What drives people to committ acts of violence and terrible destruction; to sacrifice themselves for their beliefs, and in the name of a higher and greater power? This is a question that has captivated the public’s interest with increasing urgency ever since the notion of terrorism was recast in Islamic terms by the iconic image of a passenger jet crashing into the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. Over the past decade, there has been much specualtion as to the causes and motivations of terrorist acts, and their chilling consequences. But what about the victims of those acts; the survivors and the families left behind? Should we not, equally, be interested in their stories?
It was with this aspiration to give a voice to the survivors of terrorists acts that the Global Survivors Network was founded in 2008. By bringing together those individuals across the world who have suffered at the hands of ideologues and extremists, the GSN hopes to draw attention to the longterm human cost of terrorism and to counteract the pernicious doctrines of extremist groups:
The voices and stories of victims and survivors are a poignant reminder of the real human costs of terrorism and a compelling counter to the narrative of groups which target innocents to advance their goals.
Last year the group released a documentary film, Killing in the Name, which follows the story of Ashraf Khaled, a Jordanian man who in 2005 lost 27 members of his family and friends when two Al-Qaeda suicide bombers blew themselves up at his wedding. Last week saw the first UK screening of the film at the Frontline Club. The film is a poignant and personal exploration of what it means to committ jihad, spanning several cultures and societies as Ashraf travels from the Middle East to Indosesia speaking to both the perpetrators and victims of terrorism. There is an especially chilling scene in which he visits a school in Indonesia to confront the students about their eulogising of the 2002 Bali bombers who detonated explosives in several popular nightclubs, killing 202 people.
The film is meticulously researched, and includes interviews with an Al-Qaeda recruiter in Jordan; the father of a suicide bomber who killed more than 140 people in Iraq; and with one of the masterminds behind the 2002 Bali bombings; as well as moving testimonies from the survivors and families of victims. One small criticism I would have is that the only form of terrorism that is explored is that of Islamist jihad, and there is no mention of other extremist groups such as ETA in Spain, the FARC in Colombia, the IRA in Ireland etc etc. Evidently this is due to the circumstances in which the film was shot, and the fact that it deals with the personal quest of a survivor of an Al-Qaeda attack, but taken out of context there is a danger that it could fall into the trap of equating terrorism with Islam, thus further demonising the religion.
On the whole, I found the film compelling and informative, but would be wary to endorse it too much without fully considering the context in which it was made. Perhaps more could have been done to emphasise the fact that Islamism is only one form of extremism, and that this presents neither a historially nor a socially unique threat to modern life. Nevertheless, this remains a moving and worthy film that unprecedently explores the very human aspect of the aftermath of terrorism.