Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“It was a balmy Saturday afternoon in Trafalgar Square in summertime, and Omar Bakri Mohammed was declaring Holy War on Britain.”
In total, I own all but two of Jon Ronson’s books, and prior to reading this I had only read one: The Psychopath Test. I decided to read this when I was working on my postcolonial project which explored the media representation of Islam/Muslims post-9/11, compared to representations in literature and film. So although a Ronson novel is one I would read for pleasure, on this occasion it was read as research.
Part of my research involved exploring the use (or mis-use) of the term ‘extremist’. It is a term packed with connotations, most of them negative. So I picked this book up hoping that it would give me an honest insight into what people who get branded ‘extremists’ are really like.
It turned out, however, that in terms of my research, the first chapter ‘A Semi-detached Ayatollah’ was the only part of the book that gave me a relevant quote (which I didn’t end up using anyway). The quote was from Omar Bakri, a man who Ronson interviewed for the purpose of this book:
“‘What is this word “extreme”‘? said Omar. ‘Words like fundamentalist or terrorist or extremist mean nothing here. Those are your words. For you, a terrorist is somebody who blows up a bus here and there. But for the people here, I am on the front line. I am a great warrior, a great fighter.'” p. 28.
For my project, Ronson would have had to explore terrorists for the duration of the book. However, from a general interest perspective, this book is worth a read if you want to find out about what other ‘extremists’ exist in the world, that aren’t necessarily foregrounded in the media. Each chapter is linked by the idea ‘that a tiny, shadowy elite rule the world from a secret room.’ On the surface, this idea is intriguing, and enough to make me read on. Whether the the world is ruled from a secret room, I won’t say, but what I will say is that Ronson’s writing style is faultless (in my opinion) and this storytelling even more so. He makes non-fiction entertaining and educational all at once, as well as funny.
This is proper journalism.
I’d also recommend reading Ronson’s books in the order he wrote them, which means if you want to start reading him, begin with this book.
To summarise: this book follows ‘a humorous journalist out of [his] depth.’
Link to the book on Goodreads:
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