In The Skin Of A Jihadist is French journalist Anna Erelle’s attempt to explore the world of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis or IS), and the mentality of the people behind the organisation.
The book opens with a declaration of love from a young 20-year-old French girl named Mélodie. The man who is the subject of Mélodie’s affection is Abu Bilel, a 40-something Syrian man who, after seeing Mélodie’s Facebook profile, starts Skyping with her, and within 48 short hours, declares he loves her as well.
And Bilel’s declaration of love comes with an offer of marriage and excitement: as it transpires, he is the right-hand man of the most dangerous militant in the world, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the caliph of IS.
Erelle was trying to discover why French teenagers were being tempted and seduced by Islamic extremists but was not getting the information she needed from the safety of her Parisian office.
Through Mélodie’s Facebook chats and the occasional Skype conversation with Bilel (Erelle decided that she could not pull off being a 20-year-old innocent French girl without wearing the full hijab as a disguise), Erelle offers a very fleeting glimpse of how impressionable teens could be seduced into joining the fight for Islam. While she opened her book with Mélodie’s chats with Bilel, Erelle suddenly had Mélodie stop communicating with Bilel, which leaves readers wondering what else goes on in the recruitment process.
Erelle does not make any mention if she ever knew if Bilel was “courting” other European girls at the same time he was chatting with Mélodie.
Likewise, in the midst of informing readers about her IS investigation, Erelle veers off towards her personal life and self-justification, such as having to explain why she spent a whole night getting drunk with fellow journalists in an international hotel.
It is this need to explain herself that In The Skin Of A Jihadist moves dangerously close to whinge territory.
Her topic is fascinating, but unfortunately, Erelle’s execution of an extremist world and the people within fails to live up to its premise.
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