“Focus on the Fundamentals” – a Critical Response to the Reluctant Fundamentalist Essay

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Like the novel’s narrator, not everything in Moshin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist is as it appears on the surface. It is the story of one man’s journey to self discovery and the need for acceptance, but set during the immediate years proceeding and succeeding 9/11, it becomes a novel that confronts the reader’s own assumptions about Islamic countries, Islamic people and the United States role in the world. Changez is Hamid’s conduct to explore the complexities of East-West relations and it is through his relationships with characters (or perhaps caricatures) such as Erica, Jim and Wainwright that the reader comes to realise their own perceptions of Changez are governed by their own beliefs about the nature of fundamentalism. The title itself invites an immediate questions: to what extent is this “lover of America” actually reluctant? The immediate assumption of Western reader is to see Changez as some sort of terrorist sympathizer. Changez himself notes this of his American guest, assuming that he is “frightened of my beard” and tries to ease his fears. If he is, as one assumes, an Islamic extremist (the most common post-9/11 connotation of ‘fundamentalist’) then he ought to reveal this over the course of his monologue. He provides clues; he advocates an active “disengagement” from America as he realizes he is a “slave to the American empire”, he taunts the American by mocking his reaction to darkness as being that of “a mouse under the watch of a hawk.” One of his students has even been arrested for pursing an Anti-American agenda. From the Pakistani viewpoint there is no firm evidence that he is a terrorist but lots of hints for a reader’s own misconceptions to be encouraged and perhaps justified. Erica’s father reflects this cultural bias father when he bluntly tells Changez that Pakistan has “a serious problem with fundamentalism” but is unable to

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