East of Hounslow is the story of an accidental jihadist.

His name is Javid Qasim, but everyone calls him Jay. He’s British-born, a Muslim, still shy of thirty, and a small-time drug dealer in the Borough of Hounslow in the West End of London. But unknown to Jay, the police have been tracking him in hopes of incriminating his boss, “Silas Drakos, AKA The Drake AKA The Count.” And, even more consequentially, Jay’s also on MI5’s radar as a way to identify and capture the notorious jihadist leader known as The Preacher. Which is why, after a string of stupid decisions, Jay suddenly finds himself set up as a would-be jihadist, caught between a homicidal drug kingpin and a collection of misfits pledged to mayhem and murder in the name of Holy War. The impressive first book in Khurrum Rahman’s series featuring Jay Qasim, East of Hounslow, follows the accidental jihadist on his increasingly perilous course into the upper reaches of the terrorist hierarchy.

East of Hounslow (Jay Qasim #1) by Khurrum Rahman (2020) 384 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)

At first, what makes this young man an accidental jihadist seems comical

The author’s sense of humor comes out clearly in the opening chapters of East of Hounslow. But this novel is anything but a funny book. As the plot unfolds, and Jay works his way more and more deeply into the inner circle of a jihadist cell, the mood shifts radically. And along the way we learn what life might be like for the young men (and one woman) whom Jay has been dispatched to investigate. Tensions between MI5 and the British police are revealing, too. Despite the hilarity of the story when it opens, the author comes across as a knowledgeable observer of our time.

Not the stereotypical rootless young Muslim

Rahman’s picture of London’s Muslim community is not what you might expect. He lays out his perspective at the outset, as Jay asks, “Do you know how many times I have been pulled over by the police since 9/11? Once. And that was because I was nonchalantly jumping lanes without indicating my intentions to my fellow drivers. . . Do you know how many times I have been racially abused since 7/7? Not even once. I get called Paki every day, but not in the what the f*** did you call me? way. In my circle, it’s a term of endearment.” In fact, Jay’s best friend, Idris Zaidi, is himself a cop. They grew up together in Hounslow and simply took different paths as they grew older. No, Jay is not the stereotypical young man with grievances who might be thought to find his way into terrorist circles. He is, truly, an accidental jihadist. Yet his views will evolve in interesting ways as the story wends its way toward an explosive ending.

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