When a drama is scheduled to run for four consecutive nights you know the broadcaster thinks it’s offering something special.
And so it was with The State (Channel 4), which finished on Wednesday of last week. It was sad, disturbing, absorbing, and the recent terrorist attacks made this story of people joining ISIS all the more topical and unnerving.
The four young central characters abandoned their old lives, leaving England for Syria in the dead of night. The question of motivation wasn’t explored enough, nor was the issue of how they were radicalised. Even more so, the motivations of the Westerners who joined were vague, but there was a dig at the converts knowing the rules better than the average Muslim!
Their motives seemed largely religious, but they were marked by a striking naiveté – one young woman wanted to be a “lioness among the lions”.
Another woman, a doctor, brought her nine-year-old son, and thought she’d be able to do some good for the cause by tending to the wounded. Considering the attitude of ISIS towards women they were in for a shock. One young man was following his brother, allegedly a martyr for the cause, but he was misinformed and hadn’t the stomach for the brutality.
It was all there – the beheadings, the slavery, the child soldiers, but it was less graphic than it might have been, though they could hardly have done the drama properly without showing some of the horrors. Thankfully the camera turned away at some of the most violent moments. In fact at various stages I felt that ISIS was being a little sanitised.
In all this madness of violence and propaganda there were crises of conscience and acts of kindness. One of the new English recruits bought two Christian or Yazidi slaves to protect them. He also tended to the wounds of a local chemist whose torture he had just attended, passively.
It’s impossible for me to know for sure, but it all seemed authentic. Every now and then Islamic terms were explained in dictionary-like subtitles.
There were arguments among the Muslims as to whether their principles allowed the barbarity. There was a key scene where the father of one of the Englishmen tracked him down and berated him for the dishonour he had brought on his family, accusing him of being selective as to which bits of Islamic teaching he’d follow.
A few seemed cruel by nature, others seemed very ordinary, even pleasant, enjoying the cheerful camaraderie even as they partook in the butchery because they thought their cause justified it. It showed how it’s so much more important to be right rather than be sincere and think you’re right.
Back home the upcoming World Meeting of Families is likely to dominate religious affairs coverage for the next year. Fr Timothy Bartlett, General Secretary for the event, was interviewed on Today with Pat Kenny (Newstalk), Tuesday of last week.
It was a positive and cheerful interview, with Fr Bartlett enthusiastic that Pope Francis had chosen Ireland as the next venue for this high profile event and quite optimistic about the likelihood of the Pope attending the event. Kenny raised the question of the Pope “embracing modern family configurations”, while Fr Bartlett responded with the idea that not everyone can reach the ideal that we should be working towards. Walking on eggshells there!
Another conversation later that morning impressed me as well. This was the interview with Vincent Doyle on Today with Seán O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1).
Doyle is the son of a priest and has spearheaded a support initiative for others in the same situation. He had nothing but positive things to say about his priest-father and about the Church’s accommodating attitude to his venture, with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin funding the associated website copinginternational.com.
Now a psychotherapist he was still a practising Catholic and combined a deep interest in theology with an empathic approach to humanity.
At one stage presenter Cormac Ó hEadhra suggested to him that he’d have to be angry at the Church at some level.
But no, he wasn’t. He accepted that the Church had “created issues” in the past but wanted to concentrate on resolution, and getting into issues like celibacy was a deflection - he thought it unhelpful “to respond to a child-centred situation with adult centred needs” – a point of view that has relevance across several controversial topics.
Pick of the week
WHERE GOD WEEPS
EWTN, Saturday (night), September 2, 2am
A local bishop discusses ethnic and religious tensions in Nigeria and Boko Haram’s cruel acts of terror.
RTĖ One, Wednesday, September 6, 10.40pm
BBC’s drama about a troubled priest (Sean Bean) in a northern England city. Deeply moving but can be dismissive of some Church teaching.
Film: THE TREE OF LIFE
Channel 4, Wednesday (night), September 6, 1.30am
(2011) Terrence Malick’s challenging drama exploring the tension between brute nature and spiritual grace.