Battlepanda: Bookblogging: Them


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bookblogging: Them

Jon Ronson's Them is a book that I just wasn't able to put down. I cannot recommend it highly enough, both for some delightful character studies of those we are usually content to write off as wackos ("one of Them!") as well as some adventures along the way that delves into exactly divides 'them' and 'us' and why the line might not be as bright as it first appears.

Ronson does not just get close to his sources or do meticulous research. He becomes buddies with them, or even become their fellow conspirators on many occasions. As a Jew, this leads to some interesting tensions both internally (what is he doing, as a Jew, helping Omar Bakri guard his Jihad funds while the man dubbed 'the Tottenham Ayatollah' goes back to the house to get his coat?) and externally (things get hairy when members of the Aryan Brotherhood start scrutinizing his profile for semetic features). The book is strongly reminiscent of Confederates in the Attic, another book written by a Jew who is one of us masquerading as one of them.

Here's a chunk from the book that should give you a good sense of its flavor.
Omar's plan for the morning was to distribute leaflets outside the Holborn underground station entitled "Homosexuality, Lesbianism, Adultery, Fornication and Bestiality: THE DEADLY DISEASES." He said he'd planned to travel by public transportation, but he couldn't help but notice my car in his driveway, so perhaps I would give him a lift instead?
"OK," I said."
I dropped him off near the tube station. I went to park the car. Ten minutes later, I found him standing in the middle of the pavement with a stack of leaflets in his hand.
"How's it going, Omar?" I asked.
"Oh, very good," he smiled. "The message is getting across that there are some deadly diseases here and there."
He turned to the passersby.
"Homosexuality!" he yelled. "Beware the deadly disease! Beware the hour!"
Some time passed.
"Homosexuality!" yelled Omar. "Beware! There are homosexuals everywhere!"
I expected to see some hostility to Omar's leaflets from the passersby. But the shoppers and tourists and office workers seemed to regard him with a kindly bemusement. Nonetheless, after ten minutes nobody had actually taken a leaflet.
"Beware the hour! There are homosexuals everywhere! Beware the hour!" continued Omar, cheerfully. "Be careful from homosexuality! It is not good for your tummy!"
Omar Bakri was unlike my image of a Muslim extremist.
Then he told me that he had a good idea.
"Just watch this," he said.
He turned the leaflets upside down.
"Help the orphans!" he yelled. "Help the orphans!"
"Omar!" I exclaimed, scandalized.
The passersby started to accept his leaflets.
"This is good," chuckled Omar. "This is good. You see, if I wasn't a Muslim I'd be working you say...Saatchi and Saatchi."
Somehow, through befriending Omar, with his ugly, murderous philosophy, and describing his quirks like he's just another human being, Ronson took away his power. It would be interesting to hear the reaction of some of the bigots (others are just wacky or born into wackiness) profiled if they read their own portrayals.

Jon Ronson is also a documentary filmmaker who captured many of the episodes he described in his book on film. However, I have never seen his films. Yet.