I’m guessing that the adjective most likely to be applied to this book is ‘controversial’. I’m also pretty certain that there will be some lunkheads who will get on their high horses and profess themselves ‘outraged’ at the notion that it is aimed at a teen market. Why? Because the always excellent Alan Gibbons has written a book about Islamic terrorism and the radicalisation of young British Muslims.
Far from being inappropriate subject matter, Gibbons has produced a high octane thriller that is totally gripping as a story but picks its way beneath the surface of the topic and skilfully unwraps some of the issues. And, he does it in a way that his readers will be able to identify with – without pretending it’s not a difficult subject, without patronising his audience and without pulling punches about just how brutal and unpleasant the world can be.
The book is a roller-coaster ride of thrills and genuine tension and its going to be hard to do justice to the plot without giving away too many spoilers. However what I can tell you is that at the heart of the story is the disaffected Majid, eldest son of a British Muslim family that includes a younger brother and sister, a caring mother and is headed by a father who is desperate to fit in and to not draw unnecessary attention to himself. But Majid is in many ways a typical older teenager and he is tired of being accepting and passive and constantly being the butt of racism and clumsy stereotyping. He is even more tired of seeing the carnage taking place amongst his fellow Muslims in places like Syria and he desperately wants to make a difference – but doesn’t know how. When he is spotted and effectively groomed by the creepy and dangerous Bashir, Majid agrees to go to Syria – not as a combatant but as a medic – and soon finds himself out of his depth.
A miraculous escape from a near death incident gives him the chance to return to the UK but this time as a double agent sent to unmask the brutal and hate-filled Bashir. Bashir runs a terror cell that is planning an atrocity that will take place on the anniversary of the London bus bombings. What follows is an extraordinary page turner that keeps you guessing at the eventual outcome right until the end – if there is an end…..?
I’m not going to tell you any more about the plot because you will want to read it for yourself. For me, this is an brave and important book that confronts the evil excesses of fundamentalism but tries, rationally, to understand why it is that young British Muslims might be drawn into a web they find hard to escape. Although Majid takes centre stage, what happens to his younger brother, Amir, is just as important in understanding the kind of frustrations young Muslim men experience. Racism, British foreign policy, religion and idealism all come under the spotlight and I salute Alan Gibbons for having the bottle to tackle it all – these are things we should all be discussing.
(This review was first published on www.letterpressproject.co.uk in September 2016)