Skip to Content

Coffee House

Islamic State has recreated The Handmaid’s Tale

26 August 2017

11:18 AM

26 August 2017

11:18 AM

Well, don’t think there’s much milage in the charge against Peter Kosminsky’s drama about IS, The State,  that it glamorises that outfit, do you? It was about as grisly a depiction of the horrors of IS as is commensurate with British viewing standards.

So, in this account of four British recruits to IS broadcast this week, we didn’t get the rape of Yazidi women and their nine-year-old daughters but we got the slave market where the jihadists bought and sold them – there’s a secondary market, by the way, in these women in the Middle East. We didn’t get homosexuals tossed off the top of tall buildings, but we did get a local fearing his life lest it happen to him. We didn’t see the decapitation of suspected spies and traitors, but we did see young boys playing football with a severed head. And the brutalisation of young boys (some of those enslaved Yazidis are among their number) is hinted at rather than spelled out – but the charmers of IS have used boys to hunt down and kill captives in a grisly game of hide and seek. Oh and there are the moral police; the women who supervise the conduct of other women in their own city, beating the feet of any of them who step out of their house without a male guardian, say – the one who really made you pray for a direct hit was a fat Brit who called everyone ‘sweetie’.  As for the torture of suspects, we see the cells where it happens rather than the reality  – and it’s like an abattoir. We don’t get the destruction of monuments, as in Palmyra either, but you can’t have it all.

And all the time as the series was broadcast there was the thrum of reality in the background; the Barcelona attacks, then the plot for an attack on a rock concert in Rotterdam, the Western and Kurdish advance on Raqqa – and all the reports about IS refusing to allow civilians to flee the city are entirely in character.  Incidentally, I can’t quite see the point of the proposal for ceasefire in the offensive which the aid agencies are calling for, given that IS is unlikely to allow ordinary non-combatants to leave.


One improbable character in all this is the intelligent British female doctor (played by Ony Uhiara)  – convert to Islam with a son of 10 – whom we are plainly intended to identify with. Her instincts are normal and humane – she declines to remove both kidneys from captured soldiers, say, and is suitably revolted when her son is involved with the human head football scenario. But such a character presupposes innocence of what IS is about…and the fact is that since their first capture of Mosul and particularly after we learned about the fate of the Yazidis, no-one can pretend not to know what IS stands for. There is no possibility that a sentient human being can be in doubt about the character of the Islamic state they are helping to establish, the nature of its Brave New World. Those Bethnal Green schoolgirls who ran away to join them are, we gather from the testimony  of a defector, rejoicing whenever Westerners get blown up or mown down by jihadists.

The State is, I’d say, required viewing. It has a good deal more to say about brute reality than, to take a very different and fictional series, The Handmaid’s Tale. That account of female subjugation has been seized on by feminists as a useful allegory for Trump’s America; I’ve read umpteen stupid pieces by young women suggesting that the condition of women’s oppression is right out there in the way the president views abortion and jokes about grabbing pussies. Nope, the real analogy between this overhyped fiction and reality is with Islamic state, where the condition of women, dressed in shrouds and oppressing themselves by policing each other and presiding over the sex slaves, leaves Gilead and Margaret bloody Atwood nowhere. Yet most feminists I can think of are way more likely to join an anti-Trump demo than a pro-Yazidi rally.

Ah yes, the Yazidis…the women and girls as young as nine, as we know, are still in their thousands deployed as rape slaves by IS – I met one young woman who was raped by them (after he completed the act, he told her: ‘you are a Muslim now’); the men killed, ditto the women too old to be sexually useful; what of them? What the survivors are asking anyone who will listen is that once their homeland around Mount Sinjar is returned to them they should be provided with protection from their neighbours – the local Sunni Muslims who assisted IS in capturing and subjugating them. It would be just wrong to expect them to go home, as they want, without an international military presence. The Kurds protected them, ditto the Christians, but their Sunni neighbours colluded in their destruction.

The danger of a series like The State is that you end up feeling mere futile rage. Well, the positive way of acting on repulsion is to require the Government – or perhaps those very noisy feminist MPs like Stella Creasy might like to do it – to listen to what the Yazidis want, and give these utterly harmless victims of genocide the military protection in post-IS territory that they need.


Show comments
Close