This book, ‘Two Sisters’, has been described as “riveting”, “gripping”, “intense and compelling”. And it’s true. It’s almost like one of those Harry Potter books which I’d get from a bookstore at the launch and then proceed to read all day and even through the night till I’m done. However, and this is one big ‘HOWEVER’, I feel strangely disappointed. Like ‘I should go ask for a refund’ kind of disappointed. Reading all 411 pages of this book, I wanted to know not just why the two sisters went to Syria but also what happened to them in the end (did they get killed or get back home safely?). The book focuses mainly on the ‘WHY’. And I’m left feeling there’s no closure. Like an itch which cannot be reached yet demands to be scratched, I want to know what happens to the two girls! Urgh! Perhaps there’ll be a sequel to this ‘true story’? 😛
Also, I only realised at the end of the book that “Ayan” and “Leila” are not the real names of the two sisters. It’s like only finding out that Harry Potter’s real name is “(name withheld) Potter” at the end, and I’ve been ‘deceived’ all along. *sigh*
In a nutshell, teenage sisters Ayan and Leila (not their real names) leave their home in Oslo, Norway, in 2013 to travel to Syria. Their father, Sadiq, decides to go after them and try to get them home. Unfortunately, he gets captured and tortured, but eventually escapes. Subsequent attempts to get his daughters home fail, but Sadiq manages to burn through lots of cash in the process. In the end, he’s broke (both financially and in spirit), his daughters are supposedly wives and mothers now, and the family is torn apart as the girls refuse to return and Sadiq can only dream of turning back time and having his life return to what it once was.
So, if you’re wondering why teenage girls would want to head to a warzone and leave their cushy lives with family behind, this book offers some clues. They *may* have naively thought that they would be “fetching water for the sick to working in refugee camps”. 😉 More importantly, you’ll put together the pieces and find out how they got radicalized. It could have started from something as simple as spending “hours on YouTube listening to clerics and preachers”. Eventually, they’d think they are saving their family members from Hell (“If you died as a martyr, you could choose seventy family members to join you in paradise.”) And as the two girls reveal to their family, once they were in Syria and married, there was no need to pay rent or water and electricity bills (the State took care of all that), houses are free, and they received monthly groceries plus money without working at all.
You might wonder why the girls’ parents were so ‘blind’ toward the obvious radicalization happening right under their noses. The girls had started wearing niqabs (causing a headache in school for their teachers and Principal), and even cut out their pictures from family albums (to prevent outsiders from seeing them uncovered)! Based on the things they were sharing on social media, their parents, teachers and friends should have been alarmed and promptly put a stop to things. But they didn’t. The mothers in the community even paid for an extremist (though they didn’t know it at that time) Koran teacher called Mustafa to come teach their kids.
In the end, before leaving, Ayan bought lots of things but didn’t pay the bills, signed up for multiple mobile subscriptions (sold the phones and SIM cards) and raised money for the trip to Syria. This refusal to pay the bills was even viewed as “economic jihad”.
Interestingly enough, when her father needed money, he had questionable ways of raising it too, such as by selling ‘fake news’ to journalists, who ended up printing what he had supplied. In return, Sadiq received thousands of Norwegian kroner.
I can’t say I didn’t raise an eyebrow or two at a certain part of the book, where a text ‘Defense of the Muslim Lands’ was referenced’…
“The unclean have duped the dull masses of Muslims by installing their wooden-headed puppets as false figureheads of states that remain under their control.”
And this next portion made me think that ISIS may have done lots of questionable, if not horrific, things but they’ve at least got something right:
“Although cigarettes were not forbidden in the Koran, they were deemed haram by ISIS and looked on as a form of “slow suicide” and pure pleasure. ISIS came down hard on people smoking on the sly, even in their own homes, and flogging was the usual punishment. Selling or smuggling was worse.” (p215)
By the end of the book, you’ll probably come to the realization that the initial question of “Why would someone go to Syria and join ISIS?!” has become a simpler one – “Why not?”