‘Of Fathers and Sons,’ a bleak look at transformation of children into militants

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A boy stands on rubble following regime airstrikes and shelling in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus. (Reuters)
Updated 18 November 2018
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‘Of Fathers and Sons,’ a bleak look at transformation of children into militants

  • “The women are the biggest victims in this society,” Derki said
  • Derki: The horror in the film does not come from violence and blood and gore

LOS ANGELES: A group of children giggle as they play in a dusty, barren landscape near their home in northern Syria, but this is no ordinary game of catch, for their ball is a live bomb.
The macabre game of chicken is one of the most blood-chilling scenes in “Of Fathers and Sons,” filmmaker Talal Derki’s disturbing new expose on the grip of extremism in his native Syria.
“This is the scene that broke my heart,” Derki told AFP in an interview in Los Angeles this week, recalling the blood-chilling episode.
“I was seeing my six-year-old boy through the lens.”
For more than two years, the celebrated filmmaker lived with a family in a war-ravaged region bordering Turkey, focusing his camera primarily on the children to capture their gradual radicalization.
The result is a bleak and haunting 98-minute documentary that gives viewers rare insight into the brutal daily life of militants, who in recent years have sown fear across the globe.
“I call it the nightmare,” the 41-year-old filmmaker said, referring to the spread of the jihadist movement.
The film, released in the US on Thursday, won the world cinema documentary competition at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
Derki’s previous documentary, “Return to Homs,” won the grand jury prize at Sundance in the same category in 2014.
“Of Father and Sons” tracks Abu Osama, one of the founders of Al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda affiliate group, as he leads two of his eight sons — Osama, 13, named after dad’s personal hero Osama bin Laden, and Ayman, 12, named after the current Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri — down the path to jihad.
Berlin-based Derki said he gained Abu Osama’s trust by posing as a war photographer sympathetic to the militant cause and lived on-and-off with the family for two-and-a-half years, sharing their most intimate moments.
The horror in the film does not come from violence and blood and gore, Derki said. Rather the viewer is sickened as the documentary charts the children’s brutal transformation from innocent youths to fighters.
“This is a film that makes you understand how the brain functions,” Derki said. “You have the horror in the language, in the education, in a single moment.”
He said he is still haunted by several scenes in his film, notably the one with the children playing with the makeshift bomb.
In another scene, one of the children proudly boasts to Abu Osama — which means father of Osama in Arabic — about killing a little bird.
“We put his head down and cut it off, like how you did it, father, to that man,” the boy proclaims.
The bombed-out desert landscape that the family calls home and the fact that the family’s women are never shown or even heard adds to the sense of despair throughout the film.
“The women are the biggest victims in this society,” Derki said. “I was there for two and a half years and I didn’t even know what the mother of these children looked like.
“Her name was not uttered and her voice was never heard.”
Derki said that while his first documentary, “Return to Homs,” tracked the evolution of the Syrian uprising and the regime’s brutal crackdown, “Of Fathers and Sons” was an obvious next chapter in his quest to explain the country’s slide into chaos.
“We have to use our weapon — which is cinema — to show what is really going on there, who these people are, how they brainwash societies,” he said.
“We have to think before we bomb any area, before we let a dictator kill his own people with heavy weapons,” he added.
Derki said “Of Fathers and Sons” has had such a profound psychological impact on him that he has put down the camera for now as he concentrates on healing.
“I am still recovering,” he said. “I have to take medication to fall asleep, otherwise I have nightmares.”
He added that after the final shoot he had his right arm tattooed and his ear pierced to ensure he would not be tempted to try and embed with militants in the future.
“If you have tattoos or piercings, you cannot be with them,” he said. “So this was my way of making sure I don’t go back.”


Oman to replace scores of expat nurses as visa ban continues

Updated 29 min 48 sec ago
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Oman to replace scores of expat nurses as visa ban continues

  • Oman has been gradually increasing the level jobs closed to expats
  • Oman has seen a significant increase in the number of its citizens in employment since the visa ban was introduced

DUBAI: Scores of expat nurse are to be replaced by Omani nationals in the ongoing Omanization project aimed at getting more locals into work, Times of Oman reported.

There will be 200 nurses replaced across the country, Oman’s Ministry of Health, confirmed - applications will be open from March to 14.

Oman’s government introduced a six-month expat visa ban in January last year, which was later extended.  

The visa ban, implemented at the end of January last year, resulted in the hiring of 64,386 Omanis in private sector companies and establishments and 4,125 more in government agencies.

Gulf countries have been historically dependent on expatriate workers to power their economies; with a 2013 study indicating as much as 71 percent of Oman’s labor force are non-nationals. In Qatar, expatriate workforce was as high as 95 percent while in the UAE it was 94 percent; 83 percent in Kuwait; 64 percent in Bahrain and 49 percent in Saudi Arabia.

The Gulf states have since launched nationalization programs to absorb more of their citizens into the labor force, as well as address high levels of unemployment.

Between December 2018 and November last year, a total of 60,807 expatriate workers left Oman’s labor force or an equivalent 3.6 percent reduction in their numbers, which now stands at 1,734,882.