ISIS: The British Women Supporters Unveiled is without a doubt one of the hardest hitting hours of television produced this year. Named only as Aisha, a young Muslim woman keen to understand why so many British Muslim women are joining ISIS goes undercover to infiltrate the recruitment pathways of one of the world’s most threatening terrorist organisations.
Channel 4’s latest documentary is disturbingly addictive; it is the kind of television that is virtually impossible to switch off, regardless of its distressing content. The documentary does exactly what it is clearly intended to do: shock its viewers. Topped and tailed with footage from the recent attacks in Paris, the content of the undercover investigation is contextualised, and is all the more disturbing as a result.
Aisha is allowed access to the Islamic women’s circles where the common belief is that ISIS is the ideal state that is outlined in sharia law, and therefore any western attack on Islamic State represents an attack on Islam as a whole. The gravity and extremism of these teachings is juxtaposed by the shockingly normal environment: there are children running around and one of the women is a careers advisor.
This was the overriding horror of the programme: the path to extremism is rooted in normality. A particularly striking example of this is the relatively open online presence and communication of the women who work with ISIS. In order to gain contact with them, Aisha established a fake online profile and, within hours of tweeting pro-ISIS comments, she was contacted. The programme highlighted how social media is the key to recruitment. However, the way that this was emphasised was through distracting pop-ups of the messages, undermining the fact that they were real messages.
Whilst the documentary provided insight into how women get involved in Islamic extremism in our country, it gave little evidence as to why they would. This begs the question of whether documentaries such as this only perpetuate the stigmatisation of British Muslims, and encourage the continuation of as-yet unsuccessful techniques used to prevent radicalisation.
Image: Elliott Brown