Book Review: Topless Jihadis by Jeffrey Tayler

This book sees Jeffrey Tayler interview and analyse the Ukrainian born Femen organisation, the feminist protest group famous/notorious for their topless protests.
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Tayler enjoys significant access to the group, visiting them at their Parisian base where they have settled since being virtually exiled from Ukraine.
The group make for fascinating subjects with their dramatic, confrontational style of feminism and their passionate, charismatic members, most notably Inna Shevchenko, Tayler’s major focus in the book.
Tayler opens the book capturing the striking, chaotic nature of their protests, as a topless Shevchenko rushes former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi. He then proceeds to chart their development in the Ukraine and later in exile, charting the targets they go after (the Ukrainian male order bride industry, the Russian orthodox church’s interference in politics, Islamism, gay rights etc) and the fallout.
The group are interesting and their tactics stand out, and there’s little doubt that they are a brave group of women, placing themselves in danger to get their voices heard.
Tayler clearly admires their spirit, and it’s hard not too, but he remains objective enough to stop this book from being Femen propaganda, he highlights that often the group goes to far, alienating others. I confess that I disagree with the group’s hard line attacks on religion in general, and that they attack other feminist groups too much.
But many of the things they go after are subjects which need addressing and, if nothing else, Femen bring them to the fore. Tayler shows the passion but also the group’s flaws, they highlight problems without offering alternatives or ways to fix things. It’s all about the big protest, not what comes next.
Shevchenko is charismatic, burning with fury and passion, but at times she appears dictatorial and needlessly aggressive in her approach, and some of the recruits leave, disappointed by what they find.
It’s a fascinating, well observed and reasonably even handed examination of the controversial group and quite a quick, engaging read.
Verdict: Tayler writes with great observation and captures the atmosphere within the group and the characters involved. It may not be critical enough for some, but Tayler despite his admiration and liking of the individuals is not blind to their flaws, or the group’s weaknesses. A fascinating insight and history of Femen. 8/10
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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