DVD Review - American Jihadist

This short-form documentary is about an African-American man who grew up in Washington, DC and became a Muslim who fought and killed in the name of Islam. He was born Clevin Holt but changed to Isa Abdullah Ali, but despite even my own assumptions, Ali is not a terrorist. He's not John Walker Lindh. He doesn't want to destroy the United States or plant bombs in Times Square. He's a soldier. Yes, he's killed people, but so have many soldiers. The only difference or perhaps problem is he's not part of any one military.
Winner of the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary at the 2010 Slamdance Film Festival, Mark Claywell and Jody Jenkins' look at Isa Abdullah Ali's life is available via Breaking Glass Pictures. Ali's life, his story and hearing him tell it are all very compelling, and if you're going to make a good documentary, you need a larger-than-life character who's not afraid to talk on camera. Ali is that character.
In lieu of that, you need a really engaging subject or topic. As this documentary begins, one might assume that the subject or topic will be engaging or riveting. Initially, you're led to think that the subject is going to give us some insight into a possible or potential Al Qaeda operative or an interview with someone who's an Osama bin Laden-sympathizer.
Yet, that's not who Ali is and that's not what this movie is. This movie isn't even all that much about Islam. The tagline asks, "What makes a person willing to kill and die for their religion?" But, we never get any of that. Ali's religion comes off as almost incidental. This was a man who experienced bad stuff as a child and basically became a vigilante on an international scale. The only difference between Ali and Bruce Wayne is that Ali doesn't dress up in tights.
That by no means is to suggest that Ali is a hero because he's not. Bruce Wayne never killed anyone, certainly not by sniper fire like Ali. You can empathize with his bad childhood, but his methods are not admirable at all. He may not hate America, but there is a strong disconnect. At one point, Ali comments that he likes living in Bosnia because of the rustic lifestyle and view of the mountains. To paraphrase, he says there are no mountains in DC.
Ali fails to recognize that there are actually mountains not too far from where he grew up. If he went into Virginia, he might have discovered the Blue Ridge Mountains for example. He instead has this Marcus Garvey-like myopia and his self-imposed expatriation only serviced his own need to escape DC as well as satisfy his own war-lust than it was to perhaps help anyone else or be the Muslim version of Batman.
Claywell and Jenkins' direction and editing is snappy. The politics are breezed over, though I think you do get a clear understanding of how this man thinks.
Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but Recommended for Mature Audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 2 mins.


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