August 30, 2017
Since the rise of ISIL in Iraq and Syria, Britons (and Westerners more generally) have wondered perplexingly: why would anyone from our lands seek to join such a peculiar death cult? Why would British Muslims of different origins go to such lengths, leaving their homes and their loved ones, to join a group that is despised by Muslims and non-Muslims alike?
It is not often that commercial dramas seek to provide deep insight into such serious matters. But The State, directed by Peter Kosminsky and painstakingly researched by the likes of Ahmed Peerbux, meets that challenge, and with significant success at that.
By so doing, it not only manages to provide some discernment in this difficult arena, it also shows something else that is deeply noteworthy. The State shows that it is actually possible to engage in discussing radical Islamism without falling into the traps of Islamophobia or indulging in anti-Muslim stereotypes.
The upsurge in anti-Muslim sentiment in Britain over the past decade is not to be taken lightly. The police, intelligence services and academia all warn of it, and with good reason.
Muslim community organisations that are active in civil society have been cautioning the rest of us for some time about the issue, which surfaces within the media on a regular basis. Only a few weeks ago, a widely read newspaper declared there to be a “Muslim problem”, a type of language that evokes images of the ugliest kind of bigotry to be seen on the European continent, which ultimately led to the Holocaust.
It would not have been unusual to see a television series dealing with radical Islamism by playing on feelings of prejudice and chauvinism against the backdrop of such anti-Muslim sentiment. Certainly, it would have made the series instantly popular.
But Kosminsky and his team chose to go down another route. Peerbux, the main researcher behind The State, went to great lengths (in conformity with Kosminsky’s vision) to ensure that the portrayal of the radical Islamists in the film were faithful to what the data on these types of individuals actually shows.
Accuracy was important to them, which, in turn, highlighted the complexities of the stories. The response from certain parts of the press was to castigate the series for showing what they saw as sympathy to this maniacal cult.
It is a peculiar accusation to levy at the makers of The State. The series is quite emphatic about the evil that ISIL carries out, so much so that viewers cannot be left in any doubt that these are “the bad guys”. Based on the episodes released thus far, it is clearly portrayed as a malevolent cult bent on destruction.
What has probably attracted so much resentment is the fact that the series ventures into showing the human side of the characters. They are not simply wicked automatons who appear like vampires in the night. They are human beings with feelings, stories and lives that exist against the backdrop of their willingness to be part of this group.
They are sons and daughters, wives and husbands, men and women. That, perhaps, is what makes some uncomfortable. The State goes to great pains to show that while, yes, they are engaged in some of the most disgraceful acts we can imagine, it is possible, at the same time, to understand how they got to where they are or what is keeping them there: a sense of community, which is shared by all cults, and common grievance (fighting the Assad regime), all intermixed and intertwined with an array of problems.
The Source: The National