The State is a recent Channel 4 four episode mini-series that follows a group of British citizens who travel to Syria to join so-called Islamic State. Shakira (Ony Uhiara) is a doctor and single mother travelling with her ten year old son, Isaac. Jalal (Sam Otto), accompanied by his best, friend Ziyad (Ryan McKen) is following in the footsteps of his late brother and Ushna (Shavani Cameron) has romantic ideas of being the bride of a Jihadi.At first things are very exciting. Shakira and Ushna find a sense of community with the other women who have traveled from the west to to join The State even though Ushna is a little homesick and Jalal and Ziyad have a great time being “Paki Rambos” (their words).
Soon things start to change. Shakira realises she will not be able to practice without the permission of a husband and she has caught the eye of a powerful and brutal Jihadi, who controls the hospital among other things. Ushna will have to marry a stranger who speaks no English. Jalal realises that ISIS is not as pure of heart and purpose as he expected and realises that rape and torture are constant and rife.
On the plus side, the characters are interesting and the story is fast-paced. I ploughed through this because I wanted to know what was going to happen. It doesn’t shy away from some very upsetting imagery, which feels necessary considering the subject matter. Although as a mum there is one scene that still makes me want to cry just thinking of it. If you have watched it you will probably know which scene I am talking about.
I have issues though. In many ways the characters are presented as being too naive to really be believable. I don’t think it’s really any great secret that ISIS is big on trading women like cattle, beheading anyone they think has looked at them funny or training children as soldiers. Shakira’s incredulity at the idea that she might not be able to practice as a doctor is a bit much. I am also not sure the idea of Jahid as a nice kid who misses his brother schtick makes sense either. Jihad isn’t like a weekend hobby. You’d have to be absolutely fanatical to travel illegally to Syria to fight a war and the only character who comes vaguely close to portraying that is Ushna.
I enjoyed watching this and I think its heart was in the right place but with such sensitive material in just a highly charged political climate, I don’t think it does what it sets out to do and the media backlash against it is somewhat warranted. Do I think it is a piece of inspirational material encouraging British Muslims to join ISIS? No. Do I think it is realistic portrayal of what is happening in Syria? Also no. Was it entertaining? Yes.
So based on that, I would recommend The State, but with reservations. If you want to watch it and are in the UK, it is currently streaming on All 4.