A new BBC program documents one man's attempt to understand his brother's conversion to radical Islam, changing from Richard to Salahuddin. "My Brother the Islamist" shows how hate breaks apart two siblings, despite filmmaker Robb Leech's effort to find common ground.
Leech discovered the conversion of his stepbrother Richard/Salahuddin through an article in a major British newspaper, finding out that his brother had also become a disciple of British extremist Anjem Choudary. His family was devastated with the suddenness of the decision and the intensity of his beliefs, including Richard/Salahuddin refusing to shake hands with his "dirty kaffir" brother, except with his left hand, which he uses to wipe himself.
"To begin with, when Rich had been a Muslim for just a few months, everything was new to him, as it was to me," Robb Leech said in an article about the documentary. "He was living in a world of perpetual fear, not fully knowing what he was permitted to do and say and what was forbidden in accordance with strict Islamist rulings."
Yet, Richard never fully emerges from the perspective of fiery convert, a reality that Leech is forced to accept. Richard identifies with al-Qaida, the imposition of strict Sharia law on the world, and the 9/11 attacks, all part and parcel of Choudary's take on Islam. He also pulls another young man named Ben, or Ahsan after his conversion, down the same path towards extremism.
Ben starts off with strong but uneasy views, living with his mother who embarrasses him by waving him off at the train station when he is on his way to visit his Islamist "brothers." He tries to fit in with the extremists, but in the end admits that he is not totally convinced that Choudary and his followers have a monopoly on heaven. He may not reject radicalism, but he doesn't discard his relationship with his mom either.
"The one thing that hasn't changed with Rich is his sense of humor, but I'm soon reminded of the Islamist he has become," Leech concludes the documentary.
"I'm still no nearer to understanding why Rich was drawn to fundamental Islam. There seems to be no single moment, no great epiphany, just the gradual accumulation of years living in a world that he doesn't feel a part of. He was looking for answers to the big questions in life. Now he's found them, along with a set of rules that he believes will save his soul. But his salvation has come at a high price for me and my family."