“Doesn’t quite do what it sets out to” – The Returned by David Thomson

David Thomson features on French radio and writes for a magazine in the same country. For a few years now, his focus has been on the swell of French citizens who have been making their way to and from Syria in the name of Jihad. He claims, in the introduction to this book, that he even predicted that something along the lines of the Bataclan attack and the others that occurred alongside it would happen. And he told the people that needed to know. But then, you know how much people like to listen to experts these days.

If anyone can be called an expert on such a recent phenomenon, then Thomson certainly fits the bill. Having spent so much time with people who have returned from ISIS territory, and having had unprecedented access to interview them, it does seem a shame that so much of this book seems to skate along the surface. There is limited new information. And while it can do no harm to understand the mindset of these current and former Jihadists, I worry that there is not enough focus given to the motivating factors and these are often brushed aside. I would also be concerned that much of what is here will feed into the negative stereotyping of Islam, without offering anything to balance against this.

There is one story that stands out, though. As Thomson recounts the tale of a family that went into ISIS controlled Syria, posing as Jihadists, to rescue their son who had become disillusioned with the whole ideology but was too ill to escape. In this section we see the humanity that this piece of journalism needed, but which is absent at too many other moments.

Any Cop?: Likely written with the best intentions, The Returned doesn’t quite do what it sets out to. Are the stories interesting? At times, yes. Does Thomson know his stuff? He certainly does. But does he present the nuanced and multifaceted work that is needed to deal with the subject matter? I don’t believe that he does.

 

Fran Slater

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