With camera and respect

By Misch Pautsch

In his documentary Recruiting for Jihad, filmmaker and journalist Adel Khan Farooq shares unique insights into how people can get caught up in the web of radicalisation. His tools: a camera, respect and genuine conversations. An artist at heart, the Norwegian with Pakistani roots decided to turn his focus to fiction. Adel recalls how he went from "tagging along" to trailblazing his own path.

Few journalists can in good faith claim to have created influential work by the time they are 30. Adel Khan Farooq, born in 1991, is one of those few. In 2014, he and his co-director Ulrik Imtiaz Rolfsen began to film a then yet unnamed documentary, with but a vague idea of where it might be going. His protagonist: Now-convicted Norwegian ISIS-recruiter Ubaydullah Hussain. Adel wanted to understand how a man he had so much in common with could choose such a radically different path in life.

While he did not find one single, simple answer to this question, his documentary reveals slivers of other answers: How do recruiters for radical fundamentalist groups operate? What is pushing young people to sacrifice their lives for a terrorist organisation in a country they never set foot in? Adel followed the recruiter, "tagged along" for two years. At least one young Norwegian died in Syria after having been contacted by Hussain – and filmed by Adel. Another one, just 18 years old, was arrested before boarding his flight to Syria, on his way to fight for his new-found calling, after having "lived for the weekend" all his life.

It was at that moment both Adel and the film's co-producer Ulrik Imtiaz Rolfsen made the news themselves: The police had raided Rolfson’s home, because their footage might provide evidence against the 18-years old on his way to Syria. The confiscation, which provoked international uproar amongst the journalistic community, was revoked by the Norwegian Supreme Court as a violation of the journalist's right to protect their sources. The judgement was awarded the Global Freedom of Expression Prize in 2015. Still, the investigations took a heavy toll on the project: Sources withdrew, the flow of information slowed down. Nonetheless, Adel continued following Hussain until he was eventually arrested later the same year and charged with supporting a terrorist organisation and recruiting for them. His arrest marked the end of the documentary work. The film was published two years later under the Name Recruiting for Jihad – The Norwegian Islamist.

For director Adel Khan Farooq, this meant he was free to explore new horizons. His first novel Mine brødre (My brothers) was published in 2016, and his first animation short is currently being reviewed for the Berlinale 2021. His first feature length fiction is in the making, always "with a solid journalistic back-bone" he says. His experience with radicalization made him a prolific speaker on the topic. On December 29, and 30, 2021, he was invited to the workshop Recruiting for democracy organized by the radicalisation-prevention nonprofit respect.lu, where he spoke about his film. How did his experiences shape his work, and what life is like after sending years side by side with fundamentalist extremists?

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