Nasib Farah, who came to Europe on his own at age 11 fleeing the civil war in Somalia, knows the Somali community in Denmark inside and out. Thanks to his personal network, over a four-year period he and his co-director Søren Steen Jespersen were able to infiltrate a cell of young Somali men meeting in a Copenhagen apartment in 2008-2009 with one common goal: to go to Somalia and join the Islamist terrorist organisation al-Shabaab.
In the following, the two directors discuss the background for Warriors from the North and what they hope their film can bring to the table in the highly topical debate about rootless young people leaving to fight a holy war:
Nasib Farah: "It's important to break the isolation and give Somalis a voice"
"I have been close to these young Somali ever since I came to Denmark – in school and at the youth club. I know several of the warriors personally. I went to the same club as Abdi who blew up himself and the young doctors. I always thought of him as a younger brother. My background and my life are a lot like his and the other al-Shabaab warriors'. We are Danes of Somali descent. We came here in the early nineties. We're the same age. We were young, had fun, went out and lived life. We travelled in the same circles, we were there for each other. We were friends.
"Abdi and the others were as far from extremism as can be, but like many other dark-skinned young people with strange names they felt unwanted and out of place in Danish society. Having people cross to the other side of the street when they see you, being repeatedly turned away at job interviews, for internships, even at clubs, reinforced their feeling of not belonging. That's probably a key factor in my former friends' vulnerability to al-Shabaab's manipulation. Who doesn’t want to be appreciated and feel like you're doing something with your life for a greater cause?
"It's important for me to break the isolation that a lot of Somalis in Denmark experience and give Somalis a voice, also when it comes to angry young men who choose to be recruited for al-Shabaab."
Søren Steen Jespersen: "The world is interconnected"
"We can't separate the world into different pieces. What happens in the sand-coloured, bloody heat of Somalia impacts me on a random rainy day in Copenhagen. The conflict between haves and have-nots knows no boundaries and respects no arbitrary passport controls or EU constructions. We already live side by side, including in Copenhagen, where I live. There are almost 20,000 Somalis living in Denmark and their world is part of mine for good or ill.
"For me, this film is an opportunity to tell an important story about how everything in the world is interconnected. And an opportunity for me personally to understand how a seemingly meaningless suicide attack in Somalia for a certain individual can be a valid alternative to life as a young Somali in a Copenhagen suburb.
"It's so easy to write off militant fundamentalists as psychopaths who should be locked up for life. You're either with us or with them has been the rhetoric. But in this film I get to discuss the processes that lead up to a young man pushing the trigger and taking 24 people with him in death. I get to discuss the human aspect of violence and the human consequences of his action."