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‘She seemed like a normal country girl.” That’s Kurt speaking, ex-boyfriend of Jihad Jane, a blond, blue-eyed woman from suburban Philadelphia, real name Colleen LaRose, convicted in 2014 of conspiracy to murder a Swedish artist who drew a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad. What emerges in this fascinating documentary, made with sensitivity by Irish film-maker Ciarán Cassidy, is that LaRose was anything but normal, after a childhood scarred by horrific abuse.
Cassidy also profiles Jamie Paul Ramirez, dubbed “Jihad Jamie”, another vulnerable woman convicted on terrorism charges in connection with the same plot. The two women became radicalised in much the same way, watching YouTube clips of Israeli air raids on Gaza with a growing sense of anger and outrage. Both joined online jihadi chatrooms where they met an Algerian man, Ali Damache, who lived in Ireland where he claimed to be the leader of a jihadist group. Separately, they flew out to join him, Ramirez bringing her six-year-old son with her. She arrived on a Sunday and married Damache the next day.
On the phone from prison, LaRose, who wears a full veil, describes the childhood abuse she experienced at the hands of her father, who first raped her at the age of seven or eight. She ran away at 13, and was pimped on the streets, marrying a client at 15. Ramirez had been married and divorced three times before she converted, the first time at 18 to a man in his 30s who was violent. “People laughed at me my whole life. I’ve always had low self-esteem,” she says. Cassidy interviews the women’s families as well as the Swedish artist, Lars Vilks, who gives every impression of being a raging narcissist.
The film left me with ambivalent feelings towards the two women. It’s impossible not to feel compassion for them; they are so damaged and vulnerable. But, while both have renounced terrorism, you sense that their identities are still bound up with their jihadi adventure; it gave them purpose and self-worth.
Perhaps the tragedy here is how terrorism in the home so frequently goes unpunished. Unbelievably, LaRose is now a Trump supporter: “I do not like what he did with the Israelis and Palestinians, but I would vote for him.”
• Jihad Jane is released in the UK on 14 February.
Source: The Guardian
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