Coming to NYC’s Stranger Than Fiction series tomorrow, Tuesday, March 22: AMONG THE BELIEVERS
Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi’s inside look at jihadist indoctrination premiered at Tribeca last year. It has also screened at IDFA, CPH:DOX, Sydney, AFI Docs, DMZ Docs, Vancouver, Tallgrass, Stockholm, Rio, Heartland, Human Rights Watch London, and St Louis, among other festivals.
Set within Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, Trivedi and Naqvi’s provocative film offers impressive access to a deeply polarizing figure, Abdul Aziz Ghazi, a darkly charismatic radical Muslim cleric who is in charge of the Red Mosque, a growing network of madrassas that take in orphaned and poor children to transform them into soldiers for Islam and against a secular Pakistan. Devoted to bringing sharia law to his nation, Ghazi is unapologetic about his militancy and his stance against the government – as the film recounts, in 2007, federal policies against the Red Mosque led to a standoff which claimed the lives of his immediate family and more than a hundred students. His extremism is fed to his charges, shown chillingly in the opening scene in which a young boy rehearses his lesson, a rote condemnation of infidels complete with exaggerated gestures. As interviews with other, older students later reveal, while the madrassa insists on the memorization of the Koran, the younger kids aren’t told what the verses even mean. As Ghazi’s opponents note, the students and their parents typically are not particularly religious – they’re just desperately poor, and the madrassas’ free education, lodging, and food are more than the government is able to provide, making them easy marks for recruitment. Still, despite his influence, Ghazi’s public defense of the Taliban’s massacre of Peshawar school children in 2014 led to a nationwide protests against religious extremism targeting the Red Mosque, providing tentative hope for a corrective to his corrosive views.