Repenting at leisure

EXTREMISM: A portrait of a group of Western women who pledged their lives to ISIS, but now want to return home to restart their lives.

(Translated from English by Google Gtranslate)

In their homelands they are, to a large degree, household names: Shemima Begum in the UK, Hoda Muthana in the USA. But ironically these women, and dozens of others like them, are so well known precisely because they legally have no homelands, stripped of citizenship after they travelled to the middle east, married ISIS fighters, and joined the radical Islamist organisation’s jihad against western imperial forces. The mainstream media coverage afforded to Begum, Muthana and company has generally ranged from the sceptical to the rabidly hostile; this is the background context for Alba Sotorra Clua’s The Return: Life After ISIS.

The Return: Life After Isis, a film by Alba Sotorra Clua
The Return: Life After Isis, a film by Alba Sotorra Clua

«ISIS brides»

As the opening titles — as slickly assembled as everything that follows, complete with mildly thrillerish score music — graphically illustrate, Sotorra Clua’s intention here is to penetrate behind the headlines and examine the human faces to which these widely demonised names and media-constructed identities belong. Her opportunity to do this depends on access to Begum, Muthana, and around half a dozen others like them, effectively stateless individuals detained for months on end in the semi-makeshift Roj camp in Syria, close to the Iraqi border. Deciding what to do with them is, as one extracted news-report heard early on puts it, «a challenge for governments around the world».

In their homelands they are, to a large degree, household names

Among the approximately 6000 inmates of Roj are dozens of «ISIS brides», some of them in their 30s or 40s but mainly in their late teens or early 20s. Sotorra Clua, working with her experienced editors Michael Nollet and Xavi Carrasco, compile a slew of talking-head testimonies through which certain elements repeatedly recur: the women were seduced by online propaganda exhorting them to support their beleaguered Muslim brothers and sisters in war-torn Syria; they made a perilous journey only to find conditions much harsher than they had anticipated; marrying in haste, they suffer the proverbial consequences.

Discovering the degree of individual repentance or remorse is not especially high on Sotorra Clua’s agenda here, resulting in a film which skims surfaces in stimulating and sometimes quite revealing ways, but which never seems to penetrate very deep behind the participants’ . . .

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Neil Young
Young is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
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