by Joanna D'Angelo

One day last week I was scanning the headlines and came across this horrific one -

Suicide attack kills 40 at Afghan wedding party

The article stated that a suicide bomber with explosives strapped to his chest walked into the party and blew himself up.  

The article goes on to say that the week before, the Taliban hanged a 7-year-old boy in public in Helmand province, neighbouring Kandahar, for alleged spying.

The article about the wedding immediately reminded me of the powerful film,  Welcome to Sarajevo (1997) by Michael Winterbottom.  Recall in the opening scene a group of women are getting ready for a wedding. The mother of the bride leaves the house to get something - crosses the street and is gunned down by snipers.

While remembering that film,  I couldn't help but think about how relentless, remorseless, and ruthless evil is. Evil takes a back seat to no one and nothing. Especially not a wedding and certainly not a seven-year-old boy.

Every day we read about atrocities just like this - and it is mind-numbing and certainly understandable to fall into a sort of news-fatigue-mode quite simply because of the overload of information we have floating past us.  But then films like Welcome to Sarajevo push us back into humanity-mode. It's one of the reasons why I love film so much - and documentary film in particular - because it takes us beyond the headlines deep into war zones where people live amongst the rubble.

I recently watched an excellent documentary called The Making of a Martyr  (2004) by Canadian filmmakers Alistair Leyland and Brooke Goldstein.   It follows the aftermath of a failed suicide bombing by a 15 year-old Palestinian boy named Hussam Abdu.  The film explores the phenomenon of children suicide bombers in Palestine - asking the question - why? Children don't just become suicide bombers.  And they certainly don't act alone.

The answer is complicated and multifaceted and involves not only propaganda by the state in the form of kids' TV programming that incites hatred towards Jews and the West but also the undeniable power and popularity that terrorists have as folk heroes and of course the ongoing conflict with Israel and their occupation that has fomented so much destruction in the first place.

What emerges is a very disturbing picture of a glorified martyr culture that is fueled by terrorists but also "sanctioned" by government and even the educational system.  In one very compelling and revealing scene the filmmakers chat with a few young girls outside the former home of Wafa Idris, who at the age of 28 became the first female suicide bomber in Palestine.   The two girls both lament that they wish they could follow in their cousin's footsteps and become a suicide bomber too - but their mothers won't let them. Both girls couldn't have been more than 13 years old. One of them was holding a two-year-old girl in her arms - probably her little sister or another relative.

We learn that Wafa had been married but her husband left her when it became apparent that she couldn't have children. Had she continued to live she would not have been able to marry again - she would have faced ongoing ridicule for her infertility but instead - as a successful suicide bomber she is revered as a martyr.

Wafa's mother, Hajii  said to the filmmakers that although she misses her daughter and cries for her every day - she is also proud of her.

"She did nothing bad, by God! My mind tells me that she did nothing wrong. It is something that raises the head..."

In another sequence the filmmakers go into a school and chat with a group of school children - asking them what they think of Israel and suicide bombers. One boy is very vocal in his support of the cause. His teacher laughs and says, "Oh, he is just like my son."

The absurdity of the moment is not lost - it's as though the teacher is indulging the boy's trash talking  a rival school's soccer team.

And Hussam Abdu - the teenage boy who will be spending the next seven years in an Israeli prison is visited by the filmmakers a year later. Gone is his shyness - instead he has become cocky and proud of his actions - in prison he's grown even more militant - something the filmmakers confirm as part of the natural progression of things when they go deep into outlaw territory and meet several extremists who after doing jail time became "Martyr's Brigades" fighting for the cause.  Whatever you call them - extremists, terrorists or outlaws - they are savvy enough to know that "creating martyrs" especially children martyrs increases support for their cause amongst the poor and those ravaged by war.

On a positive note - a friend of mine told me about a great documentary called Budrus  that screened at this year's Hot Docs in Toronto - about a village in Gaza that stood up to the Israeli army through non-violent means when the army was intent on building a wall through their village.   

These are not easy films to watch and I suppose it's simpler to just skim the headlines or avoid them altogether - but just because we avoid them doesn't make the reality behind those headlines go away.

Photo of bombing courtesy AP
Poster of Making of a Martryr courtesy
Poster of Welcome to Sarajevo courtesy


  1. Making of a Martyr sounds like it would be creepy. A warped version of 28 Up.

    In my opinion, the only hope for this millenial conflict is to destroy the demonizing by introducing real people to real people. In the digital age, more relationships are bound to occur in the virtual world. And it's hard to make war on friends.

  2. I see your point - I think it's starting to happen - esp. with younger people - I hope it does. Thanks for your comment.


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