The Frontline Club in London serves as a place of repose for swashbuckling foreign correspondents as well as a venue for internationally themed film screenings and talks. The building is lovely, it has a pleasant restaurant attached, and its programme of events is consistently impressive.
But the cover story of the club’s January newsletter reads like something straight out of the Onion. Headlined “Drawing the Jihad,” the piece, by Canadian journalist Nancy Durham, describes the latest weapon deployed by Saudi Arabian authorities in the war against Islamic terrorism: art therapy. Durham got a sneak peek inside a secure art therapy centre, just north of Riyadh, in which convicted terrorists are “groomed for a return to society” by art therapist Awad Alyami.
Durham describes how one of the detainees, Mohammed, showed her his work: “an abstract paper canvas smeared with intense red and purple tones.” Clearly pleased with this expressionist masterpiece, Mohammed “smiled,” and explained that it represented his “negative energy.” But, warns Durham, not all the artwork is this easy to understand. She describes watching two detainees draw “lines, curves and dots in shades of pink and blue,” but doesn’t venture an interpretation. Perhaps the prohibition on visual depiction found in more fundamentalist interpretations of Sunni Islam inhibits the jihadis from giving their negative energies a more concrete visual expression.