Jihad Jane (3 stars)

Jihad Jane

Ciaran Cassidy takes a look at an unusual terrorist in this fascinating but flawed documentary

Igniting a media frenzy in the early 2010s, the case of 'Jihad Jane' came to light when a blonde, white, American woman, Fatima LaRose (formerly known as Colleen), was arrested and eventually sentenced to 10 years for terrorism-related crimes. Referred to by the alliterative screenname she had assumed online, LaRose stunned television pundits and news anchors who regurgitated the US Attorney office's talking points; this was supposedly 'the new face of terrorism'.

Despite its adoption of the sensationalist moniker, this documentary from Irish filmmaker Ciaran Cassidy maintains a relaxed, unhurried pace, with talking-head interviews punctuated by crisp photography of the locales in which these events unfolded. From the snow-dusted open spaces of Colorado, US, to the narrow streets of Waterford, Ireland, the film recounts an unusual story, with contributions from most of the key people involved.

LaRose and another American woman arrested on similar charges, Jamie Paulin Ramirez, are its subjects, and both are quite matter-of-fact about their roles, which they revisit in on-screen interviews following their respective prison sentences. Tracing a simple narrative, the film provides background context on both women to suggest why they were so vulnerable to online radicalisation; LaRose, in particular, had survived a complex web of trauma and abuse throughout her adolescence.

Yet, it seems irresponsible that the persistent shock at white Americans committing terrorist offences is never interrogated, and little effort is made to draw a distinction between the Muslim faith and Islamist extremism. Meanwhile, no difficult questions are posed to Swedish artist Lars Vilks (whom LaRose and Ramirez were instructed to kill), who evidently enjoys provoking Muslims. As a portrait of the two women and their motivations, it's comprehensive, but doesn't satisfactorily engage with any of the other issues raised.

Limited release from Fri 14 Feb.

Jihad Jane

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • Ireland
  • 1h 34min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Ciaran Cassidy

Documentary about Fatima LaRose, an American woman who was sentenced to ten years for terrorism-related crimes. Director Cassidy maintains a relaxed and unhurried pace, but little effort is made to distinguish between Islam itself and Islamist extremism, while in general it fails to satisfactorily with the issues.