’s introducing us to female bombers. The arguments are never completed, they’re merely mentioned long enough to fill a few minutes before jumping on to something else.Which is a shame, because considering the level of access Rehov received, and the high quality of interview footage featured, this could have made for a terrific, in depth study of one of modern history’s greatest enigmas. Instead, it comes off like little more than the vague rants of someone not worth the time.
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originally posted: 04/18/07 14:20:17