Mark Townsend's No Return tracks the tragic story of the Brighton family ripped apart by radicalismby Azadeh Moaveni / June 7, 2020 / Leave a comment
Mark Townsend’s gritty and fast-paced book tracks three brothers from Brighton who left Britain to fight in Syria’s jihadist rebellion. It is also a portrait of an immigrant family’s decline with pointillist descriptions of racial hatred, gang violence and police malfeasance. Aided by leaked government documents and interviews with family members, including one of the brothers, Townsend, a journalist at the Observer, follows the brothers’ transformation from bullied Muslim boys to members of a drugs gang to jihadist fighters darting round the mountains of northern Syria. What propelled them? And what, if anything, does their journey have to tell us about Britain?
The Deghayes hailed originally from Libya. The father, Abubaker, fled the brutal rule of Muammar Gaddafi in the mid-1980s. He was descended from a politically engaged family: his father, a trade unionist, headed the secular Baathist opposition to the Gaddafi dictatorship and died in prison. After receiving asylum, Abubaker married a cousin, and the couple settled in Saltdean, a coastal village outside Brighton. They raised their five boys in a country where they believed, as Townsend writes, that “the rule of law was observed.”
Their illusions were soon shattered. The Deghayes experienced “sustained abuse,” documented by various social services. For the five brothers, taunted as “Pakis” and “terrorists” and pelted with food and water at school, walking home was like entering “a war zone.” Mobs sent bricks through their windows. The “police were useless,” even when far-right groups published the family’s address on Facebook. A neo-Nazi established a local chapter expressly to “hound the family” and white supremacists marched through the village in Ku Klux Klan robes. During bad stretches, the family called the police as often as three times a week. Despite all this, in 2009, the year the abuse peaked, Sussex police was the only force in the country that did not register a single incident of religious abuse with the Home Office.
The pretext for persecuting the Deghayes was the public vilification in Brighton of Abubaker’s brother. Omar Deghayes had been sold to the US military in Pakistan in 2002 on false pretences and dispatched to Guantanamo Bay, where he was tortured as an al-Qaeda suspect. After almost six years, the Americans abruptly released him…