Channel 4 last night
A really super-cool club. That’s how a young black British doctor describes Islamic State in tonight’s episode of The State, her eyes shining as she records a YouTube message urging other young women to follow her example and defect to Syria.
‘A really super-cool club.’ There’s no irony in her voice. Dr Shakira Boothe (played by Ony Uhiara) is a single mother from London who claims to be part of the first generation of Muslims building a religious paradise on earth.
This, then, is how Channel 4, a publicly owned British broadcaster, depicts Islamic State five days after a terrorist attack in Barcelona that killed more than a dozen people – during a year that has seen British children killed by a suicide bomber at a Manchester pop concert.
Sickening: An execution scene from Channel 4 documentary The State
A four-part drama screening on consecutive nights, The State is supposedly based on real events in Syria and Iraq, seen from the viewpoint of several British recruits who fled their homes to join the jihad or Holy War. It showcases graphic footage of torture and dismemberment.
The second episode tonight includes an appallingly callous tableau of dead babies in an incubator ward, after a bomb strike on a hospital.
It is sickening. But it isn’t the gore and scattered limbs that leave a tight knot in the stomach: it is the moist-eyed adulation as The State pleads with us not just to sympathise with the British jihadis but to love them.
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. Joans of Arc, every one. All the men are sensitive and soft-spoken – driven to fight in God’s army for their love of their families. Everyone is deeply intelligent and multi-lingual, with extensive knowledge of the Koran.
And they are all ridiculously good-looking of course, with the occasional Poldark moment for the boys as they strip off their uniforms to reveal waxed chests with moulded six-packs. The soundtrack is all swelling orchestras and throbbing drums, with moments of sad Spanish guitar when a character dies.
No one will be surprised to discover that the writer and director of the State, Peter Kosminsky, is not a veteran of the civil war in Syria. He did not carry out research missions to Raqqa and Aleppo.
The State follows four young recruits who abandon their lives in Britain to travel to join IS in the Syrian city of Raqqa in 2015
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.
Kosminsky’s dead ear for dialogue is matched by his inability to smell out lies. Because all the scenes are based on second-hand research, they mirror the propaganda videos that cascade on to the internet, showing life under Sharia law. Much of the series consists of the director’s attempts to capture the camera angles common in phone videos of battlefields and marketplaces.
It’s baffling that a man who knows how the television world works – he won Emmys and Baftas for his adaptation of Wolf Hall, after all – seems blind to the crass manipulation of Islamic State’s official videos. Kosminsky believes that the choreographed beheadings and the carefully curated aftermath of bombings are true and accurate depictions of ISIS life.
Ridiculously good-looking: Sam Otto as Jalal, left, and Ryan McKen as Ziyaad, centre. Their characters are portrayed as sensitive and soft-spoken
For fear of imposing his own opinions on viewers (good liberals never do that) he offers no comment on the medieval morality of Islamic State. Racism is endemic: the leading characters soon learn to sneer openly at the pathetic white fighters, who are mostly fat, tearful, closet homosexuals.
All of the characters have left their homes without saying goodbye to their parents, though Kosminsky is at pains to point out that this doesn’t mean they are ungrateful or unloving – it’s just that they didn’t dare risk alerting the forces of government oppression.
The men practise dismantling their assault rifles with their eyes shut, and learn the basics of misogyny: ‘A woman in this life is defective!’
And when the bomb strikes that baby ward, there is no hint that any blame lies with the ISIS cowards using the hospital as their shield. If anything, the fault is with the unseen hand, presumably American, that fired the missile. The only explanation for the characters’ betrayal of Britain is summed up in one line: ‘I ain’t never going back to that kuffar dump, bruv.’ Kuffar, as the constant scroll of Arabic dictionary definitions tells us, means dirty, foreign and unholy.
ISIS is a death cult, and the new recruits are expected by their commanders to die quickly and needlessly. But even if the idealistic characters we met last night are killed off later this week, that does not affect the message of the first two episodes. Many people will watch only the first hour or two, and it’s the initial impressions that count for most.
Shavani Seth stars as Ushna. 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
Kosminsky cannot be incapable of understanding how most viewers will regard his perverted vision of ISIS. But he only cares about the opinions of his peers in a deluded bubble. Any decent human being, anyone who has felt despair and heartbreak at the terrorist attacks sponsored by Islamic State, will feel nothing but revulsion for his characters. They are traitors to their families and friends. Society has provided so much entertainment and education to enrich their lives, and they are turning all of it to the most evil uses.
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.
Kosminsky celebrates the camaraderie and sense of purpose that he imagines to be the fuel of ISIS. God forbid any young Islamic viewers are seduced by his vision, because every frame of this film is a lie. It is poison.