Next Wednesday (15 July), Channel 4 airs a documentary in its Dispatches slot so important it ought to rank with John Pilger’s exposés of Cambodia’s Killing Fields or even the footage of British troops liberating Belsen. Escape From Isis uses secret footage — filmed by extremely brave people who would have been killed if discovered — to show you in unsparing detail what it’s like behind the Black Flag curtain: everything from the small talk of Islamic State fighters as they jauntily discuss what they’re going to do with their Yazidi captives to the dull thump heavy rocks make as they hit the flesh of a woman being stoned to death by a group of religious zealots led by her own father. It’s ugly, it’s almost unbearable to watch and it’s essential viewing.
One of the questions most often asked about the Holocaust is: why didn’t the Allies do something to stop it sooner? I imagine the time will come when we give ourselves a similar beating-up over our inertia in dealing with Islamic State. (‘So the Prime Minister wrote to the BBC urging it to call them by a different name. And that was it?!’)
I remember when the Prime Minister was trying, unsuccessfully, to co-ordinate military action against the Assad government, one of the things he urged MPs to do before they voted was to watch a film he’d seen showing the atrocities Assad’s supporters had committed. This, it struck me at the time, as it does even more so now, was an hysterical and irresponsible suggestion. Important decisions regarding military action should not be decided in a mood of heightened emotion. The same applies to this Dispatches documentary.
It is not an argument for or against anything. It merely shows you what is. I’ve made it sound ghastly but what makes it bearable, uplifting even, is the extraordinary story it tells of the rescue operations that have brought at least some of these captured Yazidis back to the bosom of their tearful families. Watch and you will share their joy. This is TV at its most unmissable.
UPDATE: Kim let me know that it is also going to be shown on PBS tonight on FRONTLINE. Check your local listing. It is on 22:00 here.