What kind of person does it take to kill yourself and leave your loved ones behind? What kind of person must you be to take countless others with you – enemies or innocent civilians?
These are the questions Paul Salahadin Refsdal’s documentary, Dugma: The Button, attempts to answer. It places us in war-torn Syria alongside two aspiring martyrs as they discuss the motivations and mechanics of jihad.
It’s an unsettling place to be. For most Britons Syria is a distant, dangerous land in which we have become entangled and Al Qaeda, the group the two men fight for, are the enemy. Refsdal’s major flaw is choosing to keep the details of these men’s political views vague. Even if you’re someone who has followed events in Syria closely it’s hard to work out who is fighting for whom, or how the incidents on screen relate to the wider conflict. When you’re trying to establish why these men are prepared to take such a drastic decision and press the button, such allegiances are crucial.
Despite Refsdal’s shortcomings in contextualising this story, he is far more successful in humanising the potential suicide bombers. He achieves the same kind of cognitive dissonance as The Act of Killing as you see friendly, smiling, normal guys talking casually about mass murder. Possibly the most disturbing thing is how it has become a commonplace part of their lives, talking about martyrdom waiting lists like they’re trying to book a dentist’s appointment.
Beyond the coup of gaining access to frontline suicide bombers in the Syrian war, Refsdal’s documentary struggles to form a compelling story. His subjects and their mission of jihad are fascinating, but with that in mind the end result should have been far more powerful.
CAST: Abu Qaswara, Abu Basir,
DIRECTOR: Paul Salahadin Refsdal
SYNOPSIS: Dugma: The Button follows two potential suicide bombers, their friends and fellow soldiers, as they fight in the Syrian war and face up to the prospect of taking their own lives in a bombing.
A preview screening of Dugma: The Button was kindly provided by Journeyman Pictures and Alex Rowley PR.