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This essay analyses North America’s foreign relations with the Middle East before and after the 9/11 attacks in Moshin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. This is inherently depicted in personal and professional relations. Namely, the plotline focuses on the life of Changez, a Pakistani immigrant that portrays an ‘Islamic elite’ dwelling in the US. Following the 9/11 attacks, a growing wave of Islamophobia will emerge, tearing apart Changez’s accommodated American lifestyle. Much of this detriment is conveyed by means of Changez’s relationship with other characters, especially with Erica (Changez’s love interest), a troubled young woman. Erica’s character is a symbol for the American nation.1
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The novel’s title The Reluctant Fundamentalist is quite significant for its contradictory meaning. It somehow stands for the radical actions carried out by the American government to prevail national security after the 9/11 attacks. The story follows the life of Changez (a Pakistani man living in the United States). He is the embodiment of the upper class immigrants. He studied at Princeton and worked as an analyst for Underwood Samson & Company. The company’s motto: “Focus on the Fundamentals” 2 (which is also an allusion to a short story written by Moshin Hamid), is connected with the nostalgia the Americans were succumbed by after the events of 9/11. Simultaneously, Changez struggles to understand his ‘fundamental identity’. All this American nostalgia turns into a ‘fundamentalist’ attempt to prevail national security. This lead them to commit inhumane practices such as torture in order to extract information from presumed terrorists. These procedures have always been controversial for its lack of principles but nearly two thirds of the US populations have, at one point, supported the like practices if those happen to thwart a terrorist attack3. Films like the Unthinkable, by Gregor Jordan4, criticises the validity of these reactionary measures by displaying the torture of an American born terrorist who converted to Islam and threatened to detonate 3 bombs in the U.S. The theme of the film emphasises the determination of two subjects: Yusuf (an American born terrorist) and H (an American officer). Like in the book, the Unthinkable presents an encounter between two different cultures5. But as opposed to Hamid’s novel, the film showcases an aggressive and violent atmosphere making viewers to question if the ends justify the means. The initial dialogue in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, is also a talk between two cultures, an encounter where West meets East. The setting is placed in Pakistan, Changez’s homeland, what makes him feel more self-confident. The American notoriously remains fidgety during Changez’s whole speech. In a way, he seems to be assessing the veracity of Changez's words. As the plot moves forward, Changez accounts, in detail for his life lessons as an immigrant in New York. The reason why he decides to do so is unclear. But expressions such as: “I am a lover of America” (Hamid, 7) suggests he might have looked for his companion’s understanding and sympathy. In another sense, the quotation endeavours to destroy the abysmal distance between both of them. Yet, Changez explicitly criticises the US political interventions in the Middle East, perhaps in the hope of making the American argue, not only on the US ‘fundamentalist’ measures but also on the stereotypes Americans have consolidated (Afghanistan, Pakistan to mention just a few) on people from the Middle East. In this regard, Changez’s concludes: “I assure you. 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.” (Hamid, 183).
Changez’s love life in America is one of the most meaningful aspects in the story. The element that makes this element so significant is the figure of Erica, a young American woman characterised by a troubling self that impedes her to commit emotionally with Changez. Erica’s mental health is something to make allowance of in order to understand the development of the plotline. Undoubtedly, Erica is the plot’s most complex character and betokens the role of America in socio-political contexts. Actually, the name Erica is embedded within the word America, which hints there is an interconnection between the two. Like North America, land where the popular American Dream emerges, Erica is defined as a having a magnetising attraction that avoids her fearsome solitude: “She had told me that she hated to be alone, and I came to notice that she rarely was. She attracted people to her; she had presence, an uncommon magnetism” (Hamid, 21). This is done on purpose; the author shows by means of that the image America attempts to foster internationally. Yet, differently to what it actually happens both in the book and in reality, Erica is a troubled young woman incapable to get over the death of her former boyfriend, Chris. The latter is the reason why Erica and Changez’s relationship is doomed to fail from the very beginning. In relation to this, such sense of loneliness is rendered in a political context as international isolation, which is something that North America, as the great one nation that attempts to project worldwide, fears considerably.
Chris (Erica’s old-time boyfriend) is a short name for Christian (follower of Christ) and so, referring Chris as Erica’s ‘home’ (Hamid, 32) hints America’s preference for its original Christian background rather than the exoticness coming from elsewhere. This is emphasised by means of Erica's obsession with Chris, which metaphorically impedes Changez to accommodate completely. In other words, Changez can dwell as an American citizen but he will never be one. This presumption reinforces a symbolic allusion, by means of the characters and their relationships, of the deteriorated relations between the United States and the Middle East. In fact, Erica initially admires Changez’s politeness and considered him to be different, exotic: “well- liked as an exotic acquaintance” (Hamid, 17). The saddest of it all is that Changez virtually knows it, but he is hopeful to win her over. This entails Changez is just an exotic outsider determined to win Erica’s heart when he is nothing but the shadow of Chris. This turns upside down all his attempts of winning Erica’s love as she will never see him the way he wants her to. Subsequently, he faces the afore assertion in “she was in love with someone else. It did not matter that the person Erica was in love with was (…) deceased; for Erica he was alive enough, and that was the problem” (Hamid, 133). Relating to that, America will always lay under a cloud of suspicion when it comes to foreign affairs with the Middle East. An example of this latter is the awkward and mostly one-sided conversation between Changez and the American stranger at a café in Lahore, where the unnamed American shows himself uncomfortable and uneasy, suspecting about nothing and everything at the same time.
1 Hamid, Mohsin. The Reluctant Fundamentalist. London: Penguin, 2007. Print.
2 Waterman, David. "“Focus on the Fundamentals”: Personal and Political Identity in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist." “Focus on the Fundamentals”: Personal and Political Identity in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 15 Dec. 2016
3 "Exclusive: Most Americans Support Torture against Terror Suspects." Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 30 Mar. 2016. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.
4 Clarín, Pablo O. Scholz: Diario, Fernando López: Diario La Nación, and Hugo F. Sánchez: Diario Tiempo Argentino. "Amenazados (2010)." FilmAffinity. N/d, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.
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