Meeting an old colleague from the BBC for coffee, I was forewarned about what Peter Kosminsky was planning for his latest dramatic offering, Britz. So, when Channel 4 admitted that the show would upset some people, I considered myself well prepared—but alas, I wasn’t.
Kosminsky’s attempt to make us empathise with Nasima—one of the central characters, who later becomes a suicide bomber—is nonsensical. She is “radicalised” not by British foreign policy—the cause de jour often favoured by the left—but instead by “control orders,” which allow the government to restrict the liberty of terror suspects. There is clearly something about the existence of control orders in a liberal democracy that makes most of us uneasy, but let’s put this in perspective. The measures are used very sparingly (no more than around 15 people are on them), the courts continually monitor their effectiveness and, ironically, while Britz was airing, the House of Lords ruled that suspects under control orders must be told why the order has been imposed.
Nasima seems to have everything to live for: she is attractive, integrated and studying to be a doctor. But the evil British state and its draconian anti-terror laws drive her into the arms of the much more reasonable terrorists. As if to ram home the point home, when Nasima’s “fixer” leaves shortly before her bombing, he tells her, “you will sit at God’s right hand.” “That’s not why I’m doing this,” she replies. Kosminsky’s take-home message: suicide bombing is nothing more than an expression of political desperation. That’s not a message I’m inclined to believe, and Britz didn’t persuade me otherwise. People can obviously be motivated by a burning sense of injustice—but it takes an ideology to push them over the edge. That’s something Kosminsky conveniently chooses to ignore.
Nasima’s story is preceded by that of her brother Sohail, who as a Bradford lad joins MI5 to “give something back.” Again, Kosminsky’s portrayal of Sohail is unconvincing. Too contrived to be credible, Sohail ends up spying on his friends, experiencing racism at the hands of overzealous police officers, and being whisked off to eastern Europe where he interviews a badly beaten terror suspect. Always in tow is his mentor, a clichéd attractive blonde who he inevitably sleeps with. But the most disappointing aspect of the Sohail story is the unsubtle set-pieces Kosminsky creates to illustrate the tensions between Sohail’s Muslim identity and British policy.