A ‘Profile’ of how Daesh recruits European brides

Valene Kane in a scene from Timur Bekmambetov's "Profile," screening in the Berlinale's Panorama section. Photos © Bazelevs, courtesy of the Berlinale

BERLIN: “Profile,” screening in the Panorama section of the Berlin International Film Festival, looks at how fighters from Daesh (ISIS) recruit young European women online. The lead actress in this feature-length fiction told Reuters the movie highlights the dangers of using the internet. British journalist Amy Whittaker (Valene Kane) goes undercover to investigate the workings of the militant group by creating a fake Facebook profile and pretending to be a Muslim convert called Melody Nelson. She devises a cover story, disguises her tattoo, learns a bit of Arabic and dons a hijab. Over the coming days she spends hours chatting online to a Daesh fighter called Abu Bilel al-Britani (Shazad Latif). In one scene she makes curry with him via video link, and gradually finds herself being attracted to him.

“It’s dangerous for us all to be online because there’s so much access to everything,” Kane told Reuters on the sidelines of the Berlinale. “You can basically do anything online and I suppose that’s what the film shines a light on, this new world that we live in.

“It’s not just Syria,” Kane persisted. “It’s all over. People are being manipulated into different situations with the anonymity of being online and having an avatar or whatever it is that they use to represent themselves.”

Abu Bilel, who tells the woman he knows as Melody he’s originally from London and describes his job in Syria as “killing people,” promises he will treat her like a queen and get her a cat. The character shows Melody a luxury home where she would live and makes a video call to her while he is playing football with Daesh’s other international recruits.

Kane remarked women often had a fantasy about what romance should be like and Abu Bilel played that role perfectly for her character.

“This man comes on her screen and says everything that she thought as a little girl that she wanted,” she said. “‘I’m going to get you a palace. I’m going to give you as many children as you want. You’ll never have to work again.’”

The camera shows Whittaker’s screen for the duration of the film.

Viewers watch voyeuristically as she chats with Abu Bilel and her friends and carries out internet searches on everything from Daesh to how to freeze her eggs.

“Profile” is one of around 400 films being screened at this year’s Berlinale, which runs through Feb. 25. The film is based on the novel “In the Skin of a Jihadist,” the true story of French journalist Anna Erelle’s undercover work, published in December 2014, which resulted in six people being arrested for involvement in extremist recruitment networks.

Germany’s domestic intelligence chief said last month that Daesh continued to target youths in Germany via the internet and social media.

“It’s about loneliness,” Russian-Kazakh director-co-director Timur Bekmambetov told Reuters, “about who we are today, how much of our life is happening on screen and how vulnerable we are when we are attached to the internet and how scary it is. It’s a reality.

“It’s how we live today,” he continued. “If I’m awake for 15 hours, half of this time I’m in front of a screen – my iPhone screen or my desktop or laptop. Most important events today in my life are happening on screen.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 20, 2018, on page 16.




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