Moshin Hamid’s[i] novel “The Reluctant Fundamentalism[ii]” is full of allegories and hidden messages. Already from the title the reader tries to redefine the meaning of the word fundamentalist and find how it is connected with the rest of the book.
The hero commits an ideological suicide. He quits the American dream when his social and working environment starts treating him with suspicion —like a fundamentalist terrorist—after the collapse of the Twin Towers.
The issues of racism, immigration, exploitation, identity and the concept of the “Other” are arisen in the book. The story takes place in a café in Lahore. The protagonist is an upper class native Pakistani, who is working as a lecturer at the local university. He is sitting next to a strange American “tourist” who often seems to be upset. Allegory and ambiguity are dominant in the narration.
The first example is the very idea of fundamentalism, which is visible already from the title. The increasingly tense atmosphere between the protagonist and his American listener, the lost aspirations of the former and the dark side of fundamentalism add to the ambiguity of the text. The peak is when the notion of fundamentalism comes in contrast with American capitalism, when the employer of the protagonist uses the phrase “focus on the fundamentals,” just before he started a pitiless expansion of his business to the East in the name of globalization.
The names have also allegorical meaning. The protagonist is called Changez, which refers to the Urdu[iii] name Genghis — a Mongol conqueror who attacked the Muslim world. Additionally, the girl that Changez falls in love is called Erica, a name that refers to America.
Changez loved Erica deeply. He had true feelings and strong sexual desire for her. She was the dream that he tried to catch, but it disappeared. Erica is haunted by a big trauma that has determined her life: her childhood boyfriend and big love Chris, who died young. She never got over this terrible event and died because of her sadness in a very strange and almost metaphysical way. Chris’ name has been chosen to represent the relationship of the American nation with the European conquering, but also the wars in the name of Christianity.
The author also describes the racist view of American society and the marginalization of Muslims after 11/9. Changez starts getting paranoid. He does not shave his beard. He does not care about his future or the company he works for. His worries overtake him, he neglects his work, his boss gets upset with him and finally he loses his job.
Sometimes the book seems to be more about feelings than about people or events and it is easy to assume that “The Reluctant Fundamentalism” is autobiographical. The narration style is a monolog and it is written in a second person point of view. Love, despair, paranoia and a dream in AmErica that never became true are dominant in this book at first reading.
But the book would be wronged, if the reader stays to the surface. The hero is wondering why he wanted America to be damaged, although he was in love with an American girl, he was educated in a American university and he was working in a big American company. The answer was not clear in the beginning, but it becomes clear in the social reality that changes the hero’s way of thinking. The answer lies on the political importance of 11/9.
Jacques Rancière’s[iv] approach to a ‘political of literature’ means that literature ‘does’ politics as literature, whereby there is a specific link between politics as a define way of doing and literature as a definite practice of writing. According to Rancière, the politics of literature imply then that literature “is involved in this partition of the visible and sayable, in this interviewing of being, doing and saying that frames a polemical common world.”
[i] Moshin Hamid is a Pakistani writer mostly known from his novels Moth smoke (2000) The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007). Hamid spent part of his childhood in the United States, where he stayed from the age of 3 to 9 while his father, a university professor, was enrolled in a PhD program at Stanford University. He then moved with his family back to Lahore. At the age of 18, Hamid returned to the United States to continue his education and he also attended Harvard law School. He moved to London in the summer of 2001 but now lives in Lahore.
[ii] Moshin, Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, publisher Penguin, 2008.
[iii] Urdu is a register of the Hindi-Urdu language that is identified with Muslims in South Asia. Urdu is the national language and lingua franca of Pakistan and it is also widely spoken in India.
[iv] Jacques Rancière (born Algiers, 1940) is a French philosopher, Professor of Philosophy at European Graduate School in Saas-Fee and Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris who came to prominence when he co-authored Reading Capital (1968), with the structural Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser.
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