I‘ve just had the pleasure of finishing reading Heartland by Anthony Cartwright. It is what I have been allowing myself by way of a break as I continue to plough through mountains of information about extremism and radicalization in the UK.
The book is a work of fiction (hence the break I referred to above), that explores in a wonderfully nuanced and sensitive way the issues around the BNP’s rise in the British Midlands against a backdrop of inter-racial tensions in the immediate post-9/11 period. Set in the fictional ward of Cinderheath – which is in the real city of Dudley in the heart of the Black Country – the book follows Rob, a young man who briefly touched minor celebrity as a footballer, but who is settling into life as a school P.E. teacher/assistant. His uncle is the local Labour councilor who is fighting a seemingly losing battle against a slick BNP candidate and his army of football thugs, as the local Muslim community builds a large mosque and people worry about the precedent set by the revelation that three local lads are in Guantanamo Bay (the very real “Tipton Taliban”). In the front of everyone’s minds, however, is football – with England battling their way through the 2002 World Cup (to no avail), while the country’s press are fixated on a local league game which is pitting a local Muslim side against a non-Muslim side.
Written in a way that seamlessly blends dialogue and prose, with a fine ear for the local brogue, the book does get a little confusing in parts. There are no chapters (it is divided into four sections: first half; half-time; second-half; and final score), and it can be hard to know exactly what is being said sometimes. But it really feels like it captures the underlying tensions that lie at the heart of the BNP’s rise. There is less exploration of the motivations that might persuade young men from these areas to throw their lot in with the Taliban, but we get a sense of what it might be like for the locals with the references to a ghostlike “Adnan the mujahedeen” peppered throughout the book. Overall, well worth the read if you have a moment.
This also gives me an opportunity to highlight the case of the Tipton Taliban – who after being freed worked with Michael Winterbottom to produce the impressively one-sided The Road to Guantanamo (which can actually be found on YouTube in its entirety), which while rightly highlighting the excesses of Guantanamo, probably should have done a little more background research before charging ahead. I say this, as on largely un-watched and un-reported Channel 4 show called “Lie Lab,”one of the chaps admitted that he had in fact been to a training camp and fired weapons while in Afghanistan (another refused to take the polygraph-type device that was at the heart of the show). Not quite the babes in the wood that they are portrayed as in the film.