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Books and Documents ( 17 Jul 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Young Muslim Women Brainwashed By ISIS

By Gouri Kapoor

July 17, 2016

The book, which focuses on Muslim women, also traces the implications of the 9/11 attacks.


Tabish Khair's latest novel is a nuanced study of the implications of western Islamophobia that has been on the rise ever since the 9/11 attacks. The book attempts to explain the reasons that are propelling Muslims in the West to trade their lives of comfort for one that entails suffering, deprivation and, very often, death itself in the name of Jihad.

Tabish's searching prose in this sense is an inquiry into what goes inside the minds of the Muslims in the West as they try to find a way to continue with their everyday lives while keeping their faith and also how that faith is sometimes manipulated by those in power, turning them into pawns to be used by them as per their convenience.

The plot of the novel is centred on two young British girls, Jamilla and Ameena, who undergo experiences of cultural alienation in British society. It is evident that Tabish has drawn his inspiration for the plot from real life events, one of them relating to the three schoolgirls who reportedly fled the country to join the ISIS in Syria.

Although he provides an account of his characters' lives in UK as meticulously as in Syria, he seems to be at his lucid best when doing the latter. Interspersed with the action of the novel are the two girls' self-transformations and their growing understanding of the "real" Islam and its ethics, which the reader already anticipates.

Tabish deserves the credit for being as value-neutral as possible while trying to analyse the psychological underpinnings of fundamentalism and tries to look at the matter from various perspectives. These multiple perspectives include those of Jamilla's family, Ameena, her parents, and later even Hajjiye and Hasan. Apart from its brilliant suspense that keeps the reader guessing about Ameena's fateful life, the book is also appealing for the empathy with which Tabish has etched out his female characters.

The book, which focuses on Muslim women, also traces the implications of the 9/11 attacks.

Not only are we made aware of the racial discrimination faced by Muslim women, particularly those who wish to stay veiled while living in the West, but also how, once internalised by them, does it actually frame and affect their psyche. It is the trauma of living in a hostile cultural environment that turns Ameena into a religious fanatic with Jamilla and her family's politics acting as mere facilitators of that transformation.

There is not just a push from the immediate environment in the direction of Jihad working on these girls, but also a pull - the allure of being a part of "the perfect Islamic state" - exercised by people like Hejjiye. The text documents how modern-day technologies, especially internet, are being used by the fundamentalists to further their cause.

The whole tale comes to us sieved through Ameena's consciousness, who is recounting the experiences of her Daesh days and the ones prior to that to the unnamed textual author. The structure of the novel is thus very much remindful of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, where Ameena is the Kurtz who, in place of colonialism, discovers the horrific reality of religious fundamentalism, and Jamila, like Marlowe, is the rightful inheritor of the legacy of that realisation that she wants to disseminate.

Like Marlowe, Jamila too tells a lie about Ameena, a lie told because the truth is too convoluted. In talking about this grim, morbid reality of our times, the novel may come across as too cynical. However, it also has its moments of hope, and in reading those lies the value of this extraordinary work. The writer is a research scholar in the Department of English Literature at the English and Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad.