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Post Six

Islam in the West

(Week 13)





Another facet of Muslim life impacted by political and cultural context was the relationship between Islam and the West, especially after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on the Twin Towers in New York. As many traditionally Islamic societies had in recent decades dealt with westernization and modernization in different ways and with differing levels of receptiveness, the attacks only amplified the tensions between “Western ideals” and the stereotypical Muslim identity. Fear fed these stereotypes and created in the United States an environment that was increasingly hostile to Muslims, both living within and without the borders of America. Accounts of fear and hostility are comingled with love for America and struggling to form a coherent identity as a Muslim in America in Mohsin Hamid’s 2007 The Reluctant Fundamentalist. A story of a young Pakistani’s (Changez) experiences in America both before and after 9/11, it is told from the Pakistani’s point of view in a conversation with an American in Lahore, the narrator’s home in Pakistan. The recounting of Changez’s experiences is interspersed with ambiguous signals from the listening American, which reflects the ambiguity and suspiciousness common in relations between Muslim Americans and others outside of the Islamic faith. This collage represents the ambiguity that Hamid presents in his novel, where one gesture or action can be taken as either harmless or threatening, depending on the reader’s perception of the situation. In three specific examples, an element of the Pakistani-American encounter could be good or bad (and, as stereotypes pervasive in the novel would order, the threatening objects correspond with the background of the Pakistani flag):


Is the Pakistani’s beard a sign against the United States?

“Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America.” (p. 1)

Is the tea, offered to the American by the Pakistani, poisoned?

“Ah our tea has arrived! Do not look so suspicious. I assure you, sir, nothing untoward will happen to you, not even a runny stomach. After all, it is not as if it has been poisoned. Come, if it makes you more comfortable, let me switch my cup with yours. Just so. How much sugar would you like? None? Very unusual, but I will not insist” (p. 11).

Is the shiny, silver object that the American reaches in his jacket to retrieve a gun or a business card holder?

“But why are you reaching into your jacket, sir? I detect a glint of metal. Given that you and I are now bound by a certain shared intimacy, I trust it is from the holder of your business cards” (p. 184).


This collage, by contrasting contexts, represents the ambiguity of Muslim-American relations and the possibilities of their outcomes, depending on the context and the perception of the onlooker: “It seems an obvious thing to say, but you should not imagine that we Pakistanis are all potential terrorists, just as we should not imagine that you Americans are all undercover assassins” (p. 183).

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