Omar El Akkad's "American War". A Child's Perspective on War

Scientific Essay, 2018

67 Pages


Table of Contents:

I. Abstract

II. Introduction

III. American and English War Literature - a short Introduction

V. Literary Background of American War
1. The American South
2. The Orphan in Literature
3. The Presentation of War and Children

VI. American War – Close Analysis

VII. Sarat - hero or anti-hero?

VIII. Conclusion

IX. Outlook

X. Bibliography

I. Abstract

The incorporation of war into English speaking literature has a long tradition since wars as such form ideal literacy backgrounds for plot, character development or political criticism.

In times of civil uproar, political insecurity, outer enemies or ongoing wars this use of war as a literary means has always increased. This is recently perhaps best shown by the events of 9/11. They have not only taken American literature out from its long involvement in local matters such as family, village or town but pushed it into new directions which formed completely new types of novels such as the 9/11 novel, the post-9/11 novel or Ground Zero Fiction where war gained a new dimension which was so different from war literature of the First World War, the Second World War or the Vietnam War.

In most cases this literary coverage of 9/11 has mostly remained in American families or matters of 'home' and it lacked an appropriate coverage of the Muslim side and it is here where the novel analyzed here steps in.

Omar EI Akkad's novel American War (2017) exactly fits in this background not only because it is written by an author originating from a Muslim background it also brings the topic war back to America to discuss it here.[1] This is new and radical in the sense that readers suddenly are confronted with problems such as war, terrorism, suicide bombers or chemical warfare which so far have been placed on foreign battlegrounds.

It is now the USA which is used to discuss matters which were formerly used under American Presidents with slogans such as 'Crusade' or 'Holy War'.

Omar El Akkad thus combines two main trends of Muslim writing which are characterized by bringing the narration into the West or by taking it back into the former colonies. By choosing a civil war as the background for his novel El Akkad mixes both trends while importing terror back to the USA which is to blame for it.

American War is a novel which contains several elements thus being an important representative of contemporary English speaking literature.

In parts it is speculative fiction, it disposes of a dystopian setting and it reflects natural catastrophes like environment pollution or biological warfare which the author places in an American background marked by a civil war emerging from the present status quo of the USA which he historically includes. The reader is reminded of Atwood's novel Oryx and Crake (2003) not only from the stylistic point of view but also from the political message both books contain.

II. Introduction

From their early beginnings all national literatures have been accompanied by war as a literary topic simply because war had been part of human and national existence and was thus logically followed by literary reactions.

One can prove this with the early Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek or Roman sources (Homer's Ilias, Tacitus ' Bellum Gallicum), as well as many Asian writings (e.g. Sunzi The Way of War).

The literary energy of which war disposed down the years became a fixed and constant companion of national literatures and has never lost its grip on literature. In short war, descriptions of battles lost or won, destruction or death soon gained a central literary position since they could not only be used for political aims but also for character analysis or the plot.

A change of the treatment of war matters did, however, set in after World War I since its warfare were followed by new literary developments such a existentialism, modernism or the importance of psychology on character development.

Suddenly it was not the heroic battle which was at the centre of narration but death, loss and trauma which again were shown as ordinary and not as something special.

Williams (2009) here talks about a literary presentation which can be described as a 'postChristian version of Dante '.

The wars that followed World War I (World War II, the Vietnam War, the Civil War in Ireland etc.) can be seen as logical consequences of this new trend, a change, however, did set in after the terror attacks of 9/11.

The destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 created new genres which suddenly treated war in a more radical way. The 9/11 Novel, the post-9/11 Novel and Ground Zero Fiction often did not explicitly and directly discuss war as a literary matter but accompanied it with reflection of loss, trauma or mourning time.

For the last seventeen years this treatment was in the hands of Western writers such as Lynne Sharon Schwartz , The Writing on the Wall (2005) , Jess Walter , The Zero (2005), Joseph O'Neill, Netherland (2008), Don DeLillo Falling Man (2008) or David Hare Vertical Hour (2008). This - let me call it - Western perspective on 9/11 (and thus war) was only slowly broken up by Muslim writers (writers who live and write in the West but dispose of a Muslim background) who brought in their perspective.

In the past Muslim characters were widely presented in a negative way and thus made way for a new and other radical form which can be summed up in the notion of 'other'. The differences and various forms of otherness emerging from this resulted in Muslims as being anti-Western, anti-female, radical or terrorists. Contemporary English speaking literature has only slowly begun to reject these negative descriptions and - in many cases at least - it was mostly writers disposing of a Muslim background who offered a more positive concept of Muslim characters who are above all humans. The need for a new form of ethics of literature resulting from this stood for literature's potential engagement with questions of difference, strangeness or otherness simply because 9/11 has failed to bring it back into novels. Indeed, literature since that date has not left ''the preliminary stages of trauma" (Rothberg 2009: 152). This is partly due to the fact that many novelists stuck to this fixed date (9/11) or a fixed location (Ground Zero) from which they unfolded their stories only to constantly return to them.[2]

The post-9/11 novel to which American War belongs has somehow gone away from stable literary presuppositions to discuss the public and the intimate on a national scale while using the American South as a literary platform. It is here where El Akkad makes use of what Gray (2008) in his work Open Doors, Closed Minds: American Prose at a Time of Crisis calls 'emotional entanglements' which seem to be so typical for the post-9/11 Novel and which he discusses with central matters of identity, citizenship, territory or border. It is exactly at this crossroad where American War reflects political concepts or ideas set in the realm of the sacred and the profane and where the notion of the enemy gains a new dimension (see Updike's novel Terrorist, 2006).[3]

Terror which keeps the narration together is shown as a complex and multifacted term. It is normally connected to the realm of the political and it equals physical force or achieving political aims, both contents of this novel. El Akkad here sticks to the historic concept of terror where it is seen as a process from above to below, i.e. from governments and their representatives to the individual. He does this in the character of Sarat's mentor Gaines and the fact that America as a nation is lawless. America in American War resembles nations in the face of The First World War, Faschism, Communism, The Second World War, the Holocaust, 9/11 or Islamic fundamentalism. It is indeed this inability of state order which reminds the reader of the fact that the years from 1914-1945 resemble the 30 year war in Europe (1618- 1648) and the actual wars in Syria and Iraq where laws and the state have simply stopped to exist.

Terror - and this is another idea of the novel - destroys identities, breaks biographies and poses many burdens for upcoming generations. It traumatizes and leads to an inability to transform the experience into a narration. In fact terror normally produces silence and helplessness and it was 9/11 which so far has turned out to be a (negative) highlight of both since the terror attacks of that day symbolized and started a new type of terror of which El Akkad warns. The world since then is confronted with a new form of terror, the irregular led war which embodies so many inhuman options (such as water bording or psychological torture) all of which can be found in the novel.

El Akkad must be ranked among those contemporary writers dealing with terror although his novel American War already goes away from a critical reflection of 9/11 to return to war in the classical sense. He does so while linking war with traditional elements such as the American South or orphans and war which he places in an America of the future. The result is a mix between traditional elements of war literature and actual national and global political developments which make the reader reflect war in a new and more radical light.

III. American and English War Literature - a short Introduction

Since their early beginnings English and American literatures were influenced and shaped by war as a central element of narration. The first literary highlights following historical examples of writing appeared in the l5th and l6th centuries and have to be connected to authors such as Christopher Marlowe Tambourlaine the Great (1588) or William Shakespeare the latter dealing with war in a vast number of his works (e.g. Macbeth, 1588).

Although matters of war were mostly connected to character development or to push the action it was works like The Unfortunate Traveller (1594) written by Thomas Nashe who first used war as fixed element of the narration. Although English speaking literature developed its own use of war as a mode of narration it was novels such as Grimmelshausen's Simplicissimus (1668) which showed the full range of war on people's development and which paved the way for topics such as orphans and war or trauma and war which have stayed essential parts of war literature until today.

Down the years, however, matters of war were closely attached to the plot and mostly used on a secondary level. The novel as the form of narrative of the l8th, l9th and 20th century did not yet treat war in an independent form of the novel, such as the war novel.

It was the terror of the First and the Second World War which first used poetry and then the novel to deal with war. War Poets such as Owen or Sassoon paved the way for many authors to come for whom war became a central matter of writing. Fighting, dying, terror and trauma were suddenly also picked up by many different groups of writers coming England's former colonies such as Australia, New Zealand or Canada, the latter forming an interesting group. It was here the Canadian group of writers such as Timothy Findely (The Wars, 1977), Robert McNeil (Burden of Desire, 1992) or Joseph Boyden, (Three Day Road, 2005) who have kept war as a topic alive in Canadian lit.

A closer presentation of war must, however, been seen in the events of 1914-1918 since the literary description of World War I started a dealing with matters related to war unknown so far. It was -strictly speaking- the group of the 'War Poets' around writers like Owen, Graves, Gurney, Rosenberg or Sassoon who revolutionized war as a literary topic. Authors like Hemingway, Miller, Orwell, Huxley or Vonnegut also embedded war into the novel and installed the war novel as a fixed literary genre. Another group of war poets also developed in Australia (Leon Gellert) or John McCrae and Robert W. Service (Canada). It was the merit of these 'War Poets' to describe war and its terrors as a personal experience and as an individual protest which were now discussed in society. The radical consequence emerging from here meant a loss of all kinds of romanticism or any idealisation of war and went along with a protest which could also be embedded in new literary concepts such as modernism whose impact is now seen as “impressive” (Haslam, 2013: 47).

War here was often fought away from the mother country and it was the task of writers from East and West to import matters of war into the mother country after 9/11. The results were new forms of novels such as the 9/11 Novel, the post-9/11 Novel or Ground Zero Fiction which suddenly discussed matters of war not only on a local or domestic scene but rather on a global one as well.[4]

On the whole the dealing with war or trauma during the 20th century must not be seen as an isolated phenomenon but rather as a dealing of war as a response to actual topics such as the terror attacks of 9/11.

9/11 stands for a radical break with the traditional dealing with war which had been influenced by writers such as Kipling. Kipling himself was a radical defender of the Empire and war for him was some sort of adventure or "military romanticism" (Höglund, 1997: 83 ) which glorified war in British colonies as "little wars" (ibid: 84).

War for Kipling or authors such as Haggard, Hamilton-Browne, A.E.W. Mason or even Joyce Cary was a necessary consequence of Great Britain's imperial power and thus a logical continuation of sports events such as cricket or rugby attached to some heroic attitude. Critics here differ between two types of novels, the colonial novel and the invasion novel. Both can, however, be traced back to the movement of social Darwinism which includes a (seeming) superiority of the white race, culture and religion.[5]

It was this stereotyped, short–sighted and dangerous concept of war which made many young people join the First World War where they died in the trenches or due to horrible mutilations of body and soul.

This (negative) attitude to war is also seen by Richards (1989) when he states on the moral responsibility of these authors that "... it was saturation in the literature and imagery of militarism over several decades that helped prepare the youth of England for enthusiastic participation in World War I" (ibid.: 81).

Isolation, loss, death or trauma suddenly obtained key roles in war literature and it was the psychological background of these matters which created a new approach to war itself. The breaking away from this idealisation and romanticism of war went along with protest and a literary provocation which was “impressive” (Haslam, 2013: 47).

It was Freud, Bataille, Guattari or Hardt/ Negri who had a tremendous influence here. The most sophisticated and radical form can here be seen in Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5 (1969) which must, however, be related to the time when the book was written (Hippie movement, anti-war attitude in America due to the Vietnam War etc.).

It was especially the treatment with trauma and trauma time which set in here and which had its renaissance in the 9/11 Novel and the post-9/11 Novel.[6]

Down the years, however, this psychological dimension made way for a new approach on war which suddenly discussed the complicated relationship between war and society something familiar since Hobbes' Leviathan (1651) or Kant's work.[7] [8]

The twentieth century on the whole can be seen as a century of war, new technical inventions which changed warfare and radical geopolitical changes pushed forward by the forces of globalisation which suddenly produced a completely new type of authors.

It was writers with a colonial background which suddenly added their point of view to war and the most influential one at present are writers disposing of a Muslim background.

Novels by Leila Abouleila, Tahmima Anam, Nadeem Aslam, Fadia Faquir, Mohsin Hamid or Khaled Hosseini suddenly discussed matters of war from their (Muslim) point of view thus reflecting war differently than their Western counterparts. They did so while presenting war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, lraq, Bangladesh or Sudan next to the mothercountry England or even America.

Almost all major wars led by America or Great Britain in the 19th and 20th century engendered widespread literary and imaginative responses from British and US writers. This also includes the Boer War, the Spanish Civil War, the Troubles in Northern Island, the Korean War, the Vietnam trauma and the many civil wars in Africa or Europe.

The focus of English speaking literature on the Two World Wars since the 1990s has somehow revolutionised the ways modern literature, cultural studies and historicist methodologies have impacted on both kinds of literature, the British and the American. The current international military engagements such as the Gulf Wars, the war in Iraq, the civil war in Syria or the 'War on Terror' emerging from the terrorist attacks of 9/11 also stand for this ongoing and significant interest in the wars of the 20th and 21st century and their effects on culture, politics and literature.

The choice to depict war in the future and to place it in an American background can be seen as a radical continuation of war literature since it also goes away from the traditional basis of decolonising conflicts. There is, however, also a positive energy in wars which is often neglected by authors and critics alike. The talk is about war being a motor pushing politics, economy and culture.[9] War in literature also deals with matters of imagination when writers, main characters and reader alike describe or experience nightmares in trenches, death camps, torture situations, nuclear warfare or - in the case of American War - civil war and biological warfare.

The terror attacks of September 11, 2001 have changed and sharpened war literature and modernised classical war topics such as trauma, mourning or revenge. Some of the most important novels in the aftermath of that day after Paul West's The Immensity of the Here and Now: A Novel of 9/11 (2003), Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005) or Don DeLillo's Falling Man (2007).

American War can be seen as a follower of the post-9/11 Novel since it picks up some central ideas such as an ongoing war, terror or sacrifice which all become a basis for bringing people together and invest them all in further sacrifices thus making war a never ending event. Sarat, the novel's character is never free and she symbolizes which critics like Mishra describe as 'die Wut auf die Moderne' which emerges from the gap between the majority of a country and its elitist thinking leaders. The gap within American society which results in a war between brother and brother is a logical result from this. Sarah Chestnut is a victim of this development and she breaks with traditional value systems of society such as respect and she decides to choose war as her reaction to this. Being emotionally and socially uprooted she despises religious and other traditions thus showing that American society of North and South have lost their spiritual basis. The 'Civil War' depicted in the novel is a logical result from this and at first glance a war fought between two ethnic nations which in the past were one. The principle of this war also follows the traditional consequence of all wars which lies in a control of power and in the statement that the winner takes it all thus showing the North as the seemingly glorious winner. The fact that El Akkad gives a new interpretation of the historical American Civil War (1861-1865) is a reminder of the fact that it was this war where more Americans died than in all other wars to follow and that is might return when a society is lead by politicians who prefer to split society rather than to unite it.

IV. The Influence of the 9/11 Novel on Muslim Writing

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.[10]

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.[11]

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. 9/11 according to Grimes (2006) defines the postcolonial terms 'Us' and 'Them' in a new and radical way (ibid.:218). It is against this background that fiction of writers with a 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 The 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.[12]

Within the very short timespan of seventeen 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 since 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 Islamic elements which have created this new radical quality.[13] 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 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.[14] 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.[15]

This 'clash of civilizations' is based on one - if not the most central background - of postcolonial writing. The talk here is about the migrant background of most characters which results in the migrancy trope which most novels belonging to Muslim writing construct. Migrancy here is often experienced as a personal trauma which is set in relation to the wish of belonging. It is in this constellation that the Western surrounding (state, culture, people etc.) in the final analysis cannot be regarded to be a safe haven or an anchor for the immigrant as such. Many novels here seem to follow Boehmer's (1995) notion of the 'postcolonial migrant' who faces a 'national and historical rootlessness' which is stressed by political short-sightedness and cynicism. It is again the above mentioned political side of many pre-9/11 and post-9/11 novels which is rooted in the historical background of these novels which itself lies in the effort of former colonies to de-colonize in order to find a new nationhood. It is interesting to see that Islam and Islamic fundamentalism are hereby both offered as personal options of a new identity. This creates an objective and personal level in most novels which is set against the struggle of nation (or Islam) to escape from all kinds of Western domination in order to free oneself. Muslim characters are here described as individuals who want to escape their hybrid condition and the fact that their migration process includes something which Nünning (2001; 2007) describe as 'cross-fertilization'.

Another - also important - aspect many novels written in the aftermath of 9/11 include, covers, however, a more positive side. Next to the national and personal struggle to find a political, individual, cultural and religious identity in life it is the presentation of today's world which is globalized, transnational, multiracial and hybrid thus offering many positive connotations and options which only need to be taken up (e.g. matters of female emancipation).[16] The employment of Islam here is yet often restricted to being an alternative (in the sense of the above mentioned resistant one) but this simply lies in the structure of Islam to not being able to open itself to a secularized world. But this is often done on purpose and results in a literary tension which is expressed in the already mentioned wish of belonging.

This literary tension is not only created by the concept of a backward - orientated and radical Islam it is also created by a ''war on terror" (Boehmer 1995 (2005): 145) which proves to the reader that terror is all over and that the terror of today also accompanies present cross-cultural and cross-religious encounters.

The clash between Islam and the West which finally found its (negative) climax in 9/11 and its after-effects on the personal, cultural, religious and political level of Muslims involved is mostly prepared by a general absence, an up-rootedness or outsider position of most Muslim characters whose (seemingly) happy and successful life is finally ruined by the attacks of this date. These after-effects of 9/11 are prepared by the narrative which mostly reflects the outer and/or inner absence of the migrant as such which in the final analysis is stronger and deeper than the mere effects of this day. There is thus a difference between an absence before and after September 11, 2001 which finds its preliminary horrific example on this day. Most Muslim characters themselves must therefore be seen as victims, too. They are victims not only of Islamic terror which stems from their own cultural and religious background they are also victims of civilization and its cultural discourses, political debates and the 'War on Terror' unleashed by the American administration under President Bush. One result from this was and is a presentation and criticism of post-9/11 US nationalism marked by xenophobia and a militant Islam which is no better since both stress the traditional postcolonial concept of 'Them and Us'. The effect in the last seventeen years has been a new sensitivity of the so called 'migrant condition' and concepts of 'otherness' that must be put in a post-9/11 paradigm which taken together all stress the changes that came along post-9/11 reality. One result from most novels dealing with 9/11 lies in the participation of the growing debate in the West as to the true nature of jihad and (political and religious) concepts of violence.


[1] In the following American War will be shortened by AW

[2] The Indian writer Pankaj Mishra expressed his disappointment of US writers in the Guardian in 2007 who for him have retreated 'to the domestic life ' and since then have struggled 'to define (the) cultural otherness' of Islam and Muslims. Rothberg (2009) fully agrees here when he says that fiction of 9/11 basically demonstrates a failure of the imagination.

[3] The Bush government generated Orwell's and Huxley's literary idea of a 'War on Terror', a 'coalition of the willing', an 'enhanced interrogation', the notion of a 'primitive war' or 'homeland security' along new concepts of terms such as border, state control, surveillance and torture (which are also discussed in AW). This all has reshaped America's political discussion during the last fifteen years and widened the divide" between Red and Blues states" (Duvall/Marzec, 2011: 381) which was picked up by El Akkad as the main conflict in AW.

[4] War re-defines what home is, it takes families' adaptability. American War does the same and poses the question if ghetto life, refugee camps, internal camps, barracks, the membership to a terrorist organisation or the status of an unlawful combatant can stand for what home means.

[5] Any criticism of this only set in after World War II and must be related to the dissolution of the Empire (see works of Conrad, Fanon, Said, Achebe).

[6] Most theories of trauma take their cue from Freud and focus on the compulsion to repeat the experience of the original traumatic event as both a source of the malady and possible road to recovery.

[7] See Hobbes (Leviathan 1651), Kant (Perpetual Peace 1795), Clausewitz (About War 1832), Freud (Totem and Taboo, 1913), Deleuze/Guattari (A Thousand Plateaus 1980), Shaw (The New Western Way of War 2005).

[8] Trumpener (2013) here states: "Great War literature, Montgomery insists, is apocalyptic and visionary, rather than comforting, describing the reconsecration, then breaking of the domestic world" (ibid.: 501) .

[9] Trumpener (2013) says: “Women modernists ... often found world war personally liberating, opening male occupations, opportunities for self-realisation” (ibid.: 501).

[10] Novelists incorporating the terror attacks on the Twin Towers into their works often deal - according to Hartnell, (2015) with "the complexities of the relations between Islam and the United States in the wake of 9/l l" (ibid.: 217).

[11] It is 9/11 literature which leads literature back to the First World War where Wilfried Owen"stressed the dependency of his reworking of elegiac commonplaces under the pressure of trench warfare and its horrors" (Körber – Synder (2010: 475)with the interpersonal relation between I and you. El Akkad does exactly use this interpersonal when he - like Siri Hustvedt suggests - makes use of her idea that '9/11 could only be understood through individual people of one man's or one woman's or one child's suffering and loss '. His choice for a young girl and teenager as the main character supports Hustvedt' s idea.

[12] 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 Submission (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).

[13] 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.

[14] It is 9/11 literature which leads literature back to the First World War where Wilfried Owen "stressed the dependency of his reworking of elegiac commonplaces under the pressure of trench warfare and its horrors" (Körber – Synder (2010: 475)with the interpersonal relation between I and you.

[15] 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.

[16] Safety and security have become essential elements of contemporary narration because according to Duvall/ Marzec (2011) " .. security in the post- 9/ 11 era has become not only a fundamental paradigm of order, but also, and perhaps more importantly a diffuse and not easily traceable phenomenon" (ibid.: 7).

Excerpt out of 67 pages


Omar El Akkad's "American War". A Child's Perspective on War
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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War literature, Muslim Writing, Children in War, 9/11 Novel
Quote paper
Dr. Matthias Dickert (Author), 2018, Omar El Akkad's "American War". A Child's Perspective on War, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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