Documentary Review: “Path of Blood”

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It’s hard to know what to make of “Path of Blood.”

The documentary begins with Islamic fanatics and narration underscoring efforts to create, or recreate “a global Muslim empire,” of making war on “the Crusaders.”

That would be us.

And then we meet the footsoldiers in this jihad/Holy War. They’re interviewed by their comrades for the online obituary/recruitment videos posted by Al qaeda.

They’re giggling and laughing, and a little confused.

“I don’t understand the question,” Brother Ali complains. Stop using such “big words,” he suggests.

Training videos include jihadists competing in human wheel-barrow races, their baggy pants falling down. “Delete that,” one boy, barely in his teens, laughs.

Coming back to camp in a driving rain, they’re singing and laughing hysterically.

“This is MARTYRDOM,” one bellows as the torrent threatens to wash their tents, bedrolls, what have you, away.

Thoughts of Albert Brooks’ “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World” pop up. Are they, is this movie, having us on? Is this a mockumentary?

Glance back over the credits. Mark Boal, journalist turned screenwriter of “The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty” is a producer. Director Jonathan Hacker is a British documentarian specializing in spy documentaries and a film about “Britain’s First Suicide Bombers.”

No. This isn’t a joke. And as the young, the faithful, the fanatical and plainly gullible clean and brandish their AK47s, we get the gallows humor. They’re as serious as young men advising, “KEEP the bandana! Your hair looks AMAZING!” can be.

 

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But Hacker’s film, basically video underscoring the book, “Path of Blood: The Story of Al Qaeda’s War on the House of Saud” (Saudi Arabia’s rulers) he co-wrote with Thomas Small, then suggests more troubling motives.

Jihadists declare “Join the religion of god or be killed” and “I bring you SLAUGHTER,” as “Voice of Jihad” online videos document “missions” to attack “infidels,” “Crusaders,” “Hindu dogs” and “foreign scum.” It’s all footage from the early to mid-2000s — dated, historical at this stage. Why revisit it now?

And the subtext? Saudi Arabia bore the brunt of the fight with this terrorist organization, suffered most of the attacks and did the most to destroy it. Saudis and the House of Saud are “victims” of this fanaticism, running the in-country man-hunts, tracking down and killing off cells of Al Qaeda — usually AFTER another deadly attack, often playing catch-up to the Bin Laden organization.

In simply presenting this mass of captured jihadist video, mixed with official Saudi security forces raid footage, firefight video and odd snippets of Al Aribiya (Saudi owned-state TV) coverage of the conflict, is Hacker cashing Saudi checks for a little House of Saud image polishing?

We see victims of the violence, foreign workers, children killed in bombings. Propagandists refer to this as “The Bloody Shirt” persuasion — wave the victims in our faces to prompt some reaction.

There are bloodied, bullet-riddled corpses of Al Qaeda fighters, and almost comically gruesome scenes of the jihadists elaborate Saudi funerals.

An outsider might well ask, why is this oppressive, religion-controlling state allowing these mass murderers, with their “72 Virgins” vanity plates on their truck bombs, to even BE buried? Wouldn’t the best Islamic deterrent to recruitment and martyrdom be to deny them that superstitious comfort, and let the Islamic world see their corpses dumped in the sea?

There’s nothing in the narration, and there are no expert witnesses interviewed on camera to provide context to all this. No, the world doesn’t need another Complete History of Modern Radical Islam, its offshoots and inspirations. But we don’t hear the word “Wahhabism” once. This 18th century fundamentalist sect is widely considered to be the wellspring of current jihadist thought. And the House of Saud has spent billions embracing it, twisting it to its purposes and coddling it as long as the terrorism it spread was abroad.

There is no mention of 9/11, and while that “behind the scenes” footage is better known — bin Laden’s cruel, insulting laughs at the gullible, “martyred brothers” he paid to train and send to America sticks in the mind — that allows “Path of Blood” to conveniently leave out that most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi.

“Blood” narrows its focus to Saudi and foreign victims and Saudi fights — mostly from 2003-2005 — against the beast the House of Saud financed and created, Americans tortured and (off camera) beheaded, Brits and Americans in “soft target” businesses in Saudi Arabia murdered in their offices (on camera).

It makes for a chilling portrait of fanaticism at work, even if it is more historical than anything worthy of “let’s feel that fear again” topicality. Even if we suspect its designed to gin up more support for our Islamic ally in the Middle East.

Because “Path of Blood” is just as chilling as pay-for-play Saudi image polishing, selectively editing that history in a “Hey, look, OUR PRINCES were victims, too” effort.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, bloody, explicit scenes of death and dismemberment

Cast: Narrated by Samuel West

Credits:Directed by Jonathan Hacker. A Paladin release.

Running time: 1:29

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