YESTERDAY we published the first part of an interview with writer and former Tory candidate Louise Burfitt-Dons about her foray into the world of crime writing and her first novel, The Missing Activist. In the second part of this interview I asked Louise about the challenge of researching jihadi bride recruitment, her opinion of the current Conservative Party and what she hopes to see emerge from the current Brexit mess they have led us into.
K G: How hard was it to research the jihadi bride plot line? That came across very convincingly. How much were you aware of this reality in our lives before you began researching it for the novel?
L B-D: I had been following the jihad bride recruitment situation since it first hit the media because of the extraordinary motive which was driving it. Regarding research, I managed to find quite a bit online and also delved into the world of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to discover some of the lingo! I also spent time in coffee shops in a variety of immigrant areas around London. I’m afraid I eavesdrop on conversations to try to get the tone right in my dialogue sections.
Did the research for it take you into tricky situations or encounters? Did you meet with hostility? Did you get people to talk to you direct or did you have to deduce it from secondary sources?
When I was at the Tory Party Conference, and long before plotting this thriller, I came up with the scenario which is at the end of the book. Tackling the jihad situation as regards the radicalisation of teenagers I had to rely on secondary sources mostly. However I’m hoping to gain access to a first-hand source for my sequel.
Having researched it and described how easily undetectable this is, do you think the police and security forces have had a proper grip on the scale of the returning bride problem?
I am still researching and monitoring the returning bride syndrome. While I was writing the Missing Activist, apparently our security services foiled around twenty jihadi plots. I think they are doing a fantastic job as much of what goes on behind the scenes never comes to public attention.
In one powerful chapter you describe how easy it was for the female Isis bride ‘groomer’ to get access to Muslim girls at school under the guise of a Prevent-style programme. Is this what you really believe to be happening ‘out there’?
While plotting the book it occurred to me that if someone such as my lead character Zinah Al-Rashid could gain access to vulnerable school children, she could potentially find a rich supply of future Isis brides. At the time this was pure fiction. However in the case of Umar Haque, who was convicted of plotting attacks, this was actually employed as a tactic while he was working at the Lantern of Knowledge Secondary School in Leyton during 2016. He was aiming to recruit an army of children from pupils with whom he came into contact. The real-life scenario could have been taken directly from The Missing Activist.
You stood as Tory candidate at the General Election so you cannot think the party is all bad. What is your opinion of its current faction-ridden state? Is there any hope for it or is it doomed finally to divide – or die?
The party is not all bad at all. I was proud to be a member of the Conservatives and to be given the opportunity to stand for them at the 2015 election. It mostly comprises well-principled, pragmatic and deeply patriotic individuals with talent, ambition and a shared desire to protect business interests in this country and also save it from a hard-Left government which would, in my opinion, deeply damage the economy of the nation. However, it struck me forcefully as well that as much as there was this singular common connection, the issue that divided the party was Europe. It was very black and white. When I got on to the candidates list the party line back then under David Cameron was to ‘remain’ and nothing else. If you wanted to get through the system as a newbie, it was considered advisable to adopt that view. Of course it swung 180 degrees in the direction of Brexit after the Referendum and anyone on the remainder list was just as quickly remaindered themselves. In my view the festering sore of immigration and strong xenophobic attitudes from the Right of the party are likely to cause a structural split. That could take many years to resolve and leave politics open to the far Left and populist parties. A weak centralist Tory Party and a split-off smallish far Right has to be a formula for instability and not conducive for either new party to have much influence.
What or who would you like to see emerging from this political mess? Is there anyone who can now restore people’s trust in politics and the political process?
It is impossible to secure a good deal in any negotiations without having fully factored in the downside. So what I would like to see emerge from this political mess is a country now fully prepared to accept a No Deal Brexit with all that it entails. The British public have never really engaged with Europe due to the long history of Empire identity and the attitude of ‘I just want out’ is a sentiment widely held. The Referendum result would be respected and the country would be forced to take a probably painful reality check.
The EU is unlikely to budge on its latest compromise offer because of the perceived weakness of Britain in these negotiations. Plus, there is also only so much more personal bullying our PM can take!
As for a leadership contender, I am quite certain we haven’t seen the end of Boris Johnson’s bid as the saviour waiting in the wings. When I stood in Nottingham North, even ardent far-Left voters were struck by his complete irreverence, self-confidence and strong personality. If nothing else, BJ is a great salesman, and there’s going to be a lot of that required if we crash out of Europe with no economic arrangements in place. I think it imperative that we maintain co-operation with the European Union on terrorism whether we stay or leave. There is a seismic momentum at work worldwide dividing people by religion rather than reason.
The Missing Activist is available for purchase here.