BARBARA NADEL asks: Bright, Shiny or Snake Oil?

Written by Barbara Nadel

There is an old saying that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. But because we are human beings we frequently ignore that adage when it comes to something we see that we really want. It is this ‘blind spot’ that conmen and charlatans rely on in order to reel in their victims. It is also, increasingly, something that terror organisations employ to catch new ‘converts’ to whatever ‘cause’ they are espousing. ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is particularly adept at this and has had some success recruiting young men and women via this ‘blind spot’. It is also the subject of my latest Hakim and Arnold novel Bright Shiny Things (Allison and Busby).


In Bright Shiny Things we see how someone who is posing as a young girl in order to make contact with an ISIL operative they believe wants to leave the organisation and return to the UK, discovers how this works. ISIL fighters famously advertise on-line for ‘young Muslim virgins’ to join them in Iraq or Syria and become their wives. Not only are the girls promised a ‘meaningful’ life of Holy Jihad, they are also tempted with stories of fabulous apartments, beautiful clothes and angelic children. Of course children only come about via sex which will, naturally, be performed by the very handsome male fighters who pose so beautifully on-line. Not that these men come on crudely to the girls. They are far too ‘religious’ to do that. All early conversations, usually via Skype, are concerned with points of religion, shared interests, glowing descriptions of hell-holes like the town of Raqqa and ever more pictures of their handsome selves carrying guns and standing next to tanks. However, talk of violence, even against ‘Infidels’ is kept very low-key and the girls sometimes open their computers to find cute pictures of puppies or kittens on their ‘fiancees’ Facebook page.


Basically the girls are being ‘groomed’. Like paedophiles, the men of ISIL start fluffy and low-key and work their way up. So now Girl A has a delicious secret ‘boyfriend’ who nobody knows about except her – and what teenager doesn’t love a secret – but he is also someone she can respect. He doesn’t want to jump her bones like other, non-religious boys. He’s even willing to die for his faith! She can respect him. So when she says something innocent and seemingly normal about maybe going to a dance or gym class and he tells her it’s un-Islamic, she believes him. And she doesn’t go to class because his opinion of her is something she values. It is this value attachment that pushes Girl A forward into much more dangerous territory.


Now Girl A has begun to dream about marrying her handsome hunk, even though she’d never admit to such a thing. So when he forgives her for going to dance class and then – so kind is he! - proposes to her, she says ‘Yes’ a thousand times over. She even steals her own mother’s credit card in order to buy her ticket to Turkey, which is where she will travel from to Syria and her blissful lover. She will also, at his request, go armed with gifts for her man including things like designer sunglasses and sexy underwear which she will put on when they first meet. Because now sex has reared its head and he has told her in no uncertain terms that she will do whatever he asks her to in the bedroom. She agrees to this because she reasons that if he’s a good Muslim he won’t do anything bad.


Girl A turns up in Raqqa, is married, raped, forced to live in a hole in the ground and eventually dies giving birth in the back of a truck. Her ‘husband’ takes another wife.


Of course this doesn’t happen in Bright Shiny Things. Not quite. But there are people in the novel who want it to and, if the girl really had been seventeen it probably would have done. What happens instead is almost as terrifying, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what that is.


And as you read the book, do remember that what you’re reading is how grooming actually happens  in the real world and, even if you’re not a very young and innocent Muslim girl, take note. We all have blind spots and we all want what we really know we cannot have. At least not easily.


So beware the purveyors of Snake Oil, people, for they only, really want your blood. And you know it.

Read Gwen Moffat’s review of BRIGHT SHINY THINGS

Bright Shiny Things

Allison and Busby
RRP: £19.99
Released: April 20, 2017
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Barbara Nadel

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