Some viewers complain that The State (Channel 4, available on Channel 4 on-demand) glorifies ISIS, the parastate of Islamist fanatics stretching from northern Iraq to Syria. But it’s precisely by acknowledging its appeal that the docudrama helps explain why apparently sane Britons would travel thousands of miles to fight for it.
We are introduced to a British volunteer who wants to be a martyr like his brother and a woman doctor who wants to help build heaven on Earth. Upon arrival in Syria, they are quickly disabused. Turns out that the cooler, older brother was actually a coward who was executed for running away; the doctor is astonished to learn that she’s only allowed to treat patients if she covers herself in a niqab. But why the surprise? To know what ISIS is like, one surely only has to watch the news.
The problem is that folks will always believe what they want to believe, and so getting to the heart of a belief system so compelling that it drowns out the bleeding obvious is critical to combatting it. And what do we learn? That ISIS wants to recapture the heady conquests of the first years of Islam, that it sets its fighters up like kings, with wives, swimming pools and sex slaves, and that the ultimate goal of life is a glorious death. The West has a role to play: if ISIS goads us, by beheading prisoners, into attacking them, it’s believed that we can help trigger the apocalypse. The implication is that by going to war with this Looney Tunes suicide cult, we’ve given it exactly what it wants.
So are we to do nothing? That would mean abandoning characters like a pharmacist who lives under a death sentence because his wife ran away, POWs whose organs are harvested by ISIS and even those jihadis who, upon closer reflection, would quite like to go home now, please, to a warm bed, to television, to mother – for what is most lacking in this Garden of Eden is humanity.
There must be a way back for those who’ve changed their mind. We Christians don’t give up on sinners.
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