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Sex slave saviour: Sam Otto as Jalal Hussein in Peter Kosminsky’s “The State” (©Channel 4)



You can tell that ideology has twisted your mind if your first reaction to a work of art is to vet its political implications to see whether they meet the politically correct standards of left or right. To prove we are not ideologues, all who write about Peter Kosminsky’s attempt to show life in Islamic State’s dystopia must begin by acknowledging the scale of his dramatic achievement.

There is no need to suspend your disbelief for most of the time you watch The State. You feel you are in Raqqa seeing the morality police patrol the streets, and the slavemasters selling Yazidi women to rapists who consider them the Koranically-approved spoils of war. The apparently innocuous is as sinister as the clearly psychopathic. The sickly sympathetic head of the hostel, where single women must live away from the gaze of men, could not be nicer. She coos, knits and cooks, and calls her charges “sweetie”. Then in a soothing voice full of concern she explains why women can’t work, and how they should rejoice at the great honour of being the widow of a martyr when the husband the state has chosen for them dies.

It would be churlish not to acknowledge too that The State is as much a journalistic as a dramatic achievement. Kosminsky and his researchers spent 18 months reading the transcripts of the trials of IS members who made it back to Britain. The fact that Kosminsky refused to answer questions on the subject suggested to me that they had also used Skype to interview British men and women who are still murdering and waiting to die in Syria.

But you cannot escape politics in a political drama. At the press screening and in his interviews, Kosminsky was aware that he was open to the charge that he had humanised some of the greatest criminals of our time. You can see why the accusation has force. The State shows the camaraderie of IS fighters and the women yearning to marry them. They are at times just ordinary people with everyday worries and pleasures. No one would think of showing the torturers of Abu Ghraib joshing like regular guys or the everyday friendships and good feelings that must exist among Bashar al-Assad’s death squads. If you saw it in August, or catch up now on the Channel 4 player, perhaps like me you find yourself sympathising with the four Britons we follow.

I was almost shocked, for instance, when an MI5 officer tells a doctor (who is superbly played by Ony Uhiara, incidentally) that she proved she was a bad mother when she took her son to Syria. It felt impudent. How dare he speak to her like that when we have seen her get him out just as IS was turning the 10-year-old into a killer?

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