21 Jan 2011

Children of Jihad: Indonesian filmmaker documents impact of terrorism on children from all angles

Jakarta Globe - Indonesia November 22, 2010

Children of Jihad

Emmy Fitri

“If you want to see paradise, you can go to Taman Mini, pay Rp 10,000 [$1.15] and have a good time for two hours,” said documentary filmmaker Daniel Rudi during a recent interview. “You don’t plant bombs and kill people to pave your way to paradise.”

Rudi, as he is more popularly known, was referring to the miniature theme park in East Jakarta.

The 32-year-old director is the man behind the documentary film “Prison and Paradise,” which has been shortlisted for the documentary film award at the 2010 Dubai International Film Festival.

He is set to attend the awards ceremony there next month.

“In one of the Koran’s verses, it is clearly stated that heaven is not for those who scold and mistreat orphans.

The bombers may not have scolded orphans, but they make children lose their parents.

They make their own children orphans as well. This proves to me they don’t really read the holy book,” Rudi said.

Rudi’s goal for the documentary was to illuminate the impact of terrorism on children, something he doubts many self-professed jihadists think about.

His documentary tells its story from many different angles. In interviews with the families of terrorist bombers as well as their victims, especially children, the film illustrates Rudi’s belief that concept of jihad is largely misunderstood by those who claim to be jihadists.

“Families on both sides are suffering equally. In later life, the children of these bombers tend to be more introverted and keep to themselves because they are alienated from their friends and society.

The strong stigma of it hampers their education, since they have to move around a lot. The children of bombing victims, on the other hand, need support to grow, not only in terms of education, but moral support as well,” he said.

The 93-minute “Prison and Paradise” pieces together interviews Rudi has done since 2003, when he was assigned to make a documentary about the success of the National Police in rounding up the first Bali bombing suspects.

Most of his initial interviews were with key figures in the investigation and police officers who were involved in the pursuit of the terror suspects.

“I wanted to interview the convicted bombers, to make it balanced,” Rudi said.

He interviewed Imam Samudra, Amrozi Nurhasyim and Ali Gufron from behind bars in Nusakambangan Island in Central Java.

The three were eventually executed by firing squad in 2008 for the Bali nightclub attacks that killed at least 202 people in 2002.

Police who accompanied Rudi to interview the bombers repeatedly reminded him “not to look into Imam Samudra’s eyes.”

“They said the Imam had mastered propaganda techniques to lure people into his way of thinking, and just looking into his eyes could convince people,” Rudi explained.

In nearly 14 hour-long interviews with the three bombers, Rudi noticed that they talked a lot about the heaven they believed they were promised.

“The [jihadists] all said they wanted to go to heaven, where there would be 72 beautiful virgins ready at all times to serve them and give them sexual pleasure.”

“It sounds like such an absurd belief, but they hung on to that belief. It somehow blinded them from the reality that they would be leaving their wives and children, who will always be labeled the family of terrorists, with a lifetime of misery,” he said.

For the project, Rudi worked closely with terrorist analyst Noor Huda Ismail, author of the novel “Temanku Teroris” (“My Friend Is a Terrorist”).

In the documentary, Noor appears on screen as the director’s voice of sorts, talking about why the film looks at terrorism from a certain perspective.

“I make my opinions clear through Noor Huda. His appearances glue the pieces together. We are not trying to condone terrorist acts, but we want to present the real impact of terrorism, as well as the fight against terrorism, on children. Fighting terrorism the way security forces are doing now take its toll on the children of all involved,” Rudi said.

Befriending the bombers’ families and their children required extra patience, understanding and intense negotiations to win their trust.

Initially, Rudi could barely approach the wives of the bombers because they shunned eye contact and always turned away when they talked to men who were not related to them. The filmmakers eventually taught the children to use a camera so that they could interview their mothers.

In 2007, the children and their mothers went to Jakarta, accompanied by Rudi and Noor, to visit Taman Mini. “The children ran around and enjoyed the visit. Unlike their fathers, they understand that they live in an environment where different faiths exist. They are equally appreciative of the grand mosque, towering church and temples inside Taman Mini,” Rudi said.

Rudi was born in Semarang, Central Java, but mostly grew up in Yogyakarta. His father worked at an instant noodle factory and his mother was a housewife. Rudi was the fourth of five siblings.

He developed his passion for film early on, watching his father screen films at an open-air movie theater as part of his marketing job.

“I always sat behind the film projector and enjoyed every minute, from the time the film was prepared to when it was screened,” he said.

“There were 16-millimeter and 35-millimeter projectors used when I was in elementary school. The films were Indonesian movies of all genres, from comedy to action flicks. As a child, I was greatly impressed by those films,” he said.

While his family was not rich, Rudi’s father made sure that they were well-read. “I read Sukarno’s “Di Bawah Bendera Revolusi” [“Under the Revolutionary Flag”] when I was in primary school. That’s one of many books that helped shape who I am today,” he said, adding that he still has the book with him.

He also learned about interfaith tolerance at home. His father was a Muslim and his mother was Christian. He and his siblings were given the freedom to choose their faith. “I am a Christian, but I attended gatherings held by Muslim activists when I was in high school,” Rudi said.

When he finished junior high school, he was sent with his siblings to Yogyakarta where he chose to enroll in a fine arts high school. Rudi’s siblings were active in political movements and he became accustomed to their late-night discussions and meetings for street rallies.

“I grew up in an environment where people think less about themselves and are taught to believe that our voices, together, can make a difference,” he said.

He began his political activism at 15 and was even abducted and detained for weeks after being caught in an anti-Suharto protest when he was 16.

“Even today, I can’t stand the sound of a typewriter. It brings back nightmares of interrogations and assaults I suffered while in detention.”

Rudi, who is normally shy, becomes more talkative when relating his experiences as an activist.

He talked about protesting about the construction of the Kedung Ombo dam in Central Java, the land eviction incident in Cimacan, West Java, as well as the 1998 reform movement.

Rudy eventually graduated from the Jakarta Arts Institute where he majored in documentary filmmaking. He now specializes in films that deal with environmental, conflict resolution and cultural issues.

To finance his projects, he occasionally works for commercial film directors, such as Garin Nugroho, Riri Riza, Chaerul Umam, Nia Dinata and Teddy Soeriaatmadja.

“It’s one of the reasons why it took me years to complete ‘Prison and Paradise.’ I wanted to be financially independent. The work is a pure representation of my thoughts — no sponsorship, no vested interest from certain parties,” Rudi said.

The film was initially scheduled to be screened at the upcoming Jakarta International Film Festival, but Rudi decided to back out at the last minute because he was expected to secure sponsors for the film.

Rudi said he empathized with the children of the convicted bombers. “With how I am and what I went through in the past, I can somehow relate to what they feel and what they fear. They live in a world where their futures are very much determined by what their fathers chose to do,” he said.

“Somebody must tell [these children] that they can make their own choices in life. It’s the government’s duty to embrace them. I’ve done my part.”

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