When the Islamic State organization reached its peak of power and influence five or six years ago, new starry-eyed recruits poured in from Europe, augmenting its ranks by a fairly significant margin. Some were Muslims and still others were European and Asian Christian converts to Islam, fired up by the messianic notion of creating a new caliphate in the Middle East and banishing “infidels” from the region.
By 2015, Islamic State had seized a swath of territory in Iraq and Syria equivalent in size to Britain, with its fighters holding cities and towns ranging from Mosul and Raqaa and its operatives carrying out suicide bombing attacks in Europe and elsewhere. For a while at least, Islamic State seemed like an unstoppable force destined for jihadist glory. In the next few years, however, Islamic State was degraded by American and Russian military operations, and by 2017 it had lost all the land it had captured.
Caliphate, a gripping eight-part drama from Sweden now streaming on Netflix, explores a facet of the Islamic State phenomenon by zeroing in on a diverse group of Swedes who’ve been brainwashed and radicalized by its seductive message.
The series focuses on the long-distance relationship between Pervin (Gizem Erdogan), a Swedish Muslim who’s joined her husband, Husam (Amed Bozan), in the Syrian town of Raqaa, the headquarters of Islamic State. Husam, a radical, is intoxicated by Islamic State’s philosophy. By contrast, Pervin has grown disenchanted with the caliphate and wants to return to Sweden.
Pervin’s exit ticket is in the hands of Fatima (Aliette Opheim), a Swedish intelligence agent of Bosnian descent based in Stockholm. Working in tandem with a colleague named Calle (Albin Grenholm), she establishes telephone contact with Pervin. On the basis of Pervin’s information, gleaned from her husband’s notebook, Fatima learns of an Islamic State terrorist plot to kill a multitude of Swedes. Among the perpetrators will be two Swedish brothers who’ve converted to Islam.
The mastermind of the plan, Ibbe (Lancelot Ncube), is a mild-mannered young man of Swedish and Egyptian ancestry who claims to be a Coptic Christian whose family has been terrorized by Islamic fundamentalists. In reality, he’s a calculating, cold-hearted terrorist who manipulates people to advance Islamic State’s objectives.
Ibbe recruits, among others, several high school students: Sulle (Nora Rios) and her younger sister, Lisha (Yussra El Abdouni), and Kerima (Amanda Sohrabi), none of whom possesses even a basic knowledge of Islam and its practices. Sulle’s and Lisha’s father, Suleiman (Simon Mezher), a staunchly secular Muslim, vehemently opposes his daughters’ flight into an austere brand of Islam befitting Islamic State’s ideology.
Caliphate, filmed in Stockholm and Jordan, is a suspenseful thriller that moves seamlessly between the outward placidity of Sweden and the turbulence of Syria. The series portrays Islamic State leaders as bloodthirsty fanatics who regard women as chattel and who are always ready to sacrifice the lives of their pliable recruits for the sake of the cause.
Thanks to a first-rate cast and authentic Middle Eastern locales, viewers are thrust into the maelstrom of Islamic State’s chaotic and murderous universe.