One of the many interesting films you will find in this year’s Seattle South Asian Film Festival is Hemal Trivedi’s and Mohammed Ali Naqvi’s superb documentary Among the Believers, which is about a struggle between secular Pakistan and extremist Pakistan for the hearts and souls of the young. The filmmakers get very close to the cleric Abdul Aziz Ghazi, head of the organization Red Mosque, which wants to establish a society committed to, in their reading, the exact words of the Koran.

Aziz is shown to be at once strong, authentic, charismatic, vulnerable, boring, and a charlatan. He is not the kind of person you can easily demonize or humanize, because he is ultimately a product of or is responding to the extreme poverty of his society. Pakistan made Aziz, whether you like it or not. He doesn’t preach hate and violence because he is evil—he does so because there is little else his world has to offer the poor.

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Secular Pakistan might denounce Aziz and demand that his Islamic seminaries be closed, but that solves almost nothing. Throwing this and other radical cleric behind bars will not bring the country’s crushing poverty to an end. recommended

Among the Believers screens Sunday, October 18, noon, SIFF Film Center.

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