Getting to know Anna, the woman who went to fight Isis

Review: Anna Campbell, a far-left radical Englishwoman, was 25 when she went to Syria

‘It seems so real here,’ goes a typical entry in Anna’s diary

‘It seems so real here,’ goes a typical entry in Anna’s diary

 

Combing through diary entries, photos and family videos – glimpses of one young woman’s life that have since become clues into her personality after her death last year in Syria – Anna: The Woman Who Went to Fight Isis (BBC 2, Wednesday, 9.30pm) alights on one film in particular.

It’s an innocent scene from Anna Campbell’s childhood in which the young girl talks her mother through a war scene between her toy figurines and her Barbie dolls. Do the women fight too, her mother asks? “Unfortunately, the women and children do fight,” replies the child solemnly.

That nudges at the question behind Marina Parker’s documentary: what made a 25-year-old activist, from a comfortable English home, travel to Syria to fight Isis? The question belongs to Anna’s father Dirk, struggling to make sense of her decisions.

“I want to know that my daughter did not die for nothing,” says Dirk, a model of emotionally subdued British stoicism. But Anna’s sisters Rose and Helen edge towards more complicated feelings of guilt and rage: that they might have stopped her, that her decisions were thoughtless. How noble is it to die for a cause?

If her family have trouble squaring Anna’s idealism – inspired by an activist mother, recently deceased, and far-left radicalisation at university – with extreme action, Anna seemed to have her own struggle.

Would she be ready to kill an Isis member, she is asked on camera in a training camp in Rojava? “Hmmm,” she responds. “That’s an interesting question.”

For the YPJ, an all-female Kurdish fighting force, though, it’s an imperative. “It seems so real here,” goes a typical entry in Anna’s diary, as though roused from a dream.

The unspoken tragedy in the film is that idealism is necessarily naive. One friend, Jamie, who also fought in Rojava, recalls phoning home to say, “Sorry mum, this is going to upset you, but I’m In Syria.” (His mother offered to come get him.)

Similarly, the documentary becomes a meditation on the relationship between parents and children, between letting go and striking out, respecting and trusting.

Dirk’s aloofness, he recognises, is the consequence of his own implacable, admonishing mother. Anna’s privacy, or taciturnity, was a response to his example that “powerful feelings were unacceptable”.

The documentary is compelling for similar reasons: it maintains its distance, neither heroising or patronising, and such a restraint only amplifies a family’s unimaginably powerful feelings.

Dirk journeys to Rojava, still an anarchist-feminist Kurdish stronghold in a warzone, where his daughter is now buried. “The best I could do was to thump her tub,” he says, adopting her cause, as emotion breaks through. “It’s the only thing I can do for her now.”

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.