Fire and smoke surging in soft, heaving, intense rhythms. Like a heartbeat, a breath, a pulse. Foreboding. A young man narrates what he had been taught about his future. About what had been promised to him. The honour in that moment of action – the moment he would walk into death as a martyr. For Isis. He never did. Isis, tomorrow is about the losers of the battle of Mosul, Iraq. A battle that no one won.
«The hard times are not over and neither is Isis.»
The panoramic views of destruction are as sinister as the promises made. The fact that life can even take place here is mind-blowing. Children testify in the film about how they came to be enlisted, many under pressure from their relatives.
One child tells about how his father enlisted first, shortly after Isis arrived in the city, and then obliged his son to join as well. The child begged not to have to take part in the fighting and pleaded with his father not to fight saying that ordinary people would be killed. His father beat him and threatened him, he says. The release from this new unwanted purpose of life came when his father was killed in an airstrike.
«Who wouldn’t forgive their own father», the child says, sitting in the twilight, bent forward, looking at the floor. «But we went through some hard times».
The hard times are not over, not for anyone with a relation to Mosul. Not for the child who enlisted and lost his father and says he has forgiven him. Not for the state army soldier who watched a child blow himself to pieces, knowing that he would have to kill children from now on, knowing that his heart would break for every one of them. Not for the woman, in whose eyes horror and destruction and loss and despair are reflected when she arrived at the army frontlines after having walked away – for lack of strength and direction not even running but walking away – from the shelling and the bombing during the battle of Mosul.
«Children testify in the film about how they came to be enlisted, many under pressure from their relatives.»
The hard times are not over and neither is Isis, the film shows. A young man tells about his time in prison, accused of an affiliation with Isis, something he denies. In prison, he and his fellow inmates were subjected to inhumane treatment, to beatings and torture during interrogation, to humiliation, to collective showering outside in freezing temperatures with freezing water, hosed down.
«They made many converts in prison», the young man says, and adds that these converts are the strongest in their faith and allegiance.
Another young man tells about his continued faith in what Isis taught him: That the highest goal of an Isis fighter is to kill as many as possible and to die himself. Throughout the film it is not easy to understand how these children learned to wish for death. In that sense the subtitle The lost souls of Mosul seems fitting. There is something missing in the narrative. Maybe it is meaning that is missing. Maybe there is no meaning, only loss and destruction and lost souls.
The weakest parts
How does one become a lost soul? What is the difference between the boy who tried to refuse and defy his own father – the boy who neither wanted to kill nor die – and the boy who still wants to kill, who still believes, even in the meaning of his own untimely death? Probably there is no satisfying answer to such questions.
«Their ideology creeps into the weakest parts of the Iraqi people», an army commander says about Isis and the people who followed them. Perhaps the weakest part of Isis, tomorrow is that we arrive when it is already too late. We arrive at a moment when everything has already been lost, when any explanations seem inadequate or misleading.
Life was good before Isis arrived, another boy says early in the film. This statement seems as incomprehensible as the ode to death. Why, if life was good, could children be persuaded to believe that their mission in this life is to kill and get killed before they even get the chance to live their lives?
When Mosul was liberated as the so-called winners call it (or lost as we must presume Isis calls it) new flags were raised and allegiance pledged again to the state of Iraq. Those who had pledged it to the Islamic State were hunted down, snitched on by their neighbours and relatives. Some probably also used the occasion to snitch on people they simply did not like as always happens in times of snitching and state sanctioned revenge.
Where Isis fighters were filming propaganda videos before, army soldiers were now dancing, chanting «this is the playground of adults», laughing and cheering while announcing the continuation of the hunt.
Isis, tomorrow portrays a place on this earth in a state of exception, and yet connected to us all, to everyday life, to the structures that we all – in various ways – subject ourselves to, whether willingly or not: The idea of the state and its command of allegiance, ideology and its command of faith, the search for meaning and its command of commitment.
As such, the most urgent thing to be recovered from what was lost in the battle of Mosul might be resistance to everything we are forced to subject ourselves to, no matter who taught us and with what authority.