In which the sins of the children are visited upon the fathers: an unblinking journalistic account of the life of the jihadi.
“You did not suddenly wake up one day a fanatic,” writes Norwegian journalist Seierstad (One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway, 2015, etc.) toward the end of this insightful but somewhat overlong story of immigrant dreams betrayed. “It was a direction you grew in.” Sadiq had come to Norway with his wife from Somalia and there, by hard work and no small travail, had raised two daughters and a son. In late adolescence, having slipped into a gradual fundamentalist outlook, the two daughters vanished only to announce, both defiantly and apologetically, that they were off to battle the infidels on the battlefields of Syria. Their journey led them into a hornet’s nest of Islamic State terrorists from every corner of the Muslim world arrayed against a Russian-backed dictatorship; there they plunged ever further into the violent jihadi cause. As the daughters, never quite silent or out of sight, became more religious, the son became more militant in rejecting Islam; part of the value of Seierstad’s informative account is to witness the back-and-forth emails among them: “God…is such a self-obsessed asshole that he wants the people he ‘created’ to pray to him five times a day and for those who don’t believe in him to be killed,” writes the son, to which the daughter replies, “instead of talking crap and being offensive try finding the truth or shut up and respect other people’s choices.” Meanwhile, even as his family was falling apart, Sadiq tried to remove his daughters from Syria—no easy matter when they didn’t want to leave, standing by their choice to submit to IS.
“Is it ethically defensible to focus on the lives of two girls when they have not granted their consent?” Seierstad wonders at the end. That is for readers to decide, now knowing much more about what drives people to fanatical causes.