The State TX: 20 Aug 2017, Week 34
A compelling, fictional story based on extensive research, The State follows the experiences of four British men and women who have left their lives behind to join ISIS in Raqqah, Syria in 2015.
As they experience more of the reality of life in Raqqah, witnessing horrific atrocities carried out by the regime and the bloody aftermath of air strikes, their journeys diverge – into disillusionment and despair on the one hand and increasing commitment to the Caliphate on the other.
Jalal’s adolescence has been shaped by the decision of his older brother Hamid to leave London and travel to Syria to fight for ISIS, before being eulogized as a brave martyr who died in battle. He decides to follow in his brother’s footsteps and persuades his best friend Ziyaad to accompany him. Single mother Shakira arrives in Syria with her nine-year-old son Isaac, determined to bring her skills as a junior doctor to the aid of the Islamic State by working in the hospital in Raqqah. The price ISIS exacts for allowing her, a woman, to work in this way is that she should be in daily contact with women back home on social media, exhort them to travel to Syria to join the fight. Teenager Ushna is a mix of giddy romanticism and the fierce Salafist ideology she has discovered on the Internet. She leaves her relatively affluent home and family in London to fulfil what she sees as her religious duty. On arrival in Raqqah, her first concern is to find a husband – her ‘lion,’ as she calls him.
For Jalal and Ziyaad, first impressions of the Islamic State exceed their expectations. They feel a strong sense of camaraderie with the other men who’ve travelled from all over the world to seek jihad. At the training camp, they are taught how to use a weapon and are given houses and money as foreign mujahedeen fighting to protect the nascent state.
For Ushna, life in the hostel for single women - with its basic, communal facilities - is very different from the cossetted world of her parents. Unable to speak Arabic, she’s forced to rely on an app to translate for her. Marriage to an ISIS fighter who doesn’t speak English or like the food she prepares is challenging. But she’s determined not to be homesick or downhearted, to have the courage of her convictions and make it work.
Like Ushna, Ziyaad finds comfort in the uncompromising ISIS doctrine. He begins to distance himself from Jalal, spending increasing amounts of time alone, focused on his prayers and his study of the Quran. But as Ziyaad’s belief in the Caliphate deepens, Jalal is becoming increasingly disillusioned with life in Raqqah, confronted as he is on a daily basis by horrific scenes of torture and violence. His discomfort reaches a peak at the slave market where he tries to protect a Yazidi mother and child from sexual slavery. Ultimately, he is confronted with news which makes him question his whole rationale for joining ISIS.
Shakira’s initial joy at arriving in Raqqah is soon tested as her strength, outspokenness and independence bring her into conflict with those running the Islamic State in Raqqah. As Isaac is enrolled into a regime school, taught how to bayonet and prepared for battle, she begins to contemplate the unthinkable – whether there is any way out.
Four young British male and female ISIS recruits are excited to begin their new lives in Syria. Jalal and Ziyaad enjoy the male camaraderie as they are trained and equipped for battle, while Shakira and Ushna are taught the strict rules women must obey. They take oaths of allegiance to ISIS, convinced they’ve made the right decision to come, but are soon confronted by the harsh realities of life under ISIS which don’t match their expectations.
The recruits are forced to reflect on their new lives in The State. Jalal and Ziyaad experience bloody frontline battle, while Shakira witnesses the horrifying aftermath of a barrel bomb and Ushna is shocked at the brutal treatment of women. Shakira must persuade a dangerous commander to set aside ISIS rules and allow her to work in hospital and Jalal has a conversation which makes him question the whole rationale for his journey to Syria.
Marriage to a foreign fighter proves challenging for Ushna but she is determined to make it work. Shakira too must marry to continue working, but turns down a proposal from Abu Akram with brutal consequences. Jalal is horrified by the treatment of young Yazidi women being sold as sex slaves and buys a mother and daughter to rescue them. He and Ziyaad are sent back to the frontline where a commander is calling for the ultimate sacrifice.
Jalal is given a new role by ISIS, and witnesses barbaric punishments and mock executions to feed its propaganda machine. With the noose tightening around him, he decides to risk his own safety to help Ibitsam and Narin escape. As Ushna’s commitment deepens, Shakira’s concern that Isaac is being readied for frontline battle makes her contemplate the unthinkable – whether there is any way out of The State.