Caliphate – radical Islam, or feminism?

Scandinavian TV series were never in the international mainstream, however, their industry has grown their popularity with shows such as “Trapped” and “The Bridge”. The latest masterpiece created in Sweden is Wilhelm Behrman’s series “Caliphate”, a story of the Swedish security service against the rise of radical Islam and its influence over the young population.

The plot is divided to three stories, each follows a female heroine. The first is Fatima, a Swedish security service agent that suffers personal persecution in work from her superiors, and mainly from her top superior, Nadir. The second plot line is Suleika’s story. Suleika is a young intelligent Muslim girl, living in Fatima’s town, studies in a school to which attend mainly minorities, and despite her will, her family lives a secular lifestyle and condemns the religion, perhaps because of past traumas of her father. She discovers Islam with her school mate through their beloved teacher’s assistant who tempts them to flee to the Islamic State in Syria. The third and my favorite story is the story of Pervin, who came from Fatima and Suleika’s town who followed her husband to A-Raqqa in the Islamic State and tries to escape with her daughter. The three stories intertwine during the plot, and the characters get more involved in each other’s lives

Although the main theme of the series seem to be the radical Islam, in my point of view, feminism and women’s rights are the central motif of the series. The plot revolves around its female characters, and especially those who suffer from bad influence of male superiors, Fatima from her commander, Suleika from her father, and Pervin from her husband, and all of whom have rights and freedoms revoked by them. Fatima is being discriminated and mistrusted in the security service. Even after receiving hints of a planned terror attack in Sweden her superiors repudiate her, up to the point she continues investigating in the cost of being a fugitive from the law. The story of Suleika raises a moral dilemma. Her strong faiths are being rejected by her parents, and mainly by her father, who renounces Islam and their traditional lifestyle. Ironically, he does that by setting a Patriarchal order and banning her freedom of religion. The dilemma strikes when he violently forces her to take off her hijab. He realizes that she is going in a path that will eventually end painfully, but he tries to stop her with painful means. The same dilemma appears when he forces her to get married in order to stop her from joining ISIS, by trying to protect her from her evil desires, he hurts her in a moderate way. The most adored heroine of the series, in my opinion, is Pervin. She lives in a dystopia, she has no freedom at all, no one to trust, her life is in constant threat, and she is absolutely dependent on her husband, but she still gains the power and courage to escape, and like most heroes, she sacrifices herself to the greater good. She goes through the biggest change, from a beaten woman that lives in fear under the authority of a terror organization, to a leader and rescuer of her family. Her character signified the last evolution of women’s oppression, and symbolically, when there is no lower point, she can only go up.

The last lesson we learn from the series is about realism. The show’s catharsis is not entirely negative but also does not satisfy the viewer that got used to happy endings or emotional heart-breaking tragedies. In that story, evil did not succeed, but some villains remained unpunished, heroes go through a hard journey only to find out they have done no difference, some heroes will not be rewarded for bravery and there will always be a young girl remains behind, doomed to horrors in the Islamic State.

About the Author
Yair Stolik, born in 1998, lives in Nordiya, Israel. A cinema major in high school, he is now a Cinematographer in the IDF Spokesperson's unit.