Review: Warriors From The North

Art & Culture

Warriors From the North is just one in a series of documentaries being shown at the Bertha Dochouse this week on the theme of relations between east and west, called Broken Borders. The 2014 Danish film directed by Nasib Farah and Soren Steen Espersen looks at the choices made by young Europeans of Somalian descent to return to their ancestral country to fight for jihadic rebel group, Al-Shabab. We begin with a horrific event that took place in Mogadishu in 2009 where one Abdi Rahman carried out a suicide bomb attack at a graduation ceremony of young doctors. Panning away from this brutal attack, a Danish-Somalian figure is introduced who will be the focal point for this film. An acquaintance of Abdi’s, an unnamed young man shrouded in shadows, tells the story of how he became caught up himself in the radical Islamic sect in Copenhagen: a sad, lonely misfit lured in by the sense of belonging and of bettering himself.

This is an incredibly poignant film to watch at this moment in time, when in the UK we are seeing a multifaceted growing panic around the radicalisation of our own young Muslims. Not only are a number young men and school girls actually being drawn in and spirited away to participate in the mission of IS (completely different to Al-Shabab, which is a branch of Al Qaeda, but also militant), but a growing witch hunt and crack down on freedom of expression is pervading our urban schools. According to Al Jazeera, young Muslims are being discouraged from even showing solidarity with Palestine for fear that these might be signs of radicalisation. What we have, therefore, is a climate that is terrified of what young Muslims are capable of, but an absolute stifling of discussion or debate.

This film looks at the reasons why young people are attracted by such militant groups as Al-Shabab in Somalia, a pertinent question that must be asked of the UK’s radicalised youth. The answers are complex, ranging from the intense loneliness felt by Diaspora in unwelcoming surroundings, to some individuals’ own disturbed mental health. This film focuses on the patriotic allure of fighting for the “motherland” of Somalia against Ethiopian Christians, and the feeling of pride given by serving God in the name of Islam, but is set against an inescapable backdrop of dissatisfaction and confusion in being a young Somalian in Denmark (the film also interviews Swedish, Finnish and British fighters of Al-Shabab). These people feel no belonging in Europe, but the Somalian government also rightly despises the foreign rebels for bringing war to East Africa.

What we might learn from a film like this is that people need homes and identities. It is absolutely the case that some fighters, especially those who mastermind the attacks, are psychopathic, evil people – but the foot soldiers and those who we meet in Warriors From the North are mostly baseless young people who are hoodwinked, brainwashed, and bribed with the promise of heavenly reward. An end to earthly depression and misery. These are the people who end up dead in the blood-soaked crusades. There is no catch all remedy for radicalisation but what we might like to offer, as a nation, to young people feeling attraction to such militant groups, is something to be proud of in their own home. We need healthy, in depth debate in schools about what fighting for religion really means. We need to put mental healthcare for all young people at the top of our agenda. We need to include other cultures more warmly in our national identity. We need to assure young Diaspora that this can be their home. Because, as the main interviewee states in the film, referring to how easily any person can become an extremist, “If you’re not satisfied with your life, have no pride, and you begin to believe 100% in something… then it doesn’t matter what it is.” 

This film is showing at the Bertha Dochouse from Friday 7th – Thursday 13th August. More info here.