“With Allah’s permission, this will explode when I press the button”, this is how a jihadi and suicide bomber wannabe proudly describes what will be the most most important moment in his life, and also his very last one. He is delighted to take the filmmaker Pål Refsdal into his vehicle packed with explosives, shielded with boards and meshed wire. He is a member of Jabhat Al-Nusra, an offspring of Al-Qaeda, one of the many group fighting right now in the highly factional Syrian war. He is the on a very morbid waiting list eagerly waiting to blow himself up.
Dugma: The Button is a very intimate but never intrusive and manipulative portrayal of the routine of a small group of young jihadis. There is no voice-over and contextualisation. This is simply the record of religious extremists preparing for one of the most brutal deeds conceivable. Their demeanour is strangely calm and nondescript, and their everyday life feels almost joyful and peaceful. They never seem deranged or in panic.
The desire to reach paradise drives these young men forward. Not just that, but they aim for “the highest level of paradise”, in what sounds like a very hierarchical heaven. They don’t seem to have deeply altruistic beliefs, and they are happy to justify their actions and circumstances with Allah’s will. Yet they are strangely even playful and at times even likable. The filmmaker refuses to demonise them, and so we are reminded that absolutely no one – no matter their actions and ideologies – is entirely devoid of their humanity.
Some of their banter is disturbing in its simplicity. One of jihadis jokes with his friend that he is in the right mission because he’s very good at “beheading flowers”, as his friend prunes a bush in full blossom. There is also a friendly raffle for supporting sharia law. At at the end of the day, they are just ordinary human being leading a very awkward existence.
These young men are not stupid. They are perfectly able to articulate their reasoning, even if it is often intoxicated with religious doctrine. Some of their rationale is even plausible. For example, they laugh at US spin when they hear Americans claim “friendliness and non-interference in sovereign affairs”. One of them is British-born, and he describes the UK “a very miserable place” – despite spending his present days living in a treacherous warzone, inside a derelict building, waiting to blow himself up.
Dugma: The Button tacitly raises questions about documentary ethics: is it ok to film some of the most feared and despised people on earth? Is this exploitative? Is it acceptable to show real violence on screen? And perhaps the most disturbing question of all: will this turn into the ultimate breed of snuff and reality cinema, in case the jihadis blow themselves up in the end of the movie?
Dugma: The Button is showing as part of DokuFest Documentary Film Festival taking place right now in Kosovo – click here for more information about the event. The film is also available to but at the iTunes store right here.
Watch the film trailer below: