TV SHOW: Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS
CHANNEL: National Geographic Channel - (DStv channel 181)
‘People will always turn to radicalism once they’ve exhausted every other option.” So opens Hell on Earth, an insight into Syria’s fall into chaos that allowed the rise of the Islamic State, also known as Isis.
First shown this year at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, the feature documentary from Academy Award-nominated film maker Sebastian Junger and his Emmy Award-winning partner Nick Quested, uses historical archival footage and interviews with activists, journalists, diplomats, human rights workers, politicians and citizens to piece the story together.
After the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, during which Egypt and Tunisia overthrew their governments, Syrian citizens started protesting against President Bashar al-Assad’s despotic reign. Fearing that a rebellion would reveal the true extent of the regime’s corruption, Bashar brutally put down all protests – killing, torturing and imprisoning thousands.
Things were further complicated when radical militarised jihadis also took up arms to fight him. These jihadis soon hijacked the people’s revolution, resulting in a war that has claimed at least 400 000 people and displaced millions more.
As the war dragged on, the Islamic State, which originated in Iraq as part of al-Qaeda, started to see Syria as a place to gain ground – it was fertile soil for Isis to recruit, set up training camps and claim natural resources such as oil. Strategically and with lightning speed, Isis took over dozens of war-torn villages, where it instituted Sharia law and tortured those who opposed it. The tactics were brutal and focused on fear – its members have become infamous for publically beheading and crucifying people, even children.
What makes Hell on Earth interesting is that it points to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 as a reason for the rise of Isis. During this invasion, which saw the US kill tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, extreme violence became a way of life, and anti-American, anti-West sentiments grew. With Saddam Hussein overthrown, the US set up a new government that left out Saddam’s Baath party and Iraq’s Sunni population.
Isis became an organisation that promised to give Sunnis back their pride, and promised retribution against the West.
My only criticism of the doccie is that it minimises the extent of Isis’ brutality, perhaps in an attempt to show that the US’s war on Iraq was just as bad as Isis’ scourge of terror. The film makers also don’t mention the sexual violence Isis and US troops subjected women to, thus erasing one of the most terrible parts of the war.
Today, Isis is behind dozens of terrorist attacks in Western nations, but it is in Syria and Iraq where they still kill the most innocent people.
Hell on Earth is not an easy watch – it’s infuriating and harrowing, and the footage is raw and visceral – but it should be compulsory viewing.
By talking to Syrians on the ground, as well as experts on the issue, it paints a multidimensional portrait of a complicated war.
WATCH A TRAILER HERE: