ISIS, otherwise known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Islamic State (IS), sets an aim to create an Islamic state called the caliphate across Syria, Iran, and beyond them. The group strictly follows Sharia Law, which is rooted in the Islamic dogma of the eighth century, and thus sets the objective of establishing a society that can mirror the ancient past of the region. The organization is notorious for its killing of dozens of people at one time and performing live public executions and other atrocious acts. It is notable that the organization has widely used a variety of modern tools in the form of social media in order to promote reactionary politics and fundamentalist ideology rooted in radical Islam. Therefore, understanding the roots and intentions of ISIS as a political and religious organization is essential for the knowledge of modern history. The Rise of ISIS is the documentary chosen for this analysis because of its all-encompassing exploration of the organization and the impact it had on current society.
Before ISIS captured a string of cities along the Tigris River before its followers killed hundreds of thousands of people and drove thousands more away from their homes, and before it began claiming responsibility for the brutal murders of journalists and holding captives, there was a quiet civil war fueling the radicalized Sunni Muslims against the government of Iraq. The distrust in the government prompted the appearance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The Rise of ISIS is a Frontline documentary that traces the evolution of the group from a small band of extremists in 2011 to the international movement that is known today as the Islamic State. The documentary aims to explore and explain how the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria quickly became the force to reckon with very quickly. However, as ISIS has been widely pursuing its aim to take and preserve territory in both Syria and Iraq regardless of the strikes made by the US and its coalition members, the foreign policy of President Obama is out of balance. The mentioned description sets the stage for the documentary, which included some criticism of Obama’s policies and the lack of actions implemented in order to crush the influence of ISIS and the impact of its terrorist attacks on global society.
As reported by Martin Smith, the hourlong documentary program begins by showing the pulling out of United States troops from Iraq in late 2011 and further explores the initial signs of the rise of Isis and the missteps that prompted its members to participate in radical attacks against their perceived enemy. Smith’s team explains that ISIS has its roots in the ideologies drawn from the remnants of Osama Bin Laden’s annihilated Al Qaeda. The Rise of ISIS covers important events in the development of the organization, such as the purge of Sunni members initiated by the Iraqi government and its Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the violent repressions of Sunni protesters throughout the country, and the seething war that set Sunnis against President Bashar Hafez al-Assad in Syria. The narrative of the documentary is focused on the inability of the Shiite-led government of Iraq to share power with the Sunni minority as well as the inaction of the US when Sunni militants used the situation for their own gain. The documentary quite directly puts the blame on the Prime Minister of Iraq at that time, Nouri al-Maliki, and President Obama.
The Rise of ISIS includes a candid discussion of the subject matter. The viewers are expected to trust the way in which Martin Smith and his producing team have shaped the account, which is a common trait of documentaries that take a specific position on the subject matter. Although, it was surprising to see that the documentary was skewed in one direction, which meant that there was not much room made for dissenting voices. For example, Nouri al-Maliki does not appear in the documentary even though there are several prominent Sunni politicians whom he silenced. The reporters, analysts, and American officials who are interviewed in the documentary, including two former ambassadors to Iraq, were the former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and General Martin E. Dempsey. Only one guest in the documentary, Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, speaks in support of the administrative policies put forth by President Obama.
It is important to mention that the visual accompaniment of the documentary is somewhat violent, which is something that is not very positive, especially for impressionable viewers. The interviews included in the documentary are supported by an array of imagery that would inevitably have both numbing and mesmerizing effects on viewers, depending on their disposition. There are steady montages of battle footage, videos of protests, as well as disturbing videos of serial executions. Even though the beheadings of Western captives are excluded from the documentary, caution should be taken when watching. However, it is notable that a documentary discussing the development of ISIS as an organization requires illustrations of the events that are being described. As suggested by Cupp in the review of the documentary for New York Daily News, “the longer we pretend the civil conflicts and “not our problem,” the more they will spread.” Seeing what ISIS had done to people is of high importance to understand the threats that the organization poses to people. It is notable that for individuals who do not take the visual depictions of violence well, it is recommended to listen to the audio of the documentary during the parts when the fragments are showing violence.
The documentary presented valuable information that helped to understand the implications of the American Governmental policies regarding external affairs. While it was biased in the sense of criticizing some of President Obama’s efforts, it shed light on what could be done in the future to avoid similar situations from occurring in the future. The directness with which the director and his team presented the information is sobering to viewers who may not think much about what had ISIS done and what it can potentially do in the future. While the documentary shows scenes of violence, which do not make it any easier to watch, it is a must-watch for those who want to understand the nature of foreign policies implemented by the US government regarding radical organizations. There is no such option as disregarding their existence or making countries closer them dissolve the threat. Rather, it is the job of powerful states to show their upper hand in controlling global safety and security and guaranteeing peace in regions that cannot handle the instability by themselves.