The State, Channel 4

Someone should be congratulated for having the presence of mind to put this four-part drama onto our screens. Islamic State is not, I imagine, the easiest political beast to get one’s head around, and this drama, while far from exhaustive, was a genuine if tentative attempt. The Daily Mail hated it with a passion, so by that measure it must have had something going for it. The drama focused on a handful of British recruits to the IS battle fields somewhere in Syria. The acting from these British Jihadists was woefully wooden – central protagonists that looked and sounded as if they had just stepped off a Holby City set. But the acting was not the key thing here. What the script writers had set out to do was to present something of a human dimension to the Islamic State Jihadists.

Not an easy task I admit, given that Islamic State has morphed into something quite barbaric; a cross between an extreme religious death cult with fantasies of establishing a world-wide medieval Islamic caliphate, and a good old modern fascist police state.

The British recruits were largely portrayed as well-meaning but delusional dupes who would soon come to see the errors of their ways. What motivated them was not fully explored. It was suggested that it might be a mixture of political naivety, religious fervour, alienation from western society and just plain adventurism. But of more interest was the other collection of foreign born jihadists who came across as a bizarre assortment of cruel psychopaths and sincere if deranged religious fanatics. But what the drama failed to offer its viewers was any real insight into the political origins of the Islamic State.

There was some reference to the brutalities of the Syrian government and there was also some passing reference to the barbarity of US imperialism. But not nearly enough. To understand the rise of Islamic State, it is necessary to travel back in time way beyond the recent US interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. We need to at least travel back to the early part of the twentieth century to a time when the victors of the first great imperialist slaughter divided up the world to suit their imperialist interests. The old Ottoman and Hapsburg empires were gutted and replaced with a number of pro-western nation states.

This might way have been an advance on what had been before, given the feudal, autocratic nature of those ancient regimes. But here is the rub. Every time some form of democratic movement emerged in these newly liberated nations, the West, principally Britain, France and more latterly the US, would snuff out the democratic leaders and replace them with brutal but compliant rulers of their own choice. This repeatedly happened in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and in dozens of other countries across Africa, Asia and Central and South America.

This pattern is crystal clear but lessons never seem to get learned. With the indigenous democratic forces repeated jailed, tortured and assassinated, political vacuums inevitably emerged. Nature, of course, abhors a vacuum. So, with no democratic forces allowed to develop as a counterweight to Western Imperialism, it was open house for the Muslim Brotherhood and its more recent incarnations to fill the void. Yes, these militant Muslim organisations are brutal but nothing in comparison to the US sponsored shock and awe regularly visited upon these unhappy lands. And while all this western sponsored imperialism has been unleashed, the desperate Palestinians remain, decade after decade, captives in those rotting refugee camps. At the very same time, the Zionists encamped in what is now Israel, continue with their colonial ambitions of a Greater Israel, receiving more US aid than any other nation on earth. Is it any wonder the Muslim world is fertile ground for those that preach hatred of all things Western. There is much to hate.

The writers of The State didn’t or couldn’t explore these historical questions and that is a great pity. Until this era of neo-colonialism is dragged out into the open, nothing much in the foreseeable future is going to change. Islamic State will be defeated and then morph into something even more irrational, even more barbaric. Saddam Hussein predicted in his final days, that this was shaping up to be the mother of all battles. He may well be proved right as Sunni and Shia continue to tear each other apart and the extreme Wahabi sect, funded by Saudi oil, dig in for the long haul. For the West, it will be a never-ending war on terror. Never-ending that is, until the terror produced in the White House and lethally delivered by the US military-industrial complex is finally dismantled. But don’t hold your breath on that one.

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