1. The personal narratives contained in the moving documentary “Escaping ISIS” demonstrate the individual tragedies that are the result of the geopolitical catastrophe that has been created with the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In the wake of the U.S.’s disastrous war in Iraq, which left the country without functioning institutions and highly fragmented along sectarian lines, and the U.S.’s continued support for the rebels to the Assad regime in Syria, including the ISIS group, the Islamic State has emerged as a powerful actor in the power vacuum created by the United States. The Islamic State is founded on an ideological basis of extreme Wahhabi Sunni Islam, which takes violent positions towards those who do not follow this path. In the film, the primary focus is on the atrocities which the Islamic State has carried out on the Yazidi population. The Yazidi religion is viewed as part of the broader Zooroastrian family and is viewed especially hostile from the perspective of the ideology of the Islamic State. Because of these theological differences, Islamic State has pursued what can only be called a program of genocide and terror against the Yazidi population of Iraq and Syria. As the film demonstrates, this was an especially brutal and inhumane policy carried out against women. The women of the Yazidi population were subjected to profound cruelty. The film looks at these stories, telling a narrative of inhumane action and misogynistic hatred emerging from a confrontation on the level of religious ideology. The attempt of the Yazidi population to escape ISIS is not fleeing from an oppressive regime, but a migration whose aim is survival. The film demonstrates how ideology can inform the most violent forms of misogyny, culminating in a form of genocide.
2. Whereas the main focus of the film is on the violence perpetrated against the Yazidi population by the Islamic State, arguably, what is most striking is the film is that which exists between the lines: the viewer is forced to ask questions about how ISIS itself has formed and been allowed to spread. This is a question which must be asked, when considering the violence perpetuated by this group, which practices a barbarism which is almost unheard of in the contemporary world.
The key issue with regarding to social change, therefore, is closely related to this point, insofar as ISIS is a group which has emerged in a power vacuum both in Iraq and Syria. Whatever various governments, such as the United States, wish to state about the former government of Iraq and the current legal government of Syria, headed by Assad, as recognized by international law, these countries possessed a functioning state structure with operating institutions that addressed a heterogeneous and multi-cultural community. What has occurred in the absence of these institutional powers is essentially a state of anarchy, where new violent forces, organized along sectarian lines, have now begun to form and prosecute violence according to these same sectarian lines.
Traditional groups in the area, such as the Yazidi, without any violent ideology and essentially living in peace, have now been placed under attack by the new hegemonic potential given to ISIS because of the power vacuums created by the United States in Iraq and Syria. The destabilization of these governments has created the worst form of social change possible, where traditional hatreds now become the ideology of extermination according to the absence of social institutions and legitimate governments and militaries which could control these tensions, as was in the past. The attempted extermination of the Yazidi population by ISIS is one of the great tragedies of our times, and from the perspective of social change, we must confront the conditions that have created this genocide, a social change that has been created by the intervention of the United States in the affairs of sovereign countries.
3. With the case of the genocide being practiced by ISIS, these tragedies have been made possible by profound social change. The concept of social change addresses “fundamental alterations in the patters of culture, structure and social behavior over time.” Now, in this case, what has occurred is a radical and sudden change, which is the result of the overthrowing or diminishment of powers of the two governments of Iraq and Syria. This creates a power vacuum and with the support of the United States, the Islamic State has emerged in this void. Because of their receiving weapons from the United States as well as the absence of authorities that can easily defeat them, alongside the theological ideology that convinces members that ISIS is ultimately performing just acts, the Islamic State has grown with a feeling of the concept of invulnerability, which means that no mechanisms control them, in so far as ISIS essentially is not facing any type of social mechanisms. In other terms, in the largely secular states of Iraq and Syria, there was an order which prevented groups such as ISIS from emerging. Instead, the concept of the acting crowd can describe ISIS, as now we have a group that ignores established norms, precisely because the established norms have vanished in the power vacuums which result from the collapse of Hussein’s regime and the continued weakening of Assad’s regime by the United States and its allies. ISIS is certainly a volatile coalition, as evidenced by its brutal treatment of the Yazidi population. From the perspective of the concepts of social change, ISIS designates the worst imaginable type of social change, as invulnerability and acting crowd concepts emerge in a context without any rule of law which can actively restrain them.
- Frontline. “Escaping ISIS.” 2015. Retrieved September 27, 2015 at