Tendance Coatesy

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The State: A Cautionary Tale? Review of Peter Kosminsky’s Drama about British Recruits to the Islamic State.

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Image result for The State channel four

The State: A Cautionary Tale?

The first episode of The State, the tale of four British people who leave Europe and join the Islamic State in Raqqa Syria, was shown last night. Channel Four, at a time of glossy, paper-thin, series, terrestrial, streamed or in Box Sets, needs no justification to show serious tragedy. Peter Kosminsky, who adapted Wolf Hall, it was a “narrative that needed to be told”. “As far as I know there’s been no other depiction certainly in drama, of what happens to young British Muslims when they arrive in Islamic State.” (The ‘I’. 17.8.17)

The audience hardly has to be told of the importance of the subject. Globalisation means not only that media had brought a cascade of information about Daesh and its acts, but also has facilitated the recruitment of these supporters amongst several thousand other Europeans. As Graeme Wood put this in the Way of Strangers (2017) “Since 2010, tens of thousands of men, women and children have migrated to a theocratic state, under the belief that migration is a sacred obligation and that the state’s leader is the worldly successor of the last and greatest of prophets. If religious scholars see no role for religion in a mass movement like this, they see no role for religion in the world.”

This should not lead us to forget that ISIS was able to create its original totalitarian strongholds from many more Middle Eastern recruits in the wake the bloodbaths of post-invasion Iraq, and the Syrian civil war. Or that, as Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan have recounted, their “draconian rule and religious obscurantism” was initially resisted in Raqqa itself by brave individuals like schoolteacher Souad Nofa (Pages 187 – 190. Isis. Inside the Army of Terror. 2015)

In this vein, The State Kosminsky has stated that the production is based on extensive research both about life in Raqqa, and the “relationship many radical Muslims have with their faith”. “These people are either recent converts to Islam or people [who are] born Muslims, but who’ve been relatively recently ‘born again’ relatively recently and come to an interest in the faith”.

Radicalisation.

Sunday’s broadcast did not begin with lengthy treatment of the process of ‘radicalisation’ that led to the voyage to Raqqa. We are rushed into the crossing into Syria, hungry for clues about whether the recruits were ‘self-radicalised’, dreamt of their own pious utopia, or were pushed into Jihad by a passage through Salafism and recruiters who float in its milieu, as Gilles Kepel famously suggests (La Fracture. 2016).

Some indications about their background do emerge. Adolescent Ushna is anxious to fit in and wed. She hopes to be “a lioness amongst the lions” but her manners suggest an effort to adapt to Daesh’s Islamist rules, as do the other, mobile phone hugging, companions. Single mother and Junior Doctor, the Black British Shakira,  wants to tend to the – Islamist – sick. In a  scene, with echoes of The Handmaid’s Tale, women are instructed by American convert  Umm Walid, brittleness peppered with “sweeties”,  in their proper role as helpmeets. This Ushna challenges, as if she was in a university seminar, by citing female warriors at the time of the Prophet. 

Towards the end of the programme, a speech, in which the male combatants are informed of the coming Apocalypse, when America has been lured into their territory and Armageddon will unfurl, suggests something of Olivier Roy’s Jihadist “imaginaire” (Le djihad et la mort. 2016). Yet the characters already show ambiguity towards this war, a global jihad waged with the utmost force against the unclean, unbelieving “Kuffar” (the word constantly used in The State), whose violent momentum Roy considers the source of the attraction of ISIS.

The State is, Kosminsky has announced, a “cautionary tale” far from a “recruitment video”. We can expect disillusion, although it is hard to see why anybody should feel empathy for those, portrayed by actors,  who have joined an armed totalitarian organisation, a would-be state, whose genocidal acts are more than well known and self-advertised. It is certainly a powerful story, well dramatised. 

 

Whether this series will help shed light on the wider conflicts in the Middle East, from the Civil War in Syria to Iraq, where, as Gilbert Achcar has underlined, there are many other murdering bands, not to mention the Assad regime itself, remains to be seen (Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising  2016) But we hope, that after we see how Daesh treats women, we’ll hear a lot less of the genre of comments by Judith Butler about the Burka carrying “many meanings of agency” which Westerners have not grasped. (Precarious life. The Powers of Mourning and Violence. 2006)

Next episode tonight…

******

The State is a four-part mini-series following the story of four British men and women who have left their lives behind to join ISIS in Syria, and although it is a fictional story, it is based on extensive research of real life events.

Channel Four.

The Mail reviewer Christopher Stevens  says,

The State is no sort of truthful drama, as it claims to be. This is a recruitment video to rival Nazi propaganda of the Thirties calling young men to join the Brownshirts.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

August 21, 2017 at 12:21 pm

8 Responses

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  1. There were no “female warriors” at the Battle of Badr or indeed any of the other battles mentioned in the Holy Quran.

    Islamic Scholar

    August 21, 2017 at 1:06 pm

  2. Comrade Google turns this,

    “Khawlah bint al-Azwar (Arabic خولة بنت الأزور) was a prominent woman during the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Khawlah was a Muslim Arab warrior, sister of Dhiraar ibn Azwar, the legendary Muslim soldier and commander of the Rashidun army during the 7th century Muslim conquest. Born sometime in the seventh century, Khawlah was well known for her leadership in battles of the Muslim conquests in parts of what are today Syria, Jordan, and Palestine. She fought side by side with her brother Dhirrar in many battles,[citation needed] including a decisive Battle of Yarmouk in 636 against the Byzantine empire. On the 4th day of the battle she led a group of women against the Byzantine army and was wounded during her fight with a Greek soldier.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khawlah_bint_al-Azwar

    As well as this sad little boast,

    “Islamic History and the Women You Never Hear About: Female Warriors
    ON AUGUST 21, 2011 BY TFFIN FEMINISM, HERSTORY, ISLAM
    Muslim women participated fully in war during the early periods of Islam while the Prophet was alive. Some of them healed the wounded, some devised strategies, others were warriors, and others–still–recited war poetry to inspire the troops, (their weapons were words!) and a vast majority attended to all of the above. These stories are hardly unique, but of course, they have been kept hidden from us by jealous men who have lost all sense of their own modesty as they police ours, and as they and steal the rightful power given to us by God.”

    https://thefatalfeminist.com/2011/08/21/islamic-history-and-the-women-you-never-hear-about-female-warriors/

    Andrew Coates

    August 21, 2017 at 1:13 pm

  3. You are quoting Wikipedia [citation needed] not the Word of God!

    Citation Needed

    August 21, 2017 at 1:20 pm

  4. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

    – Thomas Jefferson

    Thomas Jefferson

    August 21, 2017 at 1:23 pm

  5. The Mail reviewer sounds like someone who thought Trainspotting was luring people to turn to drugs. (Though I haven’t seen the programme myself.)

    s4r4hbrown

    August 22, 2017 at 9:49 am

  6. It is a sensitive well produced drama, you can fault it – the reference to those who stood against ISIS in Raqqa “,Or that, as Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan have recounted, their “draconian rule and religious obscurantism” was initially resisted in Raqqa itself by brave individuals like schoolteacher Souad Nofa, gives rise to a number of thoughts about the limits of television series, but that review is so far of the mark it is insulting.

    Andrew Coates

    August 22, 2017 at 10:03 am

  7. In fact, middle-class film-maker Kosminsky is 61 years old and Oxbridge-educated, the epitome of the London media luvvie who is desperate to demonstrate that he is less racist than anyone else at his Hampstead dinner party. He’s been the subject of a South Bank Show profile by Melvyn Bragg. You get the picture.

    The dialogue of The State gives him away at every moment. It’s Dad-speak, a middle-aged man’s failed effort to sound ‘down with the kids’, which parrots comical slang last used in the 1970s by the Bay City Rollers – words such as ‘super-cool’.

    In tonight’s opening scene, one fighter waves his AK47 and shouts: ‘This is better than flipping burgers!’ It’s meant to be a victory shout – but instead, the line is fake, patronising and, in its assumption that well-educated British Asians like him are destined to work at McDonald’s, dismissively racist.

    Allepo

    August 22, 2017 at 11:02 am

  8. “All the women are elegant but strong – independent heroines making a positive choice to sacrifice their freedom for the sake of their pious religious convictions

    Allepo

    August 22, 2017 at 11:10 am


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