Moaveni has a difficult balancing act to pull off. She wants to understand the choices made by these women in an attempt to elicit our sympathy without excusing their behaviour. In this, she succeeds. She is also rightly caustic about the responses of the British press towards Sharmeena, Kadiza, Amira and Shamima. Writing in The Sun, Katie Hopkins blamed the girls’ parents for failing to stop their children from scurrying off ‘to be the brides of jihad, sporting nothing more than a burka and industrial lubricant’. Hopkins self-righteously declared, ‘as parenting goes, knowing the whereabouts of one’s children is pretty fundamental’. The fact is that Sharmeena, Kadiza, Amira and Shamima are very much ‘our children’. Looking at that grainy picture of these naive adolescents at Gatwick airport should still terrify us.
Calamity: The Many Lives of Calamity Jane
"as Karen Jones sets out dismayingly early in her book, the only things that the real-life ‘Calamity Jane’ can with confidence be said to have in common with her legend is that she wore trousers, swore like a navvy and was pissed all the time..."
— The Spectator
Detailed reporting in Tunisia and the UK backs up her most effective portrayals of the west’s role in perpetuating violent jihad. Her account of the three girls from east London who ran away to join Isis is one of the most incisive I have read: an indictment of UK intelligence and counter-terrorism, from the missed opportunities to stop teenagers headed abroad to join Isis, to social workers with laughable strategies such as asking: “What sort of Islamic thoughts do you carry in your head right now?”
As she puts it in her book: “To swirl in a morass of suppositions and half-truths seemed safer, in London of 2015, than to hear what a youth theatre group born and raised alongside those girls had to say.”
By the end the reader is inclined to agree with her. It was fear of a public outcry that led Sajid Javid, as home secretary, to prevent Begum from returning to Britain. A mistake: she should come back to face trial, the better to understand how girls like her become radicalised in the first place. Most of these Isis brides still languish in camps across the Middle East, waiting for their home countries to decide on their fates. For those interested in understanding them, this book is essential reading.
When Greene, FBI agent turned Isis wife, returns home, she receives a short two-year sentence to atone for her terrorist romance. But Begum, found pregnant and languishing in a camp aged 19, is stripped of her UK citizenship. Dalliances with terror, like everything else, have different consequences for different women; the mastery of Guest House for Young Widows is to show us just how distinct and devastating each can be.