Title: Just Another Jihadi Jane
Author: Tabish Khair
Genre: General fiction / Faux autobiography
Rating: 4 of 5
When a Muslim raised in the West joins ISIS or murders in the name of Allah, there is talk of “radicalization.” In this book, Tabish Khair tries to show what that looks like from the inside by having a disillusioned young woman narrate her journey from a conservative Muslim family in England to an ISIS stronghold in Syria and beyond. Inextricably woven into her story is that of her best friend who comes from a much less rigid Muslim family but follows a similar path.
Since this is fiction, I don’t know how closely it resembles an actual experience of “radicalization,” but it was believable and thought-provoking. Coming from a pretty conservative Christian background, I recognized the attitudes of resentment, alienation, and self-righteousness that a “fundamentalist” worldview can generate. In this case, those feelings are fanned into the flames of an ever-narrowing and increasingly violent “us vs. them.” Who or what does the fanning? There seems to be no pat answer as Jamilla blames radical clerics, ISIS propaganda, prejudice from non-Muslims, biased media, etc.
The narration itself is presented as Jamilla telling her story to an unidentified author who seems to be a nominal/liberal Muslim. She occasionally answers questions or comments that are “unheard” by the reader, so it’s a bit like listening to one side of a telephone conversation. Her speech is sprinkled with religious and cultural terminology that goes largely undefined and whose meaning isn’t always obvious from context so have Google handy if you’re not up on Islamic culture. Toward the end there were a few parts that felt unnaturally preachy in advocating a moderate uncertainty-filled version of tolerant Islam, but the author mostly does a good job of keeping it conversational and making his points naturally.
Overall, I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing style (more of a personal preference than anything the author did wrong), but this was an excellent look inside radical Islam (and had a satisfying ending).