Jihad Jane

 

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A fascinating documentary that never finds the structure to make the most of its material.

 

Jihad Jane

 

Living in an era in which terrorist attacks continue to recur inevitably leads to curiosity about radicalisation and just how and why individuals can be indoctrinated in this way. That curiosity becomes all the stronger when those who succumb fall quite outside any obvious ideas that one might have about the kind of people likely to give over their lives to such a cause. It’s because of this that Ciarán Cassidy’s documentary Jihad Jane has the ability to intrigue the viewer and hold the interest despite the fact that it is not a well-made film.

 

The movie's title is the sobriquet adopted by Colleen Renee LaRose, a middle-aged American blue-eyed blonde from Pennsylvania who became famous in 2010 on being charged with conspiracy to murder and also with providing material support to terrorists. Her looks led to the media describing her as the new face of international terrorism, a journalistic phrase which emphasised the shock of such a person electing to become a jihadi. She had indeed committed herself to a proposed assignment to kill the Swedish artist and activist Lars Vilks who had drawn the head of the prophet Muhammad on a dog’s body (hence the conspiracy charge) and, having committed to Islam, she had gone on to recruit for the cause. One of those she encouraged was another blonde American, Jamie Paulin Ramirez from Colorado, no less of an unlikely convert to terrorism.

 

Despite its title Jihad Jane is equally concerned with the story of Jihad Jamie as Ramirez became known and, indeed, yet another conspirator, the Pakistani immigrant Mohammad Hassan Khalid, is also featured although in his case he would ultimately take a firm stand against terrorism. By putting the focus on all three as well as including comments from the targeted Lars Vilks, the film risks losing clarity of exposition and, since Cassidy opts to reject chronological order while also looking in on five American states and on Waterford, Amsterdam and Stockholm, the storytelling never coheres into a compulsive forward-moving narrative. It’s the viewer who has to fit the pieces together.

 

LaRose in particular emerges as wackily naive and she even holds on to her fame as Jihad Jane regarding it as proof that she came from nowhere to become somebody. Both she and Ramirez reveal early insecurity, abusive experiences and a lack of self-worth which tell more about the need to escape into some new kind of life then they do about the appeal of Islamic indoctrination itself. At the heart of Jihad Jane, we find two lives which, even though at times coming close to absurdity, are essentially tragic. But the way in which the material has been put together lessens its impact and fails to capture its potential pathos even if the bizarre nature of it all keeps one watching.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Colleen LaRose, Jamie Paulin Ramirez, Lars Vilks, Mohammad Hassan Khalid, Christine Mott, George Mott, Jan Federacyk, Pam LaRose, Mark Wilson, Jeff Lindy.

 

Dir Ciarán Cassidy, Pro Morgan Bushe, Screenplay Ciarán Cassidy, Ph Ross McDonnell, Art Dir Kieran McNulty, Ed John Murphy, Music Helge Slikker.

 

Fastnet Films/New Amsterdam Film Company/Silver Films/Screen Ireland-Wildcard Distribution.
94 mins. Ireland/Sweden/Netherlands. 2019. Rel: 14 February 2020. Cert. 15.