The Influence of the 9/11 novel on Muslim Writing

Scientific Essay, 2017

14 Pages



Since 9/11 many Muslims struggle with their identity and are exposed to xenophobia, violence, vicious defamation, harassment or displacement. In short the notion 'Muslim' in relation to that day has become a stigma. It is against this background and the post-traumatic aftermath of September 11, 2001 where many novelists disposing of a Muslim background wrote their novels. The logical consequence from this was that Muslim writing as such has become more complex stressing the standpoints of hearer and teller as elements of distortion. Interesting though is the fact that some novels dealing with Islam and Muslim characters have taken up and used the Oriental stereotypes where Muslims are - according to Said - seen as 'either oil suppliers or potential terrorists'.

For a long time Muslim characters in literature have been connected to this negative image which Said also labels as 'other' and Spivak as 'subaltern'.

The 'hybrid' in which many Muslim characters are often set is also (still) equated with the 'exotic' thus ignoring the energy of Bhabha' s term and its positive realizations in fiction.

It is therefore one aim of this essay to throw light on this matter and to shortly reflect the present influence of 9/11 on Muslim writing.

The writer wants to understand what this day has done to us. The writer tries to give memory, tenderness, and meaning to all that howling space.

Don DeLillo, In the Ruins of the Future

Migrant writing as a major element of contemporary English speaking literature of the last five decades has constantly been connected to topics such as the trauma of migration, exodus, immigration, assimilation, diaspora and identity matters all of which can be connected (directly or indirectly) to religion. It is Haviland (2010) who comments on traumatic losses or events and their recovery with the words that in general "narrative plays an important role in these models" (ibid.: 429). This close connection to the religious stems from the fact that religion (just like culture) is a major 'identity provider' with the touch of a resistance identity which helps to contrast the opposing worlds the migrant has to face. Literature and religion -which had lost their traditional close ties of the past - were suddenly re-discovered by Muslim (and some Western writers as well) with the aim to explore individual characters or topics such as the 'War on Terrorism'. Yet novelists writing about Islam and terrorism in particular seem to mix the alien, other and otherness with the sinister and violent or the image of the Muslim as the scapegoat. It is against this background that fiction of writers of Muslim background forms one of the most diverse, vibrant, provocative and high-profile corpora of work being produced today.

Most of these novels deal with matters of Muslim identity, its response to political realignments since the 1980s, its tensions between religious and secular models of class, gender, citizenship and national identity, the manifestations of these tensions as conflicts between generations and matters of identity in the face of globalization or a radical Islam.

Terrorism (to which 9/11 belongs) can thus be seen as an element of criticism or attacks on a (seemingly) tyrannizing state which fundamentalists like to replace with an even more terrorizing regime. It is the growing group of Muslim writers who here seem to follow Dostojewski or Conrad who are considered to be the pioneers of terrorist writing. For the American situation one consequence following from 9/11 was the fact that America equated 9/11 with terror. Some of the most important novels published in the aftermath of 9/11 are definitely Khaled Hossein's novels The Kite Runner (2003), A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007), And T he Mountains Echoed (2013), John Updike's Terrorist (2006) , Alexie Sherman's Flight (2007), Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), and Don DeLillo's Falling Man (2008).

On the British side pioneer works here are Kiran Desai' s The Inheritance of Loss (2006), Hisham Matar' s In the Country of Men (2007), or Salman Rushdie' s Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (2015) along the large number of female writers such as Monica Ali, Tahmima Anam, Fadia Faquir, Samina Ali or Kia Abdullah who included 9/11 as a plot device, as an element to push the action, to simply reflect character development or for character constellations.[1]

Within the very short timespan of sixteen years the 9/11 novel has developed into a contested and troubled genre because 9/11 was (and is) more than a historical event, it is a setting which itself started an explosion of fiction that wasn't necessarily to have been. As one critic states the '9/11 novel is an uneven and somewhat unsatisfying creation, the post-9/11 novel was the essential form of the last decade'. Both types, however, dispose of an enormous literary energy and they function as windows into the cultural miasma. Basically speaking both types of novels tell us what 9/11 means. The insecurity which arises from this attempt hints at one central aim of fiction dealing with this day, namely the uncertainty of life which is everywhere. All this showed, however, that the 9/11 topic of fiction is of special quality and need because novelists want to reanimate reality. Writers and readers alike have the chance to draw themselves back into the orbit of life because mankind has become apathetic or simply shocked and traumatized because of the events of that day. It was the theologian Wyschogrod (1989) who remarked in the face of the Holocaust that 'Art takes the sting out of the suffering' and it is here where the basic attempt of the 9/11 novel can also be seen.

The wide employment of 9/11 as a literary element in many contemporary novels disposing of a Muslim background does not necessarily mean that critics talk about a new genre of the terrorist novel, the historic novel, the political novel or a new type of detective novel but it definitely hints at this manifold employment of 9/11 as a literary element. Apart from the strictly speaking literary function it is the general mix between the religiously alien function of the Islamic background which this date includes. It is exactly with the help of 9/11 that novelists and readers alike are confronted with a violent other of a new kind. Otherness itself has already found a fixed place in contemporary migrant writing but it is the Islamic elements which have created this new radical quality.[2] To merely talk about the literary side does, however, not fully cover the full range of 9/11 since there is always a general political manipulation and a negative multiplication that goes along with any literary employment of this day. It is these two poles which finally make the reader reflect the literary presentation of any Muslim characters among which there is hatred, misunderstanding, irritation or sympathy which novelists cover in many contexts such as biographies or religious and political backgrounds.

Most Muslim writers are aware of this difficult inclusion of 9/11 into their works and it is here where they often function as postcolonial writers who have always found themselves between the classical constellation of native and alien, 'them or us' or Islam and the West. It is here where they are often trapped in the fault-line of these binaries and it also exactly in these fields where they have to place and to present their characters who have to re-adapt their lives. Apart from the biography or semi-biography it is also the use of familiar postmodernist or modernist devices such as the disjunctive chronology which are used to make up the plot.

One result from this employment of 9/11 therefore lies in a critical revision of the West as the place where oppressed and modern oriented people can find shelter from a militant Orient whose representatives carry bombs, function as suicide bombers or hijackers.

It is this militant background which reminds the reader that anger, hatred and fury are the easiest emotions life offers and that violence as such is an easygoing tool and too automatically used to solve complex personal, cultural, religious and political problems.

This also goes for the Western readers who should be aware of the fact to simply label militant Muslims (in life and fiction) as being paranoid.

The fact that these characters are set in the West and in Muslim countries alike shows that the novel - as Said suggested - hints at the 'polarity of East and West' which too often is still governed by the national and colonial histories of the Muslim countries and their Western colonization. What is striking so is the fact that Islam as a religion is often presented as being apart from politics. This also goes for the use of militant jihad since both are mostly used to support the narrative as such. Militant Islam or jihad are also often used to deconstruct the rigid logic of the violence 9 / 11 includes and both mainly help to show (or break down) the above mentioned 'polarity of East and West'.

One present trend of many Muslim writers is to take the narrative away from the West to the former colonies (or a reflection of both) and it can therefore be seen as an attempt to show the ongoing personal and postcolonial desire to create national, personal, political and religious independence from the West.

Novels including terrorism in general and 9/11 in particular are also often marked by a deep pessimism and cynicism about politics which they attach to the personal of the main characters or a nation. In short the Muslim side is still (directly or indirectly) deeply rooted in the three classical traumatic events the Muslim world had to face with the West. The first encounter of this kind were the crusades which were followed by Western imperialism of the 17th, 18th and 19th century which humiliated Islam culturally, economically and religiously. The third - and in its own kind the most dangerous one - is the present development of globalization which has attacked (and still attacks) Islam in all its spheres. One major result from this was a feeling of humiliation within the Muslim world by the West which was linked with the permanent wish of the Muslim world to get recognition (Moïsi 2009: 92-97; 105 ff.). This feeling of having lost the belief in oneself can therefore be considered to be one major reason for the renaissance of Islamic fundamentalism and 9/11 was a logical result from this. Al-Qaida and the IS therefore stem from a mix of cultural, religious, socio-economic and psychological reasons which originate in this humiliation and the power the West exercised in the East. 9/11 and the consequences resulting from this (such as the Gulf Wars or 'The War on Terror') showed the West that this fight cannot be won simply because radical Muslims offer to give back an Islamic self-esteem to people who had been humiliated for a long time. The 'clash of civilizations' which critics like Huntington consider to be a logical result from all this will therefore finally result in 'culture wars' between conservative or radical groups and liberal ones.[3]


[1] Forerunners of 9/11 novels introducing radical Islam and fundamentalism are Hanif Kureishi's Black Album (1995), My Beautiful Laundrette (1986), Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses (1988), V.S. Naipaul Among the Believers (1981). Today it is the large group of female Muslim writers such as Leila Aboudela, Fadia Faquir or Tahmima Anam who embedded radical Islam into their novels along with matters of emancipation.The literary output of novels after September11, 2001 is tremendous and multiple. Muslim and Western writers alike were and still aware of the vast use of 9/11 as a literary element. The list given here to the reader is incomplete, it does however throw light on the large number of writers who employed it into their works in a multiple way and different genres. All novels are listed up according to their year of publication: Mohsin Hamid Moth Smoke ( 2001), Monica Ali Brick Lane (2003), Nicholas Rinaldi Between Two Rivers (2004), Khaled Hosseini The Kite Runner (2004), Asne Seierstad The Bookseller of Kabul (2004) David Foster Wallace (2004) , Ian McEwan Saturday (2005), Bret Eaton Ellis Luna Park (2005), Dan Fespermann The Warlord's Son (2005), Benjamin Kunkel Indecision (2005), Salman Rushdie Shalimar the Clown (2005), Chris Adrian A Better Angel (2006), Robert Ferrigno Prayers for the Assassin (2006), David Llewellyn Eleven (2006), Jay McInerney The Good Life (2006), Joel C. Rosenberg The last Jihad (2006), Claire Messud The Emperor's Children (2006), Carolin See There will never be another you (2006), Jess Walter The Zero (2006), Helen Schuman A day at the beach (2007) , Martin Amis The Second Plane (2008), Nadeem Aslam The Wasted Vigil (2008), Andre Dubus III The Garden of Last Days (2008), H. Noavi's Home Boy (2008), Joseph O'Neill Netherland (2008),Salman Rushdie The Enchantress of Florence (2008), David Levithan Love is the Higher Law (2009), Kamila Shamsie Burnt Shadows ( 2009), Anna Perera Guantanamo Boy (2009), Jonathan Franzen Freedom (2010) , Don DeLillo Point Omega (2010), Amy Waldmann The S ubmission (2011), Thomas Pynchon Bleeding (2013), Nora Raleigh Baskia Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story (2016) , Gae Polisner The Memory of Things ( 2016). A special genre of 9/11 fiction are teenage books which use the teenage point of view to reflect this day and its consequences. The most important ones here are: Wendy Mills, All we have left (2016) , Nora Raleigh Baskin , Nine, Ten. A September 11 Story( 2016 ), Jewell Parker Rhodes, Towers Falling (2016) . It is of course also a complete genre of the novel - the detective story - which picked up 9/11 as the perfect narrative element. See e.g. Pynchon 's Bleeding Edge ( 2013).

[2] The talk here is about another important element of migrant writing which lies in the presentation of the diasporic cultural and religious identity which seems to focus itself out as the key element of Muslim writing as the literary form to reflect Muslim hybrid existence which includes a kind of identity 9/11 reflected, namely resistance identity as the form of modern Muslim existence in the West. Postcolonial writing in the past has been marked by concepts of exile, exodus, trauma migration, immigration, assimilation, ghetto, diaspora or globalization all of which together formed the 'migrant condition' (see Edwards 2008). Since 9/11, however, this 'migrant condition' has been added up to religious fundamentalism which radicalized it in many ways while newly stressing Muslim identity with the result of distinguishing between Muslim and non Muslim identity as such.

[3] Representation of the 'Other' is one central topic of Postcolonial Studies part of which is Islamic writing since they are both constructed. Spivak and Said as the most important critics of this field see this, too. Spivak, e.g. here demands a 'persistent critique' in order to simply avoid the 'Other' as an object of knowledge. Said also permanently states that representation can never be truly objective. These basic concepts clearly came out between 2001 and 2007 when many narratives on 9/11 were produced in which Islam and Islamic fundamentalism were directly or indirectly presented or referred to in post -9/11 English novels thus proving that Islam has gained a fixed place in contemporary writing.

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The Influence of the 9/11 novel on Muslim Writing
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
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September 11 2001, Muslim writing, 9/11 novel, post-9/11 novel, East - West, Other - Otherness
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Dr. Matthias Dickert (Author), 2017, The Influence of the 9/11 novel on Muslim Writing, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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