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5) Analyses in:

Nina Liewald

Initiating a Dialogue Through 'the Global Community on your Bookshelf', page 143 - 304

Narrative Representations of 'Islamic Fundamentalism' in Selected Novels from the 1990s to the Present

1. Edition 2018, ISBN print: 978-3-8288-4072-0, ISBN online: 978-3-8288-6902-8, https://doi.org/10.5771/9783828869028-143

Series: Wissenschaftliche Beiträge aus dem Tectum Verlag: Anglistik, vol. 8

Tectum, Baden-Baden
Bibliographic information
Analyses ‘Soldiers of the truth’114 and ‘Fantasy Finance’115: Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December and the different guises of fundamentalism A Week in December (WID) gives us a glimpse into the perspectives of seven major and some minor characters, struggling with their lives in contemporary London. Witnessing ‘a week in December’ 2007 through the eyes of diverse characters gives the readers a glimpse into the complex mosaic of contemporary worldviews represented in global cities. The novel starts in medias res with the description of the specific actions undertaken by the main characters on December 16. The reader does not get a block exposition, but is introduced to the different characters and settings by smaller, highly informative passages and frequent changes of perspective, until the main protagonists are described. We get acquainted with a wide range of characters, the most important of which shall be sketched briefly to facilitate orientation: Gabriel Northwood is a mid-thirties barrister and civil law practitioner from Chelsea, who always seems to be short of money. He tries to grapple with the Koran in order to defend a local education authority being sued by a Muslim family for not allowing their daughter to wear her traditional dress at school. After work, he regularly visits his schizophrenic brother Adam, who has been living in the ward of Glendale hospital for the last five years. Furthermore, he spends the week doing research to prove the innocence of a public transport provider in a case of a suicide attempt in which the parents of the injured person claimed negligence in the provision of safety precautions. In this context, he meets the tube driver Jenni Fortune and falls in love with her. Jenni Fortune is a very sensitive, shy and insecure woman who loves her job as a tube driver, although it does not enable her to tap into her full potential. Having been raised by a single mother (her father from Trinidad left the family when she was eight months old) who “had barely owned a book and had been suspicious of Jenni’s reading habits” (WID 4), Jenni grew up in a working-class environment in which high aspirations seemed to be out of the question. Good-heartedly, she cares for her unemployed half-brother Tony, who is a lazy ‘sponger’ and does not contribute much to her happiness. Nevertheless, she seems satisfied with her life even though it smacks of loneliness and monotony. Jenni enjoys her daily routine and is searching for a change from her life in her books and games of virtual reality from which only Gabriel awakens her. 5) 5.1) 114 WID 345. 115 WID 184. 143 John Veals is clearly one of the most fascinating characters of Faulks’ novel. Not only because of the fact that his perspective takes up much space, but also because of his position as a hedge-fund manager juggling with sums of money that are unimaginable for most people. He is sharp, ascetic, confident and successful, since he knows every ruse in his business. Yet, he is also strangely colourless and dispassionate for everything apart from his job: He has no hobbies or free-time, and neither cares much about his family, nor about the ramifications of his actions on a higher level. We are introduced into a seemingly totally rational world in which everything is target-oriented. However, Faulks describes this rational world as a ‘parallel society’ that is highly debatable on moral grounds. International finance seems to have lost touch with the lives and problems of real people and the enormous ramifications of its unscrupulous actions for thousands of people worldwide. Finbar Veals, John’s fifteen-year-old son, elucidates the downturns of his father’s life in the private sphere. Used to a lack of parental restrictions and rules and nearly unlimited access to money and luxury goods, his life seems empty and devoid of any aims and teenage dreams. Addicted to reality TV, junk food and marihuana he has apparently lost all interest in his family, hobbies, school, girls, sports or any other activities and topics that normally affect the daily life of fifteen-year-olds. At the end of the week, he ends up in hospital with a severe psychotic attack, resulting from his uncontrolled drug consumption. 22-year-old Hassan al-Rashid is the son of the chutney magnate Farooq al- Rashid, who migrated from Pakistan in 1967 to work in the textile mills of Bradford, and finally built up his own company with a lot of diligence, passion and hard work. Despite his good education and comfortable upper-middle class life, Hassan finds himself increasingly disillusioned with life and public moral in London. After being a dedicated leftist student activist for some time, he has now found guidance in the company and instruction of the Islamist group Husam Nar (Burning Sword). In his search for purity and truth, he studies the teachings of Sayyid Qutb and prepares himself for a terrorist operation, in which he is supposed to install bombs in a hospital. His inner struggle to embrace and finally reject terrorism is ironically counteracted by his father’s appointment as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) at Buckingham Palace the same week. Ralph Tranter, a professional book-reviewer, shows himself from his most misanthropic and nihilistic side. He is described as “a connoisseur of disappointment, a voluptuary of disgrace” (WID 30). Profiting from the ‘chic’ of reading circles and the deterioration of the English educational system, he earns his living with moderating book-club discussions for rich, bored housewives and with correcting grammar and syntax mistakes in school reports. Constantly searching for ways to discredit his much-hated but incredibly talented, young and praised competitor Alexander Sedley, Tranter shuns no lies and efforts to achieve his goal. Spike Borowski, a Polish footballer, now plays with a London club. He completed a university degree in economics and politics before taking up football professionally and is a very eager student of languages. Spike just starts to settle into London society 5) Analyses 144 and is very attached to his Russian girlfriend Olya, who hides her past as a nude model for cheap web pages. All of these diverse characters are connected to alternating plot lines. These plot lines at times intersect and in the end converge at a dinner party to which all characters are invited. The novel is an ulterior or subsequent narration that spans the relatively short time-frame of one week, presented on approximately 550 pages. Accordingly, the textual pace is rather slow and the story time restricted to a short episode in the lives of the characters, as it is common for a ‘slice of life novel’. Every chapter corresponds to one day and gradually builds up an arc of suspense towards the end of the week with its culminating events. There is no information about the narrator’s temporal relation towards the plot. The novel is chronological but multilinear, which involves the use of simullepses: Events that happen at the same time in different places have to be narrated one after the other. A Week in December features a heterodiegetic narrator that is not bound to his own subjective point of view since he116 is, as an extradiegetic entity, not involved in the story. On the whole, the novel is a very polyphonic text, which contains a wide range of characterial voices that create tension by forming contrasting relations. All of the above-mentioned characters serve as focalisers in Faulks’ novel and therewith illuminate contrasting lifestyles, world-views and values. The most salient contrast is visible between the characters of John Veals and Hassan al-Rashid. Their plot lines do not cross and their lifestyle and perception of reality could not be more different, as I am going to outline in more detail in this chapter. Furthermore, it is interesting to analyse the relationships of contrast and correspondence between the two adolescent protagonists, Hassan and Finbar, who choose such different ways to cope with their coming of age and their teenage search for identity and belonging. The representation of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ Before analysing narrative techniques and embedding Faulks’ work in a larger political and literary context, an interesting starting point would be to examine the content of the novel to understand which form of fundamentalism is depicted and in which way. A Week in December deals with the jihadist variety of Islamic fundamentalism. Faulks employs the picture of a fictitious fundamentalist group that attracts Hassan’s attention and gains his trust and loyalty. Its leader tries to convince the young protagonist to carry out a suicide attack and plant a bomb in a London hospital. The jihadist group Husam Nar carries all ideological and organisational characteristics of fundamentalism that have been delineated by the Fundamentalism Project, summarised in the first chapters. The group is described as reacting to the marginalisation of religion, employs moral dichotomies, draws sharp boundaries, is based on a leader-follower organisation and underlines the absolutism and inerrancy of its own belief, to men- 5.1.1) 116 Without confusing author and narrator, I will employ Lanser’s rule, according to which the personal pronoun appropriate to the author’s sex is employed if the narrator’s sex cannot be determined. 5.1) Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December 145 tion but a few characteristics. However, other elements typical of Islamic fundamentalism are not described in detail. Behavioural requirements (such as dress, rituals, etc.) as well as a political vision or a specific theology are left vague by the novel. This conveys the impression that purely religious or ideological questions are not of primary importance for the novel’s message and suggests that the Islamic fundamentalist group is outlined in rather generic terms. Faulks rather prioritises the development of his young protagonist through the influence of the fundamentalist group he sketches. At first, the jihadist group reinforces 22-year-old Hassan al-Rashid’s view of English society, which he already perceives to be morally degenerate. From his perspective, the increasing irreligiousness in England, which was mentioned in the opening chapters of this study, has to be noticed with regret and disgust: It was Sunday, Hassan thought; most of these people should have been in church, but these days Christians viewed cathedrals as monuments or works of art to be admired for their architecture and paintings, not as the place where they could worship God. Their final loss of faith had happened in the last ten years or so, yet in the kafir world it had passed with little comment. How very strange they were, he thought, these people, that they had let eternal life slip through their hands. Where Hassan had grown up in Glasgow, the Christians (he hadn’t by then adopted the word ‘kafir’) blasphemed and drank and fornicated, though most of them, he knew, still more or less believed. They were unfaithful in hotel rooms, but they got married in churches. [...] Now you could read statistics in newspaper surveys which confirmed what anyone could see: that they’d given up God. And barely a kafir seemed to have noticed (WID 21). What is interesting in Hassan’s approach is that he is not repelled by Christianity, but by a complete lack of a religious worldview. Even though he plans a deadly bomb attack on a hospital, Hassan is not presented as a person blinded by hatred. His motivation seems to be moral rather than social, since he is not disadvantaged by a lack of education or chances in life. Furthermore, his belief is not presented as a tradition passed on by his father to the next generation but as a personal choice, a conscious decision and commitment, which, according to Zebiri (2008: 37), is an element that unites second- or third-generation Muslims with converts to Islam. Religious values are not handed down but learned anew, chosen and emphasised with particular vigour. With this representation the novel challenges the claim that terrorism first and foremost originates in poverty and a lack of education and integration into mainstream society. As Schirrmacher notes in an article on the radicalisation of Muslims in Europe, the phenomenon whereby second or third generation migrants suddenly turn to an intensive or even radical practice of Islam is often connected to a search for identity and one´s roots as a reaction against the perceived rejection by the majority culture and a deep feeling of insecurity (Schirrmacher 2010: n.p.). She demonstrates that jihadists in Western countries (especially the leaders of radical groups) are mostly neither poor nor uneducated but often belong to the middle or even upper-middle class with good prospects to be successful in life and well-integrated into society (Schirrmacher 2010: n.p.). Hassan is not driven by political motives, feelings of revenge or despair about economic disadvantage: He is just a young man searching for friendship and most of all a meaningful way of life. 5) Analyses 146 Hassan’s friend Shahla stresses “his passion and his soft manner” and sees behind his certainty “someone who had at some stage in his life been wounded” (WID 24). The general description of Hassan’s upbringing and personality, as well as the fact that he had been searching for answers in other beliefs (such as socialism) before, suggests that his motivation can be found less in absolute religious certainty or a lack of social and economic prospects, but in a search of meaning, belonging and identity. He does not seem to know where he belongs, but it becomes clear that he does not feel a sense of being part of contemporary youth culture with its latest fashions. Taking the example of an online dating platform, which grants young people innumerable possibilities to connect, Hassan contemplates how this system of seemingly endless opportunities is at the same time characterised by loneliness, fast pace and sexual randomness: YourPlace [an internet site for lonely teenagers] was one of the most boring things he had ever seen. Pictures of millions of grinning kafirs whose lives were so empty it was fun for them to know that someone had ‘jabbed’ their photograph. Dear oh dear. It was almost a relief to know that the main practical use of the site was for sex; at least it had some function – for paedophiles to cruise, for teenage boys to rope in likely-looking girls for sex parties or for older kafirs to find ‘fuck buddies’ (WID 67). The passage not only displays disillusionment with a common moral laxity but also ironically hints at Hassan’s entrenchment in the culture he criticises. For example, the use of the term kafirs117 in the same paragraph as the exclamation ‘dear oh dear’, a very English expression, acts contrastively and thus has a humorous effect. The use of language throughout the novel indicates the different influences that determine the protagonist’s coming of age. On the one hand, he articulates himself more eloquently than many of his peers, which hints at his upbringing, good education and the rhetorical practice he gained from discussions in left-wing political circles. He does not use much colloquial teenage slang and unintentionally slips in typically British exclamations, which makes him sound quite mature for his age. On the other hand, the vehemence with which he defends his sometimes generalising and not very thoughtthrough ideas about the world during discussions with his friend Shahla or his father at times counters this maturity. The use of language, again, underlines Hassan’s defiance and desperation (“Well fuck them, he thought. He was close to tears”, WID 163). These passages, in contrast, are rather reminiscent of teenage behaviour than his eloquence or the serious topics he is interested in. There is a boyish and a manly side to the protagonist and it is not clear, yet, which side is going to win in the end. Simultaneously, British and radical Muslim terms influence his language and it is not decided until the end of the story which part is going to assert itself. The Muslim words Hassan uses and the views he exerts from the start, however, do not convey the impression of genuineness. The way the narrator describes his thoughts leaves the reader with the impression that his newfound belief is like a new suit he tries on – something that does not really fit. The protagonist looks at Britain 117 The term kafir is a very derogatory term which is used to describe all ‘infidels’ or non-believers in Islam. The term, however, is also vastly criticised throughout the Muslim world for inflaming unnecessary tensions and inhibiting dialogue by stating a monolithic rejection of other religions and ways of life. 5.1) Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December 147 from an outsider point of view, even though he was born there and does not know any other society. His upper middle-class parents brought him up in a ‘Western’ way. His education was not excessively religious, but value-oriented and characterised by pride in the worth of their Muslim roots. His parents seem to be good at balancing both influences and cultural potentials, whereas their son wavers between different extremes in his teenage rebellion and search for his place in life. This irritation caused by Hassan’s sudden turn to radical Islam may partly be evoked by the rather essentialist but common assumption (that has also been made by Huntington and others) that religion is inextricably linked to culture, and that therefore ‘Britishness’ and Islamic fundamentalism do not form a believable combination at first sight. This supposed contradiction is also embodied in the fact that the future suicide bombers from Hassan’s cell all have distinct accents from other British regions and give each other typically British nicknames (such as Jock, Gary, Seth or Elton) as a disguise. Even Hassan admits, thinking about a Hindu convert in the circle, that it “did seem odd to him that someone not born Muslim should be engaged on jihad, but he couldn’t explain why” (WID 70). This slight feeling of irony and a ‘lack of authenticity’ directs the attention of the readers to their own preconceptions about the relation between culture and religion and hints at the thesis by Olivier Roy, who claims that religious fundamentalism is nowadays shaped by increasing deterritorialisation and deculturation. Roy, however, underlines that jihadist movements (with the exception of Al-Qaida and at present the Islamic State, which operate globally) are in most cases dedicated to a specific political cause or conflict in a confined territory. But Faulks’ novel does neither address international terrorist networks and asymmetric warfare nor any of today’s various religious conflicts in more depth. Husam Nar does not seem to distribute more than political stereotypes and commonplaces to justify the intended attack. No information on a religious or political conflict is used to contemplate catalysts for jihadism. This is different in Khadra’s novel, which embeds Islamic fundamentalism in a psychologically plausible ideological and political framework and is set in a concrete military conflict. While the deterritorialisation of the belief represented by Husam Nar and the lack of description concerning the motives of its other members seem to diminish its political and psychological plausibility, Roy’s definition of ‘deculturation’ might serve as an apt description for the feelings that appear to torment the young protagonist. Roy claims that “[d]eculturation is the loss of the social expression of religion. Believers feel themselves to be minorities surrounded by an atheist, pornographic, materialistic, secular culture which worships false gods: money, sex or man himself ” (Roy 2010: 8). Hassan’s drive to join the jihadist group seems to be less an act of embracing religion than a rejection of certain forms of Western liberalism. In line with this observation, the narrator recurrently creates doubts about the genuineness of Hassan’s belief. As mentioned above, the young protagonist seems to be to a large degree informed by the British culture in which he grew up and is also described as a former “dedicated left-winger at student rallies” (WID 24). This development emphasises the protagonist’s sense of justice and willingness to fight for his moral values, but also indicates a wavering between extremes that can be interpreted 5) Analyses 148 as a rebellion against a society in which he still has not found his place. In some passages, it is explicitly described how he takes on different identities in his search for meaning and belonging, once he has realised that he is somehow different: Hassan spoke Glaswegian-English like the native he was. Much as he liked his parents, he didn’t want to make a fetish of them and their culture; he didn’t want to be singled out and stared at, in the way he and his friends gawped at the Jewish children who left early on a Friday in order to be home in Giffnock before dark. Hassan tried on different disguises. At fourteen he was all Scottish and atheistic: he exaggerated his interest in football and girls; he drank cider and beer from the off-licence and was sick in the park. He derided the women in hijab, calling out insults after them: ‘Bloody penguins!’; ‘Daleks!’ He enjoyed the sense of release and belonging, but the specific boys that he was obliged to spend his time with all repelled him. [...] By the time he was seventeen, Hassan had come to despise these friends and was looking for another cloak to wear (WID 152-153). In this respect, Hassan’s story is not simply about religion or Islam but more about his coming of age and typical teenage problems with sexuality, disorientation, rebellion against the parental generation and the search for identity that shows many parallels to Shahid’s development in Kureishi’s The Black Album, as we are going to see in the next chapters. At the same time, this passage, again, demonstrates Hassan’s British socialisation: The term ‘Daleks’ refers to the British TV series Dr Who. British popular culture constitutes the background of experience from which the protagonist draws his references. Concerning his quest for identity, Islam supposedly offers the protagonist easy answers just as socialism did before. He is drawn to left-wing ideologies because “the LSG seemed to have an answer to all these uncertainties – a unified explanation of everything. In this way, he thought, it was itself a bit like a religion” (WID 158). The novel here suggests parallels between ideology and religion in that both phenomena still people’s hunger for orientation in our globalised world. However, the slightly ironic tone, and the fact that socialism is already discredited as a system able to offer grand solutions to societal problems, implies that Islam – and other persuasions – might also be mistaken in their claims to possess the absolute truth. It is telling in this respect that references to real historical events, such as the invasion of Iraq, are not made in a religious, but in an ideological context. The common truisms often connected to the justification of Islamic fundamentalist groups (‘Bush and Blair only invaded Iraq to guarantee their access to cheap oil’ and so forth) are first put into the mouths of the socialist group leaders. This criticism, though, uses the same essentialist categories it claims to criticise. As Hassan notes: It was an odd thing [...] that although all the LSG people were atheists, they were often concerned for the religious freedoms of others. The Mormons of North America were Creationist bigots, but the Shias of Mosul, it seemed, had their rights. [...] Sometimes Hassan worried that this was a perverted kind of colonialism – little better than the French Empire which, long after it had ditched religion at home, was concerned to send nuns and missionaries to the people it colonised in Africa and Indochina (WID 161-162). Double standards seem to be ever-present in A Week in December – on a religious, ideological, economic and private level. 5.1) Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December 149 Hassan defiantly turns to Islam after his disillusionment with socialism due to the fact that he still feels like an outsider in the group, despite all talks of brotherhood and multiculturalism. Thereby, he stresses a difference he has been trying to deny for years. The character describes an attempt at assimilation which finally results in aversion: I lost interest in religion when I was at school because I felt it was divisive. It was pushing me away from my friends and making a foreigner of me. My experience of politics at college underlined this. It made religion look kind of tribal and a drag on progress which was to get people to understand how exploitation works, how economic systems are geared, how the US runs the Middle East, etc. [...] Then I had a sort of road to Damascus – road to Mecca, more like – moment. I saw that identity was more important than economic power (WID 164). Again, his mention of the “road to Damascus”118 ironically underlines Hassan’s upbringing and socialisation in a predominantly Christian country, which subtly counteracts his claim to be strongly influenced by Islamic thought. There are several passages stressing Hassan’s longing for friendship and belonging as central motivation for his turn to Islamic fundamentalism. In this regard, religion seems to be a stronger determinant of belonging and identity than culture, and the novel strives to give an insight into the potential ‘emotional foundation’ of radical beliefs. The power of Islam to unify people from different cultural, national and ethnic backgrounds is stressed by the multicultural composition of the Islamic fundamentalist group presented in the novel. The boundlessness of religion must seem a comfort for people with ‘hybrid identities’, for whom it is difficult to identify with a specific culture. Distinct from Christian and Jewish empires, which supposedly stand for a nationalist and racially bound ‘Western imperialism’ striving for territory, power and money, Islam did not conquer people, it freed them. This was not ‘imperialism’; it was the gift of liberation. [...] ‘Arabs, Persians, Indians, Africans and Asians joined together in freedom. Islam was not defined by race or nation or colour. It was never an Arabic civilisation, not for a single day. It was never a nationality, always a community of belief. Islam raises no man above another; it has no truck with kings, or tyrants, archbishops or dictators (WID 342). The passage not only shows Hassan’s sympathy for egalitarian principles and the idea of unity and solidarity but also exemplifies his adoption of easy answers. He is still young and his knowledge of the world and political ideas are not very nuanced. Complex historical developments become reduced to an idealised black-and-white painting of the early stages of Islam. Most readers will know that Islamic groups (as most other religions) also used conquest and forced conversion as methods to enlarge their empires. Furthermore, it is not only the result of a corruption of an originally pure Islamic society that people in predominantly Muslim countries are as vulnerable to 118 The term alludes to the conversion of Paul the Apostle, who became fundamentally changed and faithful through an encounter with the Christian God on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus. According to the New Testament, he subsequently became a follower of Jesus and ceased to persecute early Christians. 5) Analyses 150 fall prey to discrimination on the grounds of race, nationality or colour as people from other cultural circles. At the same time, the novel also mentions the disenchantment with the disappointing reality in supposedly ‘real’ Muslim countries, such as “Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq [and] Saudi Arabia” (WID 344). A Week in December contains many forceful passages. But Faulks’ sense of humour, on the whole, constrains an earnest analysis of jihadism and its advocates. Hassan asks, for instance, if the bombing could not be postponed to another day, since he has to attend the ceremony at Buckingham Palace for his father to get the OBE. Various funny scenes and the fact that jihadism makes the impression of being superimposed on an environment and people that neither seem fit for the task nor match any expectations the average reader might have leave much room for irony and lightness: Hassan had a sudden and terrible desire to laugh – at the thought of roly-poly Elton John with his diamanté glasses and his boyfriend and his platform heels having unwittingly given his name to a solemn would-be terrorist...Salim had occasionally had cause to rebuke him for his descent into laughter: it showed spiritual immaturity, he said. Hassan did believe in purity and truth with all his might; but he had been brought up in a godless country where television and newspapers mocked the social structures night and day... (WID 71-72). Apparently, Britain may be ‘godless’ but also provides a political culture open to public discourse and humorous challenge. Jihadism, in contrast, clearly lacks flexibility. Moreover, it is not described as an emblem of morality, but is shown to comprise double standards. Cell-leader Salim, for instance, arranges last-minute instructions for the attack to be coded and covertly embedded in the private parts of a nude model on the porn site ‘babesdelight.co.uk’119, which understandably causes doubts in the group: Seth coughed. ‘Is it right to be looking at these pictures? I know that in the name of the Prophet...’ Salim looked at Seth sorrowfully. ‘There is nothing in life that is moral or immoral, there is only the command of God. If Allah has forbidden something, then it is wrong. I am not aware that he has forbidden us to look at women. In fact, there is an early scriptural source in which devout men look at the reflection of a naked woman as she is preparing to bathe. Another authority tells us a man may inspect his wife before marrying her, to make sure she is without blemish that might harm their children.’ ‘But I don’t intend to marry Olya,’ said Elton. [...] ‘I think I’d feel uneasy.’ ‘Islam does not recognise “feeling uneasy”, it only cares about what God has commanded. You’re talking like a Christian, some ridiculous Catholic. In any event, Seth, the important issue is not whether your eyes have rested for a moment on a naked woman, but whether you can play your part in ushering in the new caliphate’ (WID 75-76). The scene exemplifies the major problem that Islam has no final authority to decide on the meaning or range of religious documents but very much depends on the interpretation of the Holy Scripture by diverse political and religious fractions. Besides, it is telling that the novel here presents the jihadist movement as a group which is instrumentalised by a leader, who bends religious sources into shape according to his 119 While the jihadist group Husam Nar, the reality TV-show It’s Madness and the virtual reality game Parallax are Faulks’ inventions and entirely fictitious, the mentioned porn site actually exists. 5.1) Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December 151 own aims and follows the alleged wisdom that the end justifies all means. What is more, the correlation between Islam and sexual morality is not presented in a very positive light. At one point it is described how “[o]ne of the boys at college, who had a large collection of top-shelf magazines, told Hassan it was fine if the girls in the pictures were kafirs. Hassan thought this was making a virtue of necessity, since Muslim women simply didn’t pose nude” (WID 78). The protagonist shows a lot of moral integrity, which, however, is innate to his personality and not bound to his religious views. Hassan’s parents are the embodiment of a happy marriage, his mother being an emancipated woman. In general, Hassan’s parents stand for a very positive model of Islam and a hopeful multiculturalism that neither leads to a fusion of different cultures nor to the development of parallel societies. It is described how Farooq (‘Knocker’) al-Rashid did not discard his culture or religious practice when he first arrived in Scotland, but still made friends in no time since “his demeanour appealed to the old Scots. He couldn’t join them in the pubs, where the true intimacy was forged, but he wasn’t squeamish about their profanity, their football or their godlessness, and they found his devotion to Islam easy enough to ignore” (WID 84). In the case of Hassan’s parents, mutual tolerance seems to enable a communal life which allows the acting out of differences without calls for cultural or religious assimilation. This acquiescence of differences is achieved simply by not focusing on them and not judging others by one’s own religious standards. The enlightened belief of his father Farooq is supportive, offers tolerance and does not force Hassan to choose between a ‘Western’ and a ‘Muslim’ way of life. The young protagonist does not undergo an identity crisis because he is torn between his Muslim roots and Western influences, between two value systems or between two different demands for loyalty. Thus, the initial situation is very different from the starting point of the other novels in which political conflicts or dominant cultural and religious pressures and communal identities force individuals into a situation in which they have to make a choice in favour of one system or the other. Hassan, in contrast, leads a rather comfortable life, free from pressure, war and poverty. He simply feels that the ‘Western’ way of life has nothing to offer to him. In this respect, Faulks’ novel draws a positive picture of Islam as such, stressing the possibility of peaceful coexistence, integration and friendship between people of different cultures and creeds, but satirically criticises extremist forms as an aberration. Farooq’s belief is of a very optimist and tolerant kind, stressing Allah’s compassion and mercy. He was like a Church of England Christian who paid lip service to the Bible as a whole, but only believed in the New Testament [...] The pith of Islam was likewise to be found selectively, Knocker thought, not so much in the hellfire-for-infidel Koran as in the gentle teachings of many generations of wise and kind old men. Knocker’s spiritual belief was secure: he had trust in the omnipotence of Allah and no doubt that a place in paradise awaited him, so long as he remained strong in his devotions and pure in his behaviour. His faith enabled him to ride over financial turbulence and local hostility, because he knew there was a truth that lay beyond cash flow and VAT, deeper than the prejudices of some of the people he dealt with. He could always detach himself from them; and most business associates found that his soft answers turned away their suspicions (WID 150-151). 5) Analyses 152 One might provocatively suggest that religion should – according to A Week in December – better be relegated to the private sphere to cause less ‘disturbance’ and irritation for the majority society. This assumption might be exaggerated, but it can at least be argued that the novel underlines that Muslim belief can still be genuine if Muslims stick to their religious ideals and practices, without possessing missionary zeal and an aspiration to proselytise people of other denominations. Therewith, the novel seems to counter the idea that Islam with its strict sole claim is no religion that could be acted out in private. However, secularism driven to its extremes and accompanied by an all-encompassing loss of values can also have fatal consequences. English society, as it is represented by Faulks’ novel, is predominantly secular concerning all three dimensions that have been distinguished by Casanova: We have institutional differentiation, religion is privatised, and there also seems to be a decline in religious beliefs and practices – at least for the non-Muslim characters. It is striking that only the Muslim characters are described as having religious beliefs and considering them important for their personal life and ethical foundation. Whereas the European Values Study, mentioned in the second chapter, confirms this scenario of declining religious practice for the case of England, the tenor of A Week in December exceeds these findings, concerning a supposed lack of spirituality, in general. The above-mentioned survey attributes ‘church-free spirituality’ to Western-European societies. But in the novel spirituality, or the belief in some transcendent truth beyond the manmade world, seems to be of no concern at all for most characters. In this hedonist reality, belief is not presented as “one option among others” (Taylor 2007: 3), but is not even considered as an option at all by the non-Muslim characters. However, ‘Knocker’ al-Rashid is the living proof in A Week in December that Islam is not necessarily a ‘fundamentalist’ religion – a common claim which is vicariously brought up by the figure of Gabriel Northwood during his research. The barrister points, for instance, to the undisputable position of the Koran as the ultimate truth: Once an early theological debate had decided for all time that the Koran was literally and in every syllable the unmediated word of God, then all Muslims became by definition ‘fundamentalist’. It was by its nature unlike Judaism or Christianity; it was intrinsically, and quite unapologetically, a fundamentalist religion. There was, of course, a world of difference between ‘fundamental’ and ‘militant’ – let alone ‘aggressive’; but the intractable truth remained: that by being so pure, so high-minded and so uncompromising, Islam had limited the kind of believer it could claim (WID 276). Contrary to the picture of Islam embodied by Hassan’s parents, the picture of Islamic fundamentalism we get in A Week in December is characterised by exactly this lack of compromise. The jihadist leaders profess that Islam represents a lack of contradiction: “Everything has been explained. [...] Islam is not a religion like Judaism or Christianity. It is a sublime, single and transcendent truth” (WID 341). It becomes visible that the novel contains a conflict between humanism and fundamentalist religiosity, between the ability to promote tolerance and compassion and a strict adherence to religious ideals. Gabriel Northwood as one of the most appealing 5.1) Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December 153 and likeable characters in the novel seems to reject all holy books which are based on punishment and cruelty. In one scene he compares the Koran to the Old Testament, professing his dislike for both scriptures: He had always thought of the Old Testament as giving the most implacable and unsympathetic portrayal of a divinity. [...] Jahweh the god of exile, punishment, bloodshed, plagues and slaying of the firstborn...He had surely set a standard of intransigence. Yet compared to the Koranic divinity, he was beginning to feel, old Jahweh was almost avuncular. The god of the Koran brought with him neither the great stories of the Old Testament [...] nor the modern life-guide of the New. [...T]he principal message seemed a simple one: believe in me or burn for all eternity. Page after page (WID 273). Strikingly, the character describes the Koran in a similar way as Faulks once did in an interview which earned him considerable criticism. In 2009, Faulks gave an interview with the Sunday Times about his research for A Week in December in which he described his opinion about the Koran as follows: With the Koran there are no stories. And it has no ethical dimension like the New Testament, no new plan for life. It says ‘the Jews and the Christians were along the right tracks, but actually, they were wrong and I’m right, and if you don’t believe me, tough – you’ll burn for ever’. That’s basically the message of the book (Freeman 24.08.2009: n.p.). Apart from doubting the existence of an ethical dimension in the Koran, Faulks supposedly also called the holy book of Islam the “rantings of a schizophrenic” (cf. Flood 24.08.2009: n.p.) and earned harsh criticism for his words. A short time later, the author apologised and explained that his intention was never to offend anyone or to instil prejudice, but that he only wanted to understand the phenomenon ‘Islamic fundamentalism’. He underlined that he respects Islam and that A Week in December is a satirical novel which also features Muslim characters who are peaceful and loveable, shedding a positive light on their religion (Faulks 24.08.2009: n.p.). However, the controversy did not fail to attract considerable attention – mostly from voices that did not contribute much to a reconciliation between Faulks and his critics. The British yellow press, for instance, reported about the reaction of the radical cleric Anjem Choudary, who postulated that Faulks’ deed should be judged by a Sharia court (which can consider execution as potential penalty in matters of blasphemy) (cf. Jeory 03.09.2009: n.p.). This controversy triggered by Faulks’ statements illustrates the close link between religion and politics, which is also addressed in the novel even though the plot is not embedded in a specific political conflict. While Muslims such as Hassan’s parents strictly separate both spheres, the terrorist cell their son joins emphasises the necessity to fight for a pure Islamic state. The protagonist surprisingly follows this claim even though he should know better: Hassan al-Rashid knew the Koran very well. [...] So when he went to his first meeting with Salim at the Pudding Mill Lane Mosque he quickly saw that he was among people who either hadn’t read the book or who’d moved on from it. This surprised him. He’d expected the group to be scripturally-based. [...] There was nothing in the Koran about the politics of building an Islamic state; the Prophet had not concerned himself with such things. So, as the discussion grew heated around him, Hassan found himself become detached from it. These young men reminded him of the members of the Left Student Group at college; 5) Analyses 154 there was a competition going on among them to see who could be more radical in his alignment (WID 233-234 and 236). Again, a central reason for a turn to ideology, or in this case religion, is rebellion (against the parental generation or a country to which a real sense of belonging is difficult to develop). This basis is aggravated in many cases by a lack of genuine religious and political knowledge. Ironically, Salim as leader of the group puts a slant on truth just as he pleases. His promise “It’s all based on scripture, not on interpretation” (WID 168) quickly turns into “Religions move on [...] Even the word of God evolves through human interpretation” (WID 237). That Hassan in the end shies away from carrying out the planned attack does not come as a surprise to the reader. Less psychologically plausible is that he seizes upon ignorant stereotypes and falls for fundamentalist plans in the first place, despite his frequently demonstrated self-reflection. A central issue is also the lack of differentiation and knowledge about different concepts such as religion, culture and ethnicity. These concepts are recurrently mixed, confused and politically instrumentalised in public discourse – for, as well as against Islam. Criticism of Islam, which is usually religious in nature, nowadays frequently runs the risk of being labelled racist criticism. Groups fighting for minority rights do so quite often without the necessary amount of distinction. Faulks picks up this phenomenon in a humorous way in connection to Hassan’s brief engagement with the Left Student Group at University. In one scene the members of this group proclaim during a meeting: We must fight homophobia wherever it appears. It is a virus as vicious as racism. In fact, homophobia is racism. [...] ...and such views are symptomatic of a much wider and deeper hostility and intolerance of otherness. Only last week, a London evening paper felt able to sponsor a debate entitled ‘Is Islam good for London?’ Do another substitution here and imagine the reaction if Judaism had been the subject. Are Jews good for London? You just can’t picture that question being posed in a civilised society. Yet there are still those who claim that Islamophobia can’t be racist, because Islam is a religion not a race! They’re fooling themselves. A religion is not only about faith but also about identity, background and culture. As we know, the Muslim community is overwhelmingly non-white. Therefore Islamophobia is racist – and so is anti-Semitism.’ Hassan was aware that a kind of slip of logic had taken place in the last two sentences – perhaps that a part and a whole had swapped places, or that an implied ‘moreover’ had become a ‘therefore’ – but he couldn’t put his finger on it (WID 156-157). What the novel highlights in this passage is the circumstance that a lack of knowledge combined with the demands of political correctness and the activism of starry-eyed idealists does as little to promote a productive interreligious dialogue as the sweeping statements of many critics of religion. Moreover, this conception counters the claim made by the characters advocating Islamic fundamentalism, since they underline the role of Islam as a comprehensive, colour-blind force uniting people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. On the whole, there is no comprehensive delineation of central political conflicts that play a large role for Islamic fundamentalists. The brief references to the role of the United States in world politics or conflicts such as the occupation of Iraq constitute arguments used by Hassan to defend his stance, but they are not presented as 5.1) Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December 155 central driving forces of the action or used to explain the protagonist’s turn to fundamentalist attitudes. A bit more room is dedicated to the writings of several Islamist writers, such as Ghulam Sarwar, Maududi and Sayyid Qutb, who are read by Hassan. His father Farooq puts the common critique of their concepts in a nutshell, calling Sarwar “a lousy business management consultant with his own agenda, not a proper Muslim”, Maududi a “rabble-rouser” and Qutb a “terrorist” (WID 362). He deplores that “his beautiful religion had been perverted by demagogues for their political ends” and defends his stance that “Islam has never had a political home. It’s a state of mind” (WID 363). The writers mentioned are all leaders who epitomise a ‘charismaticprophetic style’ that appeals to people’s emotions and do not belong to the most sophisticated or nuanced fundamentalist writers.120 Countering his son’s willingness to fight for an idealist utopia, Knocker takes a rather pragmatic and realist stance on religion when he argues that Islam has never been able to develop truly Islamic societies, even though this might be desirable. He points to the gap between ambition and reality and defends America, which is criticised most harshly by his son for its policies and godlessness, as a country he values even though he does reject some of its downsides. ‘But I like America!’ said Knocker. ‘I like its movies and its TV. [...] I admire its science and its ...Its friendliness! [...] They were welcoming and generous to a stranger with brown skin and a funny accent. I don’t have to get drunk or grow fat on their junk food or watch their pornography [...]’ ‘And how will you liberate them?’ said Knocker. ‘Fly another plane into a building? Kill all their politicians, break their army, then say. “Now we will create God’s true Islamic society from California to New York though we haven’t yet worked out how to do it in practice because we’ve never done it before”?’ (WID 364-365). Unlike Muslim fundamentalists, he believes that one does not have to fully embrace or reject a culture, but that one has the right to recognise it in its positive as well as negative parts and choose selectively – in line with what is realistic to achieve and with what one can reconcile with one’s conscience. Knocker may not embrace everything Western societies entail, but he rejects utopian ideas, violence and the presentation of political agendas as religious causes. Hassan’s friend Shahla even more vigorously defends this stance. In her opinion radicals such as Wahhabis are worryingly anti-modern; “a nineteenth-century throwback to the Middle Ages who wanted to pretend scientific advance had never taken place” (WID 370). The jihadist group Husam Nar is indeed described as rejecting not ‘institutional modernity’ but ‘cultural modernity’ (Tibi). It uses modern technology but embraces totalising notions, in subordinating the individual and its worth and freedom of action to religious principles. The human right to life and integrity is not seen as inherent and sacrosanct, but shall be sacrificed to the religious end of a ‘purely Islamic society’, which supposedly justifies all means. Hassan’s final decision to recoil from his plans is, however, not the result of a contemplation of the arguments brought forth by his father and his friend Shahla or an 120 See Zeidan (2003: 280) on different forms of fundamentalist discourse and intellectual approaches by writers such as Ghannushi, Mas’ari or al-Turabi. 5) Analyses 156 intense introspection. His sudden shift of opinion is presented as the consequence of an epiphany, which leaves the reader with a tinge of lacking plausibility. The protagonist gets lost in the city and suddenly wakes up to reality when a person on an unlit bicycle nearly crashes into him. The event is clearly exaggerated, described as bringing him to “the edge of death” (WID 535), which makes him suddenly change his mind and throw the detonators into the Thames. The climax towards which the plot has been building up is surprisingly banal and unspectacular. There is no more contemplation of religion, ideology or politics: they are substituted by basic human needs for life and love. Hassan decides in favour of his family and his love for his friend Shahla. The development of Hassan’s character makes the reader question potential prejudices concerning the character of jihadists. Thus, the novel individualises a topic we often only encounter in sensational newspaper headlines. Faulks says about his desire to sketch the individual side to the topic and counter generalising opinions: If you read about him [Hassan] in a newspaper you’d say: ‘Who is this guy who’s about to murder people?’ But if you follow him through the book, you might think: ‘Who is this nice boy who’s been led astray by these bad people?’ And: ‘How good that he finds it in himself!’ Probably, because of the strength of his parents to change his mind. And that’s what life is and about what novel-writing is. It is to try to explain to people: He’s not a headline in a newspaper! Every individual has a life and a drama. They are neither good nor bad, they are what they are (Interview with Sebastian Faulks 14.10.2012). Economic libertarianism as fundamentalist phenomenon The extreme form of Islamic radicalism Hassan awakes from in the last minute is countered by another form of fundamentalism: that of the neoliberal capitalist economy. As the readers follow the plotline around Hassan and the planned attack, they also get more and more information on ‘the other’ against which Muslim fundamentalist views react. Importantly, we do not get this information through the views of the Muslim circle but first and foremost through the narrator’s description of actions by characters who serve as representatives of the kind of ‘Western liberalism’ Hassan deplores. ‘Western liberalism’ comes in many forms in Faulks’ novel: It is presented to the reader in the shape of the capitalist economy, modern popular culture and entertainment, as well as a youth culture that is hallmarked by open sexuality and drug abuse. John Veals seems to embody the downturns of capitalism in the novel, just as his son Finbar and the tube driver Jenni Fortune can be regarded as emblems of the insubstantiality and delusion connected to modern popular culture. All of these three characters are portrayed as ‘lost souls’ acting in parallel realities. They do not seem to have more in common with each other than the fact that they actually prefer to live in systems of virtual reality because of the unlimited power they enjoy within these systems – with the important distinction that Veals’ actions actually trigger disastrous consequences for real people worldwide. Jenni Fortune retreats into the world of the virtual reality game Parallax on a regular basis, since “it was like being a star in your own improvised film” (WID 190). Her 5.1.2) 5.1) Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December 157 everyday-life is one of routine and a lack of excitement. Jenni is a rather shy and plain person. In Parallax, however, she can try things she would not dare to do in reality, have as much money, success and any outer appearance she might choose. “The economy of Parallax derived from the real world, but with a lesser sense of responsibility. [...] The financiers’ gains were theirs to keep, but their losses were democratically shared” (WID 41). This reality forms a stark contrast to the predatory capitalism, which defines John Veals’ working environment. Notably, Parallax is also presented as a retreat for people who feel powerless and oppressed by today’s reality, which is shaped by the demands of globalisation, increasing pace and competition on all levels. In virtual reality these people win the respect, power and admiration they lack in real life and can utter any opinion, without the omnipresent restrictions of political correctness. The TV show It’s Madness, to which John Veals’ son Finbar is addicted, takes the satire of reality TV to its extremes. The narrator describes a setting where people with mental illnesses are herded together into some kind of big brother container, entertaining the viewers with their pain and outbreaks. This spectacle ends with the suicide of one participant. The baseness and lack of dignity ascribed to these forms of entertainment is described quite explicitly. The blunt passages depicting the pain of the resident patients together with the description of Finbar’s loneliness and drug abuse have a shocking effect and express a clear moral judgment. Comparing Finbar with Hassan as the second young protagonist of the novel, both characters could not be more different but at the same time have a lot in common. Their relationship is simultaneously characterised by contrasts and correspondences. Finbar indulges in any guilty pleasure Hassan despises but is very similar to him in his loneliness and need for guidance, companionship and love. Both characters have not worked out their place in society yet. What distinguishes them from each other is, first and foremost, their family background. Hassan has a family he can rely on and loving parents who take an interest in him, which might be one of the factors that save him in the end. Finbar’s familylife is characterised by disinterest and estrangement. Consequently, he tries to avoid his parents and reduce contact to a minimum: “Talking to them was an ordeal. His father never knew what to say and seemed anxious that he might betray some ignorance of Finn’s life; neither had quite recovered from the moment the year before when John Veals inadvertently revealed that he thought Finn had already taken his GCSEs” (WID 61). In every scene in which he needs his parents the most (e.g. when he panics because of the bad side effects of a drug, cf. WID 139-140) he is left alone with no one there to help him. Finbar is defined more by his actions than by his words or attitudes. Whereas we get to know a lot about Hassan’s ideas and values, we do not become familiar with Finbar. His constant attempt to block out any nagging or painful thoughts through the use of drugs is reflected in the passages narrated from his perspective. The reader thus gets a more detailed description of the TV shows he watches than of his actual thoughts and feelings. The characters not only lose touch with reality but also with education and incentives to change something in their everyday life. They seem to have lost all energy to stand up and defend their interest on a personal as well as a societal level. Modern- 5) Analyses 158 day entertainment and technologization are presented as an anaesthesia that numbs people emotionally and makes them stupefied and dull. They retreat into their private dreams and illusions while the powerful use exactly this lack of knowledge and public interest to shape the world in a way that suits their own goals and enhances their profit. Gabriel Northwood deplores: I was lucky enough to be educated at a time when teachers still thought children could handle knowledge. They trusted us. Then there came a time when they decided that because not every kid in the class could understand or remember those things, they wouldn’t teach them any more [sic] because it wasn’t fair on the less good ones. So they withheld knowledge. Then I suppose the next lot of teachers didn’t have the knowledge to withhold. [...] I think my generation will be seen as a turning point. From now on there’ll be a net loss of knowledge in Europe. The difference between a peasant community in fourteenthcentury Iran and modern London, though, is that if with their meagre resources the villagers occasionally slipped backwards, it was not for lack of trying. But with us, here in England, it was a positive choice. We chose to know less. [...] I think what’s happened is that because they themselves know less than their predecessors, innovators and leaders today have remade the world in their own image. Spellchecks. Search engines. They’ve remodelled the world so that ignorance is not really a disadvantage (WID 428 and 430-431). Even art, which is usually supposed to reflect education and sophistication, seems to bow to economic rationality. Paintings are an investment, education a skill to sell and literature a means to make money and a marker of social standing and prestige. This lack of education, combined with the increasing complexity of a globalised world, leads to the development of parallel societies average people have no insight into or understanding of. Faulks places the world of finance and capital at the centre of these parallel societies. As Saadi notes, London is a setting which in itself contains many ambiguities and large social disparities. It is the seat of government and the place of one of the largest and most powerful stock markets in the world, characterised furthermore by a large degree of deregulation. London is a focal point of wealth and power but simultaneously also a city with outskirts encompassing working class milieus, crime, social problems and racial tensions. These ‘parallel worlds’ within the same city seem to be dominated by the unwritten rules and the image of success radiating from the centre – a phenomenon Saadi calls ‘metropolitan fundamentalism’: There is no doubt that the city of London is synonymous with an inordinate and pathological concentration of power and money. Furthermore, not unlike certain aspects of US culture, in order for the multiculturalism to work it seems to have to be exclusive, so that often the relationship of the über-classes, regardless of ethnicity, creed, gender, sexual orientation, of London with those (the majority) of us who dwell outside the M25 ring-road feels like that of center and periphery, ruler and subject. [....] One is seldom permitted to rise above the regional. Somewhat impishly, we might call this ‘metropolitan fundamentalism’ (Saadi 2012: 8-9). In line with this claim, the beginning of the novel in medias res directly throws the reader into a scenery which is dominated by the symbols of capitalism (the building site of Europe’s largest future shopping centre) and globalisation (symbolised by a football stadium): 5.1) Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December 159 This was not a retail park with trees and benches, but a compression of trade in a city centre, in which migrant labour was paid by foreign capital to squeeze out layers of profit from any Londoner with credit. At their new ‘Emirates’ Stadium, meanwhile, named for an Arab airline, Arsenal of North London were kicking off under floodlights against Chelsea from the West, while the goalkeepers – one Czech, one Spanish – jumped up and down and beat their ribs to keep warm (WID 1). Portraying John Veals’ life as a hedge-fund manager, the narrator introduces us into a world which is seemingly logical and the product of hard work and huge success. But this world also smacks of loneliness, dullness and ruthlessness. The first picture we get is one that is lacking any joy of living. In Veals’ ‘empire’, managers work “in soundproof offices with solid doors” and write “their reports on silent keyboards”, all of them thin since “Veals couldn’t stand fatness” (WID 13). Fearing an information leakage, conversations are limited to the minimum and John’s life on the whole seems to be devoid of warmth. He has “no hobbies and no interests outside work” (WID 16) and “regards social life as a waste of time” (WID 143). Driven by the urge to make as much profit as possible, Veals holds the view that “income tax is voluntary” (WID 16). He is unwilling to make any commitments “until he was sure that his motives were pure – driven in other words only by an unemotional and rigorous assessment of profitability” (WID 19). The reference to ‘pure motives’ in connection with blunt costeffectiveness considerations already carries a sarcastic undertone and leaves us with the uneasy feeling that two fundamentally different levels have been blended: namely the sphere of morality and the sphere of profit. The same happens at the end of the novel. The arc of suspense is built towards “the greatest financial coup of his life”, which makes him feel a “sense of satisfaction – of having fulfilled the purpose of his life” (WID 434-435). People have been asking for centuries: What is the purpose of my life? ‘To make money’ seems to be a very cynical answer. As Shaw notes, Faulks offers us “representations of a two-world capital, jointly populated by those who occupy and those who service city space” (Shaw 2014: 45). Apparently, everything is justified for the protagonist as long as it is successful and does not bring him into open conflict with the law. Morality or the repercussions of his actions on a larger scale do not seem to be of interest in his system of thinking. A Week in December exemplifies this stance through quite drastic examples related to the world economic crisis starting in 2007. Veals’ business stands for a parallel world of greed and maximum utility: High Level’s reputation would suffer when it emerged that they had made a killing from the demise of a bank; the plight of the pensioners in particular would keep the story in the newspapers for weeks. [...I]n his own world his reputation for skill and ruthlessness would be enhanced. If he took care to ensure that the majority of the trading was conducted in non-regulated instruments, outside the jurisdiction of the Financial Services Authority, there wasn’t much they could do to stop him (WID 52). The world of hedge funds and high finance is a Hobbesian setting, dominated by “greed and fear” (WID 92), in which even security mechanisms are ironically turned into gambling instruments. Homo homini lupus est. Homo homini lepus est. The financial world is represented as guided by basic and selfish instincts, with money as the 5) Analyses 160 ultimate ruling principle that people worship. Veals’ company High Level Capital specialises in trading in debt and other fields that are characterised by low levels of regulation. This business generates high revenues but at the detriment of those who have the least means to protect their livelihood: pensioners, small house-owners and developing countries. If ARB [the Allied Royal Bank] suddenly found itself short of money it would look for quick savings. It couldn’t hammer its pensioners or its UK mortgage holders because that would cause a riot; but who would care about a few Third World farmers? If ARB decided to suspend its credit lines to distributors, exporters and shippers, then the producers of cocoa, coffee and so on would find the value of their crops plunge – they would wither in the field; but by contrast the price of what they had presold, of what was already in the warehouse, would rocket – and the profit from that could go to John Veals. [...] He had suddenly remembered what fun trading could be (WID 177). There are numerous passages like this, which point to the difference between ‘legal’ and ‘moral’. Even though Veals seems to act in accordance with the law, his trade is presented as morally dubious and at times even reprobate. Nonetheless, the “distinction between ‘legal’ and ‘ethical’ was of no concern to him – or to anyone he’d ever met” (WID 98-99). Apart from this lack of religious or humanist values, the protagonist’s lack of joy and humour is conspicuous. The only jokes he makes are rather cynical in content, and the circumstances in which he uses them cause the laughter to stick in your throat. At one point his wife Vanessa deplores her husband’s complete lack of emotion, confessing to a friend: “‘I could forget the lack of fun, [...] or his dread of parties or holidays or romance, I could forget everything if I just once see him laugh’” (WID 143). This lack of humour is a trait often associated with religious fundamentalisms. It is intriguing in which ways A Week in December draws parallels between followers of Islamic fundamentalist beliefs and worshippers of the neoliberal economic order, hence indicating the fundamentalist potential of the latter. Veals and his circle are described in terms that could also be used to characterise religious fanatics. They inhabit a “semi-virtual world”, detached from the life of average citizens, “take precautions to minimise the possibility of any contact with reality” and are “convinced they needed nothing and nobody beyond their own fantastic circuitry” (WID 146 and 147). Their single-mindedness is even outlined in religious terms: They could have no qualms about the effects of what they did; no cares for the collateral impact [...] And in addition to this, there must be a passionate faith: they had to believe that theirs was the true system and that earlier beliefs had been heretical. Where there were doubts, they had to be excised; where there were qualifications, they needed to be cauterised. A breed of fanatic was born [...] (WID 146). This economic system is described as a closed community of insiders: a community that demands blind allegiance and does not tolerate a closer examination of existing rules, just as the group of jihadists Hassan turns to. Beyond this simile, the novel also addresses the point of psychological profile and changing societal framework conditions with respect to both forms of fundamentalism: 5.1) Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December 161 What intrigued Vanessa about John was how easily he had fitted into the required psychological profile. [...] his school performance was unremarkable and his family had neither ‘spoiled’ nor bullied him. There were no ‘formative’ incidents that made him set his face against the world, no early loss or trauma for which he needed to compensate. [...] What there was, in her view, was a simple and unmotivated collision of two things: the way these new financiers were by nature, and the way the world, for the first time ever, had indulged them. [...T]he key was that society as a whole in London and New York had so lost its bearings that it was prepared to believe, with these analysts, that cause and effect could be uncoupled. To her, this social change, the result of decades of assault on long-accepted norms, was far more interesting than the quasi-autistic intellects of the people, like John, who worked in the new finance (WID 147-148). Like Hassan’s development, John’s steering towards fundamentalist positions cannot be explained by family background or the like. But whereas Hassan’s beliefs are still changing and reshaping in his coming of age process, the reader neither gets an explanation for the context which shaped Veals’ ideas and motives nor any indication that the character might reconsider his choices. In this respect, A Week in December leaves the reader with no easy answers concerning the reasons for fundamentalist beliefs. Whereas a teenage search for belonging and identity seems to be a plausible driving force in Hassan’s case, which makes him a very life-like character with whom readers may be able to empathise, Veals’ motives are not told. His character remains quite ungraspable and opaque, which generates less sympathy for his position. Since every emotion (of fear, anger or enjoyment) is always directed at trade-related matters, the figure of John Veals remains a stranger to us and fails to trigger empathy. His deliberations and thoughts are as matter-of-fact as his whole business. This emotional void is also reflected on the level of language, which simultaneously makes the character alien to the reader. The long, detailed passages about business environment and economic dynamics are very well-researched. But at the same time, they might have a distancing effect on many readers of the novel, for whom the specialised terminology may not be easy to comprehend without much economic background-knowledge. The narrator, furthermore, enhances this distancing effect. He is hardly visible in some scenes and implies ethical judgments by presenting specific characters in a negative light in other scenes. It is not easy to determine if the narrator can be regarded as rather overt or covert. On the one hand, he is very present, since he frequently comments on the characters and actions not in a neutral, but a highly ironic tone. On the other hand, he does not comment on the storytelling itself and remains rather hidden. The reader gets to know nothing about his personality or motivation to tell the story. He remains sexually indeterminate and does not acknowledge any addressees, although he gives a clearly addressee-oriented exposition, in which he provides the most important aspects of the characters’ past and present. The narrator gains visibility through recurrent descriptive passages and shorter flashbacks, but he mostly concentrates on the perceptions of the experiencing focaliser, which creates an illusion of immediacy. Moreover, he lets the story events unfold in a natural tempo and order and does not interfere in the sequence of events. The characters of John 5) Analyses 162 Veals and Ralph Tranter, however, are examples where the narrator becomes visible through the use of irony. Noticeably, the figure of John Veals not only constitutes an emblem of the dark sides of ‘economic fundamentalism’ but also functions as a kind of commentator, who lectures about his tricks of the trade. Therewith, he informs the readers of nexuses they might not know. What is disturbing is the fact that he does not only fail to pay attention to the fatal consequences of his deeds, but that he is beyond shame, as if everything was just a game that rouses your ambitions, without having any effect on the real world. Just like the people whose pain is exploited in the reality TV show It’s Madness his son Finbar is addicted to, and Jenni Fortune, who prefers to escape to the surreal world of her virtual reality game Parallax, Veals lives in a world where normal rules are suspended. All of these worlds promise seemingly boundless possibilities but are characterised by artificiality, soullessness and a disconnection from reality. The difference, however, between Parallax and the world of finance is that actions performed in a computer game do not hurt anyone in reality. Veals, on the contrary, acts as if he was playing a computer game in spite of the disastrous consequences his actions have for many people worldwide. [‘]This is Fantasy Finance. It wasn’t enough to have poor people borrowing money they couldn’t repay to buy houses they couldn’t afford. By writing credit default swaps, the banks could leverage the real market many times over. That’s why the overall losses are going to be so much greater than the losses on the actual mortgage loans they reference. And of course that’s how the hedgies could make a killing on the losses.’ Wetherby had turned white; tiny bubbles of sweat stood in a line on his freshly shaved upper lip. Veals smiled inwardly when he noticed: this was the younger man’s way of showing shame. [...] ‘But what about the investors in all this?’ ‘Oh, for Christ’s sake, Simon.’ Veals was beginning to tire of this interview. ‘The bank doesn’t give a fuck about the investors. [...] They do it because they can. They do it because the government encouraged it. They do it [...] because they’re a bunch of cunts.’ (WID 184 and 186). Feelings of guilt are something Veals does not seem to know or only associates with weakness and a lack of experience. Turning to the surrogate God of money, he neither is interested in religion nor ethnicity or other markers of identity and belonging. In any case, he was allergic to anything that smacked of the religious. His family was Jewish, but he had no interest in their God or their traditions; in fact he was himself consistently anti-Semitic in what he presumably imagined was an inoffensive way, talking feely of ‘Hooray Hymnies’ Jews who in his view tried to ingratiate themselves with upper-class Gentiles – or referring to his chief trader as O’Bagel or O’Shlo [...] (WID 377-378). As has been described above, the two main plots build up tension until the climactic resolution of the question whether Hassan al-Rashid carries out a terrorist attack and John Veals succeeds in his great financial coup. Surprisingly, the final resolution is rather unspectacular and anticlimactic. As outlined in the preceding paragraphs, Hassan’s story ends with an epiphany121 and his decision to refrain from carrying out the terrorist attack. Veals, in contrast, succeeds with his project, but the consequences for 121 An epiphany is described by Jahn as a “moment of intense insight, usually occasioned by the perception of a more or less ordinary object or event” (Jahn 2005: N3.3.10). 5.1) Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December 163 himself are left open to debate. Shaw, who concentrates in her analysis on the depiction of London and the financial crisis, notes that Faulks began writing A Week in December with a vision that it would be a ‘modern Dickensian novel’ interrogating notions of social injustice and offering political commentary through a cast of characters from markedly different areas of London. […] A Week in December articulates a concern with growing levels of inequality and extremes of good and bad fortune in the contemporary capital. […] Drawing many parallels with Victorian London as a place where characters go to ‘make their fortunes’, Faulks’s novel interrogates the state of ‘the London dream’ in the new millennium (Shaw 2014: 48). I would argue that the novel succeeds in voicing social concerns by giving the reader a glimpse into the very diverse realities and problems citizens of 21st century London have to face. It becomes evident that their hopes and dreams are very diverse, but that many of them are united by the disappointment of their ‘London dreams’. Directing the sympathy of the reader The negative depiction of Western economic libertarianism and loss of solidarity and community, of which Veals seems to be the epitome, is underlined and reinforced by the figure of the narrator. The heterodiegetic narrator is quite ironic and his laconic and sarcastic tone can be perceived throughout the novel. This is especially visible in passages that feature explicit characterisations, such as the following: Veals was not interested in women. He did the deed, as they called it, to stop his colleagues from gossiping and because he thought it might be good, in some undefined way, for his health. His heart was never in it. [...] Vanessa Whiteway was different. She was good-looking enough, Veals thought, that other men would envy and respect him [...] Veals calculated that even if in cash terms she would be expensive to run, the maintenance of Vanessa would in other ways be low: she wouldn’t sap his energy [...] that it would take his mind off making money (WID 331-332). The passage indicates that we are confronted with a judgmental narratorial voice. Many characterisations are rather negative, in some cases even quite merciless. The narrator interferes with his characters, comments on their actions and also implicitly judges them by his sarcasm, as in the following insertion, used to describe the literary critic Tranter: There was a time when the sharpest young newcomer had been one RT, but now this youngster was making him look old hat – or vieux chapeau as he would doubtless have put it (Tranter didn’t speak French and thought it affected to use phrases from another language. ‘Nostalgie de la boue, my aunt Fanny,’ as he’d told the readers of The Toad) (WID 124). Comments like this have a comic effect, serve to caricature certain characters and stand in contrast to these characters’ self-perception, which is evidently based on their specific knowledge, norms and values. In this respect, the novel takes the fundamental difference between what is ‘plausible’ or ‘rational’ and what is ‘just’ or ‘ethical’ to the centre stage. Since all characters act in psychologically plausible ways according 5.1.3) 5) Analyses 164 to their principles of rationality many decisions are comprehensible but still remain morally debatable. Since the narrator persona remains oblique to the reader, we do not know anything about his psychological disposition or knowledge. Considering the fact that there do not seem to be major omissions in the plot-lines, and the narrator is omniscient without emotional involvement in the story, we could conclude that the narrator possesses an all-encompassing insight into characters and events, shares this knowledge with us without major restrictions, and possesses no obvious reasons to be biased or deliver unreliable information. However, as the above-cited characterisation of John Veals demonstrates, the high degree of sarcasm has a distancing effect, which does suggest a resonance of specific norms and values. In this case, the presentation of a chain of thought, which must strike the reader as weird or even bizarre, as totally reasonable and self-evident, directs attention to the values reflected in Veals’ attitude. First, we laugh, and then we start questioning. By means of an ironic tinge, the narrator seems to distance himself ideologically from the stances he presents. Nonetheless, this tone also connotes a certain kind of empathy towards his characters. As long as one is able to smirk about the story, shock or disgust about the characters’ deeds or attitudes fail to materialise. Many of the ambiguities of the text result from the difficulty to determine clearly whether the novel can be regarded as an example of zero-focalisation or variable focalisation. The fact that the narrator gives the reader an insight into the thoughts and feelings of twelve different focalisers (six of whom are central characters) creates an illusion of omniscience (or zero-focalisation). However, when more than one of these focalisers is present in a scene, he always just chooses one perspective from which the scene is described with all its inherent limitations and predispositions. Furthermore, we get parentheses with flashbacks that illuminate the conditions of a present action, but there is no indication of knowledge about the future or other events that are not known to the respective focal character. Additionally, there is often confusion about the allocation of perception to a figure (internal focalisation) or the narrator (external focalisation). Especially the use of personalised vocabulary indicates that decisive passages in which strong emotions and important inner conflicts are presented tend towards figural perception. This is, for instance, the case when Hassan’s inner struggle concerning the planned attack is narrated: “He couldn’t give up now. He couldn’t stop. What he had to do was somehow to make the world hear – not the profane nonsense of rap and rock, not the garbage of kafir phone calls, but the truth and beauty of another voice […]” (WID 534). The sentence uses the third person pronoun, but works almost like a stream of consciousness, reflecting Hassan’s ideological stance and showing also in the choice of words (“profane nonsense”, “kafir calls”) what passes through the protagonist’s mind at that moment. However, concerning the presentation of John Veals, we can sense a stronger tendency towards a narratorial perspective. According to Schmid (2010: 101-104), five dimensions are essential for determining whether a passage is predominantly figural or narratorial in perspective, as outlined in the previous chapters (see chapter 4.5.1): 5.1) Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December 165 the perceptual point of view, ideological perspective, spatial perspective, temporal perspective and linguistic point of view. All dimensions can concur to a ‘compact’ point of view or may diverge. A Week in December features many passages with a distributive perspective or diffuse point of view. Frequently, we conclude that a passage can be considered externally focalised. Yet, the question of ideological perspective cannot be answered clearly in those passages in which the dimension of language reflects a figural perspective. This is due to the fact that the ironic tone the narrator mostly adopts is so similar to the sarcastic stance of characters like Tranter and Veals. At the dinner-party, for example, Veals’ mood is described as follows: “But why the fuck would Lance Topping invite such a grimy little hack? Was Lance trying to wind him up? As if this was not enough to spoil his dinner, there was the further irritation of the Russian bimbo” (WID 520). The disdainful and vulgar vocabulary clearly indicates Veals’ perspective. But what about the sentence starting with the ironical comment “As if this was not enough to spoil his dinner…”? It could simply reflect Veals’ disrespect for everyone or everything that does not suit him, or it may be a comment by the narrator, who uses Veals’ vocabulary to mock his contemptuous stance. The irony might be a means to hint at the distortion of Veals’ perspective. Particularly the extended use of free indirect discourse creates incidents of text interference (Schmid) in which oppositions between the narrator’s texts and a character’s text are partially neutralised and different parameters are difficult to clearly assign to either a character’s or a narrator’s text.122 Such hybrid forms may serve an appellative function, since they encourage the reader to reflect on the similarities and differences between the norms and values of narrator and focaliser. Whereas the stylistic device of internal focalisation seems to create an empathetic view on Hassan, it apparently provokes an ironic stance towards John Veals. This distancing effect is intensified by the fact that his thoughts – contrary to Hassan’s – never touch any personal or emotional topics. Whereas the boy is always referred to by his first name, the narrator mostly refers to John Veals by his last name, or at least his full name. There is no informal mention, which might denote a little intimacy. The only other character to which this applies is ‘Tranter’, who is also described in predominantly negative ways. Relating to the concepts outlined in the opening chapters, it becomes clear that the frontlines in A Week in December do not run between different ‘civilisations’, as Huntington claims, but between different norms within one civilisation. The conflict emerges between two world pictures, one of which emphasises the necessity of moral values (bound to religious beliefs but also to humanist values), and another approach to life which disregards ethical considerations. The first world picture is embodied in Hassan al-Rashid and his family, the second epitomised by John Veals and his family. The first embodies Muslim piety, humanist beliefs and family ties; the second atheism, an image of humanity based on neoliberal cost-effectiveness considerations and the fragmentation of the family and other social frameworks. 122 For more information on the interference of characters’ text and narrator’s text, structure, opposition and the neutralisation of opposition see Schmid (2010: 137-170). 5) Analyses 166 This antagonism is not presented as a clash of different cultural or religious identities, but of individuals who have found different sources to derive their aims and values from. What we are presented with is a clash of ‘interests’, not of identities, and there are moral figures and unscrupulous characters in every group. Nevertheless, A Week in December tends to stress the downturns of Western modernity such as the fragmentation of the family, increasing economic inequality and alienation. These developments nurture political apathy and the retreat of average citizens into the private realm, as well as an increase in subcultures that feed on the disorientation of the individual. The novel does not blame the realm of ‘modern’ culture for these side effects, but the dynamics of capitalist modernisation, which seem to dominate all walks of life – from development policies to the entertainment industry. By addressing the attraction of jihadism as an identity marker beyond cultural differences and an overarching framework of reference and all-encompassing value system, the novel also squints towards the problematic concurrence of ‘structural globalisation and cultural fragmentation’, outlined by Tibi. Husam Nar in Faulks’ novel tries to fill this vacuum. As we are going to see in the next chapters, novels set in zones of war and conflict often present ‘goal conflicts’, or various economic, political and social reasons as catalysts for the eruption of fundamentalist violence. In A Week in December, however, these goal conflicts are absent from the direct motivation of the young protagonist. Hassan’s turn to a radical Muslim group is triggered by a search for identity, even though the society Faulks describes is one full of economic and social inequalities and fractures. The two extremes shown in A Week in December are in line with the persistent stereotypes about ‘Westerners’ or ‘Muslims’, as outlined by the Pew Global Attitude Survey. Many Western characters are described as greedy, immoral, selfish and arrogant, whereas the Islamic fundamentalist figures are portrayed as predominantly fanatical and violent. Nevertheless, these images are counteracted by very positive characters. What brings particularly Shahla’s and Knocker’s points of criticism nearer to the reader is their balance and empathy for both sides. Shahla is presented as a very moral character who does not reject religion just because it is easier to live without its constraints. She has really set her wits to Islam and its role in our globalised society and has decided for herself that Hassan’s idealist Muslim society is an illusion one has to bid goodbye to. Thereby, she occupies a middle ground between realist and idealist notions of religion and society. She argues: ‘I know how much it hurts [...] But I’m sure there is a future for true Islam, but in a quiet, religious way. Modernization will come. People will have more choice and will live more individual lives and that will secularise them. They can still be devout in private, but they’ll live their lives in smaller units. Fragmented. Atomised. [...] There’s nothing grand about the modern world, is there? “Consumer choice”’ (WID 372). The picture she draws reflects the mentioned trend in Western European countries towards societies which are spiritual but predominantly ‘unchurched’. Her reaction to this prognosis simultaneously reflects weltschmerz about the banality and fragmentation of a world in which everything seems to be reduced to ‘consumer choice’, and a relief about the positive rights of intellectual and personal freedom. 5.1) Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December 167 Striking to me is the fact that A Week in December features such a strong focus on moral issues. Jihadism is clearly attacked as a brutal and futile strategy: a few exploit others either less educated or searching for identity and belonging for their own political goals. Nevertheless, the criticism of ‘Western liberalism’ is the most essential to the novel. Islamic fundamentalism is but one aberration stemming from the fragmentation of a hedonist and materialist society, which can only deliver vicarious satisfaction but cannot still people’s longing for fullness. At its core the novel seems to hint at the conclusion that man, in fact, might not be able to live happily without some kind of belief in a higher force. Faulks’ depiction of TV shows, virtual reality games or drug abuse reflect the characters’ desperate search for a transcendent reality. Even Farooq or Shahla, who adopt a very moderate and tolerant religious stance that has much in common with general humanist values, gain their stable personality and inner strength from belief. Stating his respect for Islam, the author himself explains in an article that their “kindness and good citizenship spring not just from being naturally good eggs but from their devotion to the Koran” (Faulks 24.08.2009). Charles Taylor’s seminal study A Secular Age emanates from the assumption that human nature yearns for fullness “to which we orient ourselves morally or spiritually” (Taylor 2007: 6). This longing seems to be inherent to human nature. While for believers ‘fullness’ is inextricably linked to God, unbelievers strive to find it within, in an autonomous human morality and rationality. This struggle for a ‘sense in life’, as one could say more simplistically, grants orientation but can also have negative effects where we experience above all a distance, an absence, an exile, a seemingly irremediable incapacity ever to reach this place; an absence of power; a confusion, or worse, the condition often described in the tradition as melancholy […]. What is terrible in this latter condition is that we lose a sense of where the place of fullness is, even of what fullness could consist in; we feel we’ve forgotten what it would look like, or cannot believe in it any more (Taylor 2007: 6). This seems to me like a pretty exact description of the state of society outlined by A Week in December. The characters search for a sense of fullness by various means, but most of them fail. “A certain awe still surrounds reason as a critical power, capable of liberating us from illusion and blind forces or instinct, as well as the phantasies bred of our fear and narrowness and pusillanimity”, Taylor (2007: 9) notes and adds: “The nearest thing to fullness lies in this power of reason, and it is entirely ours, developed if it is through our own, often heroic action” (ibid.). The character of John Veals in Faulks’ novel, however, seems to be the living proof that reason and rationality do not necessarily liberate. Veals ironically perceives his coup to be heroic and thinks he has achieved ‘fullness’ or the purpose of his life. However, the novel does not invite us to share this view but to feel sorry for the emptiness of his existence and incomprehension concerning his narrow-mindedness and unscrupulousness. At least with respect to Western economic libertarianism, the tenor of the novel rather seems to support the criticism made by different religious fundamentalisms that “the evidence of modern secular society demonstrates that freedom from constraint is not true liberty, but rather libertarianism and license to pursue self-interest 5) Analyses 168 regardless of the cost to others” (Hill 1986: 74-78, cited in Zeidan 2003: 121). Without some higher spiritual force that functions as a societal corrective, it seems to be difficult for human beings to develop an innate morality and suppress their greed and ambitions in favour of humanist values. In a way Gabriel’s schizophrenic brother is as clear-minded or deluded as any other character in Faulks’ work. His schizophrenia is described in nearly religious terms: “Adam saw himself as the leader of Wakely, its chosen and most senior inhabitant. With his beard and shaggy hair, he might have been a prophet” (WID 524). Just like Hassan, he believes in an ominous threatening ‘God’ or power that will punish ‘infidels’. “‘It’s better to shed blood than not to believe,’ he said. ‘You have your chances to believe. You make the choice. And you choose not to...’ Adam’s fingers made a gesture of rising flames” (WID 137). The characters in A Week in December follow many different beliefs that assume their own fundamentalist shapes. They all live in their own niches, searching for their place in alternative realities. However, all of these creeds are unmasked and exposed as hollow, destructive and delusional. Veals went out into the main meeting room of the office and looked down at the city of London below him. Worlds of which he knew nothing were contained within the darkened streets, where febrile realities competed for attention: YourPlace, Parallax and Husam Nar; True Life, Stargazer and Dream Team...The words of Axia and the Disaster-Maker, as well as those of the Prophet and Lisa on It’s Madness, might ring disembodied in the ears of millions. What John Veals saw was buildings only, silhouettes on a river, units of economic function (WID 547). The picture Faulks draws is one of emptiness and nihilism, leaving us with a cold world that is only occasionally lit up by the warmth and humanism embodied in characters like Farooq al-Rashid or Gabriel Northwood. A Week in December in the light of ethical criticism and ‘literature as cultural ecology’: the power of literature to change our perspective As I am going to explore in the next chapters, many authors of this literary corpus – including Faulks – regard literature as something which can give us a glimpse of the humanism and warmth that human beings yearn for. As outlined in the chapter on ethical criticism, Faulks believes in the power of fictional literature to make people understand other worldviews, contexts and correlations they may not be accustomed to. Furthermore, he underlines his responsibility towards society as a writer and his power to make his readers contemplate topics they might not have thought through without his books. In my interview with him, he spoke about his wish to rouse more indignation about what happened during the world financial crisis, as already outlined in chapter 4.5.3. With A Week in December he wanted to raise more awareness and deliver people from the restraint of an inner blockade and the inaction caused by problems which seem to be too alien, complex or frightening. Thus, the author as well as the characters in the novel pick up several potential effects of fictional literature. First, as Faulks underlines, novels may educate, rouse 5.1.4) 5.1) Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December 169 awareness and cause strong emotions, potentially leading to actions and societal change. Secondly, as his character Jenni Fortune tells us, novels have the power to grant us momentary relief from our sorrows by allowing us to escape reality. And thirdly, they can also open our eyes for the plight of others and enable us to see things from the perspective of people we do not have any contact with in real life. This is something Faulks’ protagonist Gabriel Northwood tries to teach Jenni Fortune: ‘Books explain the real world. They bring you close to it in a way you could never manage in the course of the day. [...] People never explain to you exactly what they think and feel and how their thoughts and feelings work, do they? They don’t have time. Or the right words. But that’s what books do. [...] Of my total understanding of human beings, which is perhaps not very great ... I’d say half of it is from just guessing that other people must feel much the same as I would in their place. But of the other half, ninety per cent of it has come from reading books. Less than ten per cent from reality – from watching and talking and listening – from living’ (WID 278-279). This tenor is not only in line with Faulks’ above-cited commentary on the character of Hassan but also with Martha Nussbaum’s belief in the potential of novels to rouse empathy. This empathy is generated or prevented by skilful narrative techniques – from characterisation via relationships of contrast and correspondence to the employment of ironic narratorial comments which achieve a distancing effect. The content and tenor of the novel is underlined and intensified by the narrative pattern, the use of vocabulary and “the sense of life that animates the text as a whole” (Nussbaum 1998: 226). Whereas authors such as Yasmina Khadra (as we are going to see in the next chapters) trigger the sympathy of the reader by describing horrible events and feelings in unsparing detail, Faulks directs the sympathy of his readers by the total absence of any emotion on the part of some characters. Thus, the evocation of emotion, which Nussbaum sees as a core function of literature that forces the reader to relive and thus understand other points of view, is employed by Faulks in a different but just as effective way. As has been outlined in the previous paragraphs, the employment of irony and the uses of text interference between narrator’s and characters’ perspectives suggest certain value judgments, which gives us the feeling that the text as a whole contains “an implied consciousness” (Nussbaum 1992: 32). Interestingly, an author does not necessarily intend this kind of implied consciousness that generates a moral undertone. Faulks, for instance, claims that his story was supposed to reflect only the points of view, feelings and thoughts of the different characters without any interference by a judgmental narrator persona: I don’t really think of there being a narrator in A Week in December. [...] I would like the narrative voice to be neutral, but merely expressing the story through the feelings and the situation of each character. Of course, this is difficult to do. You may well sense that I am more sympathetic to Gabriel, the lawyer, than I am to Veals, the hedge-fund manager. And I think, a little bit of leaking is okay. But by and large, I tried to see each scene wholeheartedly from the perspective of the character I am talking about (Interview with Sebastian Faulks 14.10.2012). The statement demonstrates that an author’s view of his own work is a valid starting point for an interpretation but only reflects one possible way of interpreting a work of 5) Analyses 170 fiction. A novel may always also include many facets unconsciously employed by an author. Moreover, Faulks’ intention reflects a strong focus on ‘point of view’, which Nussbaum perceives as central element for the creation of empathy. The frequent shift between different perspectives and the quite direct representation of consciousness create a high degree of immediacy and an enhanced reality-effect, which draws us into the world of the characters. Concerning Nussbaum’s question which parts of our personality A Week in December involves “Intellect alone? Or also emotions, imagination, perception, desire?” (Nussbaum 1992: 33), the answer depends on the character we look at. As has been outlined above, the novel features a large number of focalisers who all give us an insight into their perspective. However, not all of these perspectives also prompt our feelings. Whereas most characters may gain our sympathy by exposing their feelings, which makes them human and likeable, Veals’ perspective is completely matter-of-fact and unemotional, which prevents the reader from bonding with this character and creates a distancing effect. Furthermore, considerable doubts are raised about the validity of his beliefs. As described in the chapter on ethical criticism, Nussbaum is interested in the kind of knowledge and beliefs represented in novels and the question whether these values are presented as universal or rather limited. On the one hand, Veals and his colleagues perceive their rationale to be a universal principle with which they can rule nearly every society. But on the other hand, the novel makes it clear that this opinion is an epitome of a distorted worldview and that the basis of this belief is pure greed and ruthlessness. These driving factors are called into question through precise explanations of economic circumstances with the ultimate purpose to instruct the reader. Faulks agrees with Nussbaum’s view that novels tell us a lot about human life and about how to live. Transferred to the world of A Week in December this means: What A Week in December tells us about how to live is that you cannot live in a virtual world. You have to make the effort to relate to other people in a real way. It tells us that you can’t retreat from reality by using skunk or by just dealing in imaginary financial instruments – because that way leads to disaster. You have to engage with other people face to face in a real way. Sometimes this is painful, difficult and frequently boring, but it’s the only way that human beings have a future. That doesn’t mean that I’m against using email or do not watch television. We all do. But – it’s not a substitute for life (Interview with Sebastian Faulks 14.10.2012). The novel addresses our illusions and points to our societal responsibilities. Furthermore, it also hints at the responsibility of intellectuals to use their influence in a good way. Ralph Tranter, the nihilistic and cynical critic who takes a perverse delight in excoriating other writers and witnessing their failures and downfall, is the emblem of a group of public figures who neither meet their responsibility nor recognise their delusion. Concerning Zapf ’s approach to literature as cultural ecology, A Week in December reflects the belief in the complexity of all systems and questions “the modernist ideology of the autonomous, entirely self-constituting subject” (Zapf 2007: 155). Many of the characters in the novel believe that they can be alone and escape reality by turning 5.1) Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December 171 their backs on the real world and other people. They immerse themselves in reality TV, computer games and drugs or refuse to value society in their drive for profit. All of these characters, however, are not presented as leading happy, healthy and fulfilled lives. They believe to be autonomous but they are not. First, their actions have repercussions for others, and second, they cannot experience joy and fulfilment without love, friendship and family ties. All individuals depend on larger economic, cultural and societal frameworks – no matter how defiantly they try to ignore this fact. The novel also shows how the downturns and dysfunctional aspects of some individuals in this system can have disastrous consequences for the functioning of society as a whole. As has been outlined in the chapter on ethical criticism, Faulks’ work is a contestation of what is often seen as ‘progress’ by pointing to the essentialist facets of this progress orientation. About fundamentalism and the fundamentalist requirement of modern finance, Faulks states: ‘[F]undamentalist’ does not equal ‘bad’, or ‘aggressive’, or ‘wrong’. It just means ‘fundamentalist’. [...] The fundamental requirement of modern finance is that there is only one thing that counts and that is profit. There are no contingent thoughts. You exist in a world of profit and loss, which is in a bubble apart from the rest of society. And that is the fundamental requirement of that world. If you believe that what you do is connected to other parts of society and that you have a responsibility for other parts of society, then you are not really going to be able to function in that world (Interview with Sebastian Faulks 14.10.2012). As a ‘cultural-critical metadiscourse’ the novel hints at the contradictions inherent to a system of power which dominates us – in this case economic libertarianism. The economic system presented in Faulks’ novel leads to many problems described by Zapf, such as “traumatizing forms of negating individuality, [...] chronic states of selfalienation, failed communication and paralyzed vitality” (Zapf 2007: 155). The society Faulks describes is paralysed in a ‘Biedermeier-like’ state of ‘death-in-life’, characterised by the turning away from political problems and a retreat of the individual into the distractions of the private sphere. In terms of an ‘imaginative counter-discourse’ the novel also stages the marginalised elements (like communal values, family ties or friendship) which are repressed by the dominant system but desperately needed. Memorable in this respect is the fact that the characters themselves are neither socially, nor culturally or economically disadvantaged. This, however, does not grant them the status of autonomous individuals because they marginalise themselves! They enjoy positive preconditions to lead conscious and self-determined lives and positively influence society, but they refuse to use their potential and instead plunge into disaster with their eyes open. Thus, the majority is described as strangely shifted to the margins, since it does not realise its actual power and potential to fight their marginalisation. It remains vague to which degree A Week in December also functions as ‘reintegrative interdiscourse’. On the one hand, Zapf claims that “bringing together the culturally separated spheres or discourses which, even if it results in failure and catastrophe on the level of action, on a symbolic level often appears as a process or moment of regeneration and the regaining of creativity” (Zapf 2007: 159). This symbolic level is 5) Analyses 172 clearly achieved by the structure of the novel, which at the end unites most characters in one geographical location. The final dinner party connects the lives of nearly all focalisers, after their plotlines have been followed individually and isolated from each other. In the end, these characters meet, even if this does not mean that conflicts are resolved or differences settled. On the other hand, the great societal problems described by Faulks persist and even seem to triumph, when Veals’ great coup succeeds – at the cost of the people who cannot defend themselves, such as pensioners and people in developing countries. There is no indication of world-shaking changes. Hope, however, lies in the small details and individual stories. In recent years since the publication of Faulks’ novel people in many countries have begun a process the author called for with his novels and public statement. People all over the world start to awake from their states of silent acceptance and disinterest and unify for a common aim. As has been outlined, protest groups like the ‘Occupy’ movement have recently shown that also many people who live in wealthy countries and benefit from the global capitalist system start to question its sustainability and moral justification. This process of awakening, however, is only indicated by the end of Faulks’ novel. For both, Hassan and John, the story ends with laughter. In Hassan’s case his breaking into laughter signifies that he realises the futility of the plans he does not really want to carry out. He reconciles with his friend Shahla and refrains from carrying out the attack. The end implies a regeneration of love and family ties and a supposed end of his teenage search for identity. Furthermore, the slowly developing relationship between Jenni Fortune and Gabriel Northwood indicates positive changes – away from virtual reality towards personal relationships. In Veals’ case, however, the story is left open. We get an indication of a shadow of doubt but his selfrighteousness and sense of power do not seem to be shaken. His final laughter is not one of joy or relief but one of megalomania, verging on insanity: Millions around the globe would lose their jobs; other millions would go without food, or at least see their modest lives stripped of comfort. But I have mastered this world, thought John Veals, passing his hand over his newly shaved chin. To me there is no mystery, no nuance and no complication; I am a man alive to the spirit of his time, the one who hears the whispers on the wind. A rare surge of feeling, of something like vindication, came from the pit of his belly and spread out till it sang in his veins. As he stood with his hands in his pockets, staring out over the sleeping city, over its darkened wheels and spires and domes, Veals laughed (WID 548). A Week in December shows that Faulks is a master of displaying and questioning different concepts of reality. What is reality and why does it seem to be so unbearable that people strive to escape it by means of drugs, reality TV or virtual reality computer games? Did we arrive at a stage at which we prefer to construct new lives for ourselves in which we can be richer, more beautiful, successful and popular than we can ever be in reality, instead of trying to improve what we really are? Even though this world is fake and an illusion? ‘Are we so devoid of substance that we have to worship juggernauts just to fill our emptiness and to calm down our self-doubts and fears?’, Faulks seems to ask us with his novel. These false Gods assume various shapes in A Week in December: they come in the guise of capitalism, profit and consumerism, 5.1) Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December 173 popular culture with its shallow entertainment, drugs and hedonism, or the promise of spiritual cleansing through religious fundamentalist practices. In the end they all turn out to be empty promises. The only thing that seems to give a little hope is love, family ties and the recollection of humanist values. These values might not bring wealth and power and often seem to contradict the fast pace of our times. But they also enable us to place the individual and their worth in the centre, again. Faulks invites us to engage with a broad range of perspectives and reminds us of the danger of retreating into ‘parallel societies’ of any kind. Both forms of fundamentalism might make the world seem less complex and overwhelming and create an illusion of mastery and orientation. But at the bottom this is a hollow promise, and fundamentalism seems psychologically plausible, but remains immoral. ... “there must be more to living than swallowing one old book”: Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album as a declaration of love for the freedom of the individual In Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album (BA), set in 1989 London, a young Pakistani college student finds himself torn between two opposed value systems and ways of life. Shahid Hasan explores the joys of the city’s entertainment industry, which is presented as an emblem of hedonism and shallowness, characterised by drug abuse, nihilism, as well as sexual promiscuity and licentiousness. Deedee Osgood, his lecturer and lover with whom he is also connected through their love for music, arts, literature and intellectual joys, introduces him to this world. Simultaneously, Shahid makes friends with a circle of radical Muslims around the religious leader Riaz Al-Hussain, who tolerate no deviating opinions and religious views, but give him a feeling of belonging, security and moral sustenance instead. Squirming between the luring pleasures and freedoms Deedee’s concept of life promises him and his Muslim friends’ uncompromising and violent search for purity and righteousness, Shahid experiences a severe crisis of identity. The story thus not only contrasts the extreme poles of religious hatred and shallow hedonism, but it is also a novel of adolescence, closely linked to the topics of identity formation and belonging. Kureishi is an author who does not hesitate to express his political opinions. He is interested in the socio-cultural background and the many antagonising forces such as class, race, ethnicity, gender or religion which have shaped England over the last few decades and thereby also the characters in his novels that are set in this country. The work at hand also reflects this interest. The Black Album is a narrative featuring internal focalisation in which Shahid Hasan is not only the protagonist but also the main focaliser and centre of perception. The story begins in medias res, inviting the reader into the world of a young college student who is unsure of his position in life in terms of class, religion and culture. The novel does not provide the reader with much detailed background information. However, nearly all information presented is of high significance. 5.2) 5) Analyses 174 Fundamentalism as a bulwark against “drug-inspired debris”123 and “banal fantasies”124? The Black Album is set in London in the late 1980 s – a decade that started with the unexpected victory of the Conservatives led by Margaret Thatcher over the Labour government in 1979. The difficult economic situation in the 1970 s had been characterised by runaway inflation, high unemployment rates, international debts and the need to take out extra loans with the International Monetary Fund, which called for fiscal retrenchment. The Labour government had to take steps which led to nationwide strikes, a loss of support from the unions and finally a vote of no confidence against James Callaghan’s Labour Party. The 1980 s were shaped by a political course which did not emphasise the European idea but the strength and leading position of Britain in the world. Thatcher relied on ‘Victorian values’ such as self-help, individualism, freedom, monetarist economic policies and a retreat of the government from the economy (cf. Maurer 2005: 466). She questioned the welfare state, strove to constrain the power of labour unions and wanted to reinforce Britain’s former glory and strength, as demonstrated in the Falkland War in 1982. Widely known as ‘iron lady’, Thatcher managed to decrease inflation but was also harshly criticised for fostering greed and an economic climate in which only the ‘fittest’ were able to survive. Furthermore, the 1980 s were a time of increasing tensions between white British citizens and immigrants from other countries of the British Commonwealth.125 As Kim outlines, the ‘New Right’ did not challenge “the Victorian ethic of religious, racial, and sexual conformity” (Kim 2011: 56). Instead, it sought to strengthen governmental authority in order to establish its two central but simultaneously conflicting principles of “libertarian individualism and republican one nation-ism” (ebd.). Thatcher’s ‘one nation’ concept had at its core the ideal of cultural and ethnic homogeneity. In this ideological system neither the influences of youth culture and marginal groups nor of the many ethnic minorities living in Britain seemed to have a place. One year before her election in 1979, Thatcher held a famous speech in which she invoked the danger that England by the end of the century “might be rather swamped by people with a different culture” (Thatcher 27.01.1978: n.p.) due to the large influx of immigrants from Pakistan and the new Commonwealth. In this early interview, she already outlined the principles that would influence Conservative policies for the next decade: “[I]f you want good race relations, you have got to allay people’s fears on numbers [… and] have to hold out the prospect of an end to immigration” (Thatcher 27.01.1978: n.p.).126 The 1980 s brought stricter immigration controls and a simultaneous empha- 5.2.1) 123 BA 130 124 Ibid. 125 For an interesting introduction to the influence of post World War II-immigration on the construction of British national identity and British politics, see Doty (1996) and Messina (2001). 126 For a comprehensive compilation of more than 8000 statements and speeches by Margaret Thatcher, consult the history webpage of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation which offers a large online archive of documents, multimedia-material and secondary sources: http://www.margaretthatcher.org/. 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 175 sis on personal responsibility: Every citizen was supposed to be able to prosper economically irrespective of ethnic and religious background or social class. This ideal, however, only proved to be true for a small minority. These policies resulted in racial tensions in many British cities, increasing divides between different social classes and an increasing gap between a prospering South and an increasingly impoverished North. For immigrants especially, the 1980 s in Britain were a period of great insecurity. They were subject to increasingly restrictive policies and suffered from a social climate geared to assimilation instead of an acceptance of cultural diversity: As the New Right citizenship discourse helped the government extend its coercive arm in a combat against the perceived threat of an emerging underclass, ethnic minorities became the major target of this offensive because they were stereotypically regarded as poor, potential troublemakers, and welfare beneficiaries. […] The 1981 British Nationality Act finally set the stage for the abandonment of Britain’s imperial ties and identity in favor of an exclusionary notion of Britishness. Under this Act, only those who met the partiality rule could be British citizens […] In the 1988 Immigration Act, the Thatcher government went further to remove the family reunion right […] In the 1988 Education Reform Act, Thatcher firmly opposed positive action to aid integration or to encourage multicultural diversity. Emphasizing the importance of British history, standard English, and Christianity, this Act gave a warning that cultural pluralism was to be accommodated only within the boundary of Britishness. […] The New Right argued that erasing rather than recognizing difference brings better justice for minorities as well as majorities. Therefore, the New Right intentionally ignored the agony and desire of minorities for cultural survival. […] It thus hardly mentioned that inequality might have more to do with ethnicity and cultural difference than with individual ability in the free market (Kim 2011: 75). This is the socio-political context of the novel through which Shahid Hasan guides the readers and gives them a glimpse of two diametrically opposed world-views. As I am going to explore in this chapter, the political situation of Britain in the 1980 s is not only used as a background for the story but is central to the whole novel. ‘Shahid’ (or ‘Shaheed’) is a word used according to some definitions as a Muslim term for ‘martyr’ (cf. Moore-Gilbert 2012: 189). The name of the protagonist, thus, already hints at the topic of Islamic fundamentalism. However, as I am going to outline in this chapter, this word-play is subverted by the content and the protagonist’s final rejection of Islamic fundamentalist ideas. Shahid serves as a fixed internal focaliser. Thus, we see the world through his eyes and get next to no information about the thoughts of other characters. In this respect, it is important how Islamic fundamentalism as well as the Western way of life is filtered through his consciousness and conveyed to the reader. It is intriguing and will be further outlined in this chapter at a later stage that the Islamist leader Riaz Al-Hussain seems to be the most enigmatic character. This is partly attributable to the quality of the narrator. The voice established is a hetero-, extradiegetic narrator who is not very individualised and remains rather covert. He shows no signs of unreliability, such as information gaps or an emotional involvement in the plot, and he passes no explicit judgments on the characters’ thoughts and actions. Thus, the narrator does not give the reader any more insight into the characters representing Islamic fundamentalism than the protagonist does. Humorous effects or criticism that may lead to a bias in the readers’ sympathy are not created by means of biting narratorial comments, but are either implicitly evoked by 5) Analyses 176 the ridiculousness of events themselves or by Shahid’s oftentimes satirical musings. Apart from the large amount of quoted dialogues, The Black Album features an extended use of free indirect discourse, which gives the novel a high degree of subjectivity and immediacy. Crucial passages are mimetic rather than diegetic. And this subjectivity is restricted to the protagonist’s point of view. Consequently, the lack of information about Riaz’ whereabouts, thoughts, feelings, motives and aims is responsible for a likely lack of identification with and empathy for his position, as will be outlined further in this chapter. However, before focusing on the leader, I will briefly outline the depiction of the Muslim brothers in Kureishi’s novel and the function the group performs for the protagonist. At first sight, the Muslim brothers seem to perform a very positive task, caring for Shahid as well as for many other immigrants in the neighbourhood. They give people legal and religious advice and offer them friendship and a sort of familial community. This support and friendliness is something many immigrants, including the protagonist, do not receive from the majority society. The Muslim brothers are described as a backstop and a different kind of social security. At the same time, the group is depicted as fundamentalist in that it perceives liberalism as threatening, absolutises its beliefs, endeavours to rule private and public life with its norms and politicises all facets of life, including music and youth culture. Concerning the ideological and organisational characteristics of fundamentalism outlined by Almond/Sivan/Appleby, Riaz’ circle shows signs of moral Manicheanism and a belief in its own inerrancy. It establishes behavioural requirements and a clear outward demarcation. However, the membership is not presented as very select, but looks like a conglomerate of people who are somewhat unsuccessful and lost in life since they are foreigners, socially disadvantaged or have had a hard time in their youth. Moreover, the organisation cannot really be called authoritarian: Even though Riaz’ pre-eminence seems undisputed, there is no clear system of rules and regulations and no entity to punish breaches of the common moral code. Sometimes the leader even seems quite indifferent towards his followers, who are left to fulfil their tasks on their own. Especially towards the end of the novel, during an assault on Deedee Osgood’s house, the group’s indecision and lack of plan as well as the cowardice and weakness of its leader become apparent (cf. BA 266-268). On the whole, a mimetic relationship between real political and religious formations and Kureishi’s fictional exploration of the topic cannot be assumed. Kureishi at no point seems to aim at a realistic and detailed description of jihadist groups. None of the authors under discussion give elaborate political, religious or ideological analyses which indicate a deeper understanding of the phenomenon and an urge to educate the reader about these issues. Moreover, it is difficult to determine whether the novel presents Islamic fundamentalism as a cultural, religious, ideological or economic problem. In The Black Album, we can detect elements of all of these facets of the phenomenon even though the economic explanation is predominant. In general, the novel seems to underline the notion that the nation state has lost its former role as the principal source of identity. Similar to Faulks’ protagonist, Hassan al-Rashid, Shahid is confused and feels a void, which the Western lifestyle and consumerism alone can- 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 177 not fill. Kureishi’s characters search for supposedly simple truths because they do not know where they belong, and religion promises to fill this gap. Both protagonists are young and still in the process of defining their identity, as will be outlined in subchapter 5.2.4. A major difference to A Week in December is, however, Kureishi’s emphasis on racial prejudice, the formation of subcultures and parallel societies and the fact that immigrants in Britain are often economically disadvantaged. The members of the Muslim circle described in The Black Album are without orientation and economic prospects and feel alien in Britain. The reason for their rejection of a Western lifestyle can neither be clearly attributed to a clash of interests nor a clash of identity. Socioeconomic problems and the feeling of being excluded by the majority society seem to coalesce with processes of identity formation that have not been concluded at that point in time. The group members derive their values from a conglomerate of ideas – concrete references to religious sources or verses in the Koran are not made. In one scene in the middle of the novel, Shahid gives his interpretation of the reasons people might have for clinging to fundamentalist ideas. The passage is so telling because it refers to many points that have been outlined in the introductory chapters: All this believing wasn’t so much a matter of truth or falsity, of what could be shown and what not, but of joining. He had noticed, during the days he’d walked around the area, that the races were divided. The black kids stuck with each other, the Pakistanis went to one another’s houses, the Bengalis knew each other from way back, and the whites too. Even if there were no hostility between groups – and there was plenty, if only implicit; his mother, for instance, liked to make derogatory remarks about blacks, saying they were lazy, while middle-class whites she revered – there was little mixing. And would things change? Why should they? A few individuals would make the effort, but wasn’t the world breaking up into political and religious tribes? The divisions were taken for granted, each to his own. But where did such divides lead to, if not to different kinds of civil war? More pressingly, if everyone was so hastily adhering to their own group, where did he belong? (BA 133-134). The protagonist simultaneously mentions racial segregation and prejudices, cultural differences and stereotyping, which lead to group dynamics that foster a cold social climate, the forming of parallel societies and the need for every individual to define their identity by means of inclusion and exclusion. The Muslim brotherhood in the novel attempts to alleviate the downturns of the British economic and political system, and at first seems to grant support and a positive focal point for identification. However, the reader soon perceives striking differences between their claim and reality. The brothers’ claims, which are presented as virtuous in many respects, are constantly opposed by their actual behaviour or undermined by the irony involved in the situations that are presented. The leader of the Muslim brotherhood, Riaz Al-Hussain, is the character that remains most enigmatic to us. Riaz studies law and gives legal advice to poor and underprivileged people in his area. He seems to sincerely engage himself in reading religious sources, writes poetry and works a lot to improve the social situation in his neighbourhood. He is presented as a mixed character, featuring positive and negative attributes, but remains unfathomable to the reader. We do not get any insights into his consciousness. His motivations, emotions, thoughts and feelings remain hidden to us. 5) Analyses 178 Despite his many positive actions, a darker undercurrent can be perceived concerning Riaz’ demeanour, which is devoid of charity and humour and full of bitterness and contempt: Shahid had taken it for granted that his smile indicated humour, a love of humanity, patience. Yet if you looked closely, it was disdain. Riaz not only thought Brownlow was a fool, but thought him contemptible too. ‘People must decide good and evil for themselves,’ Brownlow said. Riaz laughed. ‘Man is the last person I would trust to such a task!’ (BA 98). Despite or maybe because of this attitude Shahid admires him. He realises that 1980 s pop culture is full of self-appointed rebels, so that maybe virtue becomes the new way of swimming against the tide: Riaz, however, in an era of self-serving ambition and careers, had taken on a course and maintained his unpopular individuality. In the end he was more of a nonconformist – and one without affectation – than anyone Shahid had met. Where everyone else had zigged, Riaz had zagged (BA 109). Hence, individuality is perceived as a value as such. Generally, the reader is given enough information to comprehend the possible reasons of other group members for following Riaz (which I will outline later in this chapter), but not to understand the leader himself. Despite the fact that he cares for the community, which seems to be very positive at first glance, our sympathy is undercut by the discrepancy between certain claims and actual achievements. The Muslim brothers’ loud rejection of luxury goods and symbols which might elevate one person over another becomes visible from the beginning, when Riaz prides himself that the restaurant he chose would make Shahid feel at home since it offered simple food to “ordinary people” (BA 4). However, these references to decency and modesty are constantly undermined by the protagonist’s contradicting and often quite humorous thoughts presented in free indirect discourse: “How did Riaz know he would feel at home in a place with five Formica tables and screwed-down red bucket seats, all as brightly lit under white neon as a police cell?” (BA 4). Apart from Shahid’s oftentimes sarcastic thoughts, the narrator creates no further distancing effect by ironic comments but remains sympathetic to all standpoints. The readers are invited to judge for themselves, but are still directed by the action, which inevitably triggers comic effects and undermines the readers’ potential sympathy with any form of fundamentalism. Especially Riaz’ speeches in the mosque serve as a source of biting satire: They [Riaz’ Sunday talks] were well attended by a growing audience of young people, mostly local cockney Asians. Not being an aged obscurantist, Riaz was becoming the most popular speaker. He must have tasted the atmosphere of his time without drinking it in, for he entitled his talks ‘Rave to the Grave?’127, ‘Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve’, ‘Islam: A Blast from the Past or a Force for the Future?’ and ‘Democracy is a Hypocrisy’. [...] No subject could hold him. He may have begun his talk under the guise of discussing Islamic identity, for instance, but soon he would be expatiating on the creation of the universe, the 127 Ironically, ‘Rave to the Grave’ is the subtitle of a film-version of Return of the Dead. The movie was rated R for containing sexuality, nudity, strong violence, language and drug use – everything that is criticised by Riaz. However, this version was only released in 2005 – ten years after Kureishi’s novel was published. 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 179 persecution of Muslims world-wide, the state of Israel, gays and lesbians, Islam in Spain, face-lifts, nudity, the dumping of nuclear waste in the Third World, perfume, the collapse of the West, and Urdu poetry. Even if he’d opened by wryly saying, ‘Today I’m not going to blast anything,’ he would start to rage, fist in the air, throwing down his pen, creating a frisson of humorous agreement in his audience. Then, pretending to be contrite, he’d beg the brothers to apologize to anyone they might have argued with, and to love those of other religions (BA 80-81). This scene makes several statements about the kinds of fundamentalist beliefs developed throughout the novel. First, it shows Riaz’ clientele to consist mainly of immigrants with a lower social status. Second, the leader partly derives his fame from a lack of inspirational alternatives. Thirdly, his talks are highly polemical and use derogatory catch-phrases, which, by the way, seem to draw on conservative Christian slogans such as ‘God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.’128 His lectures are a crude mixture of all kinds of fundamentalist attitudes with his own subjective interpretation of Islam. By using a highly ironic compilation of topics, the novel, fourthly, exposes Riaz as an armchair politician who lacks a clear religious concept as well as expertise, and constantly seems to draw on the cultural codex he rejects so fervently. The simultaneous discussion of perfume and nuclear waste and his demagogic ranting against Western decadence and unbelievers, while at the same time preaching benevolence towards other religions, all serve to discredit him and the system of belief he represents. The group’s endeavour to protect an assaulted Muslim family likewise slides into parody when their “cleansing jihad” (BA 138) suddenly faces very harmless enemies. It turns out that a woman and two very young children harass the family. They are driven by blind hatred and despair but pose no serious threat to anyone. The only sympathy potentially evoked for Riaz’ point of view is roused by Shahid’s contemplations about his potential motives and shortcomings. His musings are based on speculation but still grant the Muslim leader a humane touch: Riaz had little physical presence. Shahid imagined him in a corner of the school playground, his hands across his face, shying from the bully blows. [...] Shahid watched the man he had wanted as his friend and who, like him but with less reason, seemed strangely out of place here. Riaz loved ‘his people’, but, unless offering assistance, he appeared uncomfortable with them. Riaz had little: no wife or children, career, hobby, house or possessions. The meaning of his life was his creed and the idea that he knew the truth about how people should live. It was this single-mindedness that made him powerful and, to Shahid now, rather pitiful (BA 172-174). This feeling is intensified by the fact that Riaz seems to have no real home. To Shahid’s question if he likes living in England he responds: “This will never be my home. [...] I will never entirely understand it” (BA 175). The protagonist, in contrast, seems equally confused but was born in England and has much stronger attachments to the country. While Riaz apparently finds it hard to bond and build up relationships with other 128 The phrase became known as a conservative Christian slogan during a large rally against equal rights and abortion in Houston, Texas, in November 1977. Later on, it was recurrently picked up, for instance in a Christianity Today report (1979), in the American playwright Paul Rudnick’s comedy The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told (2000) and in the British House of Commons debate on same-sex marriage (2013). 5) Analyses 180 people, Shahid is an open character for whom it seems to be easy to socialise. Shahid’s relationship to Britain and other British people has often been conflictual, but he has always been in contact with people from many different backgrounds and interacted with them. While Riaz cannot regard Britain as his home, Shahid ascertains: “There’s nowhere else I will feel more comfortable” (BA 175). Riaz’ radical stance is partly described as a reaction against the feeling of marginalisation. Conscious of the international distribution of political power and economic resources, Riaz seems to feel intellectually as well as culturally humiliated. In his eyes, Western modernity is inextricably linked to imperialist domination: ‘Your liberal beliefs belong to a minority who live in northern Europe. Yet you think moral superiority over the rest of mankind is a fact. You want to dominate others with your particular morality, which has – as you also well know – gone hand-in-hand with fascist imperialism. [...] This is why we have to guard against the hypocritical and smug intellectual atmosphere of Western civilization. ‘Brownlow dabbed sweat from his forehead and smiled. [...] ‘That atmosphere you deprecate. With reason. But this civilization has also brought us [...l]iterature, painting, architecture, psychoanalysis, science, journalism, music, a stable political culture, organized sport – at a pretty high level. And all this has gone hand-in-hand with something significant. That is: critical enquiry into the nature of truth. It talks of proof and demonstration. [...] Questions and ideas. Ideas being the enemy of religion’ (BA 98-99). In this scene, the novel portrays Islamic fundamentalism as containing an anti-modernist current in that Riaz does not seem to be open to critical enquiry and the questioning of his beliefs and values. However, the reader gets the feeling that this is rather due to a perceived lack of achievement than to a real rejection of modern institutions and developments. As will be outlined in the next paragraphs, the author makes extended use of stereotypical characterisations as well as of relationships of contrast and correspondence to polarise and contrast Islamic fundamentalism and Western liberalism. Kureishi seeks to present a variety of reasons for a turn towards Islamic fundamentalism. These reasons are embodied by the characters he presents. As has been outlined above, Shahid searches for community and a source of meaning and identity. The character Chad is driven by different motives, even though all characters are in a way united by their loneliness. The Muslim group seems to give him an opportunity for acceptance and respect despite a lack of education and future prospects. For a long time, Chad has been violating all moral codes and now takes a rather anti-intellectual stance, reacting with hostility to Shahid’s eagerness to read and study. He seems to have had a hard time growing up and enjoys having a little authority for the first time in his life by being Riaz’ obedient follower and profiting from his publicity. In his view, books and education are only means by which “intellectual people elevate themselves above ordinary ones” (BA 21). Several passages in the novel suggest a lack of education and upward social mobility as well as prevalent racism as reasons for falling prey to supposedly easy answers in the form of fundamentalist beliefs. Shahid’s lover Deedee tells him that Chad’s actual name used to be Trevor Buss: He was adopted by a white couple. The mother was racist, talked about Pakis all the time and how they had to fit in. [...] Chad would hear church bells. He’d see English country 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 181 cottages and ordinary English people who were secure, who effortlessly belonged. [...T]he sense of exclusion practically drove him mad. He wanted to bomb them. [...] When he got to be a teenager he saw he had no roots, no connections to Pakistan, couldn’t even speak the language. So he went to Urdu classes. But when he tried asking for the salt in Southall everyone fell about at his accent. In England white people looked at him as if he were going to steal their car or their handbag, particularly as he dressed like a ragamuffin. But in Pakistan they looked at him even more strangely. Why should he be able to fit into a Third World theocracy? [...] Trevor Buss’s soul got lost in translation, as it were. Someone said he even tried the Labour Party, to try to find a place. But it was too racist and his anger was too much. [...] It was fermenting and he couldn’t keep it under (BA 106-108). As a result, Trevor first slides down the social ladder, losing himself in drug abuse, promiscuous sexuality and entertainment and finally turns to the diametrically opposed direction, denouncing his own parents for deficits in religious practice and changing his name to ‘Muhammad Shahabuddin Ali-Shah’. His turn to Islam can thus be explained by his feeling of alterity and estrangement and his wish to belong. Chad neither feels at home in the Pakistani nor in the British culture. “I am homeless”, he says, “I have no country” (BA 108). What is actually a sad and serious topic becomes an element of satire in the next paragraph, when Deedee outlines how Trevor came to be known as Chad: ‘He changed his name to Muhammad Shahabuddin Ali-Shah. [...] He’d insist on the whole name. He played football and his mates got fed up saying, “Pass the ball, Muhammad Shahabuddin Ali-Shah,” or, “On me noddle over here, Muhammad Shahabuddin Ali-Shah.” No one passed to him. So he became Chad’ (BA 108). Riaz is for him the pillar of orientation he can cling to and derive meaning and respect from, since “his mixture of kindness and discipline sorted him out better than any rehabilitation centre could have” (BA 110). Without the leader, Chad is “a dog without a master” (BA 218), which underscores the importance of guidance and leadership but simultaneously renders the sort of leadership interchangeable. Not Islam as a spiritual source of inspiration and guidance itself is what gives Chad the security he needs. Religion is presented as a vehicle for security and guidance, a vessel that can be filled with meaning to justify Riaz’ claim for leadership. The Black Album does not present Islam itself as a religion that saved Chad. It is the potential of guidance and the feeling of belonging, which is important for the character. This feeling manifests itself in the Muslim circle but could also exist in a different context. On the whole, we cannot find any elaborate comments on religion that would leave the impression that the novel aims at seriously addressing religious belief and Islamic fundamentalism. The core of Kureishi’s work is – as in most of his other works – migrant experience and the possibilities of hybridity and multiculturalism in a globalised world. Additionally, The Black Album features recurring references to the inequalities and social alienation brought forth by the British economic system. Carey Oppenheim indeed asserted in a study at the beginning of the 1990 s that “every indicator of poverty shows that black people and other ethnic minority groups are more at risk of high unemployment, low pay, poor conditions at work and diminished social security rights” (Oppenheim 1993:130). Nevertheless, ethnic divisions do not seem to have overridden older economic class inequalities, which seem firmly fixed 5) Analyses 182 despite the changing formation of political groups in Britain (cf. Westergaard 2001: 68-79). There are recurrent hints at a fusion of religious and political issues. An incident which embodies this fusion and, furthermore, serves as another satirical element to denounce the Muslim circle, is the veneration of an eggplant. Members of the Muslim brotherhood believe that God has written on it. Shahid does not defend the veneration of this supposedly holy aubergine with religious but with social and political arguments. The fight about this issue between him and Deedee slowly becomes one about influence and dominance. ‘God has written on it, hasn’t he?’ ‘That’s what some people are saying. But they’re simple types. Unlike you, they can’t read the French philosophers. A few years ago they were in their villages, milking cows and keeping chickens. We have to respect the faiths of others – the Catholics say they drink Jesus’s blood and no one jails the Pope for cannibalism.’ [...] ‘Is it your culture? Is it culture at all?’ ‘You’re being a snob. [...] We’re third-class citizens, even lower than the white working class. Racist violence is getting worse! Papa thought it would stop, that we’d be accepted here as English. We haven’t been. We’re not equal! It’s gonna be like America. However far we go, we’ll always be underneath!’ [...] ‘I don’t give a damn. [...] I’m not going to respect a communicating vegetable and I’m not going to compete with one either’ (BA 209). Shahid’s stance is anti-racist and politically – not religiously – motivated. The scene exemplifies the close connection and blurred borders between religion, culture and politics and the danger of falling prey to the same mechanisms one strives to criticise. As Brah notes: In their need to create new political identities, dominated groups will often appeal to bonds of common cultural experience in order to mobilize their constituency. In so doing they may assert a seemingly essentialist difference. Spivak (1987) and Fuss (1989) have argued in favour of such a ‘strategic essentialism’. They believe that the ‘risk’ of essentialism may be worth taking if framed from the vantage point of a dominated subject position. This will remain problematic if a challenge to one form of oppression leads to the reinforcement of another (Brah 1995: 144). Riaz similarly connects the defence of a family against racism to the overall need for Muslims to fight against oppression: ‘We’re not blasted Christians,’ Riaz replied with considerable aggression for him, though the effect was rather undermined by the fact that he was, as usual, carrying his briefcase. ‘We don’t turn the other cheek. We will fight for our people who are being tortured in Palestine, Afghanistan, Kashmir! War has been declared against us. But we are armed’ (BA 82). He confounds a religious cause with a domestic fight against racism and an international political and military struggle for influence and territory. The example of ‘turning the other cheek’ refers to the well-known part in the gospels of Matthew and Luke that has often been interpreted as the essence of the Christian ideal of non-confrontation and nonviolence. Apart from this interpretation there is, however, also a school of thought which underlines the historical context. In the times of Jesus, slapping 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 183 someone on his cheek with the back of one’s hand was used for slaves and other people perceived to be inferior. To turn the other cheek actually meant that the attacker had only one chance: to slap with the open hand (since the left one could only be used for unclean purposes). This, however, was a sign of equality. ‘Turning the other cheek’ thus, can also be understood as a brave and upright challenge, an assertion of human dignity and a rebellion against injustice, which is carried out peacefully without the use of violence. Riaz does not seem to be aware of this semantic dimension, though. His defence consists of organising a squad supposed to defend an assaulted family with the help of machetes and meat cleavers from the local butcher. Nonetheless, the violent and fanatic potential of Riaz’ circle never assumes a really threatening quality, since it is constantly undercut by comic relief, as the following scene exemplifies: While Chad enthusiastically demonstrated the best way to handle a meat cleaver, Hat checked the layout of the flat for entrances, exits and vulnerable junctures, just like a television cop. Then, to Chad’s amazement and Tahira’s giggles, he unpacked the overnight bag his mother had packed for him, putting his toothbrush and dental floss in the bathroom and hanging his red baseball cap in the hall (BA 91). The followers of fundamentalist systems of belief (be they religious, political or ideological) seem to possess a strange childlike quality. The same is visible in the parody surrounding the worship of the aubergine with the supposedly holy inscription, which triggers naive enthusiasm among Riaz’ followers and a pilgrimage to the house where it is displayed. In the scene the Muslim brothers are described like children, who are treated, without even realising it, in a very derogatory, patronising way by George Rugman Rudder, a local Labour leader who shows up at the scene only to attract voters and positive media coverage. Contradicting these parodies, which render a rather harmless picture of Islamic fanaticism, a bomb blast at London’s Victoria station introduces the dimension of terrorism into the story. Nonetheless, this event is not used to illuminate any reasons for or particularities about the attack. It only serves to shed light on the reactions of ordinary people, filtered through Shahid’s perception: People went without prompting to the nearest hospitals, queuing silently to give blood [...]. Churches were opened and the perplexed waited in buildings they hadn’t entered for years. The cafés and pubs were full; apparently they were being drunk dry. Illicit lovers, adulterers and opportunists took advantage. [...] Such a tragedy was the closest a city like London could come to communal emotion. What did they feel? Confusion and anger, because somewhere outside lurked armies of resentment. But which faction was it? Which underground group? Which war, cause or grievance was being demonstrated? The world was full of seething causes which required vengeance – that at least was known. While inside the city, gorging on plenty without looking up, were the complacent. And today ‘the lucky ones’, those with mortgages and jobs, wandering the streets in search of a working phone, were meant to know they could be stalked, picked off, besieged. For they were guilty. They would have to pay and pay (BA 103). The protagonist observes and evaluates these scenes when he strives to attend a meeting with Deedee and suddenly finds himself in the middle of chaos at Victoria station after the bomb blast. People in this scene react very differently: some of them see how 5) Analyses 184 they may help the injured; some seem to be under shock and try to forget the terrible scenes and others use the general turmoil to take advantage of being unobserved. Shahid himself can only guess about the motives of victims and perpetrators alike. However, he seems to promote a quite nihilist worldview and holds the opinion that many of these people in their complacency and Godlessness are guilty anyway and thus deserve this fate. Apart from this subjective view, the reader gets no further explanations on the context. Furthermore, it is not clear whether the bombing is fictitious or if it at least alludes to a real incident. There were various terrorist attacks (most of them carried out by wings of the IRA) in London during the 1980 s and 90 s, but the only incident at Victoria Station was an IRA bomb that exploded in a litter bin in February 1991, which injured 38 people and killed one man. Since the novel is set in 1989, it cannot refer to this incident, though. The second drastic event in the plot is the Rushdie affair129, which is followed by a book burning and a petrol bomb assault on a local bookshop. As outlined in the introductory chapters, the fatwa against Salman Rushdie in reaction to the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1989 was a shocking experience for Kureishi, which motivated a deeper engagement with the topic of Islamic fundamentalism. In a larger societal context, the Rushdie affair was, as Virdee notes, besides the Honeyford Affair in Bradford and the Gulf War, one of the major events at that time which attracted extended media coverage, served to amplify racial and religious prejudice and triggered increasing ‘Islamophobia’ (Virdee 2001: 130). Surprisingly, not many words are lost about the exact religious justification of the fatwa or different views within Islam on this matter: “The feeling was unanimous. Riaz had informed Chad they were rejoicing in the Ayatollah’s action, and Chad had passed this on to the group” (BA 169). That was that. Period. Anyone who expects the novel to take a stance on the Rushdie affair or give more detailed insights into the controversy will be dissatisfied. Kureishi similarly disappointed the critics who had hoped for a more balanced presentation of different Islamic standpoints and more moderate currents. The characters in Riaz’ circle are rather flat and uniform. They never really contradict his opinions or introduce new political views or ideological nuances into the discussion. Most of the time, “it wasn’t that they were afraid to speak, they had nothing to say” (BA 183). The attitudes concerning the Rushdie affair and the following book burning are primarily crucial points for an unsympathetic portrayal of Muslim fundamentalist stances. Islamic fundamentalism is presented as an unquestioned embrace of simple truths. The portrayal of the book burning directs the reader to draw a similar conclusion as the protagonist, who decides for himself in the end that he prefers uncertainty to this kind of firmness: If anything, he felt ashamed. [...] He never wanted his face to show such ecstatic rigidity! The stupidity of the demonstration appalled him. How narrow they were, how unintelligent, how...embarrassing it all was! [...] This destruction of a book – a book which was a 129 A short overview of the violent criticism against the publication of Salman Rushdie’s novel has already been given in previous chapters. For more in-depth analyses of Rushdie’s work and the controversy surrounding his novels, see Blake (2001), Sanga (2001), Morton (2008) and Gupta (2009). 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 185 question – had embodied an attitude to life which he had to consider. […] Maybe wisdom would come from what one didn’t know, rather than from confidence (BA 225-227). Thus, the novel stays vague concerning the ideological, religious and political details of the matter but underlines that fundamentalism embodies a rejection of intellectual openness and humanism. Apart from its lack of religious and ideological particulars concerning the fatwa, the novel does not give many details about other controversial issues, such as the role of women in Islam, either. The fact that Islamic fundamentalist currents have been criticised so widely for disregarding gender equality and the rights of women is not a topic in The Black Album. When the role of women is addressed, the novel presents only strong and independent Muslim women. Chili’s wife Zulma, for instance, is not described as religious. She is very fashionable, intelligent and strong-willed. With his description of strong women and weak men, Kureishi turns common gender stereotypes upside down. Furthermore, Zulma judges religious and cultural concepts against the economic and social standards of her time. When she talks about her intention to get a divorce, she humorously turns the concept of shame around, claiming that Chili himself was “raining shame” (BA 189) on the reputation of his family by being such a failure and therewith attracting the gossip of all acquaintances back in Pakistan. Zulma’s position is extremely emancipated, and she uses the concept of shame not as a religious construct but with a cultural connotation. Chili is perceived as bringing shame on his family, because he runs down the family business and does not manage to be successful and care for his family. Shame here has nothing to do with moral or religious conduct. Zulma neither seems to fear reprisals concerning her affair with another man, nor does anyone question her right to sole custody for their daughter Saphire – a right which Islam only adjudicates to the father in case of a divorce. Islamic law and Islamic conduct play no role for these two characters. They both violate the two fundamental components of Islamic prenuptial agreements (based on sura 4,34 and 2,228), which stipulate the husband’s obligation to pay maintenance and the wife’s duty to obey as central principles (Schirrmacher and Spuler- Stegemann 2004: 15). Chili turns this relationship upside down and is clearly the weaker part in the relationship, unsuccessfully throwing himself at Zulma’s feet and begging her to take him back and give him money. Furthermore, Zulma can be seen as a paramount example of Thatcherite economic policies in the 1980 s. She is a successful businesswoman, who can fly an aircraft, wears the trousers in her marriage and is focused on money and success: He [Chili] felt put down by her. He was supposed to know more than she did, and he didn’t. [...] Shahid’s mistake was to try to have political discussions with her, for, like Chili, she was an arch-Thatcherite. She would patronize and incense him, personalizing everything, saying, ‘It’s typical, you’re living off a business family, this isn’t a commune, is it? Your father’s a businessman, you’re a hypocrite, aren’t you?’ Zulma could reduce him to near-tears of frustration if he talked about fairness or equality or opportunity, or the need to reduce unemployment. She’d laugh; the world couldn’t be like that. What was needed was the opposite – enterprising people (like her and Chili, presumably) – who weren’t afraid to crush others to get what they wanted. He argued she was a dupe, explaining what racists the Thatcherites were. She might imagine she was an intelligent, upper-class wom- 5) Analyses 186 an, but to them she’d always be a Paki and liable to be patronized. She appreciated the truth of this, but it was a colonial residue – the new money knew no colour (BA 86-87). The quote not only demonstrates Zulma’s independence and strength. It also points to the major political controversies and social problems during the conservative government under Margaret Thatcher, outlined in the first paragraphs. While the protagonist takes on an almost ‘female’ and defensive role, nearly breaking out in tears and appealing to humanist values and equality, Zulma seems unperturbed and self-confident, basing her strategies on principles of maximum utility in line with the prevailing spirit of the time. The notion that money is ‘colour-blind’ is a recurring thought in Kureishi’s works and also a reference to the economic policies advocated by the British Member of Parliament Enoch Powell. As Kim outlines, Powell saw the possibility of integrating immigrants into the exceptional British society through a free market force. He believed in the undiscriminating play of market forces as the motor of integration. He insisted that money was color-blind and that economic forces would help the work of integration (Kim 2011: 59). At the same time, Powell came to be known as a populist politician who confined national identity and openly declared his scepticism of a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society, striving for a more limited definition of British identity and citizenship. Even before the Conservatives won the elections, Powell gained dubious fame with his ‘river of blood speech’, which was widely criticised as racialist.130 The above-cited quote from The Black Album singles out the central issues of race and class and their potential influence on economic success. Zulma defends her opinion that she can gain economic success and upward social mobility irrespective of her ethnic background. Shahid, on the other hand, argues that race still fundamentally determines social standing and success in Britain. While Powell defined British national identity by means of exclusion, Thatcher did not exclude other cultures or creeds from her vision of Britain but based her policies on the belief in the necessity of cultural assimilation. She focused on the personal responsibility of the individual and a market economy which was supposed to be colour-blind. This ideological stance included that success 130 In this speech on April 20, 1968 Powell criticised Commonwealth immigration with a very controversial wording which gained him the dismissal from the Shadow Cabinet of the Conservative Party but at the same time widespread public support. Powell states his concern about immigration numbers in the following words: “We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependants, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant descended population. It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre. […] As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood’. That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century. Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now” (The Telegraph 6.11.2007: n.p.). Especially the quote from the Aeneid, used to express an anxiety about the rising number of immigrants from other countries of the Commonwealth, caused long-lasting political debates. 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 187 was not to be dependent on gender, class or race (Kim 2011: 67). This promise, however, did not sustain comparison with the economic reality. As I am going to discuss in the next sections on the representation of Western liberalism, Kureishi introduces the notion that class-issues might have become an even more powerful determinant of individual identity and a trigger of social and political conflicts than issues of race and ethnicity. Zulma refers to the Thatcherite economy, which was widely criticised due to its detrimental effects on groups that were not able to succeed in the system. Green summarises conservative economic policies in 1980 s Britain as follows: Margaret Thatcher and her administrations […] saw their main aim as being to ‘roll back the frontiers of the State’. This was to be achieved by replacing the mixed economy with a private-sector dominated market economy. This in turn was to be complemented by a reform and reduction of the welfare state, by a lowering of direct personal taxation and the encouragement of wider property-ownership. Institutions which hampered the operation of the market, in particular trade unions, were to have their powers and legal privileges curbed. Finally, low inflation rather than full employment was to be the central goal of economic policy. In short, Thatcherism saw its task as being to challenge and ultimately to dismantle the institutions, practices and assumptions which underpinned what had come to be known by the mid-1970 s as ‘the post-war consensus’ (Green 1999: 19). These policies aimed at creating an enterprise culture and marked an abrupt rejection of the post-World War II politics which were targeted at income redistribution, full employment and welfare provision. Furthermore, many contemporary critics hint at the socially as well as regionally very unequal distribution of wealth, neoliberal conservative politics generated. Worcester, for instance, describes in a résumé on ten years of Thatcher’s government that those who have benefited most from Thatcherite economic policies are the ultra-rich (through generous tax breaks), the professional and managerial class, and some skilled workers. [...] At the same time, there has been a rise in the rate of poverty and an unresolved crisis of mass unemployment, leading some to observe that Britain has become a three-tiered society of ‘haves,’ ‘havenots,’ and ‘havelots’ (Worcester 1989: 304-305). Shahid’s father and family apparently belong to the small group that has benefited from conservative economic policies and thus defends this approach. Zulma claims that the family’s success – or class – makes them insiders of the system, overriding the fact of their Pakistani background. Shahid, however, believes that the forces of race or ethnicity are still stronger than money and class. In his opinion, they will never achieve real equality and recognition just by earning money. In his essay “Newness in the World”, Kureishi himself refers to the mechanisms of colonialistic ‘othering’ that are turned around by Islamic fundamentalists. The author explains how Islamist agitators nowadays use similar strategies to set Muslim people against the West, (such as the fuelling of prejudices and fears) that were formerly used by the West to stress the inferiority of other cultures and creeds: Riaz, the solemn, earnest and clever leader of the small group which Shahid joins, understands that hatred of the Other is an effective way of keeping his group not only together but moving forward. To do this, he has to create an effective paranoia. He must ensure that the image and idea of the Other is sufficiently horrible and dangerous to make it worth 5) Analyses 188 being afraid of. The former colonialistic Western Other, having helped rush the East into premature modernity, must have no virtues. Just as the West has generated fantasies and misapprehensions of the East for its own purposes, the East – this time stationed in the West – will do the same, ensuring not only a comprehensive misunderstanding between the two sides, but a complete disjunction which occludes complexity (Kureishi 2011: 117-118). Kureishi unmasks the stereotypes and essentialist assumptions on both sides. The strategies of exclusion and scapegoating which the West has so long exercised over its Eastern immigrants are now reversed and used against the majority culture, rejecting dialogue and promoting a very simple picture of the world. Kureishi warns his readers that religions may become “corrupt and stultifying […] if they fetishise obedience, if they are not renewed and re-thought” (Kureishi 2011: 119). He underlines his belief in the necessity of dialogue and a diversity of voices and opinions, coming to the conclusion that the blasphemy Riaz strives to eradicate and punish is a necessary component for society – and also for religion as such: “Without blasphemy religion has no potency or meaning” (Kureishi 2011: 119). The next subchapters will serve to analyse the ‘Western ways and principles’ which at the same time attract and repel the protagonist as well as Kureishi’s discussion of identity and societal conflict. “Everybody’s free to feel good”131: Consumerism and the pleasure principle The picture of Western society Kureishi draws seems inextricably linked to his portrait of London as an epitome of all Western achievements and abysses. The first impression the reader gets when London (especially the district Shahid has to live in) is described is not very pleasant, but unsettlingly mixed and characterised by “mundane poverty” (BA 3). It makes the protagonist wonder “whether a nearby asylum had been recently closed down, since day and night on the High Road, dozens of exhibitionists, gabblers and maniacs yelled into the air” (ibid.). Considering his new surroundings, Shahid “had never felt more invisible” (BA 5). Consequently, I disagree with Kaleta, who claims that The Black Album presents a “romantic” portrayal of London (Kaleta 1998: 133). Kureishi’s portrayal of London is as unsparing as Faulks’ description of the metropolis. Concerning the question of radical groups which feel threatened and excluded due to racial prejudice and a lack of upward social mobility, Kureishi’s novel expresses even more scepticism concerning London’s ability to integrate its citizens. The vast discrepancy between the immigrants’ hopes and needs and the social and economic reality they are facing is a central theme in The Black Album. The novel mentions this divide as an essential reason for the disenchantment with Western liberal culture. As Shahid talks to people waiting for Brother Riaz’ counselling, a man bares his soul to him: 5.2.2) 131 BA 62. This line refers to the famous pop song by the Zambian-born Zimbabwean singer Rozalla, who had a huge hit with the single in Britain in 1991. 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 189 ‘These boys, please, sir, are coming to my flat and threatening my whole family every day and night. As I told you, they have punched me in my guts. For five years I have lived there, but it is getting worse. Also my sister and my brother and his wife are writing me saying, have you forgotten us, you are living in luxury there, why don’t you send the money we need for the medicine, the money for the wedding, the money for our beloved parents…’ […] ‘Sir, I am already having two jobs, one in the office during the day, and the restaurant until two in the night. I am flaked fully out, and the entire world is leaning on my head –’ (BA 36-37). Kureishi captures a snapshot of the reasons why many immigrants are coming to Britain: in a hope to move up and therewith to honour and financially support their families in their countries of origin. After some years, however, they often have to realise that they are denied this eagerly awaited upward social mobility; that others look down on them and sometimes even exclude and harass them. They thus come to regard “the white élite culture as self-deceiving and hypocritical” (BA 134). One might argue that this character is quite stereotypical and the scene could be used as an ironic subversion of the ‘immigrant stereotype’. However, neither the situation presented nor the tone of the previous and following paragraphs indicates an ironic treatment of the topic. Apart from the confrontation with an economic reality characterised by injustice and a superficial lifestyle that seems to be devoid of personal joy and real warmth, the life in London also confronts the protagonist with latent racism. Resentments seem to be there but not always acknowledged. Shahid’s mother, for instance, was unable to face the truth and used to reprimand her son for writing about his experience with racism at school: More than anything she hated any talk of race or racism. Probably she had suffered some abuse and contempt. But her father had been a doctor; everyone – politicians, generals, journalists, police chiefs – came to their house in Karachi. The idea that anyone might treat her with disrespect was insupportable. Even when Shahid vomited and defecated with fear before going to school, or when he returned with cuts, bruises and his bag slashed with knives, she behaved as if so appalling an insult couldn’t exist. And so she turned away from him. What she knew was too much for her (BA 73). Racism is a topic that led to a lot of disquiet at the end of the 1980 s. According to Skellington, who refers to newspaper articles published at the time and the annual studies on Racial Violence and Harassment by the Runnymede Trust, racially motivated incidents soared from 4,383 in 1988, to 5,044 in 1989 and 6,359 in 1990 in England and Wales (Skellington 1996: 85). From 1988 to 1989 serious racial assaults rose by 60 per cent, and racial incidents increased in six of the eight police areas in London (cf. ibid.). Moreover, racial attacks on the homes of immigrants seemed to have increased dramatically, especially in London, towards the end of the 1980 s (cf. Skellington 1996: 87). This experience with racism is a formative influence for the protagonist and much stronger than any religious feelings. During the whole course of the novel, Shahid is never able to develop any sincere religiosity. The only time he utters a “Thank God” is ironically in answer to Chad’s complaint about the fact that London offers so “many temptations for young men” (BA 15). The appeal of Islamist views does not so much 5) Analyses 190 derive from weariness with shallow entertainment and hedonism as from his search for friendship and a sense of belonging. In his adolescent search for identity, Shahid desperately wants to belong somewhere to overcome the alienation he has often been feeling with the culture he lives in: I had been kicked around and chased a lot, you know. It made me terrifyingly sensitive. I kept thinking there was something I lacked. […] Everywhere I went I was the only darkskinned person. How did this make people see me? I began to be scared of going into certain places. I didn’t know what they were thinking. I was convinced they were full of sneering and disgust and hatred. And if they were pleasant, I imagined they were hypocrites. I became paranoid. I couldn’t go out. I knew I was confused and … fucked up. But I didn’t know what to do (BA 10). Since he is surrounded by white culture and politics he first sees a radical assimilation as the only way for him to belong, which is presented in a drastic but also slightly humorous way (considering the absurdity of his plans): I wanted to be a racist. […] My mind was invaded by killing-nigger fantasies. […] Of going around abusing Pakis, niggers, Chinks, Irish, any foreign scum. I slagged them under my breath whenever I saw them. I wanted to kick them up the arse. The thought of sleeping with Asian girls made me sick. […] I hated all foreign bastards. […] I argued…why can’t I be a racist like everyone else? Why do I have to miss out on that privilege? Why is it only me who has to be good? Why can’t I swagger around pissing on others for being inferior? I began to turn into one of them. I was becoming a monster. […] I have wanted to join the British National Party (BA 10-11). The scene is quite exaggerated. However, the passage hints at a psychological mechanism racism might trigger: The experience of continued exclusion and loneliness may lead to self-hatred and a denial and hatred of all aspects which are rejected by the group an individual yearns to be part of. Rejection leads to self-hatred and ultimately to hatred of all other people – in this case people from other cultures and creeds – who seem to represent what is not conforming to and accepted by the majority society. As Brown notes, the feeling of being singled out is very familiar to the author himself. Being addressed as “Pakistani Pete” (Brown 2011: n.p.) by teachers at school, Kureishi was well aware of his hybridity even as a child. Thus, Brown even regards The Black Album as a semi-autobiographical work. The passage quoted above reflects an overwhelming wish of a teenager who still needs to define his own identity to blend in. It is described that, especially after his father’s death, the protagonist just “wanted a new start with new people in a new place [...where] he wouldn’t be excluded; there had to be ways in which he could belong” (BA 16). The experience of racism and the wish to belong are connected to Shahid’s decision to become part of an Islamic fundamentalist group which, however, only aggravates his identity crisis, as will be outlined in the following subchapter. The Black Album addressed the topics of racism and unequal distribution of wealth in England at a time in the mid-1990 s when the topic of Britain as a multicultural society was still connected to much insecurity. As has been outlined briefly in the previous paragraphs, many people were disenchanted with the economic policies, the attitudes towards migration and the definition of ‘British identity’ under Margaret Thatcher. This status quo was also maintained during the term of her Conservative 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 191 successor John Major. Two years after the publication of The Black Album, Tony Blair and the Labour Party gained a landslide victory and initiated major changes. Blair initiated a more social course by introducing the National Minimum Wage Act, taxes for the richest privatised companies and a more European-friendly and integrationist course, which went hand in hand with a rhetoric of renewal proclaiming a “New Britain” (Maurer 2005: 469-470). This included a shift from an assimilationist course to a more multicultural vision of British identity. The Black Album presents identity as an ever changing and versatile construct. Most characters waver between extreme poles that are first and foremost represented by three characters which form a triangle of seemingly irreconcilable worldviews. Riaz Al-Hussain stands for Islamic fundamentalism, Deedee Osgood and Shahid’s brother Chili for liberal hedonism and Andrew Brownlow for radical communism. The strongest contrasts are set up between Riaz’ religious, moral claims and Deedee’s postmodern relativism and striving for pleasure. These polar opposites are first exaggerated only to finally collapse their differences. At the end of the novel, most readers will have noticed that none of these extremes can offer any salvation. As I am going to outline in the next paragraphs, they also share similarities in their claim to sole representation, the use of essentialist categories and their exorbitance that ultimately leads to self-destruction. Shahid’s brother Chili and his lecturer Deedee Osgood can be identified as the two characters who serve as emblems of Western hedonism and a way of life which equally attracts and repels the protagonist. His brother stands for Western consumerism. This fact indicates that the form of ‘liberalism’ or pleasure principle criticised in The Black Album does not seem to be specifically ‘Western’. Chili takes assimilation or mimicry to extremes. When he visits his little brother, Shahid ponders: In Chili’s hand were his car keys, Ray-Bans and Marlboros, without which he wouldn’t leave his bathroom. Chili drank only black coffee and neat Jack Daniels; his suits were Boss, his underwear Calvin Klein, his actor Pacino. His barber shook his hand, his accountant took him to dinner, his drug dealer would come to him at all hours, and accept his cheques. At least he wasn’t smoking a joint (BA 38). While Riaz’ followers deplore a lack of wealth and prospects, Chili seems to have everything but does not put his advantages to good use. On the whole, he is outlined as a rather shallow character. His life seems to be devoid of any personal values, for he only cherishes consumerism and hedonism. Thus, he seems to blend in perfectly into the anonymous party circle engaging in fetish, partner switch and drug abuse that Deedee finds so fascinating. Shahid’s and Chili’s father – a self-made man born in Pakistan, who was awarded an MBE for flying RAF bombers during the war – presumably already showed a similar affinity towards Western capitalism and associated it with modernity: Papa hated anything ‘old-fashioned’, unless it charmed tourists. He wanted to tear down the old; he liked ‘progress’. ‘I only want the best,’ he’d say, meaning the newest, the latest, and somehow, the most ostentatious […] Chili’s relentless passion had always been for clothes, girls, cars, girls and the money that bought them. When the brothers were young he made it clear that he found Shahid’s bookishness effeminate. He was influenced in this 5) Analyses 192 by the practical and aggressive Papa, who originated the idea that Shahid’s studiousness, was not only unproductive but an affliction for the family […] (BA 39 and 41). ‘Progress’ and ‘Western liberalism’ primarily seem to be associated with wealth, money and declining moral standards. Following this definition of the term “modern”, no core characteristics of Western ‘modernity’, such as democratic community, shared sovereignty or constitutionalism and the rule of law, are mentioned and seem to be involved. The ironic tone that can be perceived throughout the whole passage (enforced for example by the double use of the word ‘girls’ in the list of Chili’s passions or the presentation of diligence and intelligence as ‘affliction’) is augmented by the funny way in which Chili keeps the promise to ‘take care’ of his little brother that he made on his father’s death-bed. He sticks to his word by buying him drinks and drugs in shady nightclubs, which is not exactly what one would call ‘taking responsibility for a family member’. Shahid gets “the impression that his elder brother had appointed himself a reality guide, pointing out pitfalls before the boy made a serious error due to credulity, sensitivity and lack of cunning” (BA 42). These descriptions form a humorous contrast to the severe grievances of Riaz’ followers. Whereas many members of the Muslim circle are described as victims, “Chili called himself a predator” (BA 51). This suggests a nexus between social problems and a resort to religion. However, Chili’s stance towards life does not only stem from his atheism or his father’s example but also from a certain uprootedness: The problem was, as their uncle Asif once stated, money had come too easily to Chili in the 1980 s. He didn’t respect where it came from. […] It takes several generations to become accustomed to a place. We think we’re settled down, but we’re like brides who’ve just crossed the threshold. We have to watch ourselves, otherwise we will wake up one day to find we have made a calamitous marriage.’ This was laced with bitterness, of course. Their uncle had the impossible task of living in a country which couldn’t accommodate intelligence, initiative, imagination, and in which most endeavour bogged down into hopelessness (BA 54). Chili in a way embodies the downturns modernity entailed and the postmodern reaction to these issues: He is an emblem of societal problems such as loneliness, alienation and political apathy and reacts to this with a nihilist attitude, rejecting any moral restrictions, regulating categories and limitations to his personal freedom. The comment by Chili’s uncle highlights a similar nostalgia as Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, in which the protagonist expresses his regret about the hopeless political and economic circumstances and the lack of freedom in present-day Pakistan that makes life so difficult there. The second character Kureishi uses to describe and simultaneously criticise the Western way of life is Shahid’s lecturer Deedee Osgood. She is an intellectual who is politically committed to feminism and anti-racist policies and seems to feel attracted to people who do not bow to the majority but swim against the tide. She used to have a relationship with the communist activist Dr. Andrew Brownlow and at the beginning of the novel starts an affair with her student Shahid. Similar to the young protagonist, she seems to be still searching for her place in life and represents the same hedonistic lifestyle Chili enjoys. But while Chili stands for consumerism and capitalism, 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 193 Deedee speaks in favour of intellectual freedom and unrestrained sexuality. Her drug abuse, participation in raves and uninhibited sexual experiments underline her yearning for freedom. She introduces the topic of ‘the fluidity of identity’, which runs throughout the novel as a central theme and will be analysed more closely in the next paragraphs. When Shahid enters her office for the first time he finds “pictures of Prince, Madonna, and Oscar Wilde, with a quote beneath it, ‘All limitations are prisons.’” (BA 25). Deedee is described as a woman with “an unruly edge” (BA 29) and strong desires. Over the course of the novel she gains considerable control over Shahid by stimulating him intellectually and exerting sexual power over him. But despite her assertive demeanour and her self-confidence, she is at times described more like a child who sleeps like a baby “with her legs pulled up, sucking her thumb” (BA 120). Furthermore, the word ‘bomb’ is not only used referring to the bombing of Victoria Station and the Muslim circle but also in connection to Deedee’s drug consumerism. When she takes Ecstasy the process is described as dropping a bomb (BA 57). These references indicate that Deedee might be as lost as other characters in the novel and that her alleged certainty about the preference of a lifestyle characterised by atheism and the search for pleasure has to be questioned as well. Nevertheless, Shahid’s lecturer is not presented as an unsympathetic character and also stands for tolerance, open discussion and education. Furthermore, the character is more individualised and complex than most of the other characters in the novel apart from the protagonist. Western hedonism, through Deedee and Chili, is however described as having an equally destructive potential as Islamic fundamentalism. Furthermore, it is presented as partly stemming from a feeling of disorientation and helplessness caused by the political apathy following a political decade in which change seemed to be impossible and political activism had been stifled for too long. Deedee explains to Shahid about the Thatcher-era: ‘There was a period, in the mid-seventies, when we imagined history was moving our way. Gays, blacks, women, were asserting and organizing themselves. Less than ten years later, after the Falklands, CND and the miners’ strike, even I could see the movement was in a contrary direction. Thatcher had concentrated the struggle. But she’d worn everyone down. Where did we go from here?’ (BA 116). Deedee’s craving for pleasure seems to be rooted in disappointment and a feeling of helplessness. The domination of society by a capitalist ideology does not seem to have led to a new ‘Biedermeier Period’ in which people have lost all autonomy and feeling of social responsibility as in A Week in December. However, there are striking parallels between both novels in that the characters react to the pressures of their age and their own feelings of defeat by a retreat to virtual realities. 1980 s and 90 s pop culture which expresses itself in the form of new synthetic drugs, raves and orgies serves as a way to escape reality and its pressing political and social concerns. A character who seems to have fought until the end for his political and social ideas is Andrew Brownlow, who is depicted as another important challenger of both extremes. Communist ideology is presented as some kind of middle ground between religious fundamentalism and liberal hedonism with Brownlow as a mediator who 5) Analyses 194 maintains contact with both camps. Brownlow is described as a person who was a student at Cambridge and could have worked at Harvard but instead turned down his career to come to Shahid’s college and help “the underprivileged niggers and wogs an’ margin people” (BA 32). In the beginning, even Riaz admits that he has “some personal integrity” (BA 32). He shares Deedee’s intellectualism and political activism as well as Riaz’ social conscience and belief in affirmative action. However, his position is ultimately irreconcilable with their attitudes to life. With his ideological stance, he neither endorses religious piety nor the pursuit of pleasure, since communism is both inherently atheist and relies on strict self-control and discipline. Moreover, communism is in a process of decay – which holds true for the novel, as well as for real global political developments that led to the crumbling of the Soviet bloc at the end of the 1980 s and the beginning of the 1990 s. Political ideology is not presented as a viable alternative to religion or moral relativism. Brownlow is depicted as an alcoholic and a pathetic figure. He develops a stutter due to his inability to come to terms with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the inexorable disintegration of the Soviet Union. But the protagonist, nevertheless, wavers between these alternatives and wants to embrace all three aspects: the socio-political dimension, the religious and ethical dimension as well as the pleasure principle. He just does not know how. All forms are described as being so violent and all-encompassing that no harmonious reconciliation and moderate application of different principles seems to be possible. Kureishi sketches and contrasts these different value systems and approaches to life by means of narrated discussions about core issues. Referring to the concept of eventfulness, outlined by Schmid, one could argue that the novel features a rather low degree of eventfulness and the conversations between different characters have more relevance to the plot than the actual events. The plot events as such often seem predictable in that most characters tend to be rather static and act accordingly most of the time. Apart from the final assault on the bookshop there are no major turning points. Whereas Deedee, Riaz and Brownlow are mainly defined by their actions, the protagonist is mainly defined by his emotions and thoughts. He is a dynamic, complex and round character, whereas the other characters remain more or less static and one-dimensional. In my opinion, they fail to surprise us and tend to be rather flat, which is why readers may be more inclined to identify with Shahid. The protagonist wavers between different positions, but there is not much persistence. None of the events seem to have long-lasting consequences for the actions and thoughts of the protagonist. The irreconcilability and deterioration of the three extremes is also reflected in the composition of the novel. All plotlines follow the protagonist and are relatively equally divided between scenes with Deedee and scenes with the Muslim circle. These plotlines show the individual deterioration of all three (at first partially fascinating and positive) ways of life. The first plotline culminates in the worship of an aubergine and the bombing of a bookshop, the second one in evermore dehumanising and explicit sex scenes, and the third one in Brownlow’s intensified speechlessness and breakdown. However, the narrative style is neither apt to create suspense, nor does the plot grant elaborate insights into religious frameworks and specific ideological 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 195 stances. The events seem to serve as excesses of overdrawn essentialist positions (or moral attitudes put into action), but they neither surprise nor shock us. Considering the value of education, literature and humanism, which is recurrently underlined by the protagonist, his final retreat from Islamic fundamentalism comes rather fast but is not surprising. The dramatic events surrounding the book burning and the planned attack do not irreversibly shake Shahid’s beliefs: they just trigger and highlight his disorientation and crisis of identity. One of the major points raised by the diverging opinions promoted by Deedee, Brownlow and the Muslim circle is the question about the source of morality in life and the differences between ideology and religion. Riaz and his circle exude mercilessness and deny the possibility of morality without religion. Brownlow, on the other hand, tries to promote justice and morality by means of political activism and communist ideology. While this notion consequently stands for atheism and a promotion of egalitarian values by the realisation of a workers’ and peasants’ state, the Muslim characters see absolute religious principles as the only path to morality. However, it is shown that this exclusivity works in a similar socio-historical framework and is also derived from the grievances of the political and social climate at that time: ‘Atheism won’t last,’ Riaz explained. ‘Without religion society is impossible. And without God people think they can sin with impunity. There’s no morality.’ ‘There’s only extremity and ingratitude and hard-heartedness, like beneath this Thatcherism,’ Chad said. He was about to continue but Riaz said, ‘That’s a lesson well learned. Gluttony, nihilism, hedonism – capitalism in a nutshell. Along with it, we are witnessing the twilight of Communism. Those revolutionaries weren’t even able to achieve socialism in one room. Altogether we are seeing the shrivelling of atheism.’ ‘It is over,’ Chad confirmed. ‘They been saying God dead. But it being the other way round. Without the creator no one knows where they are or what they doin’’ (BA 33). For them, religion is the answer that politics and ideology denied, and a lack of piety the reason for hatred and racism. This stands in contrast to Brownlow, who underlines social causes as the root of all evil: ‘Not surprising they’re violent,’ Brownlow said. ‘This place. Living in ugliness. [...] ‘They have housing, electricity, heating, TV, fridges, hospitals nearby! They can vote, participate politically or not. They are privileged indeed, are they not?’ ‘The people here can’t oppose the corporations,’ Brownlow said. ‘Powerless, they are. Badly fed. Uneducated and unemployed. Can’t make jobs from hope.’ Riaz went on: ‘And do you think our brothers in the Third World, as you like to call most people other than you, have a fraction of this? [...] They dream of having fridges, televisions, cookers! And are the people racist skinheads, car thieves, rapists? Have they desired to dominate the rest of the world? No, they are humble, good, hard-working people who love Allah!’ (BA 94-95). Even though Riaz’ statement is very bold and simple, it still points to the responsibility of the individual for his deeds and the role of moral norms and conscience. Deedee’s political commitment similarly points out this central topic. Whereas Brownlow seems genuinely committed to the Socialist cause, Deedee’s reasons for being attracted to ideology very much resemble Shahid’s reasons for joining the circle of ‘radical’ Muslims. Deedee’s past is characterised by a lack of stability, purpose and orientation in life, so that she was longing to have something to fight for. She has been 5) Analyses 196 committed to her ideological (feminist, socialist) beliefs for a long time but “[e]ven now she didn’t know how she felt about her commitment, except she feared that her politics had merely been an extension of nurturing, taking care of the oppressed instead of a husband” (BA 115). In this respect, Kureishi draws significant parallels between ideology and religion. Just as the novel locates the reasons for radicalisation in a search for identity, belonging and purpose in life, it pictures the inner mechanisms of such groups in their self-image and outward demarcation in a similar way. The novel describes that women and leftist activists in the 1970 s and 80 s committed their whole lives to their political cause, tolerating no questioning of or departure from their rules, regardless of the many personal sacrifices they had to make for their choice. Deedee’s description of political activists very much resembles the smug complacency, unworldliness and renunciation of pleasure, which is so characteristic of Riaz’ circle: How little enjoyment had there been! In those days of commitment while the world remained unchanged – and until the celebrations of ‘freedom day’ – pleasure could only be provisional and guilty. Also, she’d rarely moved outside the political circle; it was felt, implicitly, that only those striving for change could be good. The others were callous, deliberately ignorant or suffering from false consciousness (BA 116). Both groups defend a sole claim to possess the truth and seem to construct their own identity as a group mainly by means of distancing themselves from who they are not and what they do not want to be. Shahid is the consciousness through which the reader sees this complex web of different ideologies and approaches. Readers get most information about the characters by means of implicit self-characterisation through their words and actions (or the discrepancy between their words and actions). Explicit external characterisation is in most cases not provided by the narrator but by other characters. The protagonist remains the major evaluating voice (also with respect to general norms and irony). The narrator recedes behind this point of view. The information is filtered through Shahid and we learn what he assumes, knows, and how he judges the other characters. This naturally entails that we get more specifications or extra information about the characters the protagonist knows very well (such as his hedonist brother Chili and his wife Zulma, cf. BA 85). As has been mentioned, The Black Album features many passages in quoted monologue and narrated monologue/free indirect discourse, which create an impression of immediacy. Complementary passages that summarise previous developments predominantly enter the novel through the protagonist’s memory (for instance when he thinks of his family in Pakistan and how he grew up). Exceptions from this tendency only seldom appear. One rare example of the summary of a larger time-span in psycho-narration, a narrative form which is suited to “render the flow of successive thoughts and feelings, or expand and elaborate a mental instant” (Cohn 1978: 34), is used to describe the climax of the protagonist’s identity crisis. After a longer passage in free indirect discourse, which reflects his questioning and disorientation, we can find the following summary: When he had returned to Sevenoaks after first meeting Deedee Osgood, he had thought about his future. He knew he wasn’t naturally brilliant like some at school. But his father, 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 197 who was capable of quite indecent dissipation, had worked all hours, as did his mother still. They had been good examples. Shahid, during this time, had made up his mind to be a disciplined person and not waste his life (BA 147). The narrator verbalises something which Shahid feels but might not be able to put into words in his confusion. However, the predominant mode is narrated monologue/free indirect discourse, which draws attention to the protagonist’s personal judgments, questions and limitations and allows a “seamless junction between narrated monologues and their narrative context” (Cohn 1978: 103), which merges narrative and figural voice and creates considerable ambiguity. It is this ambiguity which I perceive to be exceedingly suitable for the topic of cross-cutting identities, hybridity and the search for moral orientation and belonging. Cohn elucidates that “[b]oth its dubious attribution of language to the figural mind, and its fusion of narratorial and figural language charge it with ambiguity, give it a quality of now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t that exerts a special fascination” (Cohn 1978: 107). As Cohn outlines, free indirect discourse can also be used in a subtle way to create irony and direct the readers’ sympathy: [...] no matter how ‘impersonal’ the tone of the text that surrounds them, narrated monologues themselves tend to commit the narrator to attitudes of sympathy or irony. Precisely because they cast the language of a subjective mind into the grammar of objective narration, they amplify emotional notes, but also throw into ironic relief all false notes struck by a figural mind. A narrator can in turn exploit both possibilities, even with the same character [...] (Cohn 1978: 117). The narrator in The Black Album does both: Shahid’s contemplations at times rouse the readers’ sympathy and at times create a comic effect by their ironic tone. This imbalance regarding the protagonist’s perspective naturally has consequences for our perception of the other characters, whose perspectives are vastly underrepresented. The fact that the narrator is ‘undramatised’, as Holmes puts it, also prompts a different effect concerning the evaluation of the narrated content. Whereas text interference (Schmid) is a major issue in Faulks’ novel concerning the creation of irony and an evaluative narratorial stance, this is not the case here. In The Black Album, most passages are written from a figural perspective. The passages that are not quoted speech only shed light on Shahid’s background and often directly refer to comments other characters have made in conversations with him. We get insights into Shahid’s personal evaluation of characters and events and his memories of crucial incidents in his life. On the one hand, the repeated use of questions and the fact that we sometimes get more details than necessary accentuate the figural perspective. On the other hand, the protagonist’s personal language style is (apart from a slight tinge of irony) not very salient and there is no use of conative and emotive words, which makes it difficult to distinguish his voice from narratorial comments. Due to the rather covert quality of the narrator it is sometimes hard to distinguish his voice from Shahid’s, and there are no striking examples of a diffuse point of view. As Chatman remarks, this ambiguity may strengthen the bond between the two [focalizer and narrator], make us trust still more the narrator’s authority. Perhaps we should speak of ‘neutralization’ or ‘uni- 5) Analyses 198 fication,’ rather than ambiguity. Thus, the covert narrator can describe from a clear external vantage point, dip down to quote from the character’s thoughts in his own or the character’s very words, or plant an ambiguity about a locution, indistinguishably telling and showing, narrating and enacting the character’s inner life (Chatman 1989 [1978]: 206-207). In crucial passages the narrator gives the floor to the protagonist and remains rather hidden and ‘objective’, not indicating a superior moralising voice. Despite the lack of a multiperspectival structure, the text, as we have seen, still renders many contradictory and extreme positions, which are competing for dominance over the protagonist. Kureishi has been frequently criticised for employing clichés, flat, stereotypical characters and a very simple vision of Islamic fundamentalism (cf. e.g. Ranasinha 2002: 82-84, Moore-Gilbert 2012: 190).132 This, however, can also be interpreted as a well-calculated strategy. The novel employs diametrical opposites, exaggerates them conspicuously, thereby parodying and undermining both extremes. By means of this strategy, Kureishi satirises the way essentialisms work and presents a duality of characters and world-views that are actually not as different in their approach as one may think at first. The novel aggrandises the difference between varieties of fundamentalism and finally collapses them. The Black Album features an extended use of contrasts, but underlines essentialism, a lack of humanism and an inherently self-destructive potential as a common denominator of all forms of fundamentalism. “[T]he world was swirling, its compasses spinning”133: Identity formation and crisis While Kureishi’s first novel The Buddha of Suburbia stressed the fluidity of identity as a performance that can be used and changed according to different purposes, The Black Album shows “greater recognition of capitalism’s capacity to co-opt and commodify, while communal identity exerts a stronger influence on the individual” (Thomas 2005: 101). The individual has to make important choices in this confusing network of different communal demands and loyalties. In line with Stuart Hall’s concept of cross-cutting identities, the novel depicts identity as determined by many diverse factors. Not only religion and race, or ethnicity, are presented as important markers of identity. Gender and sexuality, social class, inner-cultural and inter-gener- 5.2.3) 132 Moore-Gilbert, for instance, claims that “[a]side from its association with irrationality and despotism, neo-Orientalist stereotyping in The Black Album is evident in its ‘framing’ of Islam in terms of its humourlessness, philistinism and ‘backward’ conception of gender relations.” However, there are also critics who object to the accusation of stereotyping and claim that the Muslim characters are complex figures (e.g. cf. Holmes 2001: 311; Buchanan 2007: 60). This diversity of secondary source material, first and foremost, highlights the subjectivity of any interpretation. The same problem is also exceedingly discernible with respect to the creation of empathy, which can never be simply deduced from a specific set of narrative features and stylistic qualities, as Keen outlines (cf. Keen 2006: 207-236). 133 BA 220. 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 199 ational conflicts are presented as equally defining forces, which are just as important for the identity formation of the protagonist. It is worthwhile to take a closer look at these different factors which shape Shahid and finally lead to a state of disorientation and an identity crisis. Shahid’s turn to Islamic fundamentalism is, on the one hand, described as a result of his identity crisis which is initiated by the death of his father and his move from the family home in the suburbs to the city. As Perfect describes, Kureishi wrote the novel after his own father died. The author examines feelings of abandonment, loneliness and departure that lead to insecurity and a search for guidance but finally also to a process of maturation (cf. Perfect 2015: 12-13). On the other hand, his crisis also has to be evaluated within a broader political and economic context. As Winkgens notes, Kureishi is far from being interested in political correctness, but he is highly conscious of political preconditions and a ‘politics of identity’ that is determined by constructed hierarchies of gender, race and class (cf. Winkgens 2004: 177-178). As has been outlined in the previous paragraphs, the protagonist experiences different processes of identification, with class as one of the major factors determining his view on the world. Shahid lives in a rather poor neighbourhood. The many immigrants who live there seem to suffer from a lack of education and economic prospects, which also holds true for many members of the Muslim circle. The protagonist seems to stem from a rather successful, wealthy family and can go to college but experiences every day that class-issues still play a large role. The 1980 s in Britain featured an increasing regional division between a prosperous south-east and a rather poor north as well as an intensified division between citizens with high incomes and unemployed people on social welfare with scarce opportunities for advancement (Kim 2011: 72). As critics such as Saadi (2012: 6) outline, class has, despite all egalitarian rhetoric circulated by the government and the media, remained a dominant factor in the distribution of wealth in Britain until the present day. Moreover, race is presented as an important determinant of his identity. As has been discussed, race is an issue for the protagonist not because of his supposedly strong identification with his Pakistani roots and a traditional upbringing but because of his experience with racism and exclusion by the white majority society. Even though Shahid is a respected college student at the time the novel sets in and starts a relationship with his white lecturer, he is still the only black person in most places Deedee takes him to. Due to the unifying force of unrestricted sexuality this does not seem to be an issue but nevertheless singles him out. At one point Shahid gets angry at Deedee’s doubts towards his Muslim friends and reproaches her with the words: The thing is, Deedee, clever white people like you are too cynical. You see through everything and rip everything to shreds but you never take any action. Why would you want to change anything when you already have everything your way? [...] But we’re the victims here! [...] You sit smoking dope all day and abuse people who actually take action! (BA 110). The 1980 s actually saw a variety of race riots. The events in Bristol in 1980, in Brixton in 1981 and in Toxteth, Brixton, Tottenham and Handsworth in 1985 were desperate reactions to the social segregation of ethnic minorities and their pressing social and 5) Analyses 200 political concerns. The protagonist experiences a tension between the fact that his ethnic identity is apparently a positive source of fascination and attraction for the woman he wants to impress and at the same time something which singles him out. Furthermore, it is an important observation that even the characters who strive to take a stand for ethnic and religious minorities, or the Muslim circle in particular, seem to do so with a rather condescending attitude or search for their own advantage. The Labour politician George Rudder who pays a visit to the holy aubergine only wants to gain more support from Asian, Muslim voters. Brownlow, as a second advocate of minority rights, sees the Muslim group more as a political example he wants to make. As Moore-Gilbert argues: [S]uch figures are represented as being primarily, if sometimes unwittingly, interested in shoring up the authority, political and cultural, of the ethnic centre to which they belong, by acting as ‘referee’ between competing marginalized groups, including the ethnic British ‘underclass’. [...] Brownlow is equally compromised by his patronizing Orientalist attitudes. These include his attitude of unmistakable lewdness towards Tahira and his literal misrecognition of Shahid, whom he twice confuses with Tariq. Reinforcing a commonplace racial stereotype, the ‘ethnic subject’ always looks the same to Brownlow and, pace his investments in ‘difference’, he is unable to recognize it at the most basic individual level (Moore-Gilbert 2012: 188). In addition to class and race, religion develops as a new determinant of Shahid’s identity throughout the novel. As has been highlighted, the stress on communal identity and belonging makes a strong impression on the protagonist. Nevertheless, this appeal clashes with his Western upbringing. Islam is for Shahid closely linked to a cultural identity that remains foreign to him: At home Papa liked to say, when asked about his faith, ‘Yes, I have a belief. It’s called working until my arse aches!’ Shahid and Chili had been taught little about religion. [...] Shahid was afraid his ignorance would place him in no man’s land. These days everyone was insisting on their identity, coming out as a man, woman, gay, black, Jew brandishing whichever features they could claim, as if without a tag they wouldn’t be human. Shahid, too, wanted to belong to his people. But first he had to know them, their past and what they hoped for. [...] While praying, Shahid had little notion of what to think, of what the cerebral concomitant to the actions should be. So, on his knees, he celebrated to himself the substantiality of the world, the fact of existence, the inexplicable phenomenon of life, art, humour and love itself in murmured language, itself another sacred miracle. He accompanied this awe and wonder with suitable music, the ‘Ode to Joy’ from Beethoven’s Ninth, for instance, which he hummed inaudibly (BA 92). Despite his strong sympathy for the fundamentalist circle, Shahid does not seem to adhere to religious principles but rather cherishes general humanist and educational ideals. First, his gratefulness for humour is striking, since humour is seen, as I mentioned in the introductory chapter, as one of the characteristics said to be incompatible with religious fundamentalism. Secondly, Beethoven ironically provides a very European and Christian accompaniment to Shahid’s Muslim prayers. Shahid is as strongly and subconsciously influenced by Western cultural codes as Faulks’ young protagonist Hassan. In this respect, the context not only contains popcultural references but also includes a reference to high culture, thereby indicating Shahid’s good education. It becomes clear in many passages of the novel that the cultural code the 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 201 protagonist draws on is particularly Western. There are recurrent mentions of elements of British and American pop culture such as “The Godfather” (BA 7), “Donna Summer” (BA 14), “Prince” (BA 19), “Madonna and Oscar Wilde” (BA 25), “Vivienne Westwood”, “Elvis Costello” and “The Police” (BA 113). Everything seems to have merged into and been swallowed by the entertainment industry – even religious symbols. Ironically “Religion” is the name of a night-club, “Masters of Enlightenment” an Asian punk band (BA 113) and “The Underworld” (BA 115) a student bar. Shahid also blends the two intrinsically divided spheres, writing a poem for his lover, entitled “The Prayer-mat of the Flesh” (BA 134) and turning Riaz’ poetry into pornography. This Western cultural code similarly pervades Kureishi’s choice of language. Apart from the occasional interspersal of the typically Indian/Pakistani word “yaar” at the end of sentences (cf. BA 7, 168, 215, etc.), the novel does not feature any foreign language elements. Thus, no techniques of heteroglossia, abrogation or appropriation are employed that could disrupt the dominant cultural code. Language as such is not foregrounded, and regional or cultural varieties are only briefly mentioned but not used. The Muslim girl Tahira, for instance, is described as having a “northern accent [...] from Leeds or Bradford” (BA 36), which, however, cannot be derived from her part of speech. Riaz is the only character who (being in his fifties) was not born in Britain and therefore possesses an accent that “was certainly a compound of both places [Lahore and Leeds], which explained why he sounded like a cross between J.B. Priestley and Zia Al Haq. But his English was precise and without slang” (BA 6). This accent is also something we cannot derive from the written word. The only deviations from standard English are ‘social varieties’ marked by frequent instances of incorrect grammar use, visible in the slippage of verbs or the third person singular -s, especially in Chad’s utterances. Such devices can be used to indicate unfamiliarity with the English language of characters from different cultural backgrounds. However, it does not become clear in these scenes whether Chad, whose first language is English, just uses teenage slang or tries to imitate a Pakistani accent to blend in. He also wears a Salwar Khamiz to underline his foreignness and Pakistani identity, despite his English family and upbringing. In his desire to belong, he tries to assimilate, even in terms of language use. Thus, it is intriguing that he uses correct English in an educated way in discussions with Shahid and falls back into informal, grammatically incorrect English when he is in the anti-intellectual company of his Muslim friends (e.g.cf. BA 91). Similarly, Shahid’s wavering between two at first sight diametrically opposed worlds is also in some passages reflected in his choice of language. In talking to his Muslim brothers he makes uncharacteristic grammar mistakes, such as skipping the third person singular –s (cf. BA 127). This may, again, signify an adjustment to teenage slang or a subconscious attempt at assimilation. Another explanation might be that Kureishi emphasises language more as a social than an ethnic or cultural marker of distinction. Chad uses similar colloquial English to the drug dealer Strapper and the racist, socially disadvantaged mother who abuses the Bengali family Shahid and his friends want to protect. A fourth important influence next to class, race and religion are communal demands. Kureishi presents inner-cultural as well as inter-generational conflicts which 5) Analyses 202 may put pressure on an individual. These conflicts also apply to the protagonist’s family. It is, for instance, difficult to determine which system of moral or religious values Shahid’s Pakistani friends and family adhere to. The novel leaves the reader with the impression that the characters basically tend to believe in what promotes their safety and well-being in a certain situation. Shahid’s father and brother Chili do not adhere to any humanist or religious values. They do whatever pleases them and brings profit. The only limitation seems to be the fact that it is expected of all family members to be diligent, earn a lot of money and therewith honour and support the family. Or as his father asks Shahid reproachfully after he found out about his writing: “Can’t you stick to your studies? My nephews are lawyers, bankers and doctors. Ahmed has gone into the hat trade and built a sauna in his house! These artist types are always poor – how will you look relatives in the face?” (BA 75). Expectations are thus culturally determined, not religiously. And even these guidelines seem to be under attack by the new generation, who is not keen any more on working hard for an extra profit. As Chili puts it: You see them, our people, the Pakis, in their dirty shops, surly, humourless, their fat sons and ugly daughters watching you, taking the money. The prices are extortionate, because they open all hours. The new Jews, everyone hates them. In a few years the kids will kick their parents in the teeth. Sitting in some crummy shop, it won’t be enough for them. [...] We ain’t a generation to make sacrifices (BA 201). While humility and a renunciation of luxury are essential to Islam they do not seem to be embedded in Pakistani culture as such, where title, wealth and social standing seem to determine one’s place in society to a larger degree than piety. Only the characters that are poor, lack education and prospects in life or feel harassed and disadvantaged by the majority society and excluded from the benefits of the Western economic and political system are presented as being pious. Ranasinha rightfully highlights that Kureishi, despite recurrent hints at racist tensions, does not only focus on inter-cultural conflicts but also takes a closer look at inner-cultural problems and other factors which may demand loyalty and determine individual identity: Unlike first-generation immigrant writers who tend to focus on conflicts between cultures, Kureishi and other British-born writers ‘reflect’ discord between generations and within communities. Kureishi’s texts demonstrate that identities cannot be exclusively considered in terms of cultural difference, but need to be examined in relation to other differences of generation, class, gender and sexual orientation. […] The choice is really one of how to define oneself within the group and balance competing demands between self and others. The tension between the communal and the individual is at the heart of all Kureishi’s work (Ranasinha 2002: 14 and 19). A fifth important component of individual identity and a force which is presented as unifying principle is gender and sexuality. Sexuality is presented as a distracting as well as equalising force with the power to surmount all boundaries of outward demarcation. Sexuality and religion seem to be double-faced in equal measure in that they are both liberating and restraining, attractive and repellent, empowering and degrading. They fascinate people and seem to be able to overcome barriers of race, class and other inequalities, creating multifaceted communities by only one aim: to enjoy life to 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 203 the fullest in the case of unrestrained sexuality, and to build a community of the righteous to enforce a universal acceptance of Islamic values in the case of religious fundamentalism. Both religion and sexuality satisfy fundamental human needs and are presented as equalising principles. This aspect is accentuated in the description of Shahid’s experience at the mosque: Here race and class barriers had been suspended. There were businessmen in expensive suits, others in London Underground and Post Office uniforms; bowed old men in salwar kamiz fiddled with beads. [...] There were dozens of languages. Strangers spoke to one another. The atmosphere was uncompetitive, peaceful, mediative (BA 132). The Black Album depicts sexuality as a similar driving force of unity as well as of hybridity. Not only do race and class fade into the background when sexuality comes into play, but even the borders of sex are blurred and questioned, as the cross-dressing scene between Deedee and Shahid demonstrates. Kureishi spares the reader no details in his description of sex scenes that range from orgies to practices bordering on fetish. When Shahid agrees to let Deedee take over and transform him into a woman with make-up and dress, he feels “relief ”, as if “a burden went, a certain responsibility had been removed” (BA 117). The scene can be analysed in line with Stuart Hall’s concept of ‘cross-cutting identities’, which highlights the many facets by which individual identity is determined. At the same time, it shows that an escape from rigid categorisations can have a liberating effect and that the protagonist’s identity is not cast in stone yet. It is structurally remarkable in this respect that we sometimes seem to get a bird’seye view during these sex-scenes, which grant us short glimpses of Deedee’s consciousness (e.g. cf. BA 116-117). Readers are drawn into the sequences as ‘silent spectators’, which endows these interludes with a voyeuristic quality. The scenes indicate how Deedee as “pornographic priestess” (BA 228) takes over control and offers a seemingly ‘objective view’ of an intensely subjective moment that acts on the maxim: “There’s only now” (BA 117). Kaleta also points to the political dimension of sexual submission and domination and the link between sexuality and power: Their affair illuminates the message that sex is power. In Kureishi’s novel, power is dynamic. Shahid, reduced first to a powerless little boy and then to a sex object, becomes free to move from resignation to hedonism. Deedee first demands mastery and later chooses conspiracy. […] The characters’ sexual roles are self-determined. […] Sexual fantasy and political role reversal coexist (Kaleta 1998: 124). It is striking to see how religion and sexuality are equally brought in connection with power and the potential to overcome boundaries. However, despite its oftentimes degrading nature, sexuality is – as Kaleta notes – presented as self-determined and associated with choice rather than need and imposition. Despite the – in my view quite negative, dehumanising passages (a notion shared by Buchanan 2006: 63) – sexuality seems to embody more freedom and lightness, which is figuratively underlined by the bird’s-eye perspective. A previous scene, in which the protagonist participates in an orgy, also features this outside perspective, which might – in that case – also illustrate the effect of the 5) Analyses 204 drugs Shahid uses and his overall loss of control. The protagonist feels disjointed from his body and mind, which is reflected in the abrupt shift from his contemplation in free indirect thought to a narratorial description of his actions: He needed to find a pen and list the reasons for living. But what on the list could be comparable to the feeling of this drug? He had been let into a dangerous secret; once it had been revealed, much of life, regarded from this high vantage point, could seem quite small. He and the girl next to him were kissing, drawing on one another’s tongues until they felt their heads would fuse (BA 63). The reader becomes a bystander, who is looking down on the action, just as the protagonist who seems strangely detached (“Am I going to start thinking I can fly?”, BA 60). As O’Shea-Meddour accentuates, these scenes are often directly followed and counteracted by the description of Muslim fundamentalist narrow-mindedness and hatred. The cross-dressing scene, for instance, is followed by Shahid’s thoughts about the brotherhood’s stance towards homosexuality: In passing, Hat had stated that homosexuals should be beheaded, though first they should be offered the option of marriage. Riaz had become interested and said that God would burn homosexuals for ever [sic] in hell, scorching their flesh in a furnace before replacing their skin as new, and repeating this throughout eternity. [...] Riaz’s hatred had been so cool, so certain (BA 119). O’Shea-Meddour argues that by means of this technique, which contrasts extreme positions in direct succession to one another, [r]eaders who question the merit or narrative pleasure of Kureishi’s pornographic scenes are quickly shocked back into the mainstream ‘liberal’ position. The text suggests that disloyalty to liberal values (extremist or otherwise) will result in a world in which barbaric, homophobic, Muslim ‘fundamentalists’ – with their Ian Paisley-style tirades – will gain power (O’Shea-Meddour, 2007: 96). I would like to argue, though, that the direct confrontation of one negative extreme by the opposite pole does not necessarily serve to present the form of Western liberalism or hedonism in a more positive light. The text neither presents the Islamic fundamentalist group as a serious threat to the liberal order nor is postmodern hedonist culture identified as less hazardous for the health, happiness and psychological integrity of the characters. This form of freedom does not stand for liberty but for disorientation, instrumentalisation and emptiness. Both extremes are depicted as lifeless and devoid of compassion and humour. In Kureishi’s world “[l]ike pornography, religion couldn’t admit the comic” (BA 150). On the one hand, Shahid cannot resist the temptations Deedee and her way of life represent, but, on the other hand, he is constantly reminded how shallow this way of life is. It is Riaz who saves him from choking on his own vomit after a party night. Due to the variety of conflicting loyalties and demands, Shahid feels increasingly torn between the pleasures and freedoms Deedee promises him and a need to lead a meaningful life devoted to more altruistic values. He experiences great highs when exploring his freedoms but also feels that “[s]omewhere in his mind there lurked desolation: the things he normally liked had been drained off and not only could he not 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 205 locate them, he couldn’t remember what they were. He needed to find a pen and list the reasons for living” (BA 63). The protagonist tries to derive his identity from his membership in the Muslim circle to fill this void but increasingly seems to suffer from a severe crisis and frustrating disorientation: He believed everything; he believed nothing. His own self increasingly confounded him. One day he could passionately feel one thing, the next day the opposite. Other times provisional states would alternate from hour to hour; sometimes all crashed into chaos. He would wake up with this feeling: who would he turn out to be on this day? How many warring selves were there within him? Which was his real, natural self? Was there such a thing? [...] Lost in such a room of broken mirrors, with jagged reflection backing into eternity, he felt numb (BA 147). It is difficult for Shahid to make a decision, partly because The Black Album presents all alternatives as polar opposites. There is no trace of the millions of Muslims who endorse in dialogue. There is only belief or disbelief and nothing in between. Or, as Hat puts it: “[O]ur religion isn’t something you can test out, like trying on a suit to see if it fit! You gotta buy the whole outfit!” (BA 235). This inability to combine different things which are important to him and the mounting aggression on both sides culminates in an identity crisis: He couldn’t begin to tell the sane from the mad, wrong from right, good from bad. Where would one start? None of this would lead to the good. But what did? Who knew? What would make them right? Everything was in motion: nothing could be stopped, the world was swirling, its compasses spinning. History was unwinding in his head into chaos, and he was tumbling through space. Where would he land? (BA 220). Shahid finally decides that he is not willing to buy anything whole – neither religion nor liberal ideology. He resists all attempts to be pigeonholed and is not willing to give up facets of his own personality in order to belong. The Black Album presents this “hankering after a fixed, unbending, originary identity” (Yousaf 2002: 44) as problematic. The novel “can be read as refuting any vestigial belief in transcendental racial or cultural categories [...which] is not the sole purview of whites but also of immigrants, especially those who espouse an uncritical orthodoxy” (ebd.). The Black Album represents cultural identity as a “fluid and manmade construct” (Hall 1994: 30), which echoes Hall’s idea that modern identities are never unified but increasingly decentred, dislocated and fragmented (Hall 1994: 180). The novel exemplifies how the pluralisation of identity leads to the competition of different identity markers for allegiance and the development of social movements which fight for their own identity politics.134 Not only with respect to religion, but also with respect to feminism and sexuality (as represented by Deedee) or political ideology and class affiliation (Brownlow), matters of identification develop into political matters. Riaz’ Muslim Brotherhood, furthermore, can be seen as an example of Hall’s claim that our globalised age elicits more and more people who seem to be in need of a counteridentity and thus retreat to minority identities (such as religious orthodoxy). 134 For insightful analyses of the representation of identity politics, hybridity and Englishness in The Black Album, see Kurtén (2002), Godlasky (2006) and Ricci (2011). 5) Analyses 206 Kureishi confessed in an interview concerning the prevalence of identity politics in Britain: ‘I’ve got sick of identity politics, and […] I’m tired of niche marketing for minorities. There was a time when it was useful and politically potent to define oneself as Lesbian, gay, Black, Asian, Muslim, Hindu, transsexual. All those definitions came out of the 1970 s, were refined in the 1980 s, and really developed under Blair. It seems that now we need wider identifications, in terms, probably, of class, or other identifications that we haven’t thought of yet. The important identifications are of the people who need jobs, or housing. Their demands are not to do with their ethnicity, but their positions as regards the financial crash. A poor Muslim, a poor gay, and so on, would have more in common with each other in terms of wanting education, resources, or work. New creative forms of alliances are needed. It seems to me that class – where you stand in terms of your positioning with power – is increasingly important. In the light of the recent financial collapse, you can see that class really is present and always has been’ (Chambers 2011: 236-237). Fortified by recent developments following the world financial crisis, Kureishi reinforces the notion of class and the social question as primary concerns of our age, which overshadow all other forms of identity politics. As The Black Album indicates, black people may have become fashionable and more visible in popular culture and the entertainment industry but not in other more important fields. Or as Stuart Hall summarises in his article “The Spectacle of the Other”: “While black figures and celebrities may have exploded across the field of popular representation, there remains marked limits to their representation and participation in the centres of cultural and economic power” (Hall 2013: 269). The protagonists of A Week in December and Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which will be the next work under scrutiny, show that there are possibilities of upward social mobility. Kureishi’s protagonist does not come from a poor family, either. However, the novel underlines that these opportunities are not the rule for immigrants. To be successful in a society which still singles out its ethnic and religious minorities, an individual has to work very hard to succeed. Moreover, the force of conflicting demands and loyalties may lead to difficult processes of identity formation, as many of the novels in this literary corpus outline. “[T]here must be more to living than swallowing one old book”135: The Black Album in the light of ethical criticism and literature as ‘cultural ecology’ The novels by Kureishi and Faulks have much in common concerning their portrayal of London as a metropolis of extremes. Both Islamic radicalism and Western lifestyles seem to possess fundamentalist qualities and do not suffice to make life worth living. Similar to A Week in December, The Black Album addresses the topic of literature and art as important sources of meaning and value. Shahid cherishes literature and art, which are simultaneously seen as a threat or even heresy by the Muslim circle he strives to belong to. 5.2.4): 135 BA 272. 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 207 Chad, for instance, inverts the common argument claiming that Islamic fundamentalism subjugates people’s freedom when he asks Shahid: “[T]he music and fashion industries. They tell us what to wear, where to go, what to listen to. Ain’t we their slaves? [...] Don’t you want to swim in a clean sea and see by a clear light?” (BA 79). Shahid, however, utters an interesting thought that recurrently comes through in The Black Album: “Isn’t that what art helps us do? Life would be a desert otherwise” (BA 79). First of all, this reasoning is interesting because Chad turns the common argument against Islamic fundamentalism on its head by claiming that it is Western consumerism which dictates people’s lives, commands them what to wear and turns people into slaves – not religion with its strict rules and codes of conduct. And second, the scene exemplifies the emphasis on literature as a medium that might change people’s lives and even reverse it. In this respect, Kureishi distinguishes pop culture, as advocated by Deedee, from the value of high culture that only Shahid seems to recognise. One of the central scenes in the novel is the depiction of the book-burning of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Riaz views fiction as a form of corruption and books like the one by Rushdie as tools of the élite to assume an air of importance and look down on other people of their culture: ‘You see, all fiction is, by its very nature, a form of lying – a perversion of truth. [...T]here are many fictions that expose a corrupt nature. These are created by authors, who cannot, we might say, hold their ink. These yarn-spinners have usually grovelled for acceptance to the white élite so they can be considered “great authors”. They like to pretend they are revealing the truth to the masses – these uncultured, half-illiterate fools. But they know nothing of the masses. The only poor people they meet are their servants [’] (BA 182). Riaz here, again, alludes to the issue of class, which is connected to the topic of ethnicity and the question of who is granted the right to speak ‘for’ a community. Literature seems to be seen by several of the Muslim characters who lack an education as tool of intellectuals to prove their superiority to other people (e.g. BA 21). Shahid, however, underlines the important role of literature for every individual as a means of self-exploration as well as an important carrier of meaning illuminating our interactions with others: “Surely literature helps us reflect on our nature? [...] A free imagination, looking into itself, illuminates others” (BA 183). In this vein, Moore-Gilbert points to the underlying tension in the novel between a symbolic embrace of the freedom of the individual in general or the artist in particular and the recognition that the present religious and intercultural conflicts may not be solved by exclusively pointing to these rights (Moore-Gilbert 2001: 147). Shahid defends the voice of the individual and their right to ask questions and think critically. He perceives literature even more than religion as a medium that is able to explain life, give answers and comfort – a feeling that is denied to characters such as Chad who lack the education to make use of it: ‘How old are you – eight? Aren’t there millions of serious things to be done?’ Chad pointed towards the window. ‘Out there...it’s genocide. Rape. Oppression. Murder. The history of this world is – slaughter. And you reading stories like some old grandma.’ [...] ‘But don’t 5) Analyses 208 writers try to explain genocide and that kind of thing? Novels are like a picture of life. [...] Literature is more than entertainment’ (BA 21). In the end, humanist values and the power of literature and culture are the only things the novel really attributes positive value to. Deploring the social problems in his environment that recurrently lead to violence, the protagonist despises less other people’s immorality than their ignorance: All around Shahid people whose eyes burned with blame and resentment. Maybe they were the sort who operated the concentration camps. Didn’t they have any pride or shame? How could they bear their own ignorance, living without culture, their lives reduced to watching soap operas three-quarters of the day? They were powerless and lost. It occurred to Shahid that Riaz’s group should do something amongst the people in the block, listening, handing out information, not dismissing them all (BA 136-137). Whereas Riaz stresses the necessity of obedience to virtues and unquestioned piety and belief, Shahid points out education and critical thinking as central stepping stones on the way to a self-determined and dignified life that offers future prospects. He adheres to humanist educational ideals. Moreover, the harsh image of ‘concentration camps’ broaches the issue of individual responsibility for societal problems. The protagonist singles out hatred, ignorance and a lack of culture as central roots of evil and therewith disqualifies Riaz’ approach. Regardless of the Muslim brothers’ claim that ‘the enemies of their religious beliefs’ have to be destroyed, Shahid believes in repentance and positive change. Contemplating his brother’s behaviour, Shahid realises that he couldn’t help being glad that Chili was in trouble. He’d got away with lying, deceit and contempt for others for as long as Shahid could remember. If there was such a thing as natural justice, Chili deserved punishment. When younger, Shahid had, himself, continually attempted revenge. [...] Neverthe-less, [sic.] Shahid didn’t want Chili to be destroyed. He wanted him to recognize something about himself and change as a result (BA 146). The Rushdie affair and the concomitant book burnings in Muslim communities in England and many other countries are central events in the novel and important to the author himself, since Kureishi is a friend of Salman Rushdie’s and was very concerned about these developments. In his essay “Newness to the World” he describes his thoughts on the events, which again preoccupied his mind during his research for writing The Black Album: Some of the attitudes among the kids I talked to for The Black Album reminded me of Nietzche’s [sic.] analysis of the origins of religion, in particular his idea that religion – and Nietzche [sic.] was referring to Christianity – was the aggression of the weak, of the victim or oppressed. These attacks on the West, and the religion they were supposed to protect, were in fact a form of highly organized resentment or bitterness, developed out of colonialism, racism and envy. The violent criticism of Rushdie, an exceptionally gifted artist of whom the community should have been proud, was in fact a hatred of talent and of the exceptional, a kind of forced equalization from a religion which had not only become culturally and intellectually mediocre, but which was looking to the far past for a solution to contemporary difficulties (Kureishi 2011: 118). When Kureishi describes Islam as ‘culturally and intellectually mediocre’, he uses harsh words. As an atheist he does not seem to be able to comprehend this kind of 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 209 bigotry he sees embodied in book burnings and violent attacks. However, the author radiates understanding for the reasons he perceives as crucial factors for the rise of fundamentalist ideas. He sees the economic and social deprivation but even more the exclusion of and racial hatred directed against the youths he speaks with. He sees their struggle to develop a British identity, because their racial, ethnic, cultural or religious background prevents them from being regarded as ‘British’ by the white British majority. Kureishi seems to explain the phenomenon of home-grown Islamism with continuing discrimination, a sense of inferiority and a lack of future prospects perceived by many immigrants. In addition to these socio-political attempts at explaining the phenomenon, Kureishi also hints at the power of literature to challenge and transform – in a good as well as dangerous way: The Iranian condemnation of a writer had, after all, been aimed at his words. What, then, was the relation between free speech and respect? What could and could not be said in a liberal society? […] The coercive force of language was something I had long been aware of. As a mixed-race child growing up in a white suburb, the debased language used about immigrants and their families had helped fix and limit my identity. My early attempts to write now seem like an attempt to undo this stasis, to create a more fluid and complicated self through storytelling. One of the uses of literature is that it will enable individuals to enlarge their sense of self – their vocabulary, the store of ideas they use to think about themselves (Kureishi 2011: 114-115). With this comment Kureishi not only refers to the potential explosive political and religious power of literature but also to its use as a weapon for good or bad ideological purposes. Literature is presented as a basic need of human beings and a necessary tool to create their identity. Life consists of stories, and how we choose to tell these stories partly also determines who we are or who we want to be. This definition of identity is influenced by several diverse and at times conflicting factors. As we have seen, hybridity is one of the central topics of The Black Album. Even the ending seems to be hybrid in that it is half open and half closed. Some plotlines come to an end, but the protagonist’s journey is still at its beginning. Brownlow seems at the end of his tether and the communist ideology he believed in has turned out to be a historical failure in practice. The radical Muslims’ plan to bomb a bookshop turns out to be self-destructive, with horrible consequences for Chad, who is dramatically wounded. Shahid finally prefers Western ‘liberalism’ and freedom of expression to religious fanaticism and stays with his lover. This turn seems plausible in the light of these developments, but comes quite sudden, is not really psychologically believable and, beyond that, offers no solution to Shahid’s central questions. The main conflicts between the pursuit of pleasure and his conscience, social responsibilities, and political interests remain unresolved. What is more, the ending indicates that Shahid’s decision is not final: He had to find some sense in his recent experiences; he wanted to know and understand. How could anyone confine themselves to one system or creed? Why should they feel they had to? There was no fixed self; surely our several selves melted and mutated daily? There had to be innumerable ways of being in the world. He would spread himself out, in his work and in love, following his curiosity. [...] He didn’t have to think about anything. They 5) Analyses 210 looked across at one another as if to say, what new adventure is this? ‘Until it stops being fun,’ she said. ‘Until then,’ he said (BA 274 and 276). Freedom and sexual liberty is what he wants for the moment, but he still hasn’t established his identity or goals in life. Furthermore, as Hammond notes, “Shahid’s quest leads him to realise an abstract syncretism [...but] he evolves no political agenda, and fails to determine how the cultural divisions examined in the novel are to be overcome” (Hammond 2007: 238). What is remarkable about the ending, in my view, is especially Kureishi’s own evaluation of it. Often criticised as indeterminate or shallow (e.g. cf. Buchanan 2006: 67), Kureishi counters in an interview: “What I like about their relationship was the provisionality of it. [...] And that sets a fluidity. It makes their relationship a good one” (Kaleta 1998: 125). The novel seems to endorse a belief in the necessity of humanist values and lasting principles, but also embraces a fundamental optimism concerning the liberating and positive potential of provisionality, mutability and transitoriness. This “postmodern erosion of boundaries and definitions” (Holmes 2001: 308) is celebrated, despite the knowledge of “that what is sacrificed in such a fluid world is stability and enduring purpose” (ibid.). In the end, the protagonist comes to a conclusion that highlights this postmodern moment in The Black Album and its rejection of any fixed meanings and categories: “There was no fixed self; surely our several selves melted and mutated daily? There had to be innumerable ways of being in the world. He would spread himself out, in his work and in love, following his curiosity” (BA 228). In the introductory chapter on narrative theory, I made the assumption that the representation of consciousness is mainly used in this literary corpus to flesh out the main topics surrounding ethics, religion and politics. For The Black Album, this holds true only with restrictions. Social and political issues (such as racism and social dislocations) are indeed a major topic and concern for the protagonist. They are presented as triggers of fundamentalist radicalisation, but religion, ethics and politics are nevertheless not illustrated. Especially religious positions remain vague and relatively undefined due to the fact that they do not take centre stage in Kureishi’s novel. Critics have been indecisive about the evaluation of Islamic fundamentalism in The Black Album. Whereas Ranasinha criticises the privileging of Western hedonism against a form of Islam that is presented as stereotypically anti-modern, anti-intellectual, violent and monolithic (cf. Ranasinha 2002: 82-92), Moore-Gilbert highlights the positive elements in the portrayal of Islamic fundamentalists and the criticism of Western lifestyle with its lack of moral integrity and its hidden ethnocentrism (cf. Moore-Gilbert 2001: 135-143). Concerning this criticism, I hold the opinion that the author aimed at no point in time at a mimetic depiction of reality. Kureishi may ignore different forms of Islamic belief but he also ignores the variety of ‘Western lifestyles’. But then, these nuances are not the topic of his novel in the first place, since it mainly focuses on the questions of identity and belonging against a background of different and sometimes even polar choices. I agree with Thomas, who argues that it is worth noting here that Kureishi intended to represent the ‘fundamentalists’ with sympathy and to show how the rise in militant Islam amongst the young in the west is in part a defence against racism and alienation. As in previous works of Kureishi, there is also the 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 211 issue of whether he is seen by the media as an ‘insider’, but he makes it clear that he writes as a liberal individualist and not as a spokesperson for the British Asian Muslim community. But above all, The Black Album raised the question of a writer’s responsibility to combat negative stereotyping, especially during a time of rising Muslimophobia (Thomas 2005: 103). By means of quite drastic (and deliberately exaggerated and ironic) descriptions, the novel points to the attractiveness as well as the downturns of ‘Islamic fundamentalist ideals’ and ‘Western liberalism’ alike. It exaggerates both ways of life to a great extent in order to display the absurdity of both alternatives. What Kureishi seems most interested in are the ways in which sexuality or religion can be used as a tool to achieve a (temporary) harmony among people from different classes and cultural or ethnic backgrounds. Both models are presented as having so much appeal because they seem to enable a synthesis, a fusing and understanding of individuals that are so diverse that their coexistence is normally often scarred by conflict, friction, alienation and sometimes even hatred. Meetings at the mosque, where people from various different backgrounds come together to pray and talk, seem to follow the same egalitarian principles as the orgies Deedee Osgood takes the protagonist to. By adopting the respective code and submitting to the ruling principles, one becomes a member of a community that does not seem to ask about one’s whereabouts. Kureishi’s novel (as many of his other works, such as The Buddha of Suburbia or Something to tell you) elucidates a concept of hybridity which seems to be strongly influenced by Stuart Hall’s model of cross-cutting identities. This is also reflected by the title. The Black Album is the title of a famous record by Prince, who became a symbol of hybridity due to his daring experiments with cross-dressing and an everchanging repertoire of artistic figures, which challenged the boundaries of ethnicity and gender. As Deedee Osgood summarises: “He’s half black and half white, half man, half woman, half size, feminine but macho too” (BA 25). This preoccupation with hybridity and ‘in-betweenness’, which is also taken up by the references to pop culture and literature, is what makes The Black Album a postcolonial novel, despite its British setting and lack of foreign language elements. What makes the novel postcolonial in the first place is its “concern for ‘halves’, [...] the double vision, the ‘in-between-ness’, and the ambiguous nature of identity and identification” (Reichl 2007: 140). As Reichl reasons with respect to The Buddha of Suburbia: “to be a British novel and to be a postcolonial novel does not entail a contradiction. Rather, it draws attention to the way British society has changed and to the variety of the notion of the postcolonial” (Reichl 2007: 140). Just as Kureishi’s first major novel, The Black Album can likewise find a home in both categories. It grants us a view of migrant life in a globalised and multicultural London, and it addresses the topic of identity as ‘performance’ and artificial ‘construction’ for all people, regardless of their ethnicity, class, gender or background. In this context, Kureishi performs a remarkable balancing act between different categories, thinks outside the box and manages to evade any final assertions: His irony, his dissection of British class antagonisms, and his immersion in popular culture all signal his ‘Englishness’. His work is peopled with characters that resist being de- 5) Analyses 212 fined according to their ethnicity and labeled as irreconcilably ‘different’. In the same way, his moves between genres and styles parallel his attempts to find freedom of identity outside formal definitions. Similarly, Kureishi rightly refuses to limit himself to the subjects marked for minority writers: the requirement to discuss matters of race in his work. [… T]his ambivalence and ironic distance makes his work more difficult to interpret politically. His irony is itself a refusal to commit (Ranasinha 2002: 5). As we have seen, the novel addresses many ethical questions. The protagonist seems to repeat Haker’s claim that narrative is central for the constitution of our moral identity (Haker 2000: 49), as has been outlined in chapter 3. What is more, Kureishi’s novel has a clear political dimension. It points to the political and social problems of the Thatcher-era and connects them to the phenomenon of ‘home-grown’ Islamic fundamentalism, foregrounding marginalised elements of society, imagining what might become of them due to their marginalisation. Referring to the categories Martha Nussbaum is interested in, we can, however, see that Kureishi (in contrast to Khadra, as we are going to see in the next chapters) addresses our intellect rather than our emotion. The focus on Shahid’s perspective induces sympathy with his position. The reader is drawn into his emotional world, but since most fundamentalist characters are rather one-dimensional and we do not get any insight into their consciousness, the reader is not likely to empathise with these characters. Nussbaum is also interested in whether characters might serve as symbols of more general principles. This holds true for The Black Album, as we have seen with respect to Chili and Deedee (Western hedonism), Brownlow (Communism) and Riaz (Islamic fundamentalism). In the end of the novel, not only the characters have failed but the ideas they represent seem to be discredited as well. Thus Nussbaum’s central question what a text shows “about human life, about knowledge, about personality, about how to live” (Nussbaum 1992: 35), can be at least partly answered by what is ruled out. The novel undermines essentialist readings of all kinds. Despite their equalising potential, religious and liberal fundamentalism are also forces that may humiliate the individual and are not reconcilable with a humanist understanding of individual worth and dignity. Knowledge is never absolute and personality is influenced by the fluid processes of identity formation. To enjoy one’s freedom of thought and explore one’s potential seems to be the only way of coming at least closer to a good life. The hero of the story asks many questions and shares common insecurities, which invites readers to accompany him on his journey. Highlighting the potential of Kureishi’s novel to shed light on societal issues that are central to develop an understanding of the phenomenon of home-grown terrorism, Upstone holds the opinion that Kureishi asks us “to read literature as direct social engagement” (Upstone 2008: 20). The individual in The Black Album strives for unlimited self-fulfilment and joy and does assign high value to other people. Lovers and partners are interchangeable. Human dignity, personal integrity and physical health are under attack: from the outside by humiliating racist attitudes and assaults as well as from the inside by self-destructive behaviour such as drug abuse and an unquestioned willingness to submit to sexual practices that reduce human beings to mere toys for the sexual experimentation of others. The individual is a hybrid, whose identity is subjected to a variety of 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 213 conflicting ethnic, cultural, religious, sexual and political forces. The novel leaves no doubt that unrestricted sexuality without any love, values and care is empty and sad and nothing but a mere “exchange of skills and performances” (BA 240). Despite the thrill of experimentation and irresponsibility, the protagonist feels that Riaz is right in his claim that without a framework in which love could flourish – given by God and established in society – love was impossible. Otherwise, people merely rented one another for a period. In this faithless interlude they hoped to obtain pleasure and distraction; they even hoped to discover something, which would complete them. And if they didn’t soon receive it, they threw the person over and moved on. And on. In such circumstances what permanence or deep knowing could there be? (BA 240). The novel here endorses the value of the individual and the belief that no one should be instrumentalised, because every individual possesses dignity and worth. This conviction, however, is not only inherent to Islam but also to a Christian anthropology and to secular humanism as expressed in many legal constitutions.136 And this humanist worldview is what Kureishi’s characters actually long for, but which only occasionally shines through without ever being realised in The Black Album. A humanist position is indicated at times by the protagonist but represents a gap in the society Kureishi portrays. This marks a difference to the novels by Faulks and Khadra, which feature characters that can be seen as strong advocates of humanism. While the novels by Yasmina Khadra for instance reflect a hope that there can always be redemption and morality, which is not necessarily grounded in religion but in personal integrity and conscience, Kureishi’s novel leaves doubts about the assertiveness of moral values in this world. His art primarily hints at the fragility and vulnerability of the human personality, its constant and never-ending search for individual identity and its painful yearning for belonging. Religion is no solution in this world, but it seems doubtful if any solution exists at all. At times it seems as if all values were constantly changing and historically variable without any reliable moral scale. Kureishi himself is a humanist who states: “Secular liberalism seems to me the only hope” (Chambers 2011: 240). Thus the individualism, the yearning for freedom and the end of fundamentalism and prejudices described in the novel seem to be in line with the author’s thoughts on the topic. With respect to literary functions and Zapf ’s concept of ‘literature as cultural ecology’, the novel can be seen as a ‘culture-critical metadiscourse’ in that it highlights the tensions between different centres of authority which are struggling for dominance and cause a state of self-alienation for the protagonist. The novel portrays the social, political and economic imbalances in Britain during the 1980 s and hints at underlying dualisms and double-standards. Kureishi has often been labelled as a minority writer. However, it has to be stated that he does neither speak for a specific ethnic or religious minority in Britain, nor concentrate on only one group. As Fischer 136 The first preamble article of the German constitution, which starts with the sentence ‘Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar’, lays the foundation and determines the tone for all following laws and regulations. 5) Analyses 214 rightfully outlines, Kureishi “refuses to keep people and their cultures separate and ‘pure’” but instead creates “complex characters from a broad cross section of society in terms of ethnicity, nationality, class, gender, sexuality, and age” (Fischer 2015: 70-71). Kureishi’s stories and characters are multifaceted, difficult to label and sometimes also contradictory. Binaries are exaggerated just to be subverted in the end. Furthermore, The Black Album can be regarded as an imaginative counter-discourse. It clearly takes a stand for marginalised groups, even though Kureishi avoids a sole focus on religion and ethnicity. The characters that turn to Muslim fundamentalist beliefs do so because of their racial, social and economic marginalisation in Britain. Their views are presented as incompatible with the dominant discourse. Thus, my initial supposition that many novels exemplify the fragmentation of beliefs and valuesystems within Western societies, make marginalised voices heard and reflect a form of social criticism which expresses scepticism towards simple truths, be they religious, economic or political, definitely holds true for this novel. However, it has to be admitted that, till the present day, Kureishi’s strategy is evaluated in a very different way by some Muslim literary critics. In a study on Muslim identities in contemporary British novels, Majed, for instance, claims that “Kureishi has attempted to prove his Britishness by writing in favour of white culture” (Majed 2015: 52). He strongly criticises Kureishi’s supposed rejection of his Muslim and Pakistani identity, his ostensible assimilation and proclamation of atheism. However, I believe this reading to be reductive, because it ignores Kureishi’s criticism of all essentialist systems. His fiction refuses to be labelled in any way and embodies a counter-discourse to all ideologies that negate love and the zest for life. Nonetheless, the novel does not emphasise a common humanist core of the different religious, secular and ideological approaches to life, which are outlined, but presents all of these approaches as failures and extremes that cannot be reconciled. In this regard, Kureishi’s work is no ‘reintegrative interdiscourse’, since it creates no vision of cultural renewal and an integration of segregated discourses (cf. Zapf 2005: 67-71). The era under Margaret Thatcher is portrayed as a decade without a “renewal of the cultural center from its margins” (Zapf 2007: 158). The climate is characterised by stasis, decrepit structures and mutual distrust. No creativity seems to be gained by the collision of different discourses. Humanism has to be found outside of this system. Instead, The Black Album makes an appeal to the personal responsibility and ethics of the individual. What is presented as worthwhile in Kureishi’s fiction is openness, culture and love that is guided by tolerance and curiosity. The relationship between Deedee and Shahid seems to work because it is based on love for the freedom of thought and a curious interest in the other person. The joy about the unpredictable and beautiful facets of life itself seems to have the power to supersede all differences which separate these two characters. “In seeking ‘a better philosophy’ through the radical possibilities of both love and culture, Kureishi thus reclaims a central role for the outsider, the artist, and the intellectual in the twenty-first century”, Fischer summarises (Fischer 2015: 84). The author does not seem to believe in the redeeming potential of opposed groups and value systems to come to terms with each other, but he believes in the strength and dignity of the individual who might achieve this reinte- 5.2) Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album 215 gration. At the end of the novel the protagonist has discarded many fundamentalist ideas but still remains undecided about the eventual course and meaning of his life. However, the novel indicates that he will find the right way as long as he asserts his freedom of opinion and his individuality against all possessive essentialist ideologies. A story of disappointed love and nostalgia: Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist and the power to subvert stereotypes by engaging the reader The Reluctant Fundamentalist (RF) is a story of love, loss, nostalgia and disappointment. The protagonist Changez at first glance seems to live the American dream: Coming from a sophisticated but poor family in Lahore (Pakistan), he manages to get a scholarship for studying at Princeton. Through his intelligence, diligence and hard work he soon becomes one of the best graduates in his year and ascends into the ranks of high society. He also establishes close ties with Erica, a fellow American student who enchants him and with her tender fragility rouses his protective instinct. Hired on the spot by the valuation firm Underwood Samson & Company after his graduation, Changez moves to New York and finds a challenging and extremely wellpaid new job as well as a boss who supports and personally likes him. Proud of himself and content with his life in America, Changez does not question his way of life until the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Triggered by the war in Afghanistan and the tensions between India and his home-country Pakistan, Changez experiences a crisis of identity. He feels as if he betrayed his own roots and people, serving a country which sacrifices its allies to its own interests and does nothing to help Pakistan against the supposed ‘Indian aggression’. This feeling is amplified by the protagonist’s work experience. Involved in the valuation of various companies in the U.S., as well as in developing countries, he has to face the repercussions of his actions for other people, whose means of subsistence are suddenly dependent on his decisions. The lack of social justice and the increasing disparity of income – both within the United States and between America and many developing and threshold countries – become more and more apparent to him and burden his conscience. Furthermore, he has to come to terms with a public atmosphere after 9/11 which is increasingly dominated by fear, distrust and hostility against Muslim immigrants. When his closest friend Erica, with whom he is in love, cannot fight her long-standing depression any longer and disappears without a trace from a mental hospital, his last tie to America is broken. Changez quits his job and returns to Pakistan. After some time, he starts working as a university lecturer and is classified abroad as ‘anti-American’ for criticising US foreign politics and taking a stand for greater Pakistani independence. One of the most intriguing facts about The Reluctant Fundamentalist is its remarkable narrative structure, which is intimately connected to the idea of turning the tables. The story is written in the form of a monologue. Changez tells his story to an ominous American visitor who is not granted a voice throughout the novel. The protagonist functions as an intra- and autodiegetic narrator. We only encounter fixed ex- 5.3) 5) Analyses 216 ternal focalisation. Due to the lack of internal focalisation or other multiperspectival narrative techniques, we are bound to a single, subjective vision. The narrator is very overt and comments constantly on other characters and their actions as well as on the storytelling itself and his own former social role in comparison to his present self. Since there are no other focalisers, every character is described by the protagonist. Due to this narrative strategy the text can be regarded as strongly diegetic. The novel starts in medias res with Changez addressing an American he meets by chance in Lahore. He offers him his services due to his knowledge of the city. This frame-story follows Changez and his companion on one evening in a café in the city during which the protagonist narrates the story of his life in America. Since the interlocutor is never given a voice, the reader has to guess the remarks of the American on the basis of Changez’ verbal reactions. First, this has a mystifying effect because the American remains obscure for us and we cannot gauge his character, ideas, and motives. This effect is intensified by the way Hamid creates insecurity and fear in the reader by means of an atmosphere of suspense and recurring hints that the stranger might be dangerous. Secondly, this narrative technique draws us more and more into the plot for we are invited to put ourselves into the silent stranger’s shoes and listen to Changez’ story as if it was told to us. This feeling is encouraged by the temporal structure of the framework plot, which lasts about as long as it takes us to read the novel. The pace of the main story, narrated in flashbacks, is, however rather fast and spans approximately ten years in twelve chapters of less than 200 pages. This marks a difference to A Week in December, for instance, which presents just one week on nearly 600 pages. Apart from the frame-story, the main plot unfolds chronologically. There seem to be no major omissions, even though events are generally described quite briefly. As we are going to see, the novel features a rather high degree of ‘eventfulness’. Many events of high significance are narrated on a rather small number of pages. 9/11 and Erica’s disappearance function as major turning points. Both events promote a change of outer circumstances and living conditions as well as an inner transformation for the protagonist. Both events are unpredictable, have persistent consequences and are irreversible and non-iterative, which, according to Schmid, suggests a high degree of eventfulness. The consequences are serious: Changez turns his back on the West and its economic ideals, loses his adoration and love for America and returns to Pakistan with his initial beliefs irreversibly shaken. At the end of the novel, Changez has told his whole story up to the day he meets the American – starting with a holiday in Greece during which he met Erica up to his return to and current life in Pakistan. The flashbacks address different places and facets of his life, condensing political events as well as his professional and love life. But while the main plot is closed the frame provides us with an open ending. Until the end we do not know who is “predator or prey” (RF 31). We are not told why the protagonist tells his story to a total stranger in the first place. Following the development of his relationship towards America our curiosity is aroused. We are led to wonder whether he came to hate the country so much that he might have resorted to Islamic fundamentalist ideas. Similarly, there are various hints indicating that the ominous American might be armed and a CIA agent sent to kill the alleged anti-Ameri- 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 217 can agitator. The novel ends with the sentences: “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” (RF 184). Whether the stranger really intends to kill the protagonist or if Changez, in turn, led him into a trap, we do not know. Our interpretation solely depends on our own reading of the text, but our reaction directs our attention to the central aspects of this novel: the role of fear, stereotypes and our own prejudices that are conjured up by the many open questions in The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Islamic fundamentalism, the subversion of stereotypes and the creation of narrative ambiguity Irrespective of the expectations raised by the title of the novel, Hamid did not write a book on religious fundamentalism. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a work about identity, the relationship between self and other as well as questions of nationality and belonging. In this context, the novel bears many similarities to the other three major works of my literary corpus and broaches a variety of political and economic issues. The title, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, indicates that the protagonist undergoes a process of radicalisation, but the novel does not specify in the beginning in which ways this happens. As has been outlined in the previous chapters, all novels under discussion imply that Islamic radicalism is not the only form of fundamentalism. Hamid’s novel bears many similarities to Faulks’ A Week in December in that it first and foremost concentrates on the fundamentalist potential of Western capitalism. Events connected to the topic of Islamic fundamentalism, such as the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 and the war in Afghanistan, are mentioned as central influences for the protagonist. But they are not used to outline Islamic fundamentalist ideology. As the story unfolds, the reader comes to realise that it is the fundamentalist potential of Western capitalism the protagonist is increasingly reluctant to embrace. The novel skilfully mocks stereotypes about Islam or the Arabic world and seems to turn the tables. First, because it is Changez who speaks and therewith appropriates and interprets the silent and nameless American who never receives a voice. As Shamsie argues, this embodies a “reversal of the traditional colonial narrative” (Shamsie 2009: 20). Second, this effect is achieved by the remarks the narrator addresses to his American interlocutor and by the way he comments on the reactions and behaviour of the man who remains so enigmatic to the reader. The form and the friendly, reassuring content satirises the fears and prejudices of the American. Changez himself seems to contradict all prejudices that might be associated with Islamic fundamentalist ideas. He shows no homophobia, which is often assigned to Muslims. No indignation is visible when “a gay gentleman” offers him “an invitational smile” (RF 48). The protagonist treats women with utter respect, politeness and warmth. Whereas some remarks tell us that the ominous American stares lewdly at some pretty girls who are dressed in Western fashion, Changez, due to his Pakistani upbringing, never 5.3.1) 5) Analyses 218 loses his shyness and even after four years in the United States and some sexual experience remains “acutely aware of visible female skin” (RF 26). Still he is neither presented as sexually repressed. He enjoys the sight of American girls who sunbathe topless instead of scorning them for impropriety. Changez is at no point in the novel described as religious, let alone fanatical or a moraliser. He drinks beer, goes to parties and, apart from uttering a relieved and proud “Thank you, God!” (RF 14) after getting the job at Underwood Samson, never even mentions religion. The name of the protagonist even indicates that Changez might be the opposite of a devout Muslim. Hamid explains about the roots of the word ‘Changez’: Changez is an Urdu name for Genghis […] Genghis’s role of course in southwest Asian history, that of the famous Genghis anyway, is of the invader who attacks and destroys the Caliphate, the largest and most successful Muslim empire of its time. So Changez is paradoxically a kind of warrior figure who is counter Muslim. That notion interested me in creating this character because when he works in the corporate world there is a certain warrior aspect to him, there is a sort of martial overtone in the way he thinks about life. He does see himself, to a certain extent, as a sort of warrior. The audience is encouraged in seeing him as a warrior. But on whose behalf? That is not really answered. For people who are familiar with Muslim history, the Changez name is a warning not to read this character as his appearance would suggest. He has a beard and he is Pakistani, but don’t assume he stands for Muslims, because his name implies the opposite (Hamid 2009 (b): 237). Overall, several terms are used that carry a religious connotation but are employed in rather unorthodox ways. In the context of Changez’ encounter with Juan-Bautista, the boss of a small publishing company in Valparaiso that the protagonist has to valuate, the symbol of the ‘veil’ is used, but not in a religious context. The protagonist feels that Juan-Bautista helped him “to push back the veil behind which all this had been concealed” (RF 157). With ‘this’ he apparently refers to American political, military and economic domination. It feels as if Hamid constantly brings up images which may provoke certain associations in the reader, just to disappoint them in the end. Similarly, Changez’ beard, which is mistaken in public as a sign of orthodox religiosity, is only a sign of inner conflict and defiance for the protagonist and is even less symbolical for his family. It can nearly be described as a comic scene when the narrator recounts his mother’s request that he should shave: “‘Why?’ I asked, indicating my father and brother. ‘They have beards.’ ‘They,’ she replied, ‘have them only because they wish to hide the fact that they are bald. Besides, you are still a boy [...] It makes you look like a mouse’” (RF 128). Hamid picks up a variety of stereotypes and prejudices Western readers might hold to debunk and sometimes also mock them. Even-handedly the author describes how, during Changez’ last visit to his love Erica, she “glowed with something not unlike the fervor of the devout” (RF 133). Again, a state of mind normally associated with religion is connected to something totally different. In this case, it refers to a rather delirious and detached mental state, which allows parallels to A Week in December, where religious symbolism is associated with Gabriel’s schizophrenic brother. Just as Gabriel’s brother, Erica lives in her own world, scared and unable to escape her fears and paranoid reactions to the outside world. 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 219 The author addresses religious symbols as well as stereotypes to show them from a different perspective. At the same time, he also uses gaps to play with the readers’ preconceptions. The American interlocutor constantly seems to insinuate Changez’ bad intentions, which invites us to contemplate our own prejudices. He stares at a man with a beard, expecting him to scorn the unveiled girls at the next table for their dress (RF 22), suspiciously examines Changez’ scar, wondering “what training camp” (RF 46) caused this mark and is confused when the protagonist says that he, as well as many other Pakistanis, drink alcohol (RF 53). Moreover, the foreigner seems very alarmed by a power-cut (RF 60), is apparently suspicious concerning the food and seems to show revulsion and disgust about Changez’ sexual relationship with Erica (RF 107). His behaviour indicates that he has neither trust in the cultural sophistication and hospitality of Pakistan, nor in the integrity of his host. Our evaluation of the situation is likely to be guided by our own stereotypes and fears. Hamid provides a stream of comments which create tension and insecurity about the role of predator and prey in the frame story. Some moments suggest that the American is scared and fears being led into a trap by the protagonist. When he feels uncomfortable about accepting a cup of tea, Changez comments: “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” (RF 11). Right from the beginning, the atmosphere is contaminated by distrust. It becomes clear quite early that the foreigner does not feel comfortable in his surroundings, but it is never explained why. The fact that the narrator addresses all these moments leaves us with a strange feeling of unease and constructedness. The behaviour of both interlocutors seems very unnatural, as we can see in the following address: [Y]ou sir, continue to appear ill at ease. I hope you will not mind my saying so, but the frequency and purposefulness with which you glance about – a steady tick-tick-tick seeming to beat in your head as you move your gaze from one point to the next – brings to mind the behavior of an animal that has ventured too far from its lair and is now, in unfamiliar surroundings, uncertain whether it is predator or prey! (RF 31). The reader never knows what the interlocutor really says or does and if his behaviour is alarming or whether it is just the protagonist who projects his own prejudices about Americans on the situation. According to the author himself, he deliberately used this kind of stylisation to create tension between the frame story as a ‘hyper-real scenario’ and a realist plot inside this frame (Singh 2012: 155). Hamid’s novelistic style is very blunt, but it is this bluntness which creates an extra-ordinary ambiguity and insecurity. Whereas Khadra creates tension and shocking effects by means of a detailed narration of brutal and heartbreaking scenes of bloodshed, Hamid uses the opposite strategy. Changez excites anxiety in the reader not by exaggerations or detailed descriptions of horrible scenes but by his constant casual references, downplaying and slurring over strange and frightening details. The gloomy atmosphere is also reflected by a very uncanny setting: It is odd how the character of a public space changes when it is empty; the abandoned amusement park, the shuttered opera house, the vacant hotel: in films these often feature as backdrops for events intended to frighten. So it is with this market. […] Perhaps it has 5) Analyses 220 to do with the cloudy sky above, through which one occasionally glimpses a gash of moon, or perhaps it is the darkening shadows in the warren of alleyways slipping away from here in all directions, but I would suggest that it is instead our solitude that most disturbs us, the fact that we are all but alone despite being in the heart of a city (RF 155-156). The atmosphere becomes increasingly claustrophobic between flying bats, dark alleyways, strange noises and foreign people who are perceived as uncanny by the American foreigner. Some critics even argue that “the novel deliberately filters the city through Orientalist stereotypes, demonstrating its status as a menace in the imagination of the western reader” (Hartnell 2010: 337).137 On the one hand, we can feel his fear but on the other hand also the danger he seems to represent. From the beginning he is described as if he was planning some kind of attack. “[Y]ou seemed to be on a mission” (RF 1), the protagonist instantaneously notes and nonchalantly responds to the strange behaviour of his interlocutor, who reaches into his jacket as if he was ready to draw a gun (RF 5) and shows a bulge in his jacket “where the undercover security agents of our country [...] tend to favour wearing an armpit holster for their sidearm” (RF 139). What is more, the American gets strange calls and hourly text messages via his satellite mobile phone (RF 30 and 115), does not want to reveal the purpose of his travels (RF 77) and in the end appears “ready to bolt” (RF 176) at the slightest sign of danger. His nervous demeanour indicates that he might be an agent set on a deathly mission. Salomon notes that the insecurity created by the text could even be described as ‘terrorist’ itself, because it opens the mind of the readers for paranoid speculations (Salomon 2011: 159). Indeed, the narrative structure of the text causes considerable ambiguity and discomfort in the reader. It might instil fear and an anxiety which is caused by distrust and the inability to determine clear standpoints and intentions. But whether we really perceive the novel as a frightening thriller depends on our own reading and interpretation of the situation, which is determined by our past experience and prejudices. In this context, one reading of The Reluctant Fundamentalist is to consider it as an example of the ‘espionage thriller genre’ and ‘contemporary terrorist thriller’ focusing on terrorism and counterterrorism (Wilson 2012: 91). Although I do not think that this categorisation is really fitting for the key subject of the novel, Wilson makes some trenchant observations on the use of stereotypes. “The novel also introduces reverse profiling to dramatize the East-West polarization” (Wilson 2012: 97), she writes and highlights the special role of the media in enforcing these polarisations: The problematic perception of the other is mediated through the media, which propagate stereotypes and blurred half-images that become turning points in the plot. Political reporting stirs up public uncertainty by playing on fears of annihilation and developing an atmosphere of mistrust, suspicion, and menace, so diminishing the characters’ sense of reality. [...] In conclusion, the collusion between political reporting and fiction-making dominates contemporary thrillers about terrorism, which deal with paranoia, subterfuge, 137 For an interesting introduction to different types of Orientalism and the “new Orientalism” after 9/11 see Kumar (2012). The article also deals with Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Khadra’s The Attack as positive examples of a more complex representation of Islamic fundamentalism that also pay attention to the political and economic roots of terror. 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 221 and the clandestine, which produce cases of mistaken identity and play on the distinctions between the self and the other (Wilson 2012: 105-106). The novel highlights the impact of misinformation and biased representation. It plays with these stereotypes while, at the same time, it undermines generalisation by an individualised portrait of one single character. Concerning the frame story, we are, however, left in the dark about the question if Changez, who searches for ever-new excuses for the strange behaviour of his interlocutor, simply does not realise the danger he might be in, or if he consciously and self-confidently plays with this danger. Does he know the role of the American? His recurring allusions to soldiers and agents at least indicate a certain suspicion. For instance, he offers his guest a dessert with the words: Such dishes may not normally be to your taste, but I would encourage you to have, at the very least, a tiny bite. After all, one reads that the soldiers of your country are sent to battle with chocolate in their rations, so the prospect of sugaring your tongue before undertaking even the bloodiest of tasks cannot be entirely alien to you (RF 138). In the end, the protagonist comes to speak of his present role in the ‘anti-American’ protests as a university lecturer and describes himself as “a believer in non-violence” (RF181) and “simply a university lecturer, nothing more nor less” (RF 181). However, he also addresses the danger in which he brought himself by publicly and vehemently criticising American policies: Such was its impact that I was warned by my comrades that America might react to my admittedly intemperate remarks by sending an emissary to intimidate me or worse. Since then, I have felt rather like a Kurtz waiting for his Marlowe [sic]. I have endeavoured to live normally, as though nothing has changed, but I have been plagued by paranoia, by an intermittent sense that I am being observed. I even tried to vary my routines [...] but I have come to realize that all this serves no purpose. I must meet my fate when it confronts me, and in the meantime I must conduct myself without panic. Most of all, I must avoid doing what you are doing in the instant, namely constantly looking over my shoulder. [...] 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 (RF182-183). Hamid here interestingly refers to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness from 1899, which became known as a novel that questioned racism, imperialism and supposed dichotomies between civilisation and savagery (cf. Hawkins 1979), but was at the same time attacked by postcolonial studies as a work which promotes xenophobic stereotypes of African people.138 In Conrad’s novel, the narrator Marlow becomes obsessed with the figure Kurtz. Kurtz is an ivory trader and remains as enigmatic as Hamid’s character Changez. As Meisel notes, Marlow is unable to read what Kurtz represents, which led critics to ascribe multiple psychological meanings to the story and its enigmatic character (cf. Meisel 1978: 20-28). Just as Heart of Darkness Hamid’s novel allows many different interpretations of the plot as well as of different charac- 138 The African author Chinua Achebe, for instance, harshly criticised Conrad’s novel as promoting racist stereotypes and classifies it as an “offensive and totally deplorable book” (Watts 1983: 196). 5) Analyses 222 ters and creates insecurity on several levels.139 Similarly to the different interpretations of Conrad’s novel as an anti-imperialist or xenophobic work, the reader of The Reluctant Fundamentalist has to decide if he interprets the story as anti-American or not. As I outlined in detail in an article, The Reluctant Fundamentalist also features some similarities to traditional gothic novels in terms of its use of ambivalence, the importance of misconceptions for the plot as well as the centrality of a revelation or turning point (Liewald 2011: 253-255). Especially the frame story contributes to creating tension. It plays with the notion that the protagonist might not see something (for example that the stranger might be dangerous) we as readers believe to be aware of. Information does not seem to be consciously restricted or held back. However, we remain unsure about how to evaluate the information we get. At many points an interpretation would depend on the tone. Since we neither know the tone of Changez’ voice nor the answers and reactions of the interlocutor, we might interpret it as threatening, sarcastic or friendly, luring, bitter or neutral. This strategy brings to the surface our own stereotypes and prejudices in relation to the topic as well as the depicted prejudices of the narrator and his interlocutor. Depending on what we fear more, we can see the protagonist as hunter or prey, luring or innocent, scheming and paranoid or simply open-minded. The play with and possible reversal of roles makes the open ending thrilling and dissatisfying at the same time. Concerning the topic of 9/11, Ilott argues that the novel not only empowers a non-Western view on 9/11 but that its form also reflects an empowerment of the Western reader. Instead of just being a passive victim of terror and trauma, the reader is challenged by the narrative style to become active and endow the text with individual meaning. The many gaps that need to be filled by the reader and leave room for interpretation empower the reader and his capacity to shape the text. In that regard, “readers are removed from a state of passive victimhood and can have access to the cathartic and restorative functions associated with authorship and narrative control” (Ilott 2014: 574). Hamid skilfully uses gaps, contradicting signals and an uncertainty concerning motivational coherences to create an ambiguity about the general motivation of the characters, which lasts until the end. The great significance of the reader’s disposition, knowledge and experience for the construction of meaning in the novel at hand exemplifies the validity of cognitive approaches to literature. According to Ensink and Sauer, communication is a social and cognitive concept, an interaction which is based on the supposition of a certain amount of shared knowledge (Ensink/Sauer 2003: 1). They describe how the cognitive foundation for communication is influenced by ‘frame’ and ‘perspective’: 139 As Salomon mentions, the misspelling of the name of the antagonist suggests a second intertextual reference: „[Der Erzähler] suggeriert mit der Falschschreibung des Namens seines Gegenspielers Marlow jedoch auch die Nähe zu einer anderen literarischen Figur aus dem Genre der amerikanischen hard-boiled detective novel: Raymond Chandlers Privatdetektiv Philip Marlowe, der sich als sensibler Moralist […] mit einer rücksichtslos korrupten Gesellschaft herumschlägt“ (Salomon 2011: 158). This reading would, again, contribute to an insecurity about who is hunter and who is prey in the frame-story. 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 223 ‘Frame’ refers to the fact that discourse participants need a shared sense of the way in which the discourse is framed, i.e. an overall sense of the function of the discourse in the social situation. […] The frame separates the painting from the environment and is used at the same time to give the painting its place, e.g., by fixing it to the wall. A frame thus gives structure to both an object itself and to the way the object is perceived (Ensink/Sauer 2003: 2). According to this approach, the concept of the frame can be consulted to describe the way our previous knowledge on a given topic, our expectations and opinions influence the reading process. We subconsciously use all information present in the back of our mind, which might be a mixture of ‘common sense’ and previously acquired facts, to complete fragmentary messages, make connections and draw conclusions which are most of the time not explicitly stated in a given text. Ensink/Sauer summarise: A knowledge frame is a cognitively available pattern used in perception in order to make sense of the perceived material by ‘imposing’ that pattern and its known features on that material. […] The concept is used in order to describe and explain the coherence in knowledge as used for the representation and understanding of the world. […P]rocesses of human perception and comprehension do not need complete data in order to yield coherent and interpreted output (Ensink/Sauer 2003: 5). No text has exclusively fixed properties, but the interpretation of its meaning in part also depends on several preconditions, such as the knowledge of a reader about the topic. Furthermore, there are other context-bound factors that might influence an interpretation, such as the question whether we engage in an exchange with others and respond to their views (‘interactive frames’). The reader slowly composes a picture of the meaning of a textual passage by employing a knowledge frame, which might step by step be replaced or embedded in other frames depending on the information which complements the initial details.140 The second concept determining our interpretation is the concept of perspective. According to the above-cited volume ‘[p]erspective’ refers to the fact that the content of a discourse necessarily is ‘displayed’ from some point of view. Discourse participants cannot contribute to the discourse without at the same time showing their view on the subject matter of the discourse. […] In discourse analysis, the concept refers to the way people imply a certain way of looking at things when communicating about them (Ensink/Sauer 2003: 2 and 9). Point of view is a central element for an interpretation of a text that is determined by the degree of explicitness in which views are uttered, by the voice (and number of voices) chosen, as well as by the form of quotations. The cognitive frames of different readers determine not only the interpretation of a plot but also the perception of literary characters, perspective structures, unreliability and the direction of sympathy, to 140 As Jahn describes, a reader constructs a frame which is retained (primacy effect) as long as the text does not cause him or her to replace or modify this frame and reinterpret the information given (recency effect) (Jahn 1997: 457-460). 5) Analyses 224 mention but a few assumptions of cognitive narratology.141 As Zerweck describes, every interpretation is based on a mixture of ‘bottom-up’ processes controlled by textual characteristics and ‘top-down’ processes, which depend on context and cognitive predispositions (Zerweck 2002: 231). As we have seen, The Reluctant Fundamentalist to a large degree encourages the employment of top-down approaches. Gaps, a shifting direction of sympathy and the many ambiguities in the text invite the readers to apply their own cognitive frames – not only to interpret the story but also to evaluate its protagonist. The frames someone uses for an evaluation of literary characters, again, depend on personal experience, social and literary knowledge, norms and values, psychological predisposition, implied personality theories and emotions that may lead to a rejection of or an identification with a literary character (Zerweck 2002: 231-232).142 Readers ‘naturalise’ these cognitive assumptions to construct mental models of literary characters. These models, however, are fluid and dynamic. They may change or be revised during the reading process. Schneider describes how these ‘multimodal mental models’ of characters are formed. He starts from the premise that “readers of novels focus their attention predominantly on psychological trait, emotions, and aims of characters that are more abstract and less dependent on the immediate circumstantial conditions of individual situations” (Schneider 2001: 610). As important characteristics he mentions, for instance, direct or indirect characterisations and descriptions of a character’s behaviour, his body language, his character traits or outer appearance as well as the form of narration and representation of consciousness (Schneider 2001: 611). These clues are then interpreted on the basis of the readers’ values, literary knowledge as well as societal background and assumptions. As has been outlined in the chapter on narrative theory, narrative conventions and social roles differ from culture to culture, which means that one and the same fictional character may cause different reader responses in diverse cultural contexts, as well as from individual to individual. Moreover, these concepts are historically determined. Thus, frames are culturally as well as historically changing. I would argue that the description of Changez’ emotions and character traits and the direct address of the reader tend to work in favour of the protagonist. Usually, the degree of immediacy tends to be lower in diegetic texts than in mimetic texts, but this is not the case in The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Through the use of the frame-story, readers must feel directly addressed, which enhances the emotional intensity of the story. Moreover, this strategy of consciousness representation has an influence on the potential ability of readers to sympathise with the character. Changez displays a straightforward attitude towards his narrated story. As we will see in the following analysis, he rarely employs irony and his language retains its sophistication throughout the plot. His increasingly emotional involvement when unfolding the reasons for his depression and identity crisis is only evident in the content of his stories, but it is 141 For an elaborate discussion of cognitive approaches (illustrated by reference to third-person narratives) see Jahn (1997: 441-468). 142 For a more detailed description of different influences on cognition see also Eder (2003: 294). 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 225 not reflected by his use of words. There are no unfinished sentences, exclamations or other markers which might indicate a loss of control. His words remain descriptive, articulate and thought-through. This also underscores the fact that the protagonist is presented as a round, multidimensional and dynamic character that grows and changes. He is defined more by his feelings than by his actions. But despite his inner development, Changez’ character seems to be consistent: There are no major contradictions in his behaviour and all changes are made psychologically plausible. Moreover, the employed autodiegetic narration fosters identification with the protagonist. As Keen notes: Character identification often invites empathy, even when the fictional character and reader differ from one another in all sorts of practical and obvious ways, but empathy for fictional characters appears to require only minimal elements of identity, situation, and feeling, not necessarily complex or realistic characterization (Keen 2006: 2014). Hamid seems to be an author who is interested in compassion and who strives to raise empathy for ideologically different positions. This potential of the novel to raise the readers’ empathy might be enhanced by the fact that “empathetic responses to fictional characters and situations occur more readily for negative emotions [...and that] empathy for situations depicted in fiction may be enhanced by chance relevance to particular historical, economic, cultural, or social circumstances” (Keen 2006: 214). Changez adopts a very sincere tone and seems to have an honest and upright personality, which makes his statements credible. Besides, the reader gets background information and characterisations by other characters, which are rendered in direct speech. On the one hand, the use of direct speech gives Changez’ account a more artificial quality. On the other hand, these passages of direct speech not only give us a more comprehensive picture of the narrator, but also serve to introduce us to a plurality of world views, which, despite not being very detailed, complement the strong focus on one individual. The protagonist describes no one in a particularly negative way, which suggests that he possesses good manners and is a polite person. Moreover, this leads the reader to believe that the narrator’s account does not seem to be driven by motifs of retribution or hatred. As we will see in the following analysis, Changez exerts a large amount of self-reflective distance, seems to be honest, sometimes even merciless with himself and tries to avoid being too judgmental. He interprets the behaviour of other characters, but seems to refrain from generalisations. This gives his ideas and opinions more credibility. The fact that he also passes critical judgment on his own demeanour and actions shows his values and contributes to his implicit portrayal as an amiable, apparently trustworthy narrator. Furthermore, the characterisations by other characters reflect affection and admiration for the protagonist, which can, according to Schneider, also be a source of a positive disposition towards the protagonist (cf. Schneider 2001: 615). As I am going to outline, Changez’ actions and changes of mind are explained and made psychologically plausible despite the fact that the narrator does not pretend to offer an objective view of events. Due to the narrative structure and the restriction to Changez’ consciousness, the reader is unaware of the motives of other characters unknown to the protagonist. Erica for instance remains an enigma to him. Neverthe- 5) Analyses 226 less, the text does not evoke the suspicion that the narrator purposefully withholds information. The narrator is quite blunt and straightforward and expresses his insecurity when he does not know or understand something at a certain point in time. The emotional involvement of the reader with Changez’ story as well as the ambiguity that makes it difficult for the reader to establish clear-cut categorisations may also contribute to the personalisation of the character (cf. Schneider 2001: 625). As Cohn delineates, there are many gradations between an autobiographical mode characterised by a distanced narrator who utters wise reflections on his former self and a narrator who is still emotionally involved in and identifies with his former feelings (Cohn 1978: 155). Changez, I would argue, represents a mixture of both stances. The protagonist evaluates his former self from a reflective distance and adds information he did not have at the time he speaks about. However, the narrator is emotionally engaged and not distanced from his former feelings and thoughts. Changez evaluates, explains causal links in his story and vividly describes his feelings of depression, anger and disappointment. He simultaneously analyses his past self and sympathises with it. His increasing agitation is reflected mainly in the framework plot. The novel makes us aware of the fact that the narrator’s attitude is neither neutral nor detached. Changez is emotionally involved in his story, sometimes sentimental, sometimes furious about the things that happened to him. He does not hide his emotions or claim to utter an objective opinion. Readers know from the start that they enter Changez’ evaluative perspective. Even though the existence of multiple perspectives in a novel cannot automatically be equated with ideological heterogeneity, the different focalisers represented in other novels in this literary corpus still reflect a greater spectrum of different views and voices. In Hamid’s novel, different characters also reflect different norms and values that interact with each other, but each of these characters is seen and interpreted through the eyes of the protagonist. As has been outlined in the chapter on narrative theory, the potential meaning of a text derives from the complex interplay of single perspectives, which correct, complete, modify or contradict each other, can be equal or integrated into a hierarchy and may or may not reflect a plurality of worldviews that runs counter to possible beliefs in an objective truth (Surkamp 2003: 3-4). The Reluctant Fundamentalist denies us this interplay of different focalisers and perspectives. However, the text actively engages the reader in an interplay with the protagonist. It is his turn to complete and interpret the single perspective given. The Reluctant Fundamentalist impressively shows that frame and perspective have the power to manipulate the pure content of a text according to our own experience and potential prejudices. The textual ambiguity which enables us to interpret the plot in many different ways is amplified by the monological structure of the novel. Many passages provoke the reader to jump to conclusions not explicitly formulated in the text. The title as well as many passages in the frame story invite categorisations. Much of the information we get is not explicit but presupposed. Discourses or statements are constantly embedded in other – often converse – statements which call into question the information given before. The novel conveys the impression that the whole topic is subject to an extreme subjectivity and that there might be no way of 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 227 escaping stereotypes. This ambiguity is, however, partly countered by the story of the protagonist, which is much more individualised. While the frame story rouses tension by playing with a ‘top-down’ approach that provokes the readers to categorise and to project their own cognitive frames of interpretation and prejudices on the story, the embedded story features more ‘bottom-up’ passages which serve to provide more detailed descriptions. Whereas there is no real indeterminacy with regard to the main plot the frame creates permanent gaps by the absence of the American’s voice, which the reader has to fill in and imagine. As Hamid mentioned in an interview, this apparently created a considerable amount of insecurity and led especially some American readers to feel accused (cf. Hamid 2009 b: 231). The novel has been repeatedly criticised as ‘anti- American’. Hamid’s long-standing attachment to America, however, underlines his claim that he did not endeavour to write an ‘anti-American’ novel.143 He is a political author who regularly utters his opinion on political events and concedes: “I tend to write from experience, not from research” (Kinson 2008: n.p.). This is not restricted to a criticism of British or American politics but includes regular comments on the shortcomings and abuses in his home-country Pakistan (cf. Hamid 2007 (c), 2009 (a) and 2012 (b)). Hamid describes the conversation and the stereotypes that shine through his novel as “an act of reverse ethnic profiling” (Solomon 2007: n.p.) and claims that “[t]he novel is not supposed to have a correct answer. It’s a mirror. It really is just a conversation, and different people will read it in different ways” (Solomon 2007: n.p.). Moreover, as can be seen with respect to all novels in my literary corpus, a humanist attitude shines through the works at hand. At first sight the novel seems to be about religious extremism, but it soon becomes clear that The Reluctant Fundamentalist is not about religion at all – let alone Islamic fundamentalism. Hamid outlines in an interview that the title provokes an assumption which does not prove to be wellfounded: [W]hat I find very interesting is that, by calling the book The Reluctant Fundamentalist and giving the guy a beard, it tends to be assumed that he is spiritually or philosophically a Muslim. There’s no evidence for that whatsoever in the novel. Changez isn’t actually a violent person, but leaving that on one side, what you have in Changez is a secular, humanist rationalist. He has a tribal identity which is Muslim, but it would be the same if he were Afro-Caribbean, or anything else. This identity only involves belonging to a group, and he doesn’t describe the world in specifically Muslim terms, or even begin to wonder what such terms might be. [...] It’s possible to recast this entire conflict in non-religious terms and find the conflict unchanged, except in our understanding of it (Chambers 2011: 188-189). Comparing this open structure of Hamid’s novel to the film version, we can observe that the movie is based on a much more closed and less ambiguous structure. What is striking is the difference in approach, detail and the direction of sympathy between Hamid’s novel and the filmic adaptation by Myra Nair released in 2012. Noticeably, 143 Despite all criticism of American politics, Hamid recurrently stated his affection for the United States and its values. See, for instance, Hamid (2007) (b): n.p. 5) Analyses 228 the movie version of Hamid’s novel also plays with shifting positions, ambiguity and mutual prejudices, but in the end leaves much less doubt about the intention of both the protagonist and the American interlocutor. The movie endows the American with a personality and a voice. In the end, it becomes clear that the American is indeed a CIA agent and that Changez was invited to become a member of a terrorist organisation but has actually rejected this membership on the grounds of his general aversion to fundamentalist world-views. The movie features an even more prominent attempt to promote empathy and trigger the readers’ sympathy for the protagonist. Changez and his family are presented in a pointedly Western way: We see how his sister speaks about “Sex and the City” and how his uncle drinks alcohol. None of the women in his family is veiled. All of these manifestations of a liberal and secular lifestyle are not mentioned in the rather short novel but fleshed out in the movie. Furthermore, Erica is presented as a much less vulnerable and helpless person. Even her story has been changed. Whereas the literary Erica lost her boyfriend Chris to a deadly disease and finally disappears from a mental hospital after suffering a breakdown, Erica in Myra Nair’s filmic adaptation is a much more self-confident and scheming person. First of all, she is presented as guilty for the death of Chris as she caused a fatal car accident by drunk-driving. Moreover, she is represented as exploiting Changez by using him as a topic for one of her exhibitions. After 9/11, she instrumentalises the fashionable and simultaneously shocking strangeness of ‘the Oriental exotic’ for her own success and marketing purposes, which finally leads to the end of their relationship. While the novel until the end gives the readers many opportunities to project hostile intentions on the protagonist and feel vindicated concerning their own prejudices, the film finally dismantles these apprehensions and represents Changez as an upright and peace-loving humanist. The novel leaves us with a rest of doubt that the narrator might be paranoid and the interlocutor just an imagined projection of his desperate dysfunctional mind. These doubts, however, are resolved in the movie. The movie at no point in time conveys the feeling that the protagonist might be an unreliable narrator or could be acting on irrational grounds. In the novel, however, the evaluation of the protagonist as reliable or unreliable may to a large degree depend on the reader’s own moral, aesthetic, cultural, personal and philosophical norms and his or her assumptions about ‘normal’ behaviour (cf. Zerweck 2002: 235-236). American nostalgia, Christianity and capitalism In addition to the interesting use of structure and ambiguity, Hamid’s use of allegorical figures also adds an interesting dimension to the meaning of the text. Changez’ lover Erica, her former boyfriend Chris and his boss Jim all represent different facets of the country the protagonist at first learns to love and then mistrust. Erica is described as a character prone to depression. She is the fragile American girl Changez falls in love with at first sight. I will describe her character in detail, because she has frequently been interpreted as an allegorical figure for America (Lasdun 2007: n.p.) and represents a specific facet of the United States that is important for the 5.3.2) 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 229 message of the novel. The narrator describes Erica as “stunningly regal” (RF 17). She comes from a rich family and also studies at Princeton but ironically wears a T-shirt with an image of Chairman Mao when Changez first sees her, which might be interpreted as a first indicator of a certain ambiguity in terms of her attitudes. From the start, we are introduced to a person who does not feel “solid” (RF 20) and is drawn to Changez because he seems to radiate security and stability. Erica’s aura is one of weakness, loneliness and vulnerability but at the same time extreme attraction, pride and sublimity. The protagonist describes his first encounters with her as follows: 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. Documenting her effect on her habitat, a naturalist would likely have compared her to a lioness: strong, sleek, and invariably surrounded by her pride. Yet one got the sense that she existed internally at a degree of remove from those around her. Not that she was aloof; she was, in fact, friendly in disposition. But one felt that some part of her – and this, perhaps, was a not insubstantial component of her appeal – was out of reach, lost in thoughts unsaid (RF 21-22). The passage already adumbrates her inherent nostalgia and her liability to depression and retreating from the world. It also explains why Erica attracts not only Changez’ affection and “desire” but also his “protectiveness” (RF 86). She is the dream he fights for. Fulfilment and gratification (on a sexual as well as emotional level) seem always within his grasp but can never be reached. Intriguingly, nostalgia for bygone times – which is attributed to the character of Erica and the United States as such – is described by Marty/Appleby as “a hallmark of fundamentalist rhetoric” (Marty/Appleby 1991 (b): 835). As will be outlined further in the next paragraphs, Hamid recurrently raises the question of whether the protagonist is really the one who can be regarded as fundamentalist, or whether fundamentalism is something inherent to many systems of belief. In this context, both Erica and the United States seem to be promising to the protagonist but do not keep this promise at second glance. Erica looks absolutely desirable and is invitingly friendly. But somehow this is just a proud facade behind which there is an abyss of fear, loneliness and immobility. Just as Changez thinks he can win the love of Erica if he just tries hard enough, he believes that he can be a true ‘New Yorker’ living the ‘American dream’ of social upward mobility through diligence and hard work. Up to a point his future looks bright but only as long as he does not look below the surface and does not question the system. The success of the United States is characterised as based on maximum economic profit and the clinging to political and military dominance. Erica’s happiness seems to be based on her adherence to the memory of her deceased lover Chris. Both realities are presented as delusional. The United States is described as ignoring the detrimental effects of its policies for the rest of the world. Erica, likewise, blocks out the reality of change and the people (like Changez) who might symbolise this change. Erica and ‘America’ at first seem desirable but lose their appeal once Changez detects their inner instability, sadness and stagnation, which exposes both shiny surfaces as a disappointing fallacy. This fallacy, however, is not presented as guileful deception 5) Analyses 230 but as nearly innocent inability to act otherwise and to escape the automatism of selfdestruction and denial, once they have been set in motion. Erica’s behaviour is not malicious. This, however, does not change its devastating effects on the protagonist, who, despite all efforts to comfort her, sees her slip more and more deeply into depression. Like Changez, Erica misses home (cf. RF 28), but unlike him she identifies being home not with a place but with her boyfriend Chris, who died a year before from lung cancer. After his death she was hospitalised due to depression, and Changez realises that behind her eyes “there was something broken” (RF 52) because there is a “crack inside her” (RF 159). He compares her to “a child who could sleep only with the door open and the light on” (RF 57), an image which again underlines both her helplessness and her innocence. The 9/11 terrorist attacks severely compound Erica’s problems because they bring back bad memories of loss, which, again, render her sleepless. “I feel haunted” (RF 80), she tells Changez, and “appeared deeply anxious” (RF 82), “detached, lost in a world of her own [...and] struggling against a current that pulled her within herself ” (RF 86). These descriptions can be interpreted as allusions to the state of the nation after 9/11. Many works have addressed the state of collective trauma and paralysation after the event, which seems to represent an understandable psychological mechanism but is not unproblematic at the same time. Däwes highlights the difficulty of describing 9/11 as a national trauma144, because this “not only conveniently silences a historical tradition of imperialism, but it also revives the notion of American exceptionalism” (Däwes 2011: 76). Despite these reservations concerning the terminology, it is still justifiable to say that the novel deals with trauma – and it does so in a more balanced way than many other works do. The Reluctant Fundamentalist does not only focus on the trauma (Am)Erica experiences through the events of 9/11 but also on the traumata the political and social repercussions of the events have on Americans with a different cultural or religious background. Hamid subverts common images of US nationalism and rewrites history from a different perspective, therewith preventing the event from a reduction to a catastrophe for the Christian Western world. Srivastava suggests that The Reluctant Fundamentalist “presents a counter-reading of 9/11 itself, an oppositional narrative to the Eurocentric literary fictions about the fall of the Twin Towers” (Srivastava 2012: 172). Hamid does not focus on trauma as many American authors engaging with 9/11 do, but he scrutinises the potential deficits of the Western political and economic system that may give rise to Islamic fundamentalism worldwide, thereby producing “a ‘first-world allegory’ generated from a ‘thirdworld perspective’” (Srivastava 2012: 176). The author subverts the distinction be- 144 As Däwes (2011: 68) remarks on the dangers of describing 9/11 as national trauma: “The traumatic event’s uniqueness and its devastating impact is constructed as a given; the discourse of trauma thus not only accentuates the victim’s innocence, but it also isolates the experience from its historical context. In the case of 9/11, the discoursive framing of the terrorist attacks as a shattering disaster coming ‘out of the blue’ […] thus caters to the master narrative of a new American exceptionalism.” She notes that in times where the terrorist attacks have been politically used to change policies and start the war in Iraq “[r]eading Ground Zero Fiction as ‘trauma literature’ thus comes at an ideological, ethical and political cost that has, so far, been neglected” (Däwes 2011: 68). 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 231 tween Christian and Muslim, East and West by showing that the East is actually part of the West. Changez as well as many other immigrants are important members of American society and by ostracising these members, the nation maims itself. As Bjerre outlines, Hamid’s adaptation of the topic also questions and undermines the heroic notions of male dominance media reports after 9/11 so often invoked (Bjerre 2012: 241-266). The novel displays Changez’ helplessness and fragility in the face of Erica’s deterioration and retreat, the increasing hostility he experiences in American society and his inability to become fully accepted. This counters a possible gendered reading of a powerful, male Oriental ‘Ghengis’ conquering a weak and female (Am)Erica. Even though Erica and the nation itself are described as being weakened and touched to the quick by 9/11, they still possess power over Changez, who becomes increasingly dependent on their goodwill and acceptance. Moreover, it is interesting to see how the novel sets itself apart from many other literary adaptations of the event. Randall describes the “rise of anti-Islamic sentiment and a more general mood of paranoia, fear and political instability” (Randall 2011: 1) in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. He traces the development of literature that deals with this seminal event from the direct aftermath to the end of the decade. In the first years, mainly survivor stories, eyewitness accounts and reports were published and writers experienced great insecurity in dealing with this topic, concerning the danger of simplification and the inadequacy of realist fiction to describe the enormity of the event. Hamid’s novel, however, is a sign that the paralysis, so characteristic of the first years after the event, finally gave way to more experimental adaptations of 9/11 which go beyond the topics of trauma and patriotism and might even challenge these notions. As Randall notes, approaches such as The Reluctant Fundamentalist are more political than earlier representations and “are moving away from the ‘sacralising’, ‘mythologising’ and ‘commemorative’ discourses that have dominated how 9/11 has been written and spoken about” (Randall 2011: 131). This engagement with global political and economic questions marks a rejection of the focus on domestic trauma that has been so prevalent in the first years after the 9/11 attacks. Mishra argues in his article “The End of Innocence” that American writers have often retreated to the domestic sphere and evaded addressing the downturns of the unequal distribution of political and economic power that has contributed to the rise of groups hostile towards the United States. After 9/11 many of these worldpolitical issues came to the fore. Nevertheless, several novelists, such as John Updike who will be discussed in a concluding outlook chapter, tried to imagine the perspective of Islamic fundamentalists but failed to convey a convincing and balanced picture. Mishra notes that many representations are one-dimensional and resort to stereotypes of the ‘other’ without much self-reflexivity: “Sympathy often breaks down, and hasty research reduces individuals as well as movements to stereotypical motivations” (Mishra 2007: n.p.). The ambiguity and change of perspective embodied by Hamid’s novel stands in contrast to Mishra’s concerns about the retreat of writers to purely domestic topics and the relapse to clichés. Hamid addresses many of these stereotypes, but he does so with irony and creates narrative uncertainty to undermine their validity and plausibility. 5) Analyses 232 What is described to happen on a personal level simultaneously happens on a national level. As Erica turns away from Changez and retreats into her self, many other characters are described as turning away from ethnic and religious diversity as such. When the protagonist grows a beard, acceptance suddenly hits the wall. Erica really likes the protagonist and treats him well, but she still cannot feel any passion or joy in her deep sadness and nostalgia. The object of her desire, Chris, remains enigmatic throughout the novel. It is palpable how much he means to Erica but not why. Thus, he is a surreal presence in the story and an invisible competitor the protagonist is not able to grasp. Changez notices with sorrow: “I was desirous of embarking upon a relationship with her that amounted to more than friendship, and I felt in the strength of her ongoing attachment to Chris the presence of a rival – albeit a dead one – with whom I feared I could never compete” (RF 82). In line with the interpretation of Erica as an allegory for ‘America’, Chris could be seen on a symbolical level as an emblem of ‘Christianity’. An argument for this approach is the fact that Erica increasingly longs for Chris after the 9/11 attacks. Similarly, the 9/11 attacks provoked an increasing accentuation of the Christian heritage of the United States in political and public rhetoric. Just as Erica is more and more alienated from Changez through her turn towards a lost past, American society, as such, avoids or even excludes him due to his cultural and religious difference. The country and the character of Erica suffer from a nostalgia for something which seems to be lost and cannot be retrieved. The apparent longing for the comforts of the past does, however, not materialise in concrete descriptions of what that past consisted of. This lack of concretisation indicates that (Am)Erica’s nostalgia might be based on an illusion. These observations also correspond to a possible second interpretative view of Chris as an allusion to Christopher Columbus or an older version of America, associated with white, Christian domination. The only information we get about Chris is that he grew up with Erica in facing apartments and was also admitted to Princeton, which suggests that he was an intelligent boy from the upper class. The scarce references we get are surprisingly not unconditionally positive. He is portrayed as “a goodlooking boy with [...] an Old World appeal” but “had been quite the dandy, and rather vain even in hospital” (RF 27). Chris seems to have radiated an air of beauty, sophistication and grandeur. But at the same time he is also associated with a traditional, backward-looking appeal, with arrogance, a hedonistic streak and vanity. On a symbolical level, the depiction of Chris can be seen as a questioning of the supposed superiority and power of a white and Christian American nation. Its former hegemony is presented as something which people still cling to. However, the concept itself is of the past, divorced from the present multicultural, multiethnic and multireligious composition of American society. Erica and Chris – or America and Christianity – seem to be so strongly interconnected that the separation of both is presented as a very painful process. Their love “had been an unusual love, with such a degree of commingling of identities that when Chris died, Erica felt she had lost herself ” (RF 91). 9/11 not only triggers a crisis of identity for the protagonist but also for the nation as such. At the same time, the novel 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 233 calls into question whether these supposedly glorious days (Am)Erica is longing for ever existed at all: Perhaps the reality of their time together was as wonderful as she had, on more than one occasion, described to me. Or perhaps theirs was a past all the more potent for its being imaginary. I did not know whether I believed in the truth of their love; it was, after all, a religion that would not accept me as a convert. But I knew that she believed in it, and I felt small for being able to offer her nothing of comparable splendor instead (RF 114). Erica still idealises something that cannot be retrieved and presumably has never been perfect in the first place. Moreover, Changez realises that he will never be able to be fully accepted and compete with this notional ideal – not even through assimilation. Parallel to the American state of the nation after 9/11, Erica is caught in a dangerous state of nostalgia that causes stagnation, paralysis, fear and an inability to adequately react to her environment. She wants to fully embrace Changez and is curious about his alterity but cannot look ahead. In this context, Changez could also stand for the ‘changes’ he brings to (Am)Erica. His ascent into the ranks of the American elite demonstrates that success is not solely determined by colour or class anymore, but by education and money. He stands for the changes and challenges migrants from different cultures and religions have at all times brought to the United States. The protagonist changes Erica’s life in that he forces her to acknowledge the possibility of a different reality than the one she desperately clings to. However, it is telling that she only manages to make love to Changez when he pretends to be Chris. Despite the friendliness of most people towards him, the protagonist apparently has to engage in role-playing to be accepted. In his relationship to Erica he has to pretend to be Chris to be embraced, at Princeton he has to mime “a young prince, generous and carefree” (RF 11) and at Underwood Samson, he has to pretend not to care about his cultural and religious heritage and the social downsides of his job to be accepted as a team-member. His relationship to Erica as well as his status in the American society were promising, but both promises turn out to be empty. The narrator’s attempts to stay away from his love resemble “a struggle not unlike that of a man attempting to rid himself of an addiction” (RF 114). Again, Erica’s enchanting quality is not unambiguous but connected to a destructive and dangerous dynamic. Likewise, Changez’ success in America initially intoxicated him but finally only engenders pain and sadness. Nostalgia seems to be the core of everything he encounters: Possibly this was due to my state of mind, but it seemed to me that America, too, was increasingly giving itself over to a dangerous nostalgia that time. There was something undeniably retro about the flags and uniforms, about generals addressing cameras in war rooms and newspaper headlines featuring such words as duty and honor. I had always thought of America as a nation that looked forward; for the first time I was struck by this determination to look back. […] What your fellow countrymen longed for was unclear to me – a time of unquestioned dominance? Of safety? Of moral certainty? I did not know – but that they were scrambling to don the costumes of another era was apparent. I felt treacherous for wondering whether that era was fictitious, and whether – if it could indeed be animated – it contained a part written for someone like me (RF 114-115). 5) Analyses 234 As we can see, the passage very much resembles the protagonist’s anxieties about the inability to compete with Erica’s image of Chris. Now, he is not sure if he is able to blend in with the diffuse notion of America that is triggered by the traumatic events of 9/11. The protagonist is described as an ambassador of ‘change’ who is not embraced but seen as a threat or at least a risk. Erica’s mother tries to prevent Changez from coming too close to her daughter by saying: “What she needs right now is stability. No emotional upheavals” (RF 110). A self-destructive psychological state seems to appear more secure than an encounter with the protagonist, maybe because this state is wellknown and therefore seems more secure than any changes that could pull her out of her trance. Changez apparently has a disruptive effect on his surroundings. In the last scenes set before her disappearance, Erica is content with living in a mental hospital as a place “where people could live in their minds without feeling bad about it” (RF 133). The nurse tells him: “You’re the one who upsets her most. Because you’re the most real, and you make her lose her balance” (RF 133). Changez/change is real, but Erica does not seem to possess enough strength to face this reality. She lives in an alternate reality just as the deluded characters in Faulks’ novel do. Whereas the characters in A Week in December are also close to selfdestruction, there seems to be at least some hope for them, as is shown by the example of the character Hassan who refrains from exercising a planned terrorist attack. Erica, on the other hand, looks completely “emaciated, detached, and so lacking in life” (RF 140) that when Changez last sees her, not much hope is left. Soon afterwards he gets the news of her disappearance. It is indicated that she might have committed suicide, but the mystery is never solved. The protagonist, who longed to give her stability and hope, reflects that his inability to do so might have been grounded in his own identity crisis: I lacked a stable core. I was not certain where I belonged – in New York, in Lahore, in both, in neither – and for this reason, when she reached out to me for help, I had nothing of substance to give her. Probably this was why I had been willing to try to take on the persona of Chris, because my own identity was so fragile. But in so doing – and by being unable to offer her an alternative to the chronic nostalgia inside her – I might have pushed Erica deeper into her own confusion (RF 148). By joining the game and trying to assimilate the protagonist has helped neither himself nor others and has only engaged in self-deception. Because he does not know where he belongs anymore, he also loses his power to persuade (Am)Erica of his loyalty. As I already mentioned, Changez speaks of the destruction of his “personal American dream” (RF 93). This also applies to Erica if we want to see her allegorically. The American dream disappears, because the attributes it is supposed to represent, such as freedom, equal opportunities, the fight against oppression and injustice as well as the pursuit of happiness and social upward mobility independent of class, wealth or heritage, in Changez’ eyes do not correspond to reality any longer. As Munos argues Hamid uses the post-9/11 context to reveal the racial melancholia surreptitiously informing today’s ‘new’ versions of the American Dream – a melancholia which is apparent in 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 235 Changez’s and Erica’s relationship as well as in their parallel impossible mourning of the broken mirror of ‘white’ Am/Erica (Munos 2012: 397). 9/11 marks a turning point in the novel that reveals the vulnerability and impermanence of a multicultural ideal of America in the face of peril. The only character who seems to maintain a positive attitude towards Changez is his employer Jim. Jim can be seen, next to America and Christianity, as a third allegorical figure. He represents modern globalised capitalism and its positive as well as negative repercussions. In contrast to Faulks’ character Veals, Jim is a much more positive and life-like character. The background knowledge the reader gets about his difficult childhood and his motivations render a more balanced picture and clarify that he is not solely driven by greed and thirst for power. Jim never seems to question the logic of the economic system he serves, but he stays loyal to the protagonist until the end. This is particularly interesting because he serves as a foil for the protagonist. He seems to have a similar story and personality and is the prototype of a self-made man. Stemming from a poor family, he was the first to go to college and had to work secret nightshifts to pay his tuition. Thus, Jim knows hardships, shame and disadvantage, and he sees through Changez within a couple of minutes. The protagonist recapitulates: “Most people I met were taken in by my public persona. Jim was not. But fortunately, where I saw shame, he saw opportunity” (RF 11). Jim hires him on the spot since he not only believes in the protagonist’s abilities, but also identifies with him. “You’re a watchful guy. You know where that comes from?” he asks Changez “It comes from feeling out of place [...] Believe me. I know” (RF 42-43). Jim is presented in a sympathetic and positive light and seems to embody the ideal of a successful, wealthy, educated and colour-blind American who is down-to-earth despite his career. We get more background information about him than about any other character apart from the protagonist and Erica. He entrusts to Changez that he understands his being uncomfortable with the behaviour of many colleagues: [‘] I never let on that I felt like I didn’t belong to this world. Just like you.’ [...] ‘Why did you not belong?’ He smiled – again as if he could see right through me – and replied, “Because I grew up on the other side. For half my life, I was outside the candy store looking in, kid. And in America, no matter how poor you are, TV gives you a good view. But I was dirt poor. My dad died of gangrene. So I get the irony of paying a hundred bucks for a bottle of fermented grape juice, if you know what I mean’ (RF 70). Notwithstanding the fact that he represents American capitalism, Jim is never described as unconscionable but as tolerant and generous. All the same, the protagonist is reminded of The Great Gatsby on entering Jim’s house (cf. RF 43). The novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald from 1925 is mostly viewed as a socio-critical work which denounces the degeneration of the ‘original’ American dream (cf. Pearson 1970, Decker 1994 or Railton 2011). The novel animadverts that instead of happiness and freedom people only strive for power and wealth. Jim is a likeable character. But for all that, he still sees himself as predatory animal (a “shark” RF 70) and stays loyal to the system that guarantees his career. In contrast to the protagonist who ‘lacks a stable core’ he is described as a “man of substance” (RF 71). Whereas Changez suffers from a clash of several facets of his new 5) Analyses 236 life with his religious and cultural identity, Jim does not face a similar dilemma. Despite the fact that he has not forgotten where he came from, he is not forced to reconsider his stance towards American politics or the neoliberal agenda in the same way an immigrant from Pakistan is. Jim remains an integral part of the Underwood Samson system which “embodies a utilitarian version of the melting pot, thus highlighting a national culture determined to assimilate difference only as past, as history” (Hartnell 2010: 342). The company which hires Changez also has the initials U.S., which might be no coincidence. I am going to take a closer look at the facets of American society represented by Underwood Samson in the next subchapter. Looking again at the character constellation in A Reluctant Fundamentalist, it is striking how much the protagonist gains centre stage. In contrast to all other novels in this literary corpus there are very few characters involved, and no major conflicts develop between these characters. The Black Album, The Sirens of Baghdad and A Week in December all feature antagonistic relationships. There are good characters that readers are invited to sympathise with as well as bad (or at least misguided characters) we might not be able to identify with. There are conflicts between people, groups and ideas. Hamid’s work, on the contrary, does not feature one really unprincipled, ruthless or despicable character. The major conflicts do not happen between individuals, but on the level of global politics and economics as well as within people. The characters at times resemble puppets who suffer from events beyond their control. Hamid’s characters are neither mean nor excessively ruthless, but careless and in Erica’s case also naive. Many stereotypes of ‘the West’ are discussed in the novel. Among the main points there are, for instance, American unipolarity and imperialist political, economic and military practices. Furthermore, the country is associated with arrogance concerning its self-righteous claim to power and double standards concerning the defence of values. The United States claims to give everyone a fair chance but supposedly does not care for the ‘collateral damage’ caused by its economic principles and military tactics. The Reluctant Fundamentalist also alludes to a decline in values, but presents no excesses, as already mentioned. Like Faulks, Hamid mentions the loneliness one might feel in a highly individualised Western society characterised by more personal freedom and self-actualisation but also by more carelessness of people with regard to their fellow human beings. The protagonist finds this difference in social values and family structure strange and admits: “I missed my family and the comfort of a family residence, where generations stayed together, instead of apart in an atomized state of age segregation” (RF 50). However, criticism of the anonymity and loneliness of our modern age never gains centre stage in the plot as it does in A Week in December. As a result, The Reluctant Fundamentalist addresses many common accusations against the West but in a more nuanced way than many other novels do. There is no violence or severe ill-will, and no character is depicted as inherently mean. Unlike The Black Album, the text contains no flat, stereotypical characters. They are all mixed, displaying positive and negative qualities. Another important difference between The Reluctant Fundamentalist and the novels by Yasmina Khadra and other works, I will analyse in the next chapters, lies in Hamid’s thematisation of historical events. These events are the major reasons for the 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 237 climaxes and turning points of the novel but are still just a footnote when we look at the lack of detail with which they are described. Knowledge about the media coverage of 9/11, the war on Afghanistan and the tensions between India and Pakistan is presupposed. There are no explanations or debates about different sides to the problem. Hamid apparently, in contrast to Faulks, does not want to increase the reader’s knowledge of economic ideas or world-political events. He conjures up our own memories of events and displays a certain reaction to the things we have seen on the news ourselves. However, the text lacks further value judgments and we are invited to interpret potential tensions between different views according to our own experience – a strategy quite common for contemporary novels. As Frank and Gruber rightfully note, terrorism is a topic that has been featured in literature for the last 140 years and has since been a prominent topic – from the works by Robert Louis Stevenson, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Henry James till the present day (Frank/Gruber 2012: 7). Thus, an interest in the topic had been visible in American and British writing long before 9/11. However, the approaches to the topic have changed, which can partly be attributed to the controversy surrounding the question: How much empathy can or should be invoked for the perpetrators of terrorist attacks? Likewise, the state of emergency after 9/11 which led to the targeting of Muslim Americans as a suspect group and the partial suspension of civil rights is, according to Maira, not a new development but “is constitutive of an imperial governmentality that rests on the exclusion of certain groups from citizenship at various historical moments” (Maira 2011: 111). Maira claims that the “post-9/11 moment is not a radical historical rupture but builds on forms of power already in place that target different groups to varying degrees and in specific ways, particularly in moments of national crisis” (Maira 2011: 111). As Däwes outlines in her analysis of over hundred works that deal with 9/11145, ‘Ground Zero Fiction’ is characterised by the formation of patterns. She diagnoses metonymic, appropriative, diagnostic, writerly, salvational and symbolic approaches (Däwes 2011: 20-22). According to these definitions, The Reluctant Fundamentalist can be seen as a ‘diagnostic novel’ because it “contextualize[s] 9/11 within larger historical and/or geographical frameworks […and displays] the impact that 9/11 had on concepts of gender, ethnicity, class, and national identity at large” (Däwes 2011: 20). Hamid is interested less in the event as such than in the severe consequences of 9/11 for an understanding of American identity and the formation of inner demarcation lines. He describes the process of a redefinition of national identity that suddenly seems to exclude many immigrants it used to embrace. An increasing division between ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘self ’ and ‘other’ informs political decisions and security policies and finds expression in a colder social climate. Hamid takes the example of his protagonist to show how these altered circumstances may also alter an individual up to the point that he reconsiders his loyalties. Furthermore, The Reluctant Fundamentalist also features characteristics of a ‘symbolic approach’ which is characterised by the use 145 Included in the many works on 9/11 are also many contemporary plays. For an interesting overview of dramatic adaptations of 9/11 see Grabes (2012: 249-262). 5) Analyses 238 of “9/11 as a symbolic setting and event, which provides a parallel or contrastive background to tales of personal crisis, loss, or decline […and] a metaphor for any personal suffering that seems excessive, incomprehensible, and painful beyond description” (Däwes 2011: 21). In this respect, 9/11 is used as a trigger for Changez’ personal crisis and his process of reorientation and identification. As Banita highlights, fiction dealing with 9/11 often features protagonists who are challenged to change their lives, relationships and emotional foundation (Banita 2012: 294). The fall of the Twin Towers mirrors Erica’s inner breakdown. Just as the towers disappear, the heroine and symbolic figure disappears as well. Both events are accompanied by pain and suffering and contribute to the protagonist’s change. In my interview with the author, Hamid spoke about his own experience as an immigrant in America after 9/11 and about potential differences between Britain and the United States in their approach to immigration, multiculturalism and people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Interestingly, he assigns the United States a more mature approach to diversity, which, however, changed after the 2001 terrorist attacks: I think that America has a longer history of immigration, of racial differences and encounters. So to a certain extent, when I was living in New York or in California, these places did feel to me racially more ‘advanced’ than Europe or Britain. But things have changed since September 11th. Before I was just somebody – with brown skin, but who was well-educated and spoke English very well. I got along quite well in America. Ever since September 11th two things happened: Muslims in particular have become a suspect group. So Muslims are now more like African Americans used to be. […] And also America has become much more anti-immigrant, because of this fear of predominantly Latin-American immigration. So in that sense, America has become quite different from what it felt like, to me, twenty years ago. In the UK and in Europe, I think, there is still very much an underlying ethnic tribalism. Generally speaking, I find race relations more problematic in Europe than in America. The tribe has constructed these institutions: the welfare state, the national health service, etc. But they are still tribal institutions, and when somebody not from the tribe, like an immigrant, comes, the tribe is reactive to this. The immigrant experience in Europe is often much more ghettoised and circumscribed than in the United States. So whereas Europe speaks much more about solidarity, Americans do not speak about solidarity very much, at all. The European solidarity feels to me that it is built on an insider vs. outsider solidarity. In other words: ‘We must have solidarity in the face of our common foe’ as opposed to ‘All humans must have solidarity’ (Interview with Mohsin Hamid, 16.08.2012). In a way this view corresponds to the stronger accentuation of class issues in the novels by Faulks and Kureishi, which are set in Britain. Hamid describes American society as facilitating more social and economic inclusion. Nevertheless, cultural and religious prejudices in the wake of 9/11 seem to change these positive conditions. In The Reluctant Fundamentalist the protagonist experiences what it feels like to be regarded as a suspect. This particularly hurts him because of his initially admiring and loving attitude towards the country. I will take a closer look at his description of America since it is pivotal for the major issues in the novel related to the formation of identity, political and economic divides and the question of what the use of the term ‘fundamentalist’ in the title might indicate. 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 239 The depiction of America is from the beginning based on a simultaneous insideand outside-view, for the protagonist constantly compares his impressions of the country to his expectations as well as to the circumstances in his home-country. For instance, he realises that in America buildings are made “to look older” (RF 3), which is contrasted to the historical buildings in Pakistan and the rich history of the country. Arriving at Princeton, he thinks at first that this embodies “a dream come true” (RF 3) and that he would be surrounded by “professors who are titans in their fields and fellow students who are philosopher-kings in the making” (RF 3). The choice of words alludes to similarities between his initial ideas and a fairy-tale, which is soon deprived of its mystique. The protagonist learns that the other students are just normal people and that, in general, “Americans faced much less daunting odds in the selection process” (RF 3). Contemplating his first months in the United States Changez recounts: “Looking back now, I see the power of that system, pragmatic and effective like so much else in America” (RF 4). This comment can be interpreted either as a positive remark or as bitter and sarcastic comment. The suggestion that the tone is likely to be sarcastic is indicated by the following passages, which outline that in America, people’s ascent “into the ranks of meritocracy” (RF 4) seems to be dependent on the contribution someone is able to make to that society. Entry is restricted to the brightest and strongest, and by far not everyone is admitted. The passage even insinuates that academia ‘prostitutes’ itself for an inhumane economic system, as “[e]very fall, Princeton raised her skirt for the corporate recruiters” (RF 4). As mentioned earlier in this chapter, Changez’ fellow students are described as careless and spendthrift. Despite their standing in society, they seem to lack good manners. The protagonist speculates: I, with my finite and depleting reserve of cash and my traditional sense of deference to one’s seniors, found myself wondering by what quirk of human history my companions – many of whom I would have regarded as upstarts in my own country, so devoid of refinement were they – were in a position to conduct themselves in the world as though they were its ruling class (RF 21). But despite this apparent lack of culture and sophistication, America is described as “the most technologically advanced civilization our species had ever known” (RF 34). This civilisation is driven by “systematic pragmatism” (RF 36-37), “professionalism” (RF 37) and “efficiency” (RF 37) that are presented as determining principles and core-characteristics of American success. At one point the protagonist refers to an accident with a candle that left a scar when he was a child and notes: “In America, this would have been the start, in all likelihood, of a protracted bout of litigation with the manufacturer for using candle-wax with such a high, and unsafe, melting point; here, it resulted merely in an evening of crying” (RF 47). Thus, American people are presented as showing a tendency to protect their fellow human beings from harm and danger, but also as rather pedantic and combative. Enjoying New York’s multicultural atmosphere and its “open-mindedness and [...] cosmopolitan nature” (RF 48), Changez initially feels in good hands: “I was a young New Yorker with the city at my feet” (RF 45). The party scene Erica introduces him to 5) Analyses 240 opens up an “insider’s world” (RF 56) for him. This world is characterised by a glamour and carelessness that completely seems to ignore the vast discrepancies in wealth. Changez encounters a “typically American undercurrent of condescension” (RF 55) in dealing with other people and countries. America seems to have everything, but because of this does not seem to be grateful and humble but arrogant and blind to the needs of others. The narrator describes that he, on the contrary, had “learned to savor the denial of gratification – that most un-American of pleasures” (RF 69). The just mentioned American efficiency is not only visible in the economic but also in the military sector. When the war in Afghanistan starts, the protagonist feels uncomfortable seeing “the mismatch between the American bombers with their twenty-first-century weaponry and the ill-equipped and ill-fed Afghan tribesmen below” (RF 99). The comment establishes a stark contrast to the recurrently evoked former strength, power, grandeur and cultural as well as military superiority of Muslim countries (cf. RF 102). A vast disparity between the proud self-image of Muslim people and American media images becomes apparent and is left open for debate. Moreover, the American fear and paranoia concerning its own security coupled with its indifference towards the security of its ally Pakistan provokes the question of commensurability. Changez contrasts America as “a country that has not fought a war on its own soil in living memory, the rare sneak attack or terrorist outrage excepted” (RF 127) to his home-town Lahore as “residing within commuting distance of a million or so hostile troops who could, at any moment, attempt a full-scale invasion” (RF 127). His fears and anxieties are presented as real and justified, whereas the panic and hatred of the American population after 9/11 are presented as rather disproportionate.146 As Greiner and Spang note, the events of 9/11 have often been exploited as an icon or a myth, and the commentators of the attacks partly used an ideological rhetoric which was as emotional and reductive as the one used by the fundamentalist perpetrators (cf. Greiner/Spang 2011: 9-10). 146 Interesting in this context are the findings of the PEW Forum on Religion and Public life, published at the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The report reflects a vast discrepancy between the number of Muslim Americans who support or accept Islamic extremism and the number of Muslim Americans who are facing difficulties due to their religious background. Distrust seems to be widespread despite the fact that statistics suggest moderate religious views of most American Muslims. The report states: “On the contrary, as found in the Pew Research Center’s 2007 survey, Muslims in the United States continue to reject extremism by much larger margins than most other Muslim publics around the world, and many express concern about the possible rise of Islamic extremism. […] Fully 81% say that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians are never justified. Comparably small percentages of Muslim Americans express favorable views of al Qaeda, and the current poll finds more holding very unfavorable views of al Qaeda now than in 2007. Nevertheless, a significant minority (21%) of Muslim Americans report that they see a great deal or a fair amount of support for extremism in the Muslim American community. That is far below the proportion of the general public that sees at least a fair amount of support (40%). And while nearly a quarter of the public (24%) thinks that Muslim support for extremism is increasing, just 4% of Muslims agree. […] However, concerns about Islamic extremism coexist with the view that life for U.S. Muslims in post-9/11 America is difficult in a number of ways. Significant numbers report being looked at with suspicion (28%), and being called offensive names (22%). And while 21% report being singled out by airport security, 13% say they have been singled out by other law enforcement” (PEW Forum 30 August 2011: n.p.). 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 241 What is striking in this respect is the similarity of Changez’ story to the author’s own experience after 9/11. In his essay “My Reluctant Fundamentalist” Hamid recounts how he worked as a consultant for McKinsey in New York and how his daily life was affected by the attacks: The rest of that year was one of great turmoil for me. Muslim friends of mine in America began to be questioned and harassed; I was upset by the war in Afghanistan; travelling on my Pakistani Passport became increasingly unpleasant; and then, following the December terrorist attacks on India’s parliament, it looked as though India might invade Pakistan. Lahore sits on the border, just a few miles from what would have been the front line. I knew I needed to be there with my family. So I took a leave of absence and went back, moving into my old room. [...] I grew personally more divided, saddened and angered by the heavy-handedness of the Bush administration’s conduct abroad. I decided to make my transfer to London permanent. [...] Eventually, I realized that, just as in my exterior world, there was no escaping the effects of September 11 in the interior world that was my novel (Hamid March 2007: n.p.). Hamid writes about what is important to him to make the reader approach an omnipresent topic from a different angle. The tenor of the novel bears many similarities to Hamid’s own political views, which he regularly expresses in public interviews and internet blogs. This feeling of being singled out and not accepted as an integral part of society any more seems to be reinforced by world politics. The protagonist, for instance, deplores American politics in Iraq as the politics of a small elite. In this respect, the novel bears many similarities to A Week in December. It criticises the political apathy of the masses as well as the policies of the economic and political ruling class: A common strand appeared to unite these conflicts and that was the advancement of a small coterie’s concept of American interests in the guise of the fight against terrorism, which was defined to refer only to the organized and politically motivated killing of civilians by killers not wearing the uniforms of soldiers. I recognized that if this was to be the single most important priority of your species, then the lives of those of us who lived in lands in which such killers also lived had no meaning except as collateral damage (RF 178). The protagonist suddenly feels like a second-class citizen and deplores a supposed distinction America makes in determining the value of human life. Another thing criticised with respect to American politics in this context is also a supposed double standard with respect to its allies. America’s lack of protection for Pakistan is, in Changez’ eyes, a sign that the US is not to be trusted, since it uses other countries just as it suits its own economic and political interests. This, of course, reflects a rather one-sided view of the complex conflict between India and Pakistan, which featured grave abuses on both sides. However, the novel does not aim at explaining this conflict but rather uses the conflict as an example for the supposed American thirst for power, money and global influence. During his work for projects in other third-world countries the protagonist understands: I reflected that I had always resented the manner in which America conducted itself in the world; your country’s constant interference in the affairs of others was insufferable. Vietnam, Korea, the straits of Taiwan, the Middle East, and now Afghanistan: in each of the 5) Analyses 242 major conflicts and standoffs that ringed my mother continent of Asia, America played a central role. Moreover I knew from my experience as a Pakistani – of alternating periods of American aid and sanctions – that finance was a primary means by which the American empire exercised its power. It was right for me to refuse to participate any longer in facilitating this project of domination (RF 156). His double-vision and experience with different cultural and political systems broaden his view but at the same time deprive him of any illusions. His direct, relentless gaze is full of sadness, bitterness and sarcasm, which marks a change in tone compared to the initial passages with their friendly way of delivery and positive content. After his conscious shift in perspective the protagonist realises: Seen in this fashion I was struck by how traditional your empire appeared. Armed sentries manned the check post at which I sought entry; being of a suspect race I was quarantined and subjected to additional inspection; once admitted I hired a charioteer who belonged to a serf class lacking the requisite permissions to abide legally and forced therefore to accept work at lower pay; I myself was a form of indentured servant whose right to remain was dependent upon the continued benevolence of my employer (RF 157). Even though visa restrictions are of importance in every country and stricter security checks were enforced at most airports worldwide after 9/11 – not just in the United States – Changez becomes increasingly disillusioned with America. The choice of words (‘suspect race’, ‘serf class’ etc.) is a sign of the narrator’s disappointed love for the country he lives in. Darda suggests that Changez’ vision after 9/11 is not one of a retreat into a nationalist Pakistani framework but one that challenges the boundaries between the local and the global. The protagonist starts to see the global repercussions of the Western political and economic system when he is confronted with conflicts and war in places all over the world from Valparaiso to Manila (Darda 2014: 119). A limited nationalism is no solution for these global problems. Darda views Hamid’s novel as “critical global fiction […which contests] the forces inhibiting global understanding […] founded on the idea that life is not bounded and isolated but always conditioned by one’s material and social surroundings” (Darda 2014: 108). The protagonist does not experience a simple resurgence of patriotic feelings but he feels a sudden solidarity with people from other countries that are excluded by nationalism and economic inequality. In my interview with the author, Hamid himself criticised nationalism and the inability and unwillingness of nation-states to accept change and cultural or religious diversity: I’m quite opposed to the thought of the nation. I feel that countries are becoming a problem because people think in these categories. Why should Germans, for example, determine which beings are entitled to enter Germany? There is no reason why they should be able to determine that. If we say that one German can move freely within Germany – on what moral basis do we say that others cannot cross its boundaries? On what moral basis can we say that the Somali man, who is at risk of death and faces enormous difficulties, arrives in Germany with his family, hoping for a new life, cannot stay? (Interview with Mohsin Hamid, 16.08.2012). The end of the novel contains a critique of a system that is based on exclusionism and maximum utility. The protagonist becomes aware of the fact that American effective- 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 243 ness does not necessarily correspond to the norms he had been brought up with. “I had been raised to favor mutual generosity over mathematical precision,” (RF 162) Changez contemplates and attests America a lack of consideration for the perspective and needs of others: As a society, you were unwilling to reflect upon the shared pain that united you with those who attacked you. You retreated into myths of your own difference, assumptions of your own superiority. And you acted out these beliefs on the stage of the world, so that the entire planet was rocked by the repercussions of your tantrums, not least my family, now facing war thousands of miles away. Such an America had to be stopped in the interests not only of the rest of humanity, but also in your own. I resolved to do so, as best I could (RF 168). This aggravation happens less than 20 pages before the novel ends. At this point in time the reader may still wonder what happens next and whether the plot finally takes a religious turn. A “modern-day janissary”147 who refuses to “focus on the fundamentals”148: identity and ‘fundamentalism’ As we have seen, Changez, similarly to the protagonists of the novels by Faulks, Kureishi and Khadra, suffers a crisis of identity leading to a change in his behaviour and opinions. Däwes shows in her study that many Ground Zero Novels “use the private domain as a microcosmic site of larger conflicts and crises (including disease and mortality, absence and loss, as well as contestations of national, religious, and cultural identity)” (Däwes 2011: 409). This also holds true for Hamid’s novel, which addresses all of the above-mentioned symptoms. As has been outlined, the protagonist’s cultural identity at first does not seem to impair his role in American society. Changez is a successful member of a new, globalised business elite, which seems to disregard all potential differences between its members and attracts people from all over the world. Moore-Gilbert describes that transnational affiliations are central to Hamid’s vision. Extending from Pakistan to New York and from Chile to the Philippines, the novella addresses the emergence of a new class of mobile, global citizens who, in Rushdie-esque fashion, defy the ‘gravity of traditional, territorialized belongings’ (Moore-Gilbert 2012: 191). However, 9/11 causes not only an increasing challenging of this ideal of the ‘global citizen’ but also a period of disorientation and confusion for the protagonist. Since identity plays such a large role in this literary corpus, a closer look at the process of Changez’ disenchantment with America shall serve to shed light on important psychological and social issues. As has been mentioned, the protagonist grew up in Pakistan and spent four and a half years in the US studying at Princeton and working for the valuation firm Underwood Samson in New York. His exemplary career is, how- 5.3.3) 147 RF 152. 148 RF 98. 5) Analyses 244 ever, directly contrasted with his background. Issues related to class, money and social status are brought up for discussion right from the beginning. In the United States Changez would probably be seen as a poor immigrant of a rather low status if he had not managed to go to Princeton and hide from his fellow students the three secret oncampus jobs he needs to make ends meet. In Pakistan, on the contrary, his family used to be wealthy and enjoyed a high status in society. His grandfather and father studied in England, used to live in an expensive district and employed servants. Due to the difficult economic situation in Pakistan and the devaluation of the rupee, however, nothing but status was left to his family (RF 10). This status is reflected in the use of language. The Reluctant Fundamentalist features no heteroglossia. No foreign language elements are used as means of abrogation or appropriation. His language competence in English shows that the protagonist is very eloquent and well-educated. Moreover, his natural use of terms and icons of American popular culture reflects a familiarity with a ‘Western cultural code’, which seems to reveal him as an insider to the system. In this context, he refers to “Top Gun” (RF 35), “Star Wars” (RF 38), the “Terminator” (RF 99), or “Sleepy Hollow” (RF 171). At the same time, his English is quite formal and old-fashioned. In an interview, Hamid explained that one learns to speak like that in Pakistani elite schools. He describes this kind of English as “anachronistic” and “suggestive of an older system of values and of an abiding historical pride” (Hamilton 2007: n.p.). Thus, the narrator’s voice does not necessarily reveal much about his geographical background but corresponds to a social variety of language use identifying him as a member of a certain class in Pakistan. In the West, in contrast, elite concepts increasingly seem to be based on money – not birth or education. Consequently, Changez learns to blend in and to conduct himself “in public like a young prince, generous and carefree” (RF 11) even though he has to work so hard to earn the money and dislikes “[t]he ease with which they [the other students] parted with money […o]r their self-righteousness in dealing with those whom they had paid for a service” (RF 21). Changez at first appears to be the perfect example of successful integration. He is grateful for everything Princeton or the Western education system enables him to do, while never forgetting his roots (cf. RF 15). His description as “well-liked as an exotic acquaintance” (RF 17) also indicates a certain amount of Western arrogance. America seems to love its ‘exotic’ upstarts and likes to use them as figureheads. But the number of people allowed to ascend the social ladder seems to be strictly regulated. At the beginning of the novel, the protagonist seems to believe that the regional identity of New York as a multicultural, globalised city overrides the forces of a possibly exclusivist American national identity: In a subway car, my skin would typically fall in the middle of the color spectrum. On street corners, tourists would ask me for directions. I was, in four and a half years, never an American; I was immediately a New Yorker. What? My voice is rising? You are right; I tend to become sentimental when I think of that city. It still occupies a place of fondness in my heart, which is quite something, I must say, given the circumstances under which, after only eight months of residence, I would later depart (RF 33). 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 245 Hartnell hence argues that The Reluctant Fundamentalist may pass criticism on the way in which 9/11 brought racist attitudes to the surface, but takes the view that the novel is also partly informed by American exceptionalism (Hartnell 2010: 336). Indeed, Changez’ initial fondness for New York and his employer, Underwood Samson, reflect his integration and social upward-mobility. This acceptance, however, as the reader learns in the course of the novel, is not built on recognition of difference and the positive values immigrants could contribute to American society but on a demand for assimilation. The passage not only reflects Changez’ initial love for the city and his life there, but is also a good example of the narrative strategy that is used. The beginning and end of every chapter brings us back to the frame-story and contains a direct address to the silent stranger. Consequently, the different flashbacks are interrupted on a regular basis. This does not disturb the flow of Changez’ story but only increases its tension, because the comments “lend his tale an Arabian Nights-style urgency: the end of the story may mean the death of the teller” (Olsson 2007: n.p.). These comments reveal more about the protagonist’s emotional life than the content of the story itself and become more desperate and forceful as we are drawn deeper into his life story. In the middle of the novel the frame primarily serves as a short exposition and final comment for every chapter. However, these narratorial comments often include a foreshadowing of later events or a judgment of Changez’ past emotions and actions from a temporal self-reflective distance and draw attention to the suggested answers of the silent American interlocutor. Furthermore, we can detect the use of italics to highlight certain words or sentences in the passage cited above – a narrative strategy Hamid uses throughout the novel. Therewith, he manages to lend additional force to the words of his protagonist, to emphasise specific aspects or reflect a heightened emotionality. Notwithstanding the deterioration of his relationship to America, which is alluded to at an early stage of the novel, Changez describes life and people there with a lot of affection. He knows where he comes from, but he also sees the vast discrepancy between the US and Pakistan. He feels anger, resentment and sadness when he compares Pakistan’s former glory to the present situation: This, I realized, was another world from Pakistan; supporting my feet were the achievements of the most technologically advanced civilization our species had ever known. Often, during my stay in your country, such comparisons troubled me. In fact, they did more than trouble me: they made me resentful. Four thousand years ago, we, the people of the Indus River basin, had cities that were laid out on grids and boasted underground sewers, while the ancestors of those who would invade and colonize America were illiterate barbarians. Now our cities were largely unplanned, unsanitary affairs, and America had universities with individual endowments greater than our national budget for education. To be reminded of this vast disparity was, for me, to be ashamed (RF 34). Nostalgia for the ‘lost glory’ and former achievements of his home-country gnaw at the protagonist (cf. RF 63, 71, 101-102), even though he works so hard that he can be proud of his own achievements. Changez initially feels he can derive more pride from his work at Underwood Samson than from his background. The company seems to 5) Analyses 246 accept heterogeneity quite naturally. Cultural, ethnic and gender diversity are embraced – but admittedly within an elite: Two of my five colleagues were women; Wainwright and I were non-white. We were marvellously diverse...and yet we were not: all of us, Sherman included, hailed from the same elite universities – Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Yale: we all exuded a sense of confident self-satisfaction; and not one of us was either short or overweight. It struck me then – no. I must be honest, it strikes me now – that shorn of hair and dressed in battle fatigues, we would have been virtually indistinguishable (RF 38). Acceptance is selective and depends on “maximum return” (RF 37). Class in this case is initially presented as overriding other determinants of identity like ethnicity or religion. Changez is so proud of having climbed the social ladder that he does not underline the differences between himself and his other colleagues. He reflects on his initial feeling of contentment and security: “I was the only non-American in our group, but I suspected my Pakistaniness was invisible, cloaked by my suit, by my expense account, and – most of all – by my companions” (RF 71). Just as in Faulks’ A Week in December, money seems to function as egalitarian principle. Cultural differences are only addressed quite subtly and mentioned casually, especially by Erica. While Erica is afraid of loneliness, for Changez, who grew up in a large family, being alone is a “luxury” (RF 19). “You give off this strong sense of home [... .] It makes you feel solid,” (RF 19) Erica says and is taken in by his extraordinary politeness and respect towards others (cf. RF 25). The protagonist is characterised very positively by her remarks but also indirectly by his own actions. He recurrently mentions his “traditional sense of deference to one’s seniors” (RF 21) and shows his generosity by inviting the American stranger and by giving a donation to a passing beggar. To be successful in his career, however, he shows “controlled aggression”, “determination”, “tenacity” and works “harder [...] than any of the others” (RF 41). His boss Jim claims: “you’ve got a bit of the warrior in you” (RF 44). After ‘battle fatigues’ the reference to a ‘warrior’ is another martial image referring to the job at Underwood Samson. Remarks like these already foreshadow Changez’ struggles: the war of his conscience against the ideals of economic maximum utility, the war on terror following 9/11, as well as the war against himself, triggered by guilt and the fear of stabbing his own people in the back. In the course of the novel the protagonist is afraid of changing from a ‘warrior’ into a ‘janissary’, as I will outline later in this chapter. His doubts and feelings of disorientation begin when he is employed in valuation projects in the US and abroad and has to face the social effects of his work. He suddenly has to come to terms with hostility. Not only people who are affected by his company treat him with hostility and distrust but also average people who despise him for doing such a job in the first place. Changez describes a brief encounter with a Filipino driver in Manila as resulting in open hatred: There was an undisguised hostility in his expression; I had no idea why. [...] But his dislike was so obvious, so intimate, that it got under my skin. I stared back at him, getting angry myself [...] I remained preoccupied with this matter far longer than I should have, pursuing several possibilities that all assumed – as their unconscious starting point – that he and I shared a sort of Third World sensibility. Then one of my colleagues asked me a 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 247 question, and when I turned to answer him, something rather strange took place. I looked at him – at his fair hair and light eyes and, most of all, his oblivious immersion in the minutiae of our work – and thought, you are so foreign. I felt in that moment much closer to the Filipino driver than to him; I felt I was play-acting when in reality I ought to be making my way home, like the people on the street outside (RF 66-67). Suddenly, ethnicity – or at least non-whiteness – gains centre stage. Similar to the other novels in this literary corpus, The Reluctant Fundamentalist also raises the question of whether ethnicity or class is a stronger determinant of individual identity. At first, the protagonist believes in the power of his personal success to override all other factors separating him from his white American colleagues. In this scene, however, he feels closer to a Filipino than to his American colleague. The ‘Third World sensibility’ he mentions seems to refer to a joint feeling of defeat, inferiority and exclusion from power and economic resources. It’s a matter of common knowledge that the term ‘third world’ was used during the Cold War for all non-aligned countries between the so-called ‘First World’ (NATO-countries in Western Europe and the United States) and the ‘Second World’ (the Communist bloc). Many of these non-aligned countries shared a history of colonialism and deficits in economic development. Later on, the term ‘third world’ became a stereotype for developing and least developed countries suffering from poverty and a lack of industrialisation. This categorisation became common irrespective of the former meaning of ‘Third World’. The term had emerged as a political and not primarily economic or social category and originally also included some wealthier but non-aligned European countries such as Sweden, Austria or Switzerland. However, the term came to be used as an economic marker denoting the border between centre and periphery or between powerful, capitalist, developed countries and developing countries, which depend on Western aid. Since this description is highly misleading and the economic, political and cultural differences between ‘third world countries’ are vast, the term is no longer used in political theory but continues to be a part of common parlance. The protagonist’s birth in a country viewed as ‘Third World’ in the U.S., entices his sudden empathy with the Filipino, who also stems from a supposedly marginalised, peripheral country. Changez leads a cosmopolitan life but is suddenly reminded of his roots. As Gamal summarises: The reconstruction of new contact zones within the historical settings and transnational context of post-migratory narratives is hence styled as fundamentally cosmopolitan. However, the common ‘post’ in post-migratory and postcolonial literature connotes a manifest oppositional stance that might be unavailable in unconditional cosmopolitanism. In addition, post-migratory writings deftly portray characters that retain their sense of tradition, cultural heritage and, accordingly, their postcolonial backgrounds in their newly adopted homelands (Gamal 2013: 558). Even though the Philippines and Pakistan do not have much in common, a bond seems to be created by means of a shared feeling of inferiority and exclusion. Simultaneously, this unconscious process of identification engenders a role reversal and an alienation from his American colleague. The protagonist used to have the feeling of belonging to the company he worked for and felt accepted and respected irrespective 5) Analyses 248 of his background. The hostility of the Filipino driver, however, confronts him with a view that, first and foremost, takes in his cultural background and skin colour – not his social standing and life in America. The comfort of social upward mobility does not seem to override the anxiety of feeling marginalised. The feeling of backwardness connected to his own country of origin causes him so much shame that he rather risks being spurned as an American than looked down on as a Pakistani since it was one thing to accept that New York was more wealthy than Lahore, but quite another to swallow the fact that Manila was as well. [...] I attempted to act and speak, as much as my dignity would permit, more like an American. The Filipinos we worked with seemed to look up to my American colleagues, accepting them almost instinctively as members of the officer class of global business – and I wanted my share of that respect as well. So I learned to tell executives my father’s age, “I need it now”; I learned to cut to the front of lines with an extraterritorial smile; and I learned to answer, when asked where I was from, that I was from New York. [...] I was often ashamed. But outwardly I gave no sign of this (RF 64-65). As we have seen in the previous analytical chapters, this longing for ‘respect’ is presented by many novels in this literary corpus as a basic need of human beings and a central motive for turning to fundamentalist ideas. Changez uses being ‘a New Yorker’ as a cloak to gain this respect and to mask his feeling of insecurity and his doubts about where he belongs. To achieve this, though, he has to disrespect some of the rules of his upbringing thus decreasing his self-respect. Furthermore, people can guess from his foreign outer appearance that he might have a different cultural background. As the scene above indicates, people assume Changez to know the grievances of people in developing countries and therefore despise him for assimilating to an economic system that is seen by many as exploitative and adversarial. Cultural background moves even more into the focus after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which mark a turning point for Changez. Even before he comes “under suspicion” (RF) because of his foreign appearance and Muslim background, he detects a silent malicious glee in his reaction to the attacks: I stared as one – and then the other – of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center collapsed. And then I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased. Your disgust is evident; indeed, your large hand has, perhaps without your noticing, clenched into a fist. But please believe me when I tell you that I am no sociopath. […] So when I tell you I was pleased at the slaughter of thousands of innocents, I do so with a profound sense of perplexity. […] I was caught up in the symbolism of it all, the fact that someone had so visibly brought America to her knees. [...] But surely you cannot be completely innocent of such feelings yourself. Do you feel no joy at the video clips – so prevalent these days – of American munitions laying waste the structures of your enemies? But you are at war, you say? Yes, you have a point. I was not at war with America. Far from it: I was the product of an American university; I was earning a lucrative American salary; I was infatuated with an American woman. So why did part of me desire to see America harmed? I did not know, then; I knew merely that my feelings would be unacceptable to my colleagues, and I undertook to hide them as well as I could (RF 72-73). 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 249 The protagonist speaks from a self-reflective temporal distance and reveals to us what he felt but could not classify at that point in time. This strategy increases our suspense and makes us wonder about the development and outcome of these feelings. Moreover, suspense is created by the allusion to the reaction of the American. A ‘clenched fist’ indicates rising tension between the two interlocutors, but the details are never outlined to the reader. Apparently, the account of the protagonist is perceived as ‘aggression’ even though Changez instantly classifies the terrorist attack as ‘slaughter of innocents’. What fascinates him is not the event as such but the fact that a group from the ‘marginalised periphery’ was able to severely attack and demoralise the centre of global political and economic power. This at least momentarily seems to change rigid power structures. At this point in the novel, the reader can perceive an increasing anti- American undercurrent, even though this anti-Americanism seems to have developed from feelings of empathy with ‘the underdog’. Because of his spontaneous gleeful reaction to 9/11, the protagonist feels “guilty [...] stiff and self-conscious” (RF 74). His divided loyalties cause a “constant murmur of reproach” (RF 79) within himself. Asked whether Changez’ reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks mirrored his own feelings, Hamid explains: “No. I was devastated. A wall had suddenly come up between my American and Muslim worlds. The novel is my attempt to reconnect those divided worlds” (Solomon 2007: n.p). The author seems to have experienced a similar crisis of identity following the changed social climate after 9/11 and underlines his need to mend the fractured parts of his identity (cf. Harcourt interview 2007). The protagonist describes a tense and hostile social climate. His inner pressure is mirrored at the outside by rising nationalism: Your country’s flag invaded New York after the attacks; it was everywhere. [...] They all seemed to proclaim: We are America – not New York, which, in my opinion, means something quite different – the mightiest civilization the world has ever known; you have slighted us; beware our wrath (RF 79). With a resort to nationalist defence, Changez, who seemed to have blended in so perfectly in a cosmopolitan city like New York, becomes an outsider who is distrustfully eyed by others. The protagonist later on describes the attacks and the subsequent political events as the beginning annihilation of his “personal American dream” (RF 93). He narrates how “America was gripped by a growing and self-righteous rage” (RF 94) in the wake of 9/11 and how he tried to ignore rumours of racist assaults against immigrants and FBI raids of Muslim houses and mosques. Protected by an “armor of denial” (RF 95), Changez immerses himself in work and tries to ignore increasing political tensions within the US as well as the social injustices caused by the advice he has to give to his customers. His increasing disillusionment and discomfort with the system surfaces after the American invasion of Afghanistan and the crisis between India and Pakistan, which brings the risk of war to his country and family. Driven by fear, pride and indignation, his simmering antipathy becomes stronger and less controllable: 5) Analyses 250 My reaction caught me by surprise; Afghanistan was Pakistan’s neighbour, our friend, and a fellow Muslim nation besides, and the sight of what I took to be the beginning of its invasion by your countrymen caused me to tremble with fury. I had to sit down to calm myself, and I remember polishing off a third of a bottle of whiskey before I was able to fall asleep. [...W]e were not always burdened by debt, dependent on foreign aid and handouts; in the stories we tell of ourselves we were not the crazed and destitute radicals you see on your television channels but rather saints and poets and – yes – conquering kings. We built the Royal Mosque and the Shalimar Gardens in this city, and we built the Lahore Fort with its mighty walls and wide ramp for our battle-elephants. And we did these things when your country was still a collection of thirteen small colonies, gnawing away at the edge of a continent. But once more I am raising my voice, and making you rather uncomfortable besides. I apologize; it was not my intention to be rude (RF 100-102). Changez’ inner pangs are caused by a conflict of divided loyalties. He has a broader social, cultural and religious perspective than most of his colleagues and knows the ropes of First World and developing countries. However, this knowledge is not always beneficial for him. The protagonist acquired his moral education in Pakistan and his academic education in the United States. Both systems, however, are often at odds when it comes to values and norms. Changez feels that he cannot serve both sides. The protagonist’s anger starts to materialise not only on the story level but also on the level of the frame-story, which gives it an increasingly tense and claustrophobic atmosphere. Furthermore, Hamid now recurrently conjures up media images (like the collapse of the twin towers or the invasion of Afghanistan) most Western readers will still have in mind. This invites the readers to compare their own responses to the attitudes described by the protagonist. Esposito, a renowned American professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies and director of the Prince Alwaleed Center for Christian-Muslim Understanding at Georgetown University, describes how Islamophobia spread throughout American society like a “social cancer” (Esposito 2011: xxxiv) after 9/11. Several articles in his collection on Islamophobia testify to the power of the media to convey specific Islamophobic prejudices.149 First, Islamophobia fosters the development of parallel societies by creating an atmosphere of victimisation, of not being welcome, which hinders Muslim citizens “from fully participating in the political, social, cultural, and economic life of the societies in which they live” (Kalin 2011: 16). Secondly, it provokes a similarly undifferentiated counter-reaction by the Muslim people who feel forced into a corner: [T]he constant presence of pressure and intimidation bars Muslims themselves from selfcriticism. Confronted with frontal attacks driven by racist and Islamophobic attitudes, Muslims of various religious and political bends shy away from openly criticizing fellow Muslims [. …] The fear is that they will be betraying their Muslim brothers and sisters in the midst of a war launched against them. […] Confronted with guilt by association and communal stigmatization, even the most conscientious and analytical members of the Muslim community take refuge in the kind of group solidarity that makes self-criticism look like a self-defeating strategy (Kalin 2011: 16-17). 149 See also the useful case studies on the relationship between Islamophobia and Anti-Americanism (Nimer 2011: 77-92) or forms of Islamophobia in European countries (Cesari 2011: 21-43) and Great Britain (Abbas 2011: 63-76 and Zebiri 2011: 173-190) in the wake of 9/11. 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 251 The protagonist in Hamid’s novel experiences exactly this feeling of being singled out and betraying his own people, which finally causes a defensive reaction and a retreat to solidarity with his cultural roots. At first, Changez keeps on clinging to economic maxims as “bulwark” (RF 116) against insecurity and prejudice: Underwood Samson becomes his anchor of stability within a sea of uncertainties. These uncertainties also include his first personal encounter with racism. Despite his long-held belief that “those rare cases of abuse [...] invariably happened, in America as in all countries, to the hapless poor, not to Princeton graduates earning eighty thousand dollars a year” (RF 94-95) he is now called a “[f]ucking Arab” (RF 117) and cannot “entirely escape the growing importance of tribe” (RF 117). For the first time the narrator really feels the importance of his ethnicity. At the same time, he recognises the significance of socialisation. Returning for a visit to Pakistan fearing that the country could be drawn into the war, the protagonist regards with horror the changes in his own perspective: I recall the Americanness of my own gaze when I returned to Lahore that winter when war was in the offing. I was struck at first by how shabby our house appeared […] I was saddened to find it in such a state – no, more than saddened, I was shamed. This was where I came from, this was my provenance, and it smacked of lowliness. But as I reacclimatized and my surroundings once again became familiar, it occurred to me that the house had not changed in my absence, I had changed; I was looking about me with the eyes of a foreigner, and not just any foreigner, but that particular type of entitled and unsympathetic American who so annoyed me when I encountered him in the classrooms and workplaces of your country’s elite. This realization angered me [...] It was far from impoverished; indeed, it was rich with history. I wondered how I could ever have been so ungenerous – and so blind – to have thought otherwise, and I was disturbed by what this implied about myself: that I was a man lacking in substance and hence easily influenced by even a short sojourn in the company of others (RF 124-125). The Reluctant Fundamentalist plays with numerous role-reversals and changes of perspective. Life in the United States seems to have changed Changez’ point of view. But coming back to his family home and his roots, he remembers his old role and realises the foreign influence on his perception. His life between different cultures constantly holds up a mirror to the protagonist and confuses his loyalties. His life in New York suddenly seems remote and strange to him, and it seems impossible to speak about it to his parents for “what is natural in one place can seem unnatural in another, and some concepts travel rather poorly, if at all” (RF 126). When he finally has to return, he is full of self-contempt and feels “worried”, “powerless”, “angry” and like a “coward” and “traitor” (RF 128) for leaving his family in imminent danger and returning to the smug security of his former life in the US. His visit to Pakistan triggers a further stage of self-reflection and also self-alienation. Feeling disconnected and confused, he tells the American stranger how he decided to grow a beard: “It was, perhaps, a form of protest on my part, a symbol of my identity, or perhaps I sought to remind myself of the reality I had just left behind; I do not now recall my precise motivations” (RF 130). Clinging to what he seems to have lost or left behind, Changez becomes “the subject of whispers and stares” (RF 130). The scene points to a kind of paranoia that might be mostly groundless and irrational, 5) Analyses 252 but which is still real for many people. This is the case, surprisingly, even though religion has not played any role in the novel up to this point. The protagonist defiantly provokes these reactions as if he had lost any trust in American society. His inner struggle is also indicated in the frame-story. Changez for the first time utters insecurity concerning his motives and the accuracy of his memory. His sudden lack of clarity may point to his feverish state of inner conflict at that time, although the narration as such is at all times logically structured. As already mentioned, there are no exclamations, unfinished sentences or other textual elements which may allude to an extreme emotional state of the speaker or narrator. The last decisive reason for Changez’ change of mind is finally his project visit to Valparaiso. The city’s “former aspirations to grandeur” (RF 144) remind him of Lahore, which brings back his nostalgia for a past of cultural richness, political sophistication and economic wealth. The protagonist feels as if his “blinders were coming off” (RF 145). He embarks on an “inflective journey” (RF 146) and finally is “clearly on the threshold of great change” (RF 150). This journey, however, is accompanied by a severe crisis of identity. Whereas his colleague is silently desperate about Changez’ lack of care and inability to do his job, Juan-Bautista, the head of the company that is to be evaluated, seems to be the only one who can sense the core of his misery: ‘Does it trouble you,’ he [Juan-Bautista] inquired, ‘to make your living by disrupting the lives of others? [...] Have you heard of the janissaries?’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘They were Christian boys,’ he explained, ‘captured by the Ottomans and trained to be soldiers in a Muslim army, at that time the greatest army in the world. They were ferocious and utterly loyal: they had fought to erase their own civilizations, so they had nothing else to turn to.’ [...] In any case, Juan-Bautista’s words plunged me into a deep bout of introspection. I spent that night considering what I had become. There really could be no doubt: I was a modern-day janissary, a servant of the American empire at a time when it was invading a country with a kinship to mine and was perhaps even colluding to ensure that my own country faced the threat of war. Of course I was struggling! Of course I felt torn! (RF 151-152). This reference to the janissaries hints at several supposed contradictions which occupy the protagonist’s thoughts. The historical janissaries were culturally and religiously strangers in the Ottoman Empire. They had been taken from their parents, had lost their roots and connections to their family and kin and were then forced to convert to Islam and fight against their own people. At the same time, they also managed to ascend into the ranks of a political and economic elite gaining considerable influence in the Ottoman Empire. They gained such a powerful position that they were even able to control and unseat several sultans. As their prestige and power increased, many people voluntarily began to strive for a membership in the troops. However, the ascent of the janissaries from victims to power brokers was also accompanied by increasing brutality, decadence, moral decay and military inefficiency so that sultan Mahmud II finally succeeded in annihilating the janissaries in 1826.150 Similar to the janissaries Changez left his home-country to join a foreign elite. His journey is voluntary, but the protagonist is still alienated from his roots because the 150 For an insightful introduction to the Ottoman Empire at the late 18th and early 19th century and the role of the janissaries see Anscombe (2012). 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 253 system he enters obeys totally different rules and enforces economic and political structures worldwide that may even harm the country he comes from. Furthermore, the treatment of people with a different ethnic background after 9/11 indicates the danger that people like Changez might face the same fate as the janissaries once did: to be annihilated or at least excluded if they become too powerful and are perceived as a threat. Following his encounter with Juan-Bautista, Changez decides to quit his job and thus to disappoint his boss Jim’s “act of faith and generosity” (RF 153). Interestingly, Jim also uses a military example when he tries to appeal to their common Underwood Samson group identity. “In wartime soldiers don’t really fight for their flags, Changez”, he claims; “They fight for their friends, their buddies. Their team. Well, right now your team is asking you to stay” (RF 153). His job used to arouse his pride but these days are over. It becomes visible how much national and cultural identity may override other factors in times of war. Finck describes how the postmodern subject is described “as necessarily fragmented and inescapably permeated by cultural experience” (Finck 2015: 22). The war between the United States and Afghanistan, the conflict between Pakistan and India are more important to the protagonist than his loyalty to his employer. In the end, the loss of his job, as well as the news of Erica’s disappearance, cause a severe crisis of identity and turn him into “an incoherent and emotional madman, flying off into rages and sinking into depressions” (RF 167). Just as Kureishi’s novel The Black Album, Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist shows that identity is no monolithic construct. Our identity has many facets and we are influenced by a variety of different loyalties and roles we play in our lives. The topic of identity is addressed by the novel on a personal as well as national level. As Bragard notes, 9/11 “has plunged America – and possibly the West – into a crisis of representation with itself ” (Bragard 2011: 8) and even more so the individuals targeted by suspicion and fear: [R]econsiderations of American and Muslim cultures and identities surfaced on a global level. In more private and domestic spheres, terror shook the definition of the self and radically altered relationships among individuals, leaving behind not only grief and incomprehension but a range of other complex feelings as well such as fear, depression, and alienation from family and community (Bragard 2011: 4). As we have seen, the novel can be read as a case for cultural hybridity and a melancholic regretfulness about the distrust and calls for assimilation following the war on terror. In this context, Hamid’s work has also been criticised for its depiction of the ideal of global culture as symbolised by the city of New York. Roy, for instance, argues that this vision supposedly reflects less a desirable ideal of multiculturalism than “the universalization of American national identity” (Roy 2011: n.p.). He reasons that the novel “creates sympathy for the secular, westernized Muslim that has been stigmatized following 9/11, but leaves the broader political relations between America and the ‘Muslim world’ unquestioned” (Roy 2011: n.p.). Indeed, the novel does not indicate that the protagonist would also have turned his back on America if he had not felt excluded and attacked. It reflects sympathy for the United States and does not represent a contestation of a secular, liberal world-view. Nevertheless, Hamid, to my mind, does not aim at a concise representation of Muslim-American relations or an 5) Analyses 254 analysis of Muslim self-determination or the diverse reasons for a resort to Islamic fundamentalist ideologies. Thus, his work should not be judged along these lines. His novel focuses on the experience of one ordinary individual who is suddenly torn between his cultural heritage and the facets of his identity that are linked to his life in America.151 Hamid strives to challenge our preconceptions and “tease apart identities the war on terror fuses” (Scanlan 2010: 266), such as Muslim and fundamentalist. As already mentioned, The Reluctant Fundamentalist features no references to religion or an Islamic form of fundamentalism. It becomes clear that the kind of fundamentalism the protagonist is reluctant to embrace is the form of economic libertarianism embodied by his employer Underwood Samson. The novel illustrates clashes between humanist and economic values as well as between cultural values and political views. As Perlez summarises, the author holds the opinion that “religion is not pivotal in the tensions between the United States and the Muslim world. Islamic extremists are not Koranic robots, he says. Rather, ‘there’s a sense of being humiliated and then threatened, that’s what makes it insufferable’” (Perlez 2007: n.p.). The identity crisis of the protagonist is triggered by world-political events. These events are provoked by an attack rooted in Islamic fundamentalist beliefs. However, the resulting war is not presented as a religious controversy but as a struggle for power, security and influence over territory. The novel also indicates, as Perry states for the works of many North African Muslim writers, a rising interest in “more global human issues beyond a colonial/postcolonial dichotomy” (Perry 2011: 122). Underwood Samson’s guiding principle “Focus on the fundamentals” (RF 98) explicitly establishes a connection between the American economic system and a fundamentalist potential. However, liberalism does not seem to possess fundamentalist qualities to the same extent as in Faulks’ novel A Week in December. There are no signs of moral Manicheanism, absolutism or a claim to inerrancy. In contrast to characters such as Faulks’ protagonist John Veals, the characters in The Reluctant Fundamentalist who represent this economic system do not strive to do wrong and do not believe in their own superiority. Erica and Jim seem to recognise the flaws of the system, but they nevertheless do not escape its rules and dynamics. Erica is too sick and immersed in her own misery to have the strength to care about other issues, and Jim is maybe just too relieved and grateful to have escaped his poor childhood to wish for change. Despite their flaws, both characters are still presented as humane, likeable and also vulnerable, which is the opposite of Veals’ purely selfish and greedy impulses. Concerning his own stance towards capitalism, Hamid states: 151 Shamsie insightfully highlights that “[t]oday's widespread notions of Christianity/the West vs. Islam have roots in early ideas of European statehood where religion (Christianity vs. Islam, Protestants vs. Catholics) shaped monolithic national identities. These concepts of nationhood did not exist in the symbiotic Indo-Muslim culture of Mughal India, but by the early twentieth century, under the impact of colonization and the struggle for modernity, language and religion became contentious issues in the fight for statehood” (Shamsie 2011: 149). This might explain why the protagonist cannot comprehend the strong link between religion and national identity he experiences in America after the September 11 attacks. 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 255 I’m not an anti-capitalist; it’s not that I think that business is wrong. However, it’s certainly the case that the system of money and the protection of property necessitate violence. [...] The idea that there is violence behind a system of capital can’t be denied, but capitalism allows us to act as though we’re not violent (Chambers 2011: 184-185). As a former insider to the system he describes, Hamid expresses criticism but does so without great reproach for the individual members of this system. Looking at the other parameters of ‘fundamentalism’ outlined by The Fundamentalism Project, one can state that the membership in Princeton or Underwood Samson ‘high society’ is elitist in that it is mostly determined by money and social background. Changez, however, defies this tendency and is neither excluded nor harassed for his background but rather treated with respect and admiration. The economic as well as the academic system have their ‘behavioural requirements’ (such as a contribution to success), but the organisation is not described as very authoritarian. The system displayed shows a much larger amount of tolerance concerning infringements than the systems depicted by Faulks, Khadra or Kureishi. In Veals’ world one has to be unconditionally unscrupulous, and Khadra’s world is based on the unquestionable principles of honour and shame. Kureishi’s proponents of radical religious or political ideologies similarly claim blind allegiance and total submission to their respective doctrines of salvation. In comparison to these setups, Changez encounters a considerable amount of goodwill after his defiant, silent rebellion. However, the American economic system, as embodied by Underwood Samson, claims to promote ‘universal values’ everyone has to embrace to be successful. Profit functions as comprehensive frame of reference. The major sources of conflict in the novel are economic and political and not cultural or religious. Even jihadism plays no role in Hamid’s work despite the centrality of 9/11 for the plot. No tensions between secularity and religious practice are displayed, and the focus of Changez’ perception lies on economic and political divisions between some states that possess more power and others that possess less. Changez’ identity conflict is not simply caused by his cultural socialisation but by concrete political developments which necessitate a decision for one side or the other. He sees no possibility to stay neutral. It is true that the novel reflects the rootedness of his political and economic values in his cultural background. Nevertheless, the story rather reflects a clash of interests than a clash of identities. As Schäfer claims, Islamic fundamentalism managed the transformation of a goal conflict into an identity conflict. In his article “Discontent and Its Civilizations” Hamid explicitly refers to the idea of a ‘clash of civilizations’ and tries to dismantle it as a dangerous illusion: Some might argue episodes such as these [a suicide bombing in Pakistan] are signs of a clash of civilizations. But I think not. Individuals have commonalities that cut across different countries, religions and languages – and differences that divide those who share a common country, religion and language. The idea that we fall into civilizations, plural, is merely a politically convenient myth. [...] Civilizations are illusory. But they are useful illusions. They allow us to deny our common humanity, to allocate power, resources and rights in ways repugnantly discriminatory. [...] Our civilizations do not cause us to clash. No, our clashing allows us to pretend we belong to civilizations (Hamid 2010: n.p.). 5) Analyses 256 This view corresponds to Stuart Hall’s concept of ‘cross-cutting identities’ according to which we all share many different markers of identity which guide us and determine our loyalties and points of view. Whereas Kureishi, for instance, highlights sexuality and ideology as major determinants of personal identity, Hamid stresses different things. Cultural background becomes ever more important for the protagonist over the course of the novel. But this is not due to supposedly insurmountable differences between the American and the Pakistani culture but is a result of his disagreement with American economic as well as military politics. As I already outlined in the chapter on ethical criticism, Hall sees identity not as ‘essence’ but as ‘positioning’ (Hall 1994 (a): 30). External influences in this case change Changez’ position in that they force a different facet of his identity to move into the focus. In Changez’ case, this transformation happens without religious influences or manipulation by others. He is constantly confronted with goal conflicts: the conflict between social justice and economic maximum utility, between loyalty towards his country and compliance with an economic and political system that facilitated his success, between a more just distribution of global wealth and power and American military and political dominance. Whereas Faulks, Kureishi and Khadra show how grievances are used and exploited by agitators, Hamid presents the change of his protagonist as an entirely inner and conscious process that alters an intelligent, rationalist and good-hearted individual. A turn towards ‘anti-Americanism’ is neither explained by social or economic misery, a lack of education, prospects and social upward mobility, nor by the manipulation by vindictive, deluded individuals. It does not evoke pity for the oppressed and exploited to win the readers’ sympathy and commiseration. Instead, the novel seems to claim our respect for the political standpoints and the self-defence of other nations against a ‘Western’ fundamentalist potential. Furthermore, the novel expresses hope that the United States will again leave behind defensiveness, fear and distrust and learn to embrace the positive effects of cultural and religious diversity, as it used to do. Furthermore, in comparison to The Black Album or A Week in December, Hamid’s novel does not address the downturns of our modern age to the same extent. We find no descriptions of subcultures, political apathy, individual alienation or economic inequality within the society under discussion. Jim’s background hints at this dimension, but the novel primarily aims at the unequal distribution of power and wealth between the US and what was formerly called the ‘Third World’. Thus, it features a perspective sensitised to the needs and problems of developing countries. The other authors shed light on the mechanisms of disadvantaged religious or ethnic parallel societies. Changez, in contrast, seems to be at the heart of privileged American society. But ironically, the Princeton and Underwood Samson circles themselves show similarities to parallel societies in that they are detached from the reality of average people and do not interact much with people who do not have access to their world. The novel criticises Western hedonism, but in a different way than Kureishi or Faulks. In The Reluctant Fundamentalist we find no scenes of sexual excesses or drug abuse. Parties and the waste of money are mentioned, but they are not presented in detailed and caricatured scenes. Dissipations seem to be common but not morally deplorable or harmful. What is more, no generalising critique of ‘Western’ decadent be- 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 257 haviour can be deducted from the plot, since the story is restricted to a special circle of the wealthy and educated academic elite in the United States. The protagonist does not seem to know any people outside this circle and thus stays rather silent about the behaviour of the ‘rest’ of American society. As Olsson justifiably argues, the novel “aptly captures the ethos and hypocrisies of the Ivy League meritocracy, but less so its individual members. Throughout the book, secondary characters are sketched rather than distinctively rendered” (Olsson 2007: n.p.). In a way, the novel’s critique of the Western economic system remains much less concrete, detailed and personalised than the harsh and bitter criticism that is uttered in A Week in December. This can be ascribed to the more modest length of the novel but also to the fact that none of Hamid’s characters really stands for the evil he deplores in the system. Nevertheless, in an interview from 2011 Hamid mentions concerns which are quite similar to Faulks’ major worries regarding the course of Britain. He thinks to have discovered developments in the United States which remind him of the system in Pakistan: In my time in elite America, in the course of the last decade and a half, what I was struck by was how that system was basically collapsing. Friends of mine are earning insane amounts of money – those who stayed in the hedge fund world. Oftentimes it’s unclear what they’re actually contributing to society. And meanwhile the school system is collapsing, and the American middle class is being eviscerated. And all of this being done on the back of a certain demagogic tribalism. Here in Pakistan we’ve seen many of the same sorts of things — this combination of xenophobia, unwillingness to pay taxes, comfort with a powerful and entrenched elite that coopts the democratic process. I mean, that’s what we have here, and it isn’t great! […] Underneath all that are millions of gradations of hierarchy which exist in American society, just as in Pakistani society. Except here the elite embraces that, uses it to oppress everybody and says: that is the expectation. In America the pretense is: it doesn’t exist, which makes it maybe even more effective, because people don’t see it (Lydon 2011: n.p.). What Hamid addresses here is not only an increasing social divide but also the fact that this divide is repudiated by the cover-up tactics of the wealthy and powerful. Just as in Faulks’ novel average people seem to play no role in this game, being too powerless, unaware or politically apathetic to defend their civic rights and get their share of the economic revenue. America pretends to be more just than other countries and to provide everyone with the possibility of their personal American dream. But according to The Reluctant Fundamentalist this promise seems hollow and the existence of equal opportunities is at least doubtful. The Reluctant Fundamentalist in the light of ethical criticism and literature as cultural ecology As has been outlined, Mohsin Hamid takes up the prominent discourses after 9/11 to question and subvert them. These discourses are filtered through the consciousness of ‘the Muslim’ or ‘the other’ who has so often been presented as stereotypical enemy image. By seeing the world through Changez’ eyes, media discourses are personalised 5.3.4) 5) Analyses 258 and readers are invited to overcome simple prejudices and to become aware of their own fears and simplifications. As Banita notes, this process has an undeniable ethical dimension: By cladding in vulnerable human forms the political and media discourses that mark the post-9/11 era, such fiction underscores the spectacular ductility of ethics as a transnational narrative with the potential to explode the literary conventions that shore up national interests as well as the entrenched moralism of contemporary politics, which could profit from the historicizing perspective and ethical self-doubt that permeate post-9/11 literary culture (Banita 2012: 299). The Reluctant Fundamentalist does not focus on a criticism of 9/11 but animadverts the absence of humanist principles in all essentialist world-views – including economic libertarianism. Even though the event of 9/11 as such does not play a very prominent role in the novel, the text questions the ethical validity of anti-Muslim American moralism following the event. It subverts boundaries just like many works of Ground Zero Fiction do. As Däwes outlines: Ground Zero Fiction unsettles the concepts of hermetic community and wounded nation: it provides a site for encounters between Self and Other in which the boundaries are shifted. […Many approaches] deconstruct, in very different ways, the dichotomies of ‘us’ and ‘them’, encouraging instead heteroglossia and dialogue, global perspectives, and a poetics of inclusion (Däwes 2011: 413-414). Just as Kureishi’s protagonist realises in the end of The Black Album, people might try to erect barriers between Self and ‘Other’ but in doing so, they often do not understand that boundaries and identities have already been permeated. No matter how much this interdependence and exchange might frighten a majority society: There has already been a commingling of influences and identities that cannot be undone any more. One could say that the many questions The Reluctant Fundamentalist leaves to be interpreted by the reader, already constitute an anti-fundamentalist strategy. As Saadi notes: The greater the distance between the implicit and the explicit, the more challenging a text can be, but also the more the reader will have to reconstruct the world of the text. This empowers both writer and reader and is the antithesis of literalism (Saadi 2012: 14-15). Whereas religious fundamentalists insist on only one reading and interpretation of their holy text, Hamid’s novel grants us the opportunity to employ our imagination, consider very different readings of the text and fill the gaps according to our own preconceptions. This simultaneously leads us to question the text and its quality as well as our own expectations and prejudices we project on the novel. The decisions we make, according to Hamid, are moral decisions and tell us something about our own ethical principles (cf. Singh 2012: 156). The author, thus, encourages a decidedly non-fundamentalist way of reading solely by using an open form and skilful changes between first-person and second-person narration. As Morey argues, in employing the hoax confessional and dramatic monologue forms, the novel not only effectively parodies the cultural certainties encouraged by those ‘true confessions’ of for- 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 259 mer radicals, in destabilizing the reader’s identification through hyperbole, strategic exoticization, allegorical layering and unreliable narration, but also defamiliarizes our relation to literary projects of national identification, forcing us to be the kind of deterritorialized reader demanded by the emerging category of world literature (Morey 2011: 136). The strategy of the novel to hint at prevalent stereotypes on all sides is expertly underlined by a combination of form and content which promotes this aim. As has been outlined in the previous chapters, Martha Nussbaum believes in an important link between form and function and states that not only the content of a novel is central to its meaning but also the “sort of feeling and imagining [...] enacted in the telling of the story itself, in the shape and texture of the sentences, the pattern of the narrative, the sense of life that animates the text as a whole” (Nussbaum 1998: 225-226). With respect to The Reluctant Fundamentalist, one could say that the dominant feeling in the novel may probably best be described as an insecurity about fixed categories – concerning stereotypes about the ‘other’ as well as a monolithic understanding of one’s own identity. Hamid invites us to see the world as well as political events from a different – non Western – perspective and rethink our own ethical positions. I believe to have outlined in enough detail in which ways the author employs formal features Nussbaum’s theories focus on, such as the use of voice, point of view, empathy, contradictions or determinacy, to underline his central concerns. Thus, I will not repeat these details but will proceed to take a brief look at the novel in the context of literature as cultural ecology. Like the other works in this narrative corpus, The Reluctant Fundamentalist also contributes to the notion that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Through the simultaneous use of nuanced descriptions and a blunt depiction of stereotypes and prejudices the novel questions simple truths. It shows with respect to globalised capitalism that a system as a whole can deteriorate despite the fact that the makeup of this system consists of normal people with hopes and good intentions. As I already outlined in the chapter on ethical criticism, Zapf highlights the potential of literature to “radically question the modernist ideology of the autonomous, entirely self-constituting subject” (Zapf 2007: 155). The Reluctant Fundamentalist impressively displays the dependence of the individual on larger economic, social and cultural frameworks. Changez is influenced by his cultural background as dominant framework, whereas Americans after 9/11 are presented as increasingly dependent on a nationalist framework. On the one hand, the novel points to the fact that identity is determined by a variety of facets. On the other hand, it also shows that personal identity is “founded on the notion of origin, of ‘home’” and that it often “requires contact with an Other to bring the ‘me’ to the fore” (Waterman 2015: 121). In this case, cultural identity is enhanced through the contact or interplay with nationalist identification. These frameworks may develop fatal dynamics and endanger the integrity of their parts. What we see in all novels is the fragmentation of systems of belief, the plurality of meanings and the use of fictional literature as culture-critical metadiscourse. The Reluctant Fundamentalist can be viewed as culture-critical metadiscourse in that it displays the deficits of the global capitalist system with its unequal distribution of wealth and power. Furthermore, the novel addresses contradictions in systems of 5) Analyses 260 political power. With respect to the United States, double standards concerning the defence of moral values are especially animadverted. The claim to promote freedom and justice is counteracted by a ruthless use and dropping of allies and an unflinching acquiescence of ‘collateral damage’. The sometimes mocking tone and direct addressing of stereotypes directs our attention to our own prejudices and blind spots concerning the needs of people who see the world from a different cultural, religious or political vantage point. The Reluctant Fundamentalist visualises the clash of the protagonist with the society he lives in as well as a clash between different societies. These clashes between dominant systems lead to Changez’ alienation from the life he was used to as well as from himself. The dominant systems displayed do not seem to negate individuality in an inescapable way: the characters choose consciously to be loyal to the economic system in order to promote their own career and not because they are forced to do so. However, Changez has to negate his cultural and religious heritage for the sake of occupational advancement, which results in “chronic states of self-alienation, failed communication and paralyzed vitality” (Zapf 2007: 155-156). The Reluctant Fundamentalist also fulfils the literary function of an imaginative counter-discourse, even though restrictions might apply in this case. The only voice we get is not a marginalised voice as such, because our protagonist is neither economically nor socially disadvantaged. However, certain facets of his identity, such as his cultural and religious heritage, are suppressed. As Changez finally manages to express his cultural identity that was relegated by the systems of Princeton and Underwood Samson, formerly excluded facets move to the forefront, as the protagonist’s gleeful reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks exemplifies. Changez’ perspective allows us to shift our ground and view events from a totally different angle. What is more, the ‘centre of alterity’ shifts as well: It is not the protagonist’s alterity which is highlighted but the alterity, aloofness and artificiality of Princeton and Underwood Samson circles. As Gray notes, even the construction of differences and the criticism of the majority society voiced by writers with different cultural backgrounds do not just represent counter-discourses because influence and transformation are mutual processes. He argues that works by authors with a second cultural background “reconfigure language, the themes and tropes of American writing, in terms that go way beyond bipolar, biracial models. In the process, they become a lexical equivalent of the immigrant encounter, transforming their literary environs just as they are transformed by them” (Gray 2008: 140). The Reluctant Fundamentalist explores how this mutual influence may work in a detrimental way in that it may reinforce a dangerous spiral of mutual distrust and resentment. Regardless of Changez’ apparently final rejection of his life in America and the plot’s irreconcilable differences which last till the end, the novel still bears traces of a reintegrative interdiscourse. The author has recurrently demonstrated through his fictional as well as journalistic texts that he accepts the role as a mediator between different cultures, so often assigned to postcolonial writers (cf. Also Perner 2011: 23). Especially Hamid’s choice to establish a strong interconnection between public and private life in The Reluctant Fundamentalist can be said to function as reintegrative principle. Hamid believes “in the intertwined nature of the personal and the political” 5.3) Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist 261 (Hamilton 2007: n.p.). The author claims that there are many similarities between countries and people in that notions of pride, passion, nostalgia, and envy shape the behaviour of countries more than is sometimes acknowledged. In the Muslim world, one sees love for things American coexist with anger towards America. Which is stronger, politics or love, is like asking which is stronger, exhaling or inhaling. They are two sides of the same thing (Hamilton 2007: n.p.). This comment corresponds to the word-plays in The Reluctant Fundamentalist and the parallels between Erica and America, Underwood Samson and the United States. “People and countries tend to blur in my fiction,” Hamid admits, “both serving as symbols of the other” (Harcourt interview 2007: n.p.). “One of the novel’s notable achievements is the seamless manner in which ideology and emotion, politics and the personal are brought together into a vivid picture of an individual’s globalised revolt” (Anthony 2012: n.p.), Guardian critic Andrew Anthony praised Hamid’s work. The novel indeed shows that “the conscious and the unconscious” as well as “intellect and passion” (Zapf 2007: 158-159) cannot be divided. The reintegration of both spheres within the protagonist leads to his professional failure and a fundamental clash with the system that promoted his success. Accordingly, antagonising forces and worldviews cannot be reconciled on the level of action. For the protagonist, however, this painful process means regeneration. In the end, he separates from his former life but is again in accord with his conscience and in harmony with his inner self. Zapf speaks in this context of “paralysis and creative renewal” (Zapf 2008 (b): 35). And this is partly what happens in the novel. Changez at some point is paralysed and unable to act. The encounter with Juan Bautista finally helps to free him from his ossification and accelerates his inner change. Nevertheless, the resolution of a conflict within the protagonist leads to intensified conflicts with his environment. His relationship to America is not put on a new basis, but relations are discontinued. This prevents a reintegration of diverse discourses on the story-level. Thus, a harmonious synthesis is rejected and the idea of the autonomous being is qualified. What unites Hamid most with Khadra is his strong emphasis on the central role of empathy and the function of literature as a vehicle to rouse this empathy for positions we might not encounter or be able to comprehend otherwise: I believe that the core skill of a novelist is empathy: the ability to imagine what someone else might feel. And I believe that the world is suffering from a deficit of empathy at the moment: the political positions of both Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush are founded on failures of empathy, failures of compassion towards people who seem different. By taking readers inside a man who both loves and is angered by America, and hopefully by allowing readers to feel what that man feels, I hope to show that the world is more complicated than politicians and newspapers usually have time for. We need to stop being so confused by the fear we are fed: a shared humanity unites us with people we are encouraged to think of as our enemies (Harcourt Interview 2007: n.p.). Hamid makes it clear that he wants readers to think about their own assumptions and prejudices. The author establishes links between the personal and the political sphere, between his own experiences and beliefs and the topics he writes about. He states that 5) Analyses 262 it is “okay for writers to be scared of writing about certain issues. ‘What is not okay is that out of that fear, you say something you do not believe in […] Art should be about expressing what one believes and thinks’” (Shaukat 2012: n.p.). Hamid’s novel is supposed to be an invitation to put ourselves in the protagonist’s shoes, to view the world from a different perspective and develop an understanding of characters who represent values and world-views we might not appreciate. Hamid strongly believes in the ethical potential of literature to hold a mirror up to the readers and rouse their empathy. Thus, his novel reflects his wish to dismantle and question stereotypes and reanimate a conversation which has been stifled by world-political events and mutual distrust. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a very topical book and, concerning the political events outlined in the first chapters, will remain so for a considerable time. The responsibility to transcend hatred: Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad as expression of an indelible love for humanity Yasmina Khadra – or Mohammed Moulessehoul – has been praised by many critics as “un vrai phénomène de la littérature arabe, maghrébine et universelle” (Bendaoud 2010: 17) and one of the rare Algerian writers “qui défraient la chronique, convoquent les consciences et suscitent un intérêt certain pour une lecture assidue, faite d’émotion, de sensations, de mots qui chantent et de phrases qui enchantent” (Bendaoud 2010: 18). The Sirens of Baghdad (SB) is a novel which seems to confirm this claim. It is set in Beirut/Lebanon, Baghdad and Kafr Karam, a Bedouin village in the middle of the Iraqi desert. The novel features the journey of an anonymous protagonist who tells us his story. He describes how the American war in Iraq, starting in 2003, severely disrupts life everywhere in the country, causes bloodshed – often among civilians – and triggers a wave of anger, frustration and vows of revenge among the Iraqi people. The novel is a chronicle of brutality, shame and the force of traditional cultural concepts, the violation of which triggers a vicious circle of terrorist counter-attacks. The protagonist’s previously peaceful life is turned upside down by three major events, which can be interpreted as symbolising the assassination of ‘innocence’, the arbitrariness of bloodshed and the irreversible violation of traditional moral norms. These three events will be outlined in more detail in this chapter, because they are depicted as turning points which induce the narrator’s urge to wash away in blood the indignities he suffered. Due to these traumatising events, he joins a cell of fundamentalists around his cousin Sayed, which plans and facilitates suicide attacks. The protagonist consents to carry out an assault with outstandingly disastrous consequences: He is supposed to fly to Europe carrying a lethal virus against which no cure has been developed yet. In the last minute, however, having already been injected with the deadly disease, he refuses to board the plane and sacrifices the alleged retrieval of his honour for humanist values and the protection of other people. In The Sirens of Baghdad we get acquainted with an auto-, intradiegetic narrator, who remains nameless throughout the whole novel. There are no focalised passages and accordingly no paralepses that could grant the reader an insight into the thoughts 5.4) 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 263 and feelings of other characters. The novel begins in medias res and then features a longer flashback, which stretches over seven chapters and gives us a synopsis of all crucial events that have shaped the protagonist’s decision to turn towards a suicide attack. A short introduction set in Beirut/Lebanon sets the tone for the novel. The atmosphere is marked by gloomy desolation, and we are introduced to the main elements that will permeate the whole plot: destruction, double standards and despair. This introduction is written in present tense and works like a prologue. It is followed by two extensive flashbacks: one to Kafr Karam, our narrator’s birthplace, and one to Baghdad, where the last two thirds of the novel are set. Similar to The Reluctant Fundamentalist, The Sirens of Baghdad uses no alternating perspectives, only three main settings and one main plotline. Whereas Faulks, for instance, constantly switches between many different settings and focalisers, Khadra focuses on his autodiegetic narrator. The seven chapters set in Kafr Karam feature all major climaxes and turning points which influence the protagonist and drive him to violence. This part starts with a brief summary of the narrator’s upbringing and education, his family situation and the life in Kafr Karam before the war, which is followed by a more elaborate description of the first months of armed conflict. The follow-up flashback set in Baghdad features the protagonist’s disoriented journey through the city and his changing states of mind, ranging from grief and despair via apathy and defiance to impatience and aggression. The ten chapters trace his increasing radicalisation as well as the climax and turning point – namely the disclosure of a plan for a terrorist attack and the protagonist’s final decision to refrain from carrying it out. Whereas the middle part is written in past tense, the last five chapters return to Beirut and the present. The culmination of the frame story contains the planned attack towards which the main plotlines and flashbacks build up. The use of the present tense in the first and last part creates more immediacy but also accounts for a rather artificial quality due to the fact that we have an autodiegetic narrator who tells us something in the same moment he experiences it, including his last minutes awaiting his death. The text also seems artificial in that the autodiegetic narrator nearly seems to adopt the position of an extradiegetic narrator, using a lot of meticulous descriptions and word-for-word renderings of spoken conversations. However, this setup allows for a more detailed presentation of different worldviews while at the same time evoking empathy for the plight of the narrator. Khadra wrote a cruel but hopeful, or “beautifully haunting” (Tarpley 2008: 1307) tale, as one of his critics described it. “The sirens echoed in the silence of the night”152: The lure of Islamic fundamentalism As will be outlined in the following analysis, the novel defies the first guess that it might depict a ‘clash of civilisations’ between ‘the West’ and a predominantly Muslim Arabic country. Even though the novel focuses on the American war in Iraq, it is still 5.4.1) 152 SB 19. 5) Analyses 264 made clear that the protagonist’s inner development and crisis is primarily caused by a political and military conflict of interests and not by a conflict of identities. This conflict eventually also impinges upon cultural norms, but in contrast to the works by Faulks, Kureishi and Hamid, Khadra’s novel is not set in a context of migration. The author does not focus on the danger of being torn between ‘Western’ values and other cultural and religious systems of belief but explores diverse approaches within Iraq itself: to religion, to traditional Bedouin norms and to the American invaders. The world of The Sirens of Baghdad is full of fractions and focuses strongly on inner-cultural – not only inter-cultural – tensions. Moreover, Khadra introduces an economic and social dimension differing from the situation presented in the other works of this literary corpus. Whereas the protagonists in Hamid’s and Faulks’ novel are rather wealthy and privileged, Khadra’s protagonist is from a poor Bedouin family. The novel underlines the oppressing force of communal, collective identities, shaped by a traditional milieu which suffers from economic disadvantage and political powerlessness. The Sirens of Baghdad highlights the pressures exerted on the protagonist by kinship community, while at the same time stressing the large responsibility of the individual to question these imperatives. While the other novels under discussion start with more or less common situations, Khadra’s novel emphasises from the beginning that the plot is set in a state of emergency, as indicated by the title. The sirens in the title of the novel may be interpreted in three different ways: First of all, “sirens wailing” (SB 156) is what people in Baghdad constantly hear during the war when there are missile strikes or suicide bombings. Secondly, the sirens could also be seen metaphorically as the forces driving the protagonist towards Islamic fundamentalism and lure him into violence. And thirdly, the West is presented as “a siren song for people shipwrecked on their identity quest” (SB 10) which attracts people from Muslim countries and at the same time disappoints them. Starting with an analysis of how the phenomenon of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ is presented in the novel, it is noteworthy that The Sirens of Baghdad in contrast to the other novels in this literary corpus does not present any moderate forms of Islam in detail. The novel depicts a jihadist cell in rather realistic terms. However, Khadra underlines from the beginning the prevalence of political and personal motifs over religious ones. None of the jihadists is described as outstandingly pious. The main aim of the cell is to harm the ‘American invaders’ in order to resurrect the honour of the country and of individual people. Thus, religious behavioural requirements (concerning dress, ritual prayers, sexuality, the renunciation of luxury, etc.) do not play an overriding role for the violent plans of the cell. Homophobia seems to be prevalent among its members, but it is not outlined whether these prejudices are religiously or culturally influenced. Furthermore, Sayed, the leader of the brotherhood, lives in a luxurious apartment and drives an expensive car, which distinguishes him from Kureishi’s brother Riaz and his reproachful pledges for piety and modesty. The most elaborate explanations are reserved for Bedouin culture and the political and social reasons which may radicalise people. Neither Western liberal ideas nor Islamic fundamentalism are described in-depth in their ideological and religious manifestations and characteristics. 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 265 Similarly to Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist or partly also Kureishi’s The Black Album, nostalgia and disappointed hopes play a major role in the plot as catalysts of fundamentalism. But whereas Hamid gives us the perspective of a protagonist who lives in the United States and is an insider to the Western liberal economic and political system, Khadra shows us a view of Western politics ‘from the outside’ and an inside-view of a Muslim society. Directly on the first page we get acquainted with the nostalgia of the autodiegetic narrator for the Beirut he imagined: “Arab and proud of it” (SB 1). The reality of a city wavering between different powers and scarred by armed conflict, however, contradicts his ideal. The first image the reader gets of the city is one of false appearances and double standards, which appal and enrage the protagonist: Beirut’s a slapdash affair: Its martyrdom is phony; its tears are crocodile tears. I hate it with all my heart for its gutless, illogical pride, for the way it falls between two stools, sometimes Arab, sometimes Western, depending on the payoffs involved. What it sanctifies by day, it renounces at night, what it demands in the public square, it shuns on the beach, and it hurtles toward its ruin like an embittered runaway who thinks he’ll find elsewhere the thing that’s lying within reach of his hand… (SB 2). It is helpful to add that Beirut has a rich cultural history to understand the indignation of the protagonist. People have been settling in this territory for more than 5000 years. Even under the Ottoman Empire, Beirut entertained good relations with Western countries and became the capital of Lebanon after its independence in 1943. The city prospered as intellectual centre and a popular destination for tourists from all over the world. Beirut also functioned as a centre for trade and finance, known for its economic prosperity and its huge religious diversity. However, from the 1970 s on, various religious and political conflicts disrupted the country. The Lebanese Civil War from 1975 till 1991 and the Israel-Lebanon conflict (or ‘July War’) in 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah left their marks on the city. During the 16 years of civil war more than 100 000 Lebanese people lost their lives and an estimate of 900 000 citizens were displaced.153 In 2005, one year before the publication of the novel, a series of bomb attacks alarmed Beirut after the assassination of the former prime minister Hariri. The murder was followed by mass protests for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. The above-cited quote might refer to the tensions between East and West, Islam and Christianity as well as between different lifestyles in Beirut. Lebanon itself is the country in the Middle East with the most pronounced religious heterogeneity. About 54 % of the population is Muslim (split in half between Sunnis and Shiites), 40 % of the population is Christian (CIA World Factbook 2016). Many other religious minorities call Lebanon their home. Furthermore, the country has a free-market 153 For a description of Beirut after the civil war, the efforts to reconstruct the city and the religious, political and socioeconomic conflicts that divide Lebanese society see Stewart (1996). First and foremost, she underlines the danger of continuing religious tensions between Christian and Muslim groups, the neglect of social concerns and increasing violence and radicalism in poor areas (Stewart 1996: 502). For an overview of crucial events in the conflicts affecting Lebanon and Beirut see the chronologies by Collins (1982) and Koff (1984). For a closer examination of the invasion from an Israeli perspective and from an American perspective see Yaniv/Lieber (1983) and Ryan (1982). 5) Analyses 266 economy without many governmental restrictions. Thus, several political, religious and economic influences might inhibit a more orthodox Muslim lifestyle. The central character attributes the decline of the city to its former endeavour to imitate the West: Maybe its obstinate efforts to resemble the cities of its enemies have caused its patron saints to disown it, and that’s why it’s exposed to the traumas of war and the dangers of every tomorrow. […] Its affected airs are nothing but a con. Its alleged charisma doesn’t jibe with its qualms; it’s like a silk cloth over an ugly stain (SB 1). It is not specified what the term “enemies” subsumes here. It is intriguing, however, that the protagonist uses vocabulary which reflects the Western influence he renounces. The concept of patron saints is Christian (and also used in Oriental Orthodoxy), but not in Islam. The initial picture the reader is introduced to on the first pages is one of many contradictions. This Janus-faced character of Beirut is also inherent to the protagonist’s companion Dr. Jalal. On the one hand, he is described as sharing an explicitly anti-Western attitude and as adhering to fundamentalist beliefs. On the other hand, it is made clear from the beginning that his radical stance does not seem to be based on religious reasons. While the protagonist refuses to smoke and drink alcohol, Dr. Jalal is in his fifties and described as an alcoholic, drug user, regular client of whorehouses and “already a wreck” (SB 3). Being a former figurehead of Western academia, Dr. Jalal at some point performed a volte-face and turned from a fervent critic of armed jihad into an advocate of armed resistance against the West. Initially he seems to serve as a foil for the protagonist in that his moral arbitrariness is contrasted with the protagonist’s genuine and consistent behaviour. We learn only later on through the extensive flashback that forms the novel’s middle part that the protagonist used to be more lenient as well. Even though a lot of sympathy is initially created for the protagonist by means of contrasting his genuine behaviour with the doctor’s moral arbitrariness, the readers are still encouraged to feel pity for Jalal. Tradition, honour, shame, cultural identity as well as a yearning to belong are presented as major incentives for his behaviour. The character serves to introduce these central concepts on the first pages of the novel, which directly describe the loss of his family honour as central key event transforming his life: ‘Once, a long time ago, I tried to hang myself,’ he says, leaning out over the parapet. ‘With a length of hempen twine. I was barely eighteen.’ He takes another swallow and continues: ‘I had just caught my mother with a man.’ [...] In Kafr Karam, such revelations would be fatal. I’ve never heard anyone speak like this about his mother, and the doctor’s casual way of spreading out his dirty linen confounds me (SB 4-5). The casualty with which Jalal talks of such grave matters and the fact that he drinks alcohol during his confession indicates a great distance between his former self and how he evaluates moral concepts today. The passage delineates shame and honour in the Bedouin cultural framework as communal concept. The loss of one’s honour does not have to be self-inflicted. It can also be caused by other family members. Especially women are seen as guardians of a family’s honour. We are left to guess if the character 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 267 actually had to renounce his roots and turn to Western points of orientation because there was no way of regaining honour and integrity in his own community. Jalal is the first character with an allegedly fundamentalist mindset we are introduced to, and he seems to be an emblem of resignation and disappointment with human nature as such. Let down by his mother and apparently never fully accepted in the West, he mistrusts people: “[...H]e doesn’t trust the world he’s fallen into. No matter how often he tells himself he’s in good hands, he’s never convinced it’s the truth. Aren’t those the same hands that fire weapons in the dark, slit throats, strangle people, and place explosive devices under selected chairs?” (SB 5). Jalal’s estrangement from traditional values seems to be routed in his experience, which makes his behaviour appear as a survival strategy. The reader can perceive a stark contrast between the sheer impossibility of just saying something and breaching certain topics for the protagonist, and Jalal’s present nonchalance to actually do all these things from cursing, via consuming alcohol and drugs to regular visits in brothels. The protagonist is shocked and embarrassed by this bluntness. However, his indignation does not come from religiosity but seems to be primarily rooted in his understanding of moral conduct in accordance with Bedouin traditions. On that note, culture and tradition are, already in the frame narration, presented as stronger binding forces than religion, and Jalal’s turn to radicalism seems to stem from a disappointment with Western politics – not from a turn to religious values. Embedded in this cultural framework is the individual fate of the protagonist, which is moulded by three major events that shape the plot and serve as turning points for the main character’s inner development. In flashbacks, the reader gets to know the major events which trigger his turn to an Islamic fundamentalist group and are set in the protagonist’s hometown Kafr Karam and in Baghdad. Khadra does not give us any concrete time frame, but the plot is clearly driven by the American invasion of Iraq from March to May 2003, following the September 11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan. In his radio address at the start of the invasion of Iraq, US President George W. Bush explained: “Our cause is just, the security of the nations we serve and the peace of the world. And our mission is clear, to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people” (The White House, 22.03.2003). The war in Iraq led to the American domination of all major cities in the country and the abolishment of Saddam Hussein’s regime, but was also criticised worldwide. The operation had no UN mandate, no evidence was later on found for the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and many people justifiably feared a further destabilisation of the whole region.154 154 Due to the abundance of literature on the War in Iraq, it is not possible to give a comprehensive overview of this topic in this thesis. However, the following articles give brief insights into major discussions connected to this conflict. For a discussion of moral issues connected to the ‘War on Terror’ and the invasion of Iraq see Gordon (2003), Pfiffner (2004), Gershkoff (2005) and Lal (2006). Moreover, Falah (2006), Lindner (2009) and Nikolaev/Porpora (2011) give interesting insights into different journalistic vantage points and the way the invasion was presented by newspapers in Arabic countries as well as in the United States. Hegghammer (2006) analyses how the war 5) Analyses 268 The findings of the PEW research centre on this topic reflect the growing scepticism towards American politics in Iraq that are voiced by Khadra’s novel. The American War on Terror was seen very critically worldwide – by Muslim countries but also elsewhere, despite the fact that Islamic fundamentalism is acknowledged as a serious problem. However, it is discernible that the distrust of American military politics has to be analysed in the context of American global dominance and the perceived disregard for the interests and needs of other countries as such. A 2002 survey assessed: The war on terrorism is opposed by majorities in nearly every predominantly Muslim country surveyed. […But the] U.S. image problems are not confined to Muslim countries. […] Many people around the world, especially in Europe and the Middle East/Conflict Area, believe the U.S. does not take into account the interests of their country when making international policies. Majorities in most countries also see U.S. policies as contributing to the growing gap between rich and poor nations and believe the United States does not do the right amount to solve global problems. U.S. global influence is simultaneously embraced and rejected by world publics. America is nearly universally admired for its technological achievements and people in most countries say they enjoy U.S. movies, music and television programs. Yet in general, the spread of U.S. ideas and customs is disliked by majorities in almost every country included in this survey (Pew Research Center 2002: 5). One year after the start of the war in Iraq, Muslim populations still remained critical and adverse against the invasion, but support in Britain and France also decreased. 33% Britons and 57% of the French believed in March 2004 that the U.S. overreacted to the terrorist threat while only 13% of Americans thought so (Pew Research Center 2004 (a): 2-3 and 17-18). However, only three years after the September 11 attacks, fewer Americans saw the need to curtail civil liberties in order to win the war on terror (Pew Research Center 2004 (b): 27). Furthermore, majorities in Britain and France, for instance, share the opinion that the war in Iraq rather impeded the fight against terrorism whereas 62 % of the interviewed American citizens believed in the war’s positive effects regarding terrorism (Pew Research Center 2004 (a): 14; Pew Research Center 2004 (b): 14-15). The course of the Iraq war triggered widespread disillusionment as well as concern about America’s deteriorating image in the world (Pew Research Center 2004 (b): 1 and 9-10). A 2007 report not surprisingly demonstrated that while only 48 % of U.S. American Muslims deemed the invasion of Afghanistan a wrong decision, 75 % opposed the use of military force in Iraq (Pew Research Center 2007: 49). Concurrently, concern about the growing worldwide resentment against the United States has since been increasing – even in Republican circles where apprehension about this fact used to be quite low (cf. Pew Research Centre 2008 (a)). By the same token, many more Americans in 2008 held the opinion that religion should play a lesser role in politics than it did in 2004, which also holds true for conservative circles indicating a major shift in conservative public opinion (cf. Pew Research Centre 2008 (b)). The same declining support could be seen with respect to President George W. influenced the development of jihadism on a global scale and traces major changes in jihadist ideology and rhetoric caused by the war in Iraq. 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 269 Bush. Enjoying a public approval and support by 86 % of the American people in late September 2001, his approval rate hit a bottom of 24 % in December 2008 when 34 % of the polled Americans uttered the strong opinion that Bush will be remembered as a poor president (Pew Research Centre 2008 (c): 1-5). As an opinion poll ten years after the invasion exemplified, fewer and fewer U.S. citizens are retrospectively convinced that the war was the right decision and achieved its goals (Pew Research Centre 2013 (a): 1). Thus, The Sirens of Baghdad reflects concerns about the war in Iraq which were shared at that time by many other – not only Muslim – people worldwide. What makes the novel special is its engagement with the ramifications of this invasion for the cultural frameworks of a society which is guided by different ethical standards and moral values. Concepts of honour and shame play a central role for the development of the protagonist as will be outlined in the next paragraph. To explain the psychological development of the protagonist and his turn to fundamentalist ideas, three major events are presented as driving forces of the plot. In contrast to Kureishi’s The Black Album, Khadra’s work is marked by a high degree of eventfulness. The three main events and turning points – the murder of Sulayman, a mentally disabled boy, an assault on a wedding party, and the humiliation and defilement of the protagonist’s father – are all outlined in the middle part of the novel. All of these events are (according to the central markers by Schmid, illustrated in the introductory chapter) characterised by ‘relevance’, ‘unpredictability’ (in that they break the norms of the narrative world and run contrary to the narrator’s expectations – even if they might not be as surprising for the reader), ‘persistence’, ‘irreversibility’ and ‘non-iterativity’ (cf. Schmid 2010, 9-12). They irreversibly change the protagonist’s horizon of experience, confound any future plans, and alter his tender nature and rejection of violence. The consequences of these main events are immense and irreversible due to the death of people who can never be replaced and the severe violation of Bedouin concepts of honour. Thus, the protagonist’s decision to align himself with armed jihad does not come as a surprise to the reader anymore. This development rather represents the logical culmination of the events outlined, following the norms of the fictional world. A New York Times review from 2007 takes up this fact, claiming that [t]he terrorist half of this book offers a visceral illustration of the difference between suspense and surprise. Suspense is there: ‘The Sirens of Baghdad’ is nerve-racking despite its excess verbiage. And it shows real momentum as it propels its main character toward ‘the most important revolutionary mission undertaken since man learned to stiffen his spine!’ But it remains essentially unsurprising until a final twist affects its outcome. The documentary-style details of this story offer all too familiar, credible illustrations of what real terrorists do and say (Maslin 2007: n.p.). As Schmid notes, this comment also illustrates that “we need to take account of the fact that real readers can have individual concepts of relevance and unpredictability that do not conform with those of the fictive and implied entities” (Schmid 2010: 15). But even granting this qualification, the novel possesses, to my mind, a high degree of eventfulness and tellability (or noteworthiness). Even if readers from different cultural backgrounds might not be able to fully comprehend why accidentally seeing one’s 5) Analyses 270 father’s private parts should be a reason for suicide and the killing of other people, all readers will still be able to understand the enormity of war, arbitrary killings and the loss of human dignity, and will ascribe importance to the respective core events. In this respect, The Sirens of Baghdad displays much more action than Kureishi’s novel, which places a greater stress on irony and the depiction of ideological arguments. Furthermore, Khadra’s novel stands out in its emotional intensity. The following passages are supposed to give the reader a brief insight into the emotional quality of the three formative events in the plot. The first crucial and shocking event is the murder of Kafr Karam’s mentally retarded but harmless and beloved son of the local blacksmith by American GIs at a checkpoint. The blind hatred (and possibly also fear) of an American soldier leads to the cruel execution of an innocent and helpless boy. The scene is described in very drastic pictures that cannot fail to rouse the reader’s empathy: ‘I beg you, please don’t shout. My son is mentally ill, and you’re scaring him.’ The black GI didn’t understand very much of what the blacksmith was trying to tell him; the fact that someone would address him in a language he didn’t know seemed to infuriate him, and so now he was doubly angry. [...] ‘Shut up! Shut the fuck up or I’ll blow your brains out![’ ...] ‘He is mentally ill. Don’t shoot. He’s crazy.’ Sulayman ran and ran, his spine straight, his arms dangling, his body absurdly tilted to the left. Just from his way of running, it was evident that he wasn’t normal. But in time of war, the benefit of the doubt favors blunderers over those who keep their composure; the catchall term is ‘legitimate defense.’ The first gunshots shook me from my head to my feet, like a surge of electric current. [...] Beside me, the blacksmith was shrieking like a maniac, his face bathed in tears. ‘Mike!’ the sergeant barked. ‘He’s wearing a bulletproof vest, the little prick. Aim for his head.’ [...] Bull’s-eye, first shot. Sulayman’s head exploded like a melon [...] (SB 55-57). The incident causes a wave of grief and anger in the whole village. The local people do not “accept any justification for firing on a simpleminded boy – that is, on a pure and innocent creature closer to the Lord than the saints” (SB 61). Sulayman was appreciated and protected in a community that does not only judge human beings by their societal utility. The moral integrity of the foreign invaders seems to be justifiably questioned, concerning the fact that the soldiers try to make up for Sulayman’s brutal execution by offering financial indemnity to his father. The attitude and thoughtful reaction of the village elders to this incident stands in stark contrast to the GI’s improvident and inhumane behaviour: The elders of the village called for calm. No one was infallible, they said. The American colonel had demonstrated genuine sorrow. His only mistake was in broaching the subject of money with the blacksmith. In Kafr Karam, one never speaks of money to a person in mourning. No compensation can lessen the grief of a distraught father at his son’s fresh grave (SB 68). Nevertheless, the novel, on the whole, does not seem to aim at decrying the brutality and short-sightedness of one side but hints at the shortcomings of human beings as such. The second key scene similarly throws the protagonist, who is an eyewitness to both events, into delirium and a sleepwalking, desperate state. A neighbouring wedding party is hit by a missile which kills seventeen people. When a foreign TV team 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 271 arrives at the scene a grieving father shouts at them: “‘Look! Nothing but women and children! This was a wedding reception! Where are the terrorists?’ He grabbed a cameraman by the arm, showed him the corpses stretched out on the grass, and said, ‘The real terrorists are the bastards who fired the missile at us’” (SB 95). This experience leaves the central character “outraged, sick, tormented by a thousand thorns, like Christ at the height of His suffering” (SB 97).155 The imagery not only underlines the protagonist’s pain and his supposed innocence, but also reflects a distinctly Christian symbolism, which might indicate that Yasmina Khadra addressed his novels primarily to a Western readership. Similar to the first incident, the missile strike is also justified by the American military as an attack against terrorist movements and finally regretted as “mistake” (cf. SB 98). Some weeks later the town loses its first six ‘martyrs’ – young men who left the city to avenge the past injustices, while the protagonist becomes increasingly traumatised and shuts himself up at home. He feels reproached for his cowardice by the other villagers but, at first, cannot take the step towards action: I was indeed angry, I held a bitter grudge against the coalition forces, but I couldn’t see myself indiscriminately attacking everyone and everything in sight. War wasn’t my line. I wasn’t born to commit violence – I considered myself a thousand times likelier to suffer it than to practice it one day (SB 99). This attitude only changes after the third crucial shock which marks the turning point of the plot. The protagonist’s whole world crumbles during a nightly raid by soldiers in his village, when they agonise and disgrace his old father. The scene is so intense and pivotal for the triggering of radicalisation processes in the novel that I quote the passage almost in full: And I saw, while my family’s honor lay stricken on the floor, I saw what it was forbidden to see, what a worthy, respectable son, an authentic Bedouin, must never see: that flaccid, hideous, degrading thing, that forbidden, unspoken-of, sacrilegious object, my father’s penis, rolling to one side as his testicles flopped up over his ass. That sight was the edge of the abyss, and beyond it, there was nothing but the infinite void, an interminable fall, nothingness. Suddenly, all our tribal myths, all the world’s legends, all the stars in the sky lost their gleam. The sun could keep on rising, but I’d never be able to distinguish day from night anymore. A Westerner can’t understand, can’t suspect the dimensions of the disaster. For me, to see my father’s sex was to reduce my entire existence, my values and my scruples, my pride and my singularity, to a coarse, pornographic flash. The gates of hell would have seemed less catastrophic! I was finished. Everything was finished – irrecoverably, irreversibly. I had been saddled, once and for all, with infamy; I’d plunged into a parallel world from which I’d never escape. I found myself hating my arms, which seemed grotesque, translucent, ugly, the symbols of my impotence; hating my eyes, which refused to turn away and pleaded for blindness; hating my mother’s screams, which discredited me. I looked at my father, and my father looked back at me. He must have read in my eyes the contempt I felt toward everything that had counted for us and my sudden pity for the person I revered above everything, despite everything. [...] At that very instant, we already 155 The scene might refer to the bombing of a wedding in the small Iraqi village Mukaradeeb on 19 May 2004. More than 40 civilians died because of the attack which was supposed to eliminate Iraqi anticoalition forces. Videos of the attack later on backed the claim of survivors that the American army hit an exclusively civilian target and therewith also caused the death of various children (cf. Mc- Carthy 20 May 2004 and 25 May 2004). 5) Analyses 272 knew that we were looking at each other for the last time. [...] I knew I’d no longer consider things in the same way; I heard the foul beast roar deep inside me, and it was clear that sooner or later, whatever happened, I was condemned to wash away this insult in blood, until the rivers and the oceans turned as red as the cut on Bahia’s neck, as my mother’s eyes, as the fire in my guts, which was already preparing me for the hell I knew was waiting... (SB 101-102). Bedouin society is characterised by propriety, pride and the reverence of one’s parents. To see his father disgraced and humiliated fundamentally violates each of these principles. The stain is believed to be permanent if it is not atoned for by a member of the family. At the sight of his naked father, the protagonist experiences a feeling of selfalienation because of his weakness and impotence to stop the humiliation of the family patriarch. When both father and son realise that veneration and respect turn into pity, it becomes clear that there is no way to continue social interaction as it used to be before the incident. Remarkably, it is not the protagonist’s rage and hatred which propel him towards an accession to a fundamentalist group but a feeling of duty. Due to his cultural heritage and the expectations of his family and kin, he feels “condemned to wash away this insult in blood” (SB 102). The laws of the tribal society he belongs to stipulate that an attack on the honour of a family member has to be revenged. His motivation thus is culturally and not religiously determined. As Braukämpfer notes, Bedouin societies have been influenced by Islam and have often been mobilised for the defence of this religion, but have not shown a large degree of religious devotion and rather concentrated on their own advantage and a pragmatic pan-Arabic solidarity (Braukämpfer 2002: 303). He outlines that despite various differences between Bedouin groups and traditions in different countries, notions of ‘honour’ and ‘shame’ are uniting elements of Bedouin tribalism and regulate all social interactions: This honour called sharaf in Arabic has to be constantly defended and asserted. It is an integrated part of the cultural legacy inherited in Bedouin families from generation to generation. Sharaf can be changed in quality and reputation according to the conduct of individuals and their respective kin groups. People regarded as being in a state of dishonour (ar) or shame (aybca) are exposed to a very comprehensive set of social sanctions. Individuals committing grave misbehaviour are threatened by the punishment of expulsion (dlala) from the community. It is one of the most important duties of the elders to deal with affronts to dignity. [...] Any sign of failure in warfare or loss of independence humiliated and dishonoured the Bedouin. Weakness was conceived as the reason for dishonour, power the foundation for honour or ird (Braukämpfer 2002: 304). Even though honour is often very strongly associated with the conduct and chastity of the female members of the tribe, the strength or defencelessness of its male members also reflects on the honour of the community. As Dodd underlines, the Bedouin understanding of ‘honour’ is a secular concept which also exists in non-Muslim communities. Islamic teachings may indirectly support these notions, but the concept already existed in pre-Islamic Arabic societies and is not proclaimed by the Quran (Dodd 1973: 44). Once lost, honour is very difficult to restore, if at all. Honour cannot only be lost through a lack of modesty and chastity but also through a lack of male pride and the ability to defend oneself. An indignity can only be avenged by a male member 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 273 of the bloodline. Even though the father of the protagonist is not guilty of any misconduct, he is still disgraced by the American soldiers: By showing his genitals to his family he transgresses the sacred rule of modesty and simultaneously loses his male pride, because he is helpless and unable to defend himself against the foreign invaders. His son knows his communal duty, which is preserved against all other legal rules.156 Whereas the term ‘Bedouin’ used to denote a specific way of life of rural pastoralists who moved with their herds within large territories, the term has nowadays turned into a marker of identity, as Cole explains: “The way of life was grounded in ecology and economy, the identity in heritage and culture” (Cole 2003: 237). Changed socioeconomic and socio-political conditions, urbanisation, education and the power of national and global frameworks changed the Bedouin way of life but did not eradicate Bedouin identity. Bedouin customary law in many places coexists with state law and Islamic law (Cole 2003: 251). The emergence of radicalisation in Kafr Karam, described in the novel, stands in direct connection with political and military events – not with ideology or religion. Religion plays only a minor role in The Sirens of Baghdad. The novel does not feature any elaborate descriptions of the protagonist’s religiosity. The first mentioning of God comes after more than fifty pages when he tries to comfort Sulayman’s father, who is afraid of running out of petrol before reaching the hospital with his wounded son, with the words “God won’t abandon us” (SB 52). Ironically, God seems to do just that when Sulayman is shot by American GIs just some hours later. Later on, a mosque is the place where the protagonist seeks security but where his whole belongings and money are stolen while he sleeps. The next instance, God is invoked by the policeman who presses his cousin Sayed for protection money and takes away his possessions with the sarcastic remark: “You’re a good prince, Sayed. God will repay you” (SB 186). As a result, the rare mentioning of religion gains an ironic undercurrent. The Sirens of Baghdad primarily focuses on pride and the responsibility of each individual to stand up and fight against injustice. This topic, however, is not only addressed in relation to the American invasion of Iraq. The novel also critically addresses the downturns of Saddam Hussein’s regime, during which even the people in Kafr Karam did not dare to speak freely because they had to fear spies and mass executions. A crucial scene features a conversation among the tribal people about the pros and cons of Hussein’s removal and their responsibility for their own situation. Not only blame on foreign influences but also critical self-reflection is employed in the debate: ‘If Saddam tyrannized us, it was because of our cowardice, large and small,’ the Falcon insisted contemptuously. ‘People have the kings they deserve.’ [... ‘] He was a monster, yes, but he was our monster. He came from among us, he shared our blood, and we all contributed to consolidating his megalomania. Do you prefer infidels from the other side of the world, troops sent here to roll over us? The GIs are nothing but brutes and wild beasts; they drive their big machines past our widows and orphans and have no qualms about 156 The coexistence of tribal codes of honour with national jurisdiction is not identical with a lack of mechanisms to control conflict and violence. For interesting insights into Bedouin strategies to settle conflict see Khalaf (1990). 5) Analyses 274 dropping their bombs on our health clinics. Look at what they’ve made of our country: hell on earth.’ ‘Saddam made it a mass grave,’ Issam two reminded him. ‘It wasn’t Saddam; it was our fear. If we had shown a minimum of courage and solidarity, that cur would never have dared become such a tyrant’ (SB 32-33). Continuing stasis and cowardice have only led to the supersession of a local tyrant by international forces. The vocabulary used (“monster”, “megalomania”, “brutes”, “wild beasts”) reflects a clear judgemental point of view and leaves no doubt that the characters perceive the change as a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. No selfdetermination is deemed possible without a turn to action and ‘self-defence’. Religion and politics seem to be closely interconnected. Political and economic decline is not only blamed on the American invasion but also on a lack of faith in God: ‘And where have we gone wrong?’ the Falcon asked testily. ‘In our faith. We’ve lost it, and we’ve lost face along with it. [...] It’s not a question of washing your bodies, but your souls, young men. If you’re rotten inside, neither rivers nor oceans will suffice to make you clean. [...] If the Americans are here, it’s our fault. By losing our faith, we’ve also lost our bearings and our sense of honor [...]’ (SB 36-37). The passage is interesting because it hints at the actual meaning of jihad as endeavour or individual duty to constantly refine and clean oneself from within and strive to lead a life pleasing to God.157 This self-reflection is, however, followed by a monologue that reflects the main line of argumentation (as asserted by the media of many Muslim countries) – from a highlighting of US economic and military interests in the region, via its presumable favouring of Israel to its supposed main aim of preventing Iraq from attaining its rightful means of nuclear defence. Some reviewers, such as Steven Poole, have claimed that “[s]uch arguments can seem schematically staged, and the novel is more mechanical” (Poole 2007: n.p.) than other books by Khadra. I agree with him on the partly artificial character of these conversations, which are similar in their outline to the depiction of different points of view in The Black Album. Nevertheless, scenes like these also serve to rouse sympathy for the characters and to unmask one-sided views and a lack of knowledge on both sides. The violation of cultural concepts of honour and shame, human suffering caused by ‘collateral damage’ and the desperate wish for emancipation from helplessness and vassalage form important catalysts for a turn to violent action and Islamic fundamentalist ideas in Khadra’s novel. Radical leaders, aware of this desperate situation, then use the entanglement of the emotional, cultural and political developments to exploit people for their violent plans. Sayed, for instance, uses videotapes of atrocities to fuel 157 In his enlightening essay on political order, the use of force and theoretical as well as historical concerns in Islam, Turner Johnson states about the meaning of jihad: “In Islam jihad refers not to the warfare of the Muslim community but to the personal effort to lead one's life according to the will of God. The root meaning of the word jihad is exertion, striving; in the Qur'an the phrase ‘jihad in the path of God’ (for example, Qur'an 6:108, 22:77) does not refer to warfare but to the individual’s need to strive morally by heart (intention), tongue (speech), and hand (action). Juristic tradition extended this meaning to include fighting (qital) on behalf of the faith, establishing the idea of the jihad of the sword as the warfare against unbelief ” (Turner Johnson 1997: 89). 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 275 the anger of the protagonist and prepare him for the execution of a suicide attack. The contents are the siege of Fallujah; the racist assaults carried out by British troops on some Iraqi kids seized during a popular demonstration; a GI’s summary execution of a wounded civilian inside a mosque; an American helicopter’s night attack on some peasants whose truck had broken down in a field – the visual chronicle, in short, of our humiliation, and of the awful blunders that had become so commonplace (SB 198). This passage not only links the fictional content of the novel to real events but also enables a timing of the plot. The First Battle of Fallujah, which ended with the failure and retreat of American troops, took place in April 2004. During the Second Battle of Fallujah in November 2004, they managed to finally occupy the city, which was regarded as one of the most culturally traditional and religious cities in Iraq, and therefore seen as great defeat by the Muslim population of the city. Furthermore, Khadra – similar to Hamid and Faulks – recalls media images that might be present in readers’ minds and open up a different perspective on the events and a re-examination of ‘Western’ media portrayals. Having outlined the major cultural and political preconditions for Islamist radicalisation processes, it is of interest how leaders and individuals of the jihadist group are portrayed in The Sirens of Baghdad. Sayed as main representative of the Islamist cell is in most passages depicted in an unappealing way. The sheer brutality of Sayed’s words and deeds cannot but shock the reader. No emotions are described when he brutally suffocates a greedy and corrupt but rather harmless police officer with six kids in order to save his secret cell from being exposed to the public. “Get rid of these two stiffs” (SB 193), he orders and that is that. The protagonist clearly uses judgmental descriptions. We perceive Sayed through the protagonist’s consciousness, which engenders a direction of sympathy to his detriment. Sayed stands for violence and misguidance but also for stability and authority, which is what the protagonist needs most at that moment: Sayed was by nature taciturn, not to mention haughty. I didn’t like the way he ordered his employees around. He had to be obeyed to the letter, and once he’d reached a decision, there was no appeal. Paradoxically, I found his authority reassuring. Working for a guy of his stature meant I had no reason to ask questions [...] (SB 196). Easy answers and reassurance are also described by Kureishi and Faulks as central elements lending attractiveness to fundamentalist ideas. However, The Sirens of Bagdad depicts different reasons for a turn towards fundamentalist ideologies than The Black Album or A Week in December. Whereas identity and the desire to belong are the major driving forces for Faulks’ and Kureishi’s protagonists, anger, helplessness and the power of cultural imperatives in connection with political events urge Khadra’s protagonist to violent action. He neither finds friendly companions in Sayed’s group, nor does he belong to them. The reader at first perceives a vast discrepancy between the protagonist’s sensitivity and Sayed’s detachment and brutality, between his intelligence and Hussein’s alleged stupidity. Throughout most parts of The Sirens of Baghdad a negative stance towards these characters is created by the fact that Sayed – in contrast 5) Analyses 276 to Omar the Corporal or the hero’s best friend Kadem – does not talk about his feelings or motives. The narrator can only guess about his driving forces, as I like to exemplify with the following quote referring to the DVDs of war atrocities Sayed gives to the protagonist: The result was, no doubt, just what Sayed had hoped: I got an eyeful, and my subconscious stored away a maximum load of anger, which (when the time came) would give me enthusiasm for whatever violence I might commit and even lend it a certain legitimacy. [...] I was a Bedouin, and no Bedouin can come to terms with an offense unless blood is spilled. Sayed must have lost sight of that constant, inflexible rule, which has survived through ages and generations; his city life and his mysterious peregrinations had surely taken him far from the tribal soul of Kafr Karam (SB 198, my emphases). Most statements about Sayed are mere speculations and are tinged by the narrator’s perception and his conclusion from described actions and events. Whereas many accusations the protagonist utters seem to be based on specific disillusioning experience with American soldiers, Sayed’s argumentation clearly spaces out into the construction of binaries that are one-dimensional and stereotypical: ‘Our streets are going to witness the greatest duel of all time, the clash of the titans: Babylon against Disneyland, the Tower of Babel against the Empire State Building, the Hanging Gardens against the Golden Gate Bridge, Scheherazade against Bonnie Parker, Sindbad against the Terminator...’ (SB 176). This construction of binaries not only causes a comic effect (similar to the effects created by Kureishi with respect to the satirised sermons of brother Riaz), but also mixes old (sometimes even biblical) imagery with modern, capitalist symbols. It is remarkable that the character contrasts Western symbols with Eastern symbols that do not necessarily possess a positive connotation. The Hanging Gardens are one of the seven world wonders. But in the Revelation of St. John, Babylon signifies a place of decadence and sin. The renowned story of the Tower of Babel pertaining to the Old Testament refers to the arrogance and ambition of human beings, who built a tower so high that it was seen as an attempt to rival God and therefore punished by confusion of languages and the worldwide dissipation of peoples. The passage also features a strange mixture of real people (such as Bonnie Parker from the famous American criminal couple Bonnie and Clyde), mythological figures (such as Sheherazade and Sindbad from Arabian Nights) and contemporary pop cultural icons (such as the android ‘Terminator’ from the eponymous 1984 science-fiction movie by James Cameron). Hearing the rantings of the fundamentalist leaders, the protagonist feels “surrounded by mediocre actors who’d learned their roles but didn’t have the talent the text deserved” (SB 176). Passages like this one indicate that the main character seems to look behind the ‘farce’ of these views, but he still clings to the group of Islamic fundamentalists in his desperate search for action. Only towards the end of the novel does the reader get a little glimpse of the psyche of Sayed, who is presented as rather one-dimensional, flat character for most parts of the text. However, talking to the narrator about the planned attack, he suddenly appears human and vulnerable for the first time in the story: 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 277 [‘] Please don’t think there’s any pressure on you [...] If you felt cheated or trapped, I wouldn’t forgive myself. [...] I’m not afraid of dying, but our deaths have to mean something. They have to change our situation. [...] I don’t want our children to suffer. [’ ...] His face is deathly pale, and his eyes shimmer with furious tears. ‘If you could see Baghdad – if you could see what it’s become: ruined sanctuaries, mosques at war with one another, fratricidal slaughter. [...] We call for calm and no one listens. It’s true that we were hostages back when Saddam was in power. But, good God! Now we’re zombies. [...] You’re our only recourse, our last-ditch stand. If you succeed, you’ll put things back in their proper order, and a new day will dawn for us [’] (SB 265-267). As this quote shows, Khadra does not leave anything in the novel without ambiguity and shows us that there are always two sides to every question. He does not qualify the negative picture of fundamentalist ideologies, but an indelible love for human beings and an empathy with their suffering and fear always shines through. Consequently, we are at times misled by appearances and the protagonist’s subjective assumptions. Hussein is another good example for this play with our expectations. He remains rather silent and unobtrusive at the beginning and is described as “nice guy, but a bit slow on the uptake” (SB 203) with “something broken in his mind” (SB 203). Only towards the end does he reveal to the narrator the reasons for his behaviour: [‘] I caught the laughing bug watching that simpleton Adel get all frazzled because he couldn’t find the button to blow himself up. [...] At that moment, I was in a panic. And when the cops fired on him and he exploded, it was as if I disintegrated along with him. He was someone I really liked. He grew up on our patio. I sincerely mourned him, but then the mourning was over, and now, whenever I picture him stabbing at his explosive belt and cursing, I burst out laughing. It was so insane...but that doesn’t make me a nutcase. I can count on my fingers, and I can tell what’s right and wrong. [...] Our cause is just, but we’re defending it very badly. If I laugh from time to time, maybe that’s the reason why. [...] What’s going on makes no sense. Killing, killing, and more killing. Day and night. On the squares, in the mosques. Nobody knows who’s who anymore, and everyone has it in for everyone else [’] (SB 210-211). Without any guiding comments of the narrator and against his attempts at discounting Hussein’s claims, the reader now comes to see the character in a new light. With this strategy our expectations are belied in that we suddenly realise that the narratorial viewpoint led us to underestimate Hussein’s mental capacity and strength of judgment. Alleged madness turns into clear-sightedness, as in the case of Sayed alleged rationality turns into blind madness and in the end again into desperate human motives, which may not justify the enormity of the planned attack or make him a sympathetic character but still serve to make Sayed all too human. Just as the reader is manipulated into gaining ambiguous attitudes towards the topic, the novel also addresses the contradictory stances of civilians to armed jihad. Not only are they described as suffering from the attacks that hit them as badly as the invaders. Many of them also despise and hate the people who set themselves up as judges. The man who reports Sayed’s cell to the police cries out disdainfully to the Islamist Salah, who killed his brother: ‘You think I want to be saved by hoodlums like you? I’d rather die! [...] You consider yourselves fedayeen,’ he panted. ‘But you’re nothing but murderers. Vandals, Child-killers. I’m not afraid of you. Do what you want with me, you won’t change my mind. I think you’re a 5) Analyses 278 pack of mad dogs. Criminals, heathens, head cases. I loathe you! [...] That’s all you’re good for, shooting someone from behind and running like a rabbit. And afterward, you think you’re a hero and you swagger around the square. If Iraq has to be defended by spineless cowards like you, I’d rather let it go to the fucking dogs’ (SB 230-232). The novel strives to clarify that there are no clear-cut battle lines in this conflict. Many innocent citizens are caught in the middle without the power to make their voices heard or put a stop to the violence and injustice committed by both sides. The reaction of the addressed Muslim fundamentalist to this suffering person shows neither mercy nor pity or the slightest respect for the man’s courage. He is presented as coldhearted and vindictive, knowing no philanthropy. “I want him to die slowly, bit by bit” (SB 232), he orders. There are many hints at the gang-like criminal organisation of Sayed’s cell. Regardless of their common cause, Sayed despises the intrusion of other jihadist groups and endeavours to defend “their territory [...against the] unknown rivals” (SB 201), which is more reminiscent of gang warfare than of religious groups. As a result, we can assess that the sole claim of the Islamic fundamentalists in The Sirens of Baghdad is presented as politically and personally motivated – not religiously. As has been mentioned, the cruelties and collateral damage suffered by the American invasion as well as the cultural concepts of honour, shame and revenge are described as powerful driving forces of armed resistance and jihad. A third reason for fundamentalist radicalisation Khadra discusses is an enchantment with Western politics and the feeling of exclusion from the West. Jalal’s story introduces the dimension of migration, diaspora and assimilation that is so elaborately discussed by Hamid and Kureishi. Despite his attempts at assimilation and his outstanding achievements in Western academia, Jalal has the feeling that he was never fully accepted at eye-level and just promoted as long as he served to propagate Western political attitudes and opinions. He complains: [‘] The West loves only itself and thinks only of itself. It throws us a line so it can use us as bait. It manipulates us and sets us against our own people, and then, when it’s through with us, it files us away in its secret drawers and forgets us. [...] The West will never acknowledge our merits. As far as Westerners are concerned, Arabs are only good for kicking soccer balls or wailing into microphones. The more we prove the contrary, the less they’re willing to admit it [’] (SB 9-10). Considering Jalal’s lifestyle, ethics and background, his judgment of the West is not based on a moral or religious verdict, but on a relationship of disappointed love and hopes which bears strong parallels to Hamid’s and Kureishi’s works. Khadra draws on the topic of multicultural societies in ‘Western’ countries and their downturns such as racism and an insurmountable glass-ceiling that cannot be overcome by immigrants – no matter how intellectual, successful and assimilated they might be. The search for one’s identity and quest for belonging and recognition is the topic which is truly at the heart of Kureishi’s The Black Album and Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It is remarkable that Khadra also broaches this issue even though the plot is set in Iraq and not in a migrant context. Like Hamid, the author sketches the disenchantment of well-educated young people, who suffer from a lack of prospects in their own country, 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 279 with an ideal that promised them a better life but left them even more disoriented and unsuccessful: ‘Others before us have learned this lesson, to their cost,’ he continues, his voice filled with chagrin. ‘They thought they’d find a homeland for their knowledge and fertile soil for their ambitions in Europe. And when they saw they weren’t welcome, for some stupid reason they decided just to hold on as well as they could. Since they subscribed to Western values, they took for granted the ideals of people whispered in their ears: freedom of expression, human rights, equality, justice. Bright, shining words – but how many of our geniuses have been successful? Most of them die with rage in their hearts. I’m sure regret still gnaws at them in the grave. It’s clear that they strove and struggled for nothing. Their Western colleagues were never going to allow them to achieve recognition. True racism has always been intellectual. Segregation begins as soon as one of our books is opened. [...] The West is nothing but an acidic lie, an insidious perversity, a siren song for people shipwrecked on their identity quest [...]’ (SB 10). Jalal has come to be disappointed by the supposed double-standards of the West. At first attracted by liberal values and ideas about justice and equality, he was disappointed by empty promises and the lack of real acceptance in Western society. This experience leads Jalal to the conviction that “peaceful coexistence is no longer possible [...] and we won’t put up with their arrogance anymore” (SB 11). It is striking that his endorsement of jihad seems primarily personally motivated by wounded pride and a sense of exclusion. He describes how after the murder of a Dutch filmmaker by a Muslim158 he sees that the people he supports suddenly distrust him – a scene which bears strong parallels to the situation of Mohsin Hamid’s protagonist after 9/11: [‘] I was no longer Dr. Jalal, their ally, the man who defended their values and what they thought of as democracy. [...] In their eyes, I was only an Arab, the spitting image of the Arab who murdered the filmmaker. They had changed radically, those pioneers of modernity, the most tolerant and emancipated people in Europe. There they were, displaying their racism like a trophy. As far as they were concerned, from that point on, all Arabs were terrorists, and what was I? Dr. Jalal, the sworn enemy of the fundamentalists, the target of fatwas, who worked his ass off for them – what was I? In their eyes, I was a traitor to my nation, which made me doubly contemptible. And that’s when I experienced a kind of illumination. I realized what a dupe I’d been, and I especially realized where my true place was. And so I packed my bags and returned to my people’ (SB 254-255). In Jalal’s case no political, religious or cultural differences or the repercussions of Western economic policies on Arabic countries are presented as justification for a turn towards Islamic fundamentalist ideas. However, his case illuminates the challenges of multiculturalist societies and the downturns of exclusionist identity politics. The political and the private sphere blur into each other with loyalty, love and national pride as different sides of the same medal. Just as Hamid, Khadra literally addresses disappointed love as one of the cruxes in inter-cultural relations. “The West doesn’t 158 This incident probably refers to the murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004 by the Dutch-Moroccan radical Muslim Mohammed Bouyeri. Van Gogh was a fervent critic of a multicultural society and had produced the film Submission (based on the writings of Ayaan Hirsi Ali), which criticised the oppression of women in Islam. 5) Analyses 280 love us [”], Jalal says; “It will never carry you in its heart, because it doesn’t have one, and it will never exalt you, because it looks down on you [...]” (SB 279). A war against “dim-witted cowboys”159: Bedouin traditions vs. U.S. politics In addition to the description of the major motives of the protagonist for his turn to violence, Khadra also pays particular attention to the tensions between the two cultures meeting on the battlefield. A positive depiction of the American troops is not only undermined by actions and dialogues, but the sympathy of the reader is also directed by various references to Bedouin cultural values which are presented in stark contrast to the ethically questionable behaviour of US-American soldiers. However, Khadra paints no one-dimensional picture and is far from idealising the traditions he knows very well from his own socialisation and upbringing. In The Sirens of Baghdad tensions do not only shape inter-cultural relationships, but extend to the inner-cultural dimension. The protagonist underlines the vast discrepancies between Iraq and Western countries but increasingly also within the country itself: between Sunnis and Shiites and their respective political loyalties, between traditional and more secular, adverse lifestyles, between rural and urban areas and different stages of development. Bedouin culture is presented as possessing various positive features that are slowly destroyed by the war. Nevertheless, both U.S. American capitalism and sense of mission and Bedouin traditions are described as essentialist systems, which in the long run destroy the free will and wellbeing of the individual. Prior to an analysis of the ways in which The Sirens of Baghad presents a critique of Western – especially U.S. American – politics, a closer look at inner-cultural conflicts and the representation of Bedouin culture will facilitate a more diversified examination of the conflicts the novel describes. First of all, conflicts between different factions of Islam seem to separate the Iraqi population. During the protagonist’s surreal journey through the desert to Baghdad, it is briefly mentioned that he passes Shiite houses with black flags on the roof which are supposed to indicate that “the residents wished to distance themselves from the doings of the Sunnis and to line up on the side of those who were burning incense to the new regime” (SB 119). Here, a religious divide leads to a political one, which is, however, not outlined in detail. Second, the life in the countryside differs to a considerable extent from life in the war-torn cities. Khadra paints a vivid picture of the countryside, which seems to be deeply influenced by rural Bedouin traditions that represent pride and stability but also economic and educational underdevelopment. The hero’s place of origin, Kafr Karam, a little town in the Iraqi desert, is described as “miserable, ugly, backward town” (11), where people live in some sort of “autistic happiness” (SB 48) in the middle of an endless plain of “emptiness” (SB 51). Old Bedouin traditions and rules of conduct seem to have survived over centuries, which leaves the impression of a rather static moral and political system that is not very open to change and reform. Due to 5.4.2) 159 SB 127. 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 281 their cultural ignorance, the American invaders display arrogance and perceive this system (and Iraq on the whole) as rather anti-modern and the people as poor and oppressed. Thus, they destroy cultural systems that have been intact for hundreds of years. Reminiscing about his hometown Kafr Karam the protagonist realises: We were poor, common people, but we were at peace. Until the day when our privacy was violated, our taboos broken, our dignity dragged through mud and gore...until the day when brutes festooned with grenades and handcuffs burst into the gardens of Babylon, come to teach poets how to be free men... (SB 12). The quote exemplifies several things: It expresses that the people in Kafr Karam led a dignified and relatively happy life before the invasion. They adapted to the circumstances and were able to continue living according to their old traditions. ‘Peace’, ‘dignity’ and ‘poets’ are contraposed by ‘brutes’, ‘grenades’ and ‘handcuffs’, thus inverting stereotypical notions of ‘civilisation’ and ‘savagery’. Not the people in Kafr Karam are presented as backwards but the invaders, who destroy everything they do not understand and bring enslavement, devastation and terror while promising freedom and liberation. Their claim to give education and freedom to other people is shown to be self-righteous, since the Bedouin people already possess knowledge and culture – just of a different kind. They are pictured as simple people but as proud and content with their former way of life. Furthermore, the notion of ‘the gardens of Babylon’160 and ‘poets’161 alludes to a long and rich cultural tradition. The musings of the protagonist allude to a past characterised by sophistication in the realms of science, culture and arts, which is contrasted by the invaders’ supposed barbarity. Propriety and respect are presented as central values in Bedouin society (cf. SB 38, 43). Individualism and a violation of tribal codes seem possible but are shunned and sanctioned. Even characters such as Omar the Corporal, who are punished by societal isolation for a breach of traditional norms, still retain their sense of pride and dignity when it comes to the treatment of other people. Despite his apparent lack of religious faith and his disregard of conventions, Omar still believes in his duties towards family members and his pride, which rouses the readers’ sympathy for the character. He offers refuge to the protagonist: “You’re staying with me until you can stand on your own two feet. [...] I have a lot of faults, I surely do – no way I’m getting into paradise – but I have my pride [...]” (SB 165). Notwithstanding, traditional virtues are also described as inhibiting people from pursuing their economic interests, which becomes a severe problem in times of war and crises, when supplies are short. It is outlined that the people from Kafr Karam are 160 The Hanging Gardens of Babylon (supposedly built around 600 B.C. by King Nebuchadnezzar II.) are regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The gardens are said to have been the result of great engineering skills and cultural sophistication. However, the scientific controversy surrounding the question whether the gardens really existed or were just a figment of poetic imagination has not been settled till the present day. 161 As Abu-Lughod (1985: 245-261) outlines, poetry is a powerful tool in Bedouin societies to express emotions of sadness, loss and vulnerability, which have to be hidden in normal social interactions due to the strict code of honour and moral conduct. 5) Analyses 282 too pious to search for their luck in the cities, which are perceived as too corrupted. Along these lines, virtue is even regarded as more important than life: They all dreamed of finding a job that would allow them to hold their heads high. But times were hard; wars and the embargo had brought the country to its knees, and the young people of our village were too pious to venture into the big cities, where their ancestral blessing had no jurisdiction, and where the devil was at work, nimbly perverting souls. In Kafr Karam, we had nothing to do with that sort of thing. Our people think it’s better to die than to sink into vice or thievery. [...] We’re honest by vocation (SB 18). This honesty and endeavour to lead a virtuous life, however, do not hinder the people in Kafr Karam from accepting money from the people like the protagonist’s sister who did see the necessity to go to the city to get a good education and to earn a decent living. In this respect, the strength and tenderness of Khadra’s female characters stands in visible contrast to the weakness and brutality of most male figures. Regarding the role of women in society, Khadra’s novel presents a wide range of different lifestyles, indicating the role of the individual and her strength to emancipate herself from patriarchal traditions. The protagonist’s twin sister Bahia is presented as a strong and caring character. However, she had to leave school at the age of 16 and had to stay at home after the premature death of her fiancé. His sister Aisha had married a rich man but left her husband and returned to her own family, since she was unwilling to stand any more abuse by her parents-in-law. His sister Alaf lives shut up at home and did not get any education just because of a genetic deficiency that prevents her from growing hair. A fourth sister, Farah, on the other hand, managed to assert herself against her family and the people of the village, surmounted the traditional role of women in society and studied at university to become a doctor. She financially supports her family but is described as “a rebel and a fighter, the only girl from Kafr Karam who’d ever dared to violate the rules of the tribe and do exactly what she wanted to do” (SB 137). Thus, the protagonist’s sisters exemplify different levels of female visibility and emancipation in Iraqi society. Whereas Alaf is always at home, without prospects and nearly invisible, Farah is independent and emancipated. She is described as one of the last doctors staying in her hospital to care for the wounded and mutilated, despite the danger and the lack of payment for her work in times of war. Still, the protagonist reproaches her when he finds out that she lives with a partner without being married: ‘You live with a man? You live in sin?’ She gave me a dry look. ‘What’s sin, little brother?’ ‘You don’t have the right. It’s ...it’s forbidden by, by...Look, have you gone mad? You have a family. Do you ever think about your family? About its honor? About yours? You are – you can’t live in sin, not you....’ ‘I don’t live in sin; I live my life.’ ‘You don’t believe in God anymore?’ ‘I believe in what I do, and that’s enough for me’ (SB 139-140). Surprisingly, the protagonist appeals to the religious concept of sin, even though he has not made a single remark about religious belief before. Again, concepts like sin and honour seem to be primarily culturally connoted. Most grievances endured by the characters in the novel (such as the ramifications of arranged marriages), are socio-culturally rather than religiously determined, with stricter rules for women than for men. 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 283 Queder describes how Bedouin women are often subject to a twofold marginalisation: They are ethnically marginalised as Bedouin minority in the state they live in and they are subject to gender-related discrimination as women in a patriarchal tribal system (Queder 2007: 162). Women are supposed to marry within the limits of the tribe for the sake of communal interests, not personal choice. Loyalty to the group is a central element of Bedouin culture and a deviation from these cultural codes supposedly weakens the power and honour of the whole group. Queder’s study, which involves interviews with three generations of Bedouin women in Israel, reveals changing attitudes and a growing wish for self-determination among younger women who are mostly better educated and enjoy more prospects on the labour market than their mothers and grandmothers. However, the study also finds that resistance is usually rather expressed in language than in action – complete breaks with societal norms are rather rare and often punished by an exclusion from the family. Especially the third generation is described as having developed a “hyrid identity”, torn between tradition and emancipation, or “their wish for autonomy and belonging” (Queder 2007: 183). The majority of Bedouin women seem to question the validity of the social order but still operate within its bonds. The representation of the protagonist’s sister Farah, thus, represents a very high degree of emancipation that defies many traditional views on women – from her education and financial independence to her choice to live with a partner she chooses without marriage.162 For these violations of Bedouin rules the protagonist renounces his elder sister without even inquiring about the nature of her relationship: She was nothing but a succubus, a whore, and she had no more place in my life. In our ancestral tradition, when a relative went astray, that person was systematically banished from the community. When the sinner was a woman, she was rejected all the more swiftly (SB 141). The positive picture of the main character becomes increasingly doubtful for the reader from a ‘Western’ point of view as his inner transformation after the three traumatising events advances. Not only are the words he uses, like ‘whore’ and ‘succubus’,163 extremely harsh and derogatory, but the protagonist also shows a considerable amount of self-righteousness setting himself up as judge of his sister. She has been supporting him financially for years and saves lives every day, while he, in contrast, was not even able to administer first aid at the bombing of the wedding. On the whole, his sisters are presented as strong characters, which may cause the reader to feel sorry for their subordinate position in Bedouin society. 162 For more detailed insights into the role of women in Arab societies and practices of honour-related violence see Odeh (2010) and Piety (2015). 163 The word ‘succubus’ stands for a female demon that causes nightmares and seduces men in their sleep when they cannot defend themselves. Sinful erotic dreams and nightly ejaculations were often blamed on the visits of succubi. The trope can be found in Christian and Jewish mythology, but there are also pagan variations in many countries and regions of the world. In this context, the use of the insult ‘succubus’ highlights the imposition of responsibility for immoral, sexual behaviour on women. 5) Analyses 284 Khadra renders a nuanced picture of Bedouin society and the different lifestyles and coping mechanisms employed by its members. As everything else in the novel, the culture is described as having positive and negative sides. The Bedouin way of life was hard but possible in peaceful times, but during war with increasing poverty, unemployment and supply shortages it poses a serious threat to the community. The tribal system is sketched as anachronistic compared to Western economic standards, which, however, implies a judgement from a clearly subjective Western point of view. The tribal system is a closed system shut up from the rest of the world (with most of its members related by blood) that has its own system of unofficial jurisdiction. Within this system corruption is addressed as a serious problem, which gives the criticism of Western capitalist greed a rather ironic tinge. Nepotism is described as permeating every sphere of life and all official channels: Getting your palm greased was the primary vocation of each and every functionary in the service of the state, particularly those in the security forces. This ingrained practice was an inheritance from the former regime and continued to flourish under the occupation, facilitated by the confusion and the galloping impoverishment that reigned in the country, where villainous kidnappings, bribes, embezzlements, and extortions were the order of the day (SB 188-189). It is striking that the criticism in various parts of the novel is not directed at Western global politics or Western influence as such, but at the reaction of the protagonist’s own people to outer influences. It is a condemnation of inner weakness, reckless profit seeking at the expense of moral and political integrity as well as the employment of blatant moral double standards. The protagonist passes deserted military positions, which the local resistance has left before the enemy even arrived. When he waits for a bus to Baghdad, another man is terribly beaten up by thieves right before the eyes of everyone – no one comes to the victim’s aid (cf. SB 131). This inner weakness, opportunism and cowardice contribute much to the feeling of helplessness and the determination of the protagonist to fulfil his tribal ‘duties’. These double standards, however, are highlighted with respect to both sides and also criticised by a Bedouin elder concerning the American invasion of Iraq: ‘Why do you think they’re here, the Americans?’ the Falcon went on obstinately. ‘Is it Christian charity? They’re businessmen, we’re commodities, and they’re ready to trade. Yesterday, it was oil for food. Today, it’s Saddam for oil. And what do we get out of all this? If the Americans had an ounce of human kindness, they wouldn’t treat their blacks and their Latinos like subhumans. Instead of crossing oceans to come to the aid of some poor, emasculated ragheads, they’d do better to put their own house in order. They could do something about the Indians they’ve got rotting away on their reservations, kept out of sight like people with some shameful disease’ (SB 33). The hint at the abiding racism and social inequality in the US is also expressed in the nickname ‘sand niggers’ (cf. SB 126) the American soldiers use for their Iraqi collaborators. From an Iraqi point of view, the American acceptance of the ‘collateral damage’ and the disrespect for other people and cultures is incompatible with their system of values. Similarly, from a Western point of view, concepts of shame and blood revenge are incompatible with notions of human rights and individual autonomy. According 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 285 to the majority view in democratic societies, injustices have to be set right by judges and courts, not by individuals. This perception of justice, however, clashes with the cultural values of the Bedouin society: For Bedouin, no matter how impoverished they may be, honor is no joking matter. An offense must be washed away in blood, which is the sole authorized detergent when it’s a question of keeping one’s self-respect. I was the only boy in my family. Since my father was an invalid, the supreme task of avenging the outrage he’d suffered fell to me, even at the cost of my life. Dignity can’t be negotiated. Should we lose it, all the shrouds in the world won’t suffice to veil our faces, and no tomb will receive our carcasses without cracking (SB 133). Pride seems to be a concept that is very prone to trigger violence and revenge and becomes easily exploited by warmongers. For some characters (such as the hotspur Yaseen) the concept of honour and pride also seems to function as a cultural surrogate for education and political or economic prosperity. Feeling insulted by Sayed’s intellectual superiority, he retorts: “I can’t stand being talked down to, and nobody – nobody – is going to make a fool of me. I may not have enough education, but I’ve got pride to spare” (SB 66). Whereas others seem to be stuck in apathy and inaction, some of the young people like Yaseen resort to ignorant but aggressive zeal. “They stare at their navels; you stare at your biceps. It comes to the same thing” (SB 67), Sayed counters: “If you really think what you say, translate talk into action and make those goddamned Americans pay for what they’ve done. If not, calm down and back off’ (SB 67). On a related note, the actions of the American occupiers are also described as impulsive, and notions of a supposedly more civilised and advanced ‘Western’ culture are fundamentally questioned. As I will briefly outline in the following passages, the American soldiers stand for a view of Western liberalism which destroys liberty, freedom, dignity and culture instead of promoting these ideals. The GIs seem to lack religious as well as humanist ideals. They remain roughly sketched figures who are never fully developed or described in more detail, due to the focus of perception and the protagonist’s lack of knowledge about and insight into the views and feelings of ‘the enemy’. They seem to serve as mere symbols of human weaknesses and frailties: of brutality, cultural ignorance and arrogance. The scene of Sulayman’s execution by the American GI, for instance, serves to highlight war as a force which inevitably brutalises men. Aggression against another culture which is perceived as alien and threatening is aggravated by the blunted affect caused by the daily sight of violence and death. Not only the event itself but also the indifference with which it is rejected with a shrug as a deplorable accident might shock the reader: Apparently, they all realized that a mistake had been made, but they weren’t going to make a big deal of it. Incidents of this kind were commonplace in Iraq. Amid the general confusion, everyone sought his own advantage. To err is human, and fate has broad shoulders. The black GI [...] put on a sorrowful expression – a vain effort, as far as I was concerned, because his new, compassionate persona seemed incompatible with his temperament. A brute is still a brute, even when he smiles; the eyes are where the soul declares its true nature (SB 59). 5) Analyses 286 This brutality is also depicted as one reason for the disillusionment with God and the salvaging force of religion. Hinting at events such as the Abu Ghraib torture scandal in 2004, a young Bedouin challenges his pals: [‘] We’re at the dawn of the third millennium, and some foreign sons of bitches are here in our land, dragging us in the mud every day God sends. Iraq is occupied, my friend. [...] What’s the TV telling you? [...] Infidels subjugating Muslims, demeaning their leaders, throwing their heroes into cages where sluts in fatigues pull their ears and their testicles and pose for posterity. What’s God waiting for, you think, before He falls on them? They’ve been here for some time now, mocking Him where He lives, in His sacred temples and in the hearts of His faithful. Why doesn’t He flick His little finger, when those bastards are strafing our souks and bombing our celebrations and shooting our people down like dogs on every street corner? [...] I’m just back from Baghdad. I’ll spare you the details. We’re alone in the world. We can count on no one but ourselves. [...] The night, all night, every night, belongs to them. And in the day, when I raise my eyes to heaven to implore Him, I can’t see anything except their helicopters [...]’ (SB 77-78). The scene exemplifies how political developments do not necessarily deepen religious feelings and therewith fundamentalist Islamist beliefs. Some characters see themselves as tools of God’s wrath. Others, on the contrary, are shown to be so disappointed and desperate that they turn away from God and resort to violence, precisely because they lost their trust in God’s mercy and see attacks as a means of necessary selfdefence and last resort. Tensions are exacerbated by the “silences and submissions accumulated through many years and various despotic regimes [...which finally rise] like drowned corpses from a muddy river bottom” (SB 84). Khadra describes many brutal war scenes in detail without giving the reader an insight into the thoughts, feelings and opinions of the American invaders. An Iraqi interpreter previously working for the American troops particularly deplores their arrogance and lack of knowledge about and respect for the other culture: ‘They think all Arabs are retarded,’ he muttered. ‘Imagine: Arabs, the most fabulous creatures on earth. We taught the world table manners; we taught the world hygiene and cooking and mathematics and medicine. And what do these degenerates of modernity remember of all that? A camel caravan crossing the dunes at sunset? Some fat guy in a white robe and a keffiyeh flashing his millions in a gambling casino on the Côte D’Azur? Clichés, caricatures...’ (SB 128). The painful feelings of the protagonist about the difference between a glorious past and a present which is dominated by foreign domination and condescension are reminiscent of Hamid’s protagonist’s longing for the lost past of Lahore. The lack of knowledge about his culture in other countries as well as the exploitation of stereotypical pictures and the ‘commodification of culture’ for the tourism industry enrage him. The interpreter not only blames the American troops for their condescending behaviour but also for their double standards: ‘Eight months putting up with their arrogance and their idiotic sarcasm. [...] The truth is, they don’t have any more scruples than a pack of hyenas let loose in a sheep barn. I’ve seen them fire on children and old people as though they were cardboard training targets. [...] I have nightmares every night. I was an interpreter with a regular army battalion – angels compared to the Marines – but it was still pretty hard to take. Plus, they got their kicks making fun of me and treating me like shit. As far as they were concerned, I was just a 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 287 traitor to my country. It took me eight months to realize that. [...] Even if I’m on the losing side, I’m worth more than that’ (SB 127). Even though he helps the American troops and is of use to them, they never accept him but also see him as a traitor. Similar to the experience described in the novels by Kureishi and Hamid, people of different colour, origin and religion are never fully accepted and regarded as equal in Western society – no matter which efforts they make. Furthermore, the reference to ‘cardboard training targets’ as well as the above-mentioned reference to “sluts in fatigues” hints at the occurrence of war crimes. In the years following the invasion in 2003 various human rights violations were revealed. In the Abu Ghraib prison Iraqi detainees were tortured, physically and sexually abused, raped and murdered. The pictures of Charles Graner and Lynndie England posing with naked, humiliated and tortured prisoners spread around the globe in no time. The torture practices reported from Abu Ghraib but also from other secret detention centres in Iraq and Afghanistan represented a grave violation of the UN Convention against Torture and international law. Especially the sexualised nature of many acts of torture perfidiously aimed at humiliating and demoralising a Muslim population with strict rules of propriety and sexual modesty. The reports not only damaged the reputation of American politics in other countries but also served to erode the support for US military interventions in the United States itself. Some of the executive soldiers like England were later on interrogated, reduced in rank and sentenced to terms of imprisonment. Many critics, however, saw this as diversionary tactic, because no politicians and high-ranking military officials who actually were responsible for the practice were punished, and the American military tactics and invasion of Iraq was not questioned.164 On the whole, The Sirens of Baghdad features not one positive encounter between people from Iraq and the United States. This, however, makes the wide range of Iraqi reactions from aggression to thoughtfulness even more remarkable and rouses admiration for more nuanced views and humanist approaches. Despite the ignorance, arrogance and violence of the invaders there are still characters, like Omar, who try to be decent and underline the difference between just retribution and blind revenge. He warns the protagonist: ‘If you insist on fighting, do it properly. Fight for your country, not against the whole world. Keep things in perspective; don’t mistake wrong for right. Don’t kill just for killing’s 164 Many authors on the Abu Ghraib torture scandal underline the symbolic dimension of the pictures as an attempt to show mastery and regain power after the severe humiliation of 09/11 (e.g. Tétreault 2006). Pugliese, for instance, sees the human rights violations in line with a long history of Orientalist, white supremacist claims (Pugliese 2007). Thus, one could argue that “the Abu Ghraib photographs are more about dominance established through the staging of trauma than the extraction of truth” (Hesford 2006: 30). Many critics examined that the human rights violations at Abu Ghraib and in other places were not the sole excesses of individual sadism, but that they were sanctioned by the community, or the military and political leadership. Thus, they can be seen as an inherently political act (Apel 2005: 89) and as “cases of administrative evil” (Adams/Balfour/Reed 2006: 680) which are systemic to the political and military strategy of the United States in its ‘war on terrorism’ (Hooks/Mosher 2005). For an interesting account of how torture is used in conflicts to secure legitimacy for elites and deter political opposition, see Blakely (2007). 5) Analyses 288 sake. Don’t fire blindly – we’re losing more innocent people than bastards who deserve to die. [...] The world isn’t our enemy. Remember all the people who protested the invasion all over the world, millions of them marching in Madrid, Rome, Paris, Tokyo, South America, Asia. All of them were on our side, and they still are. We got more support from them than we got from the other Arab countries. Don’t forget that. All nations are victims of the avarice of a handful of multinational companies. It would be terrible to lump them all together. Kidnapping journalists, executing NGO workers who are here only to help us – those kinds of things are alien to our customs. If you want to avenge an offense, don’t commit one. If you think your honor must be saved, don’t dishonor your people. Don’t give way to madness. If I see pictures of you mistaking arbitrary execution for a feat of arms, I’ll hang myself ’ (SB 182-183). This crucial passage underlines several important points. First, it serves to rouse sympathy for the character of Omar and his sense of justice and mercy – even towards the enemy. He shows consideration and a nuanced assessment of the divides within every society. Second, it constitutes one of the scarce references to the international economic system and the role of capitalism. And thirdly, it underlines that jihad is clearly seen here from a cultural and not a religious point of view. Random violence against innocent people is presented as alien to Bedouin customs and is therefore ignominious. Whereas the protagonist plans to embrace armed jihad to actually satisfy a cultural obligation, Omar outlines that the result would achieve the opposite of a reestablishment of family honour. The mixture of religious and cultural/social concepts is presented as hazardous for all parties concerned. Ironically, the narrator later on participates in the transport of a hostage who is “a European woman, a member of an NGO, kidnapped from the clinic where she worked as a physician” (SB 205), and thereby violates exactly the humanist norms Omar appeals to so urgently. Furthermore, after a raid he accidentally discloses Omar’s address to his cell, which results in his friend’s brutal assassination when the fundamentalists find him asleep in bed with his male lover. At this point the protagonist begins to understand that his involvement with jihad cuts him off from God: “Baghdad had turned away everything, even its prayers. And as for me, I no longer recognized myself in mine. [...] What have I done? Almighty God! How will Omar ever forgive me?” (SB 233, original emphasis). The last exclamation is also the first instance of autonomous interior monologue, in which word and deed temporally coincide. This accounts for a lot of emotional intensity and the feeling of immediacy. As has been outlined in this chapter, Khadra makes use of relationships of contrast and correspondence to shed light on different groups and their approaches to the topic. But despite the outlined rigidity of cultural systems, the author does not use binary oppositions as Kureishi does in The Black Album. The reader gets only one perspective but becomes acquainted with many different characters and world-views, which are difficult to reconcile. In contrast to The Black Album, The Sirens of Bagdad establishes more nuanced characters: They have virtues and vices, justified claims and blind spots, amiable qualities and character flaws. Exceptions from this tendency are, however, the characters that remain unfamiliar to the reader and are presented in a particularly negative light. This holds especially true for the American soldiers, with whom the protagonist cannot even communicate. Due to his lack of insight into their 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 289 feelings, thoughts and worldview, they appear one-dimensional and remain elusive to us. This does not necessarily imply a devaluation of their position but still inhibits the reader from identifying with these characters or feeling sympathy for their situation. The novel primarily focuses on divides within Iraqi society. The representatives of ‘Western liberalism’ remain anonymous throughout the whole novel. By exclusively focusing on an Iraqi perspective, Khadra endeavours to give people, whom he perceives to be powerless and defenceless, a voice. He thereby adopts a perspective that differs from the common focus on American perceptions in the media: All my literature takes place in that space – it deals with that which has not been attended to. […] I have written a Western tragedy, but also a book that is filled with eastern storytelling. When there are two perspectives there’s a better chance of understanding (Jeffries 2005: n.p.). The author strives to create empathy for the plight of the Iraqi people. This, however, does not imply an imbalanced representation. Khadra’s novels are always ambivalent and nuanced, defying stereotypical representations. The American ‘antagonists’ remain as elusive and silent as the protagonist’s (also unnamed) father, who represents old Bedouin traditions, patriarchy and hierarchical societal structures. We are neither invited to understand his mindset nor are we guided to identify with liberal, Western ideas, which are never mentioned in detail. These factors set up a contrast between flat and round characters, which is central for influencing the readers’ sympathy. The hero is a dynamic character who changes and grows. He is complex, multidimensional and consistent, bearing no real contradictions. Furthermore, it is interesting to see that the central character is mainly defined by his feelings, not his actions. Similarly, Dr. Jalal, Omar and Kadem are also presented as round and dynamic characters who are primarily defined by their emotions. The characters representing Bedouin tradition and/or Islamic fundamentalism, on the other hand, tend to be rather static, simple and one-dimensional. About Yaseen, Hassan or the narrator’s father we can only draw conclusions from their actions, which creates a qualitative imbalance in the direction of sympathy to the detriment of these figures. As we have seen, the same strategy is employed for the depiction of the American GIs. No worldview which possesses an essentialist quality and denies the worth and free choice of the individual is presented as a credible alternative. The novel features many different nuances, and lines of conflict cannot be clearly demarcated. The main antagonisms develop not simply between Islamic fundamentalism and Western liberal views but between urban and rural areas, elders and younger people who start emancipating themselves from traditions and hierarchies, between thoughtful, peace-loving and disoriented, hot-headed individuals. As Naudillon notes, Khadra “n’a cessé, sa vie durant, de combattre des deux plus difficiles ennemis de l’humanité: l’ignorance et le colonialisme d’autrefois” (Naudillon 2002: 166).165 The author exposes the short-sightedness, ignorance and hatred of many peo- 165 Khadra “has continued throughout his life, to fight the two toughest enemies of humanity: ignorance and former colonialism” (my translation). 5) Analyses 290 ple in political conflicts: But it is always the ignorance of individuals – not that of groups. The protagonist’s turn to fundamentalist ideas Having outlined the main plotlines and major turning points, I will now grant the figure of the protagonist a closer examination. Given the fact that Khadra uses an autodiegetic narrator, it is interesting to analyse in which ways his text differs from the novels by Kureishi or Faulks and their use of extradiegetic narrators. The first case in point differing according to the chosen point of view is the characterisation of the protagonist. The emotional quality of the novel and the immediacy of perception is mainly achieved by the modes of self-narration. Khadra’s narrator does not employ any self-quoted monologues or distant-self-narration characterised by detailed selfanalysis and an often recurrent thematisation of the narration process. In key scenes, the narrator seems to render all events to the reader as he experiences them – without many explanatory narratorial comments. This effect of immediacy is, however, slightly reduced by the use of the past tense in these chapters and the chronological order of representation “that counteracts the illusion of an unrolling thought process in autobiographical monologues [...since] in genuine interior monologues the temporal sequence of past events yields to the temporal sequence of present remembrance, and the past is thereby radically dechronologized” (Cohn 1978: 182). The narration unfolds rather chronologically with a proper introduction of other important characters and a summary of the protagonist’s upbringing in Kafr Karam. The story reverberates of a written account in its form as well as in its lack of a specific listener or addressee. (Changez’s monologue in The Reluctant Fundamentalist is, in contrast, clearly marked as a verbal report). The first and the last part are, as mentioned above, written in consonant self-narration in present tense, which minimises the distance between narrating and experiencing self. Our assessment of the protagonist derives from implicit and explicit self-characterisation. All other characters are described by their own utterances and deeds as well as the protagonist’s attitude and reaction towards them. He narrates some of their background stories, gives us an insight into their motivations, where possible, and morally judges their behaviour. For some characters, the protagonist’s description is the only information we get. It is remarkable that the protagonist’s whole family remains rather ‘silent’ throughout the novel. The characters whose direct speech is presented are mostly characters who express specific political or ethical opinions like Omar the Corporal, Jalal or Sayed, which fleshes out their specific points of view. As a result, the flashbacks do have a rather artificial quality but enable the reader to evaluate characters on the basis of their own comments. On the whole, all information is naturally filtered by the protagonist’s consciousness and selected according to his current knowledge and level of information. However, there is no indication of unreliability or manipulation. There are no signs of an incorrect rendering of facts or an intentional misdirection of the reader. We are in- 5.4.3) 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 291 formed in detail about the experience and value system which shaped the narrator’s opinions and are aware of his biases. As most information we get about the unnamed hero is influenced by the selection of events he chooses to narrate, this necessarily entails a high degree of subjectivity. This subjectivity, however, is not reflected in the choice of language. Khadra writes in French, which is not his native tongue and also consciously chooses not to use foreign language elements, unlike other authors (such as Updike, whose novel Terrorist I will briefly analyse in the next chapter). He is aware that ‘authenticity’ is a dangerous and manmade construct and is careful to avoid the trap of exoticism. Readers are aware of a quantitative imbalance of representation caused by the protagonist’s lack of knowledge about and insight into the thoughts, feelings and opinions of the ‘Western’ characters in the novel. As a result, the reader may be able to comprehend the decisions and attitudes of the protagonist but does not necessarily get convinced into sharing them. As already mentioned, the protagonist describes his sister Farah as an immoral whore. But the facts he selects to present us make us think the opposite. It becomes clear that she supports the whole family and altruistically helps people in need at the risk of her own life. With respect to Sayed, on the other hand, his verbal expressions seem to match the protagonist’s assessment of his character. Even though the author chose to present only one perspective, speech representation provides us with an insight into the lives and worldviews of other characters. Concerning the psychological development of the protagonist, it becomes apparent from the beginning that his situation is very difficult. The autodiegetic narrator is emotionally involved and at times affected by extreme states of despair, rage and a disorientation, which corresponds to the delirious atmosphere of the whole setting. At the same time, it is made clear that a transformation has taken place and that his psychological state is the result of traumatising events. He describes himself as a tender and sensitive boy, and his behaviour gives the reader no reason to doubt the validity of these descriptions. He narrates about his past: I was an emotional person; I found other people’s sorrows devastating. [...] As a child, I often wept in my room after locking the door, for fear that my twin sister – a girl – would catch me shedding tears. People said she was stronger than I was, and less of a crybaby. [...] At school, my classmates considered me a weakling. [...] In fact, I wasn’t a weakling; I simply hated violence (SB 97). Neither a thirst for revenge nor a propensity towards violence drives him to join the terrorist cell but solely his sense of duty. Concepts of pride and honour are at the centre stage of the protagonist’s consciousness. His aim was always to make his father proud, who is an illiterate old well-digger dispensing with much to grant his son a good education. He sees with pain his father’s enforced inertia and suffering and his proud attempts to keep up appearances. His relationship towards his father is shaped by obedience and great respect that is shown to parents as well as the tribal village elders, but not by affection and tenderness. The protagonist takes these patriarchal, hierarchical structures for granted when he admits: Immutable as a totem, my father let none of his emotions show. When I was a child, he was a sort of ghost to me. [...] I wondered if he were capable of love, if his stature as beget- 5) Analyses 292 ter wasn’t going to transform him into a pillar of salt. In Kafr Karam, fathers were convinced that familiarity would detract from their authority, and so they had to keep their distance from their progeny. [...W]e couldn’t even look each other in the face (SB 22). On the whole, honour and pride are presented as very ambivalent concepts. On the one hand, they stand for dignity, tradition and respect. On the other hand, Bedouin customs are also depicted as fossilised and detrimental to the worth and needs of the individual as they inhibit open gestures of love, hold up the concept of violent retribution and force people to implement rituals they cannot always reconcile with their conscience and character. Yasmina Khadra also describes the opportunism of the rural people who feel isolated because they do not take part in the ongoing war in their own country, but at the same time do nothing to change the situation. They are uneducated, have no real insight into political backgrounds and start getting excited about the invasion, partly out of boredom and a lack of work and prospects. The protagonist cannot bear the stasis and helplessness anymore which characterises life in Kafr Karam. He knows that he has to leave the countryside to avenge his father. The protagonist’s following journey through the desert to Baghdad radiates a feverish atmosphere. The reader can nearly feel the dryness, unbearable heat and despondency of the whole place. He moves in this desolation “like a bomb that’s about to go off [...] two burning eyes in a tormented face” (SB 123-124). Sulayman’s assassination, the traumatic events at the wedding party and his father’s humiliation and disgrace throw him into a severe crisis of identity, which again invites comparisons to the thematisation of these issues by Faulks, Hamid and mainly Kureishi. Khadra’s protagonist is torn between his sensitivity and natural aversion to violence and his seemingly inescapable duty to avenge his father. Not even able to stand the sight of carnage (he vomits and/or faints every time he is confronted with blood and violence), he now feels the obligation to inflict suffering himself, which necessitates an inner transformation: How could I love anything after what I’d seen in Kafr Karam? [...] Was I still myself? If so, who was I? I wasn’t really interested in knowing that. It had no sort of importance for me anymore. Some moorings had broken, some taboos had fallen, and a world of spells and anathemas was springing up from their ruins. What was terrifying about this whole affair was the ease with which I passed from one universe to another without feeling out of place. Such a smooth transition! I had gone to bed a docile, courteous boy, and I’d awakened with an inextinguishable rage lodged in my very flesh. I carried my hatred like a second nature; it was my armor and my shirt of Nessus166, my pedestal and my stake; it was all that remained to me in this false, unjust, arid, and cruel life. I wasn’t returning to Baghdad to relive happy memories, but to banish them forever. The blooming innocence of first love was over; the city and I no longer had anything to say to each other. And yet we were very much alike; we’d lost our souls, and we were ready to destroy others (SB 134). As in Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist the loss of love plays a major role in the radicalisation process of an individual. The love for other people and the love of a city 166 The symbol of the shirt of Nessus refers to Greek mythology. The centaur Nessus is killed by Heracles and in turn manages to assassinate him by means of a tunic which poisons his antagonist, because it is tainted with the centaur’s blood. 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 293 or a home-country seem to be inextricably intertwined. The personal realm blurs into the political and the political is inevitably personal. Describing his hatred as ‘armor’ and ‘shirt of Nessus’, the protagonist recognises the ambivalent destructive potential of his behaviour. The anger resulting from the trauma he suffered enables him to take action and to suppress nagging doubts, but at the same time it also kills him metaphorically like the famous shirt of Nessus. The legend symbolises how the spilling of blood will ultimately kill the murderer himself. The essence of Khadra’s novels is always that violence can never precipitate justice and destruction only causes further destruction. The main character has bottled up hatred and despair but has no aim or plan. As the Corporal sums up: “These days people come to Baghdad to avenge an offense they’ve suffered elsewhere, which means they tend to mistake their targets – by a lot [...]” (SB 156). The reasons for revenge in Khadra’s novel are mostly culturally determined, but to take action means entering a political and military conflict, which often inflicts more harm on the domestic population than it hurts the enemy. The example of Omar the Corporal shows the difficulty to divide both spheres and the fatality of ‘mistaking one’s target’. Even though Omar breaches nearly all rules of propriety he still cannot escape the constraints of his society and finally loses his life because of these constraints. Yet, he understands that he cannot avenge one injustice by committing an even greater crime against innocent and non-involved people: [‘] You see what the resistance does every day. It’s killed thousands of Iraqis. In exchange for how many Americans? [...] To tell you the truth, I came to Baghdad to do some damage. I’ve never been able to get over the way Yaseen insulted me in the café. [...] My ass is going to have that offense stuck to it until the insult is washed away in blood, [...] he declared. [...]There’s no doubt about it – sooner or later, Yaseen will pay for it with his life.’ [...] And I happened to arrive in Baghdad the day a false alert caused an enormous crush on a bridge – you remember – and a thousand demonstrators got killed. [...W]hen I saw that whole mess, caused to Iraqis by Iraqis, I said to myself, right away, This is not my war. [...] I came here to join the fedayeen [...] I had to find the weapons I’d left on the battlefield when the enemy approached; I had to deserve the country I couldn’t defend when I was supposed to be ready to die for it. ...But, hell, you don’t make war on your own people just to piss off the world [’] (SB 158-160). When the protagonist decides to move to Sayed’s shop in Baghdad and work for him, he knows exactly with whom he gets involved. His disgust and feverish anger are even fuelled by his sense of inaction, exclusion and rejection by the other men. The final decisive factor for the protagonist’s inner transformation is his accidental connivance of Sayed’s murder of two policemen. Whereas before he had to vomit at the sole sight of blood, at this point he already seems to be so apathetic that he neither feels sorrow nor fear or disgust anymore: I’d always dreaded the moment when I would step over the line; now that it was behind me, I didn’t feel anything in particular. I’d witnessed the killings of the two officers with the same detachment I observed when I contemplated the victims of terrorist attacks. I was no longer the delicate boy from Kafr Karam. Another individual had taken his place. I was stunned by how easy it was to pass from one world to another and practically regretted having spent so much time being fearful of what I’d find. [...] I was born again as someone else, someone hard, cold, implacable (SB 194-195, my emphasis). 5) Analyses 294 His supposedly blunted affect, however, does not diminish the sadness about the murder of his friend Omar by the fundamentalist cell he joins, which would have never happened without his involvement. Haunted by Omar’s ghost and his bad conscience, he sinks into depression and longs for his own death. Paradoxically, he chooses the one way Omar always disapproved of. The concepts of pride and honour outweigh all sensibility and remorse: Either live like a man or die as a martyr – there’s no other alternative for one who wants to be free. I’m not comfortable in the role of the defeated. Ever since that night when the American soldiers burst into our house, overturning our ancestral values and the order of things, I’ve been waiting! I’m waiting for the moment when I’ll recover my self-esteem, without which a man is nothing but a stain (SB 246). For once he tries to gain mastery over his thoughts and feelings which so often left him no choice. This, however, seems to betray his actual personality. When he comes closer to executing their plan, the protagonist again contradicts himself, when saying: I’m still the shy, retiring boy from Kafr Karam. Even though I know the importance I’ve assumed, I haven’t broken any of the rules that formed my character in simplicity and propriety. I’m no longer afraid of being alone in the dark. I’ve filled my lungs with the mustiness of the tomb. I’m ready! I’ve tamed my thoughts and brought my doubts to heel. I’m keeping my spirits under firm control. [...] I’m the master of what goes on in my head (SB 246-247, my emphasis). Apparently, the hero has come to be disgusted by everything he sees as weakness – probably because he was himself such a weak person and unable to defend the ones he loves. Quoting the sentences one underneath the other, a pattern becomes visible which resembles an attempt at auto-suggestion. The passage sounds as if the protagonist needed to convince himself of the claims he makes, producing a row of sentences that repeat his resolution like a mantra in different forms. The inherent contradictions in his speech and the repetitive nature of his self-assurance cast doubt on his conviction. The next part of autonomous interior monologue marks the narrator’s final pondering about his past. The passage illuminates the transformation from helplessness into activism, which is underlined by this direct way of representing consciousness: “In a few days, it will be the world that prostrates itself at my feet. The most important revolutionary mission undertaken since man learned to stiffen his spine! And I’m the one who’s been chosen to accomplish it. What a way of getting even with destiny!” (SB 248). Nevertheless, his psychological constitution is presented as fragile, allowing no impeachment of his plans and motives. In a crucial passage towards the end of the novel, Dr. Jalal finds out that the protagonist is supposed to fly to London to spread a deadly virus, which might kill thousands or even millions of people. Even though he criticises American politics he tries to appeal to the hero’s conscience to make him realise that even armed jihad is supposed to have certain limits. The passage not only reflects a humanist attitude that permeates the whole novel but also skilfully shows 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 295 how omissions in the narrative structure serve to highlight the protagonist’s fragile state of mind: [‘] Every war has its limits. But this – this is beyond all bounds. What do you hope for after the apocalypse? What’s going to be left of the world, except for rotting corpses and plagues and chaos? God himself will tear out His hair. [...] Teaching the West a lesson is one thing; massacring the fucking planet is something else. [...] You’re going to turn yourself in to the police. Right away. With a little luck, maybe you can be cured. If not, you’ll just have to croak all by yourself, and good riddance. You unspeakable fool!’ Shakir arrives at once, breathless, as if he has a pack of devils on his heels. When he bursts into my suite and sees Dr. Jalal on the carpet with a pool of blood like a halo around his head, Shakir puts his hand over his mouth and utters a curse. [...] I don’t understand what the ashtray’s doing in my hand [...] (SB 296). It seems as if the narrator hits (and probably kills) his uninvited confidant. The event itself is, however, omitted. The narrative style makes it clear that the protagonist panicked and acted in the heat of the moment and not in cold blood. The sudden shift from narrated direct speech to a description of the crime scene and Shakir’s arrival produces a strange mixture of immediacy, coupled with an outside view. The central character seems to be looking at the scene from above, disjointed from his own body and mind. Even though he drives to the airport convinced to fly to Europe, the protagonist finally does not carry out his plan. He sits at the airport for hours rather paralysed without entering the plane. Crucial are his observations of happy couples kissing, parents to be and people who represent the many joys in life the hero has never experienced himself. In the end his tender nature and humanist urge wins, and he decides in favour of human life at the disadvantage of honour and revenge. Whether the ending is psychologically plausible is open to debate, since there have been various scenes before in which the central character saw families with children, scenes of happiness, care and love, which were, however, barely noticed by him in his rage. The ending of the novel resonates with pain and disappointment, but also with an indelible love for humanity: My whole life passes through my mind: Kafr Karam, my family, my dead, my living, the people I miss, the ones who haunt me. ... Nevertheless, of all my memories, the most recent are the most distinct: that woman in the airport, hopefully examining the screen of her cell phone; that father-to-be who was so happy, he didn’t know which way to turn; that young European couple kissing each other. ... They deserved to live for a thousand years. I have no right to challenge their kisses, scuttle their dreams, dash their hopes. What have I done with my own destiny? I’m only twenty-one years old, and all I have is the certainty that I’ve wrecked my life twenty-one times over (SB 306). The ending is as ambivalent as the rest of the novel. The hero finally acknowledges the worth of life – a thought that comes to him like an epiphany – and thereby saves many innocent lives. At the same time, the relief readers might feel is undercut by sadness about the sheer waste of a young man who never even had the chance to live his life and emancipate himself from social bonds. Contemplating his fatal choice and having lost all his hatred, he quietly waits for his fundamentalist executioners. In the 5) Analyses 296 same moment he grasps the desirability of love and happiness, he knows that he will never be able to have this experience. Similar to novels by Kureishi and Faulks, Khadra’s text also traces a coming-ofage process. Similar to Hassan and Shahid, his narrator initially possesses a tender nature and is still young and inexperienced. Nevertheless, the three novels differ concerning the challenges that are faced and concerning the ways identity is presented. The Black Album and A Week in December are set in a highly individualised English society which is perceived as hollow and immoral but does not face the challenges of war and occupation. Whereas Faulks and Kureishi focus on issues of identity formation and divided loyalties in a context of migration, Khadra gives us an insight into a society where rules are clear-cut. His protagonist cannot afford the luxury to experiment with different roles and identities as Shahid does. The community determines identity with no space for an individual quest for meaning. All characters (such as Kadem, Dr. Jalal or Omar the Corporal) who try to escape and rebel against conventions are outsiders in this society who never really come to terms with their lives and ultimately fall victim to their fundamentalist antagonists. Whereas Faulks and Kureishi give their heroes a future with the opportunity to finally live fulfilled lives, Khadra’s ending is darker and, perhaps, more realistic. The maturation of the protagonist is not the result of an adolescent search for meaning but is enforced by political events which bereave him of other options. In this context, the novel also reminds us of the fact that most victims of Islamic fundamentalists are Muslims themselves (cf. Toumi 2011: 127). They are persecuted as writers, intellectuals or feminists who might have more in common with us than we think. The novel reflects the wish of the author for a society in which more people respect the worth of human life and peace, but his work also remains strongly influenced by his experience in the Algerian wars. Khadra is a dreamer. He writes in an emotional and empathic style and likes to imagine that there is a point of return – that even in our turbulent and conflictual times people may renounce hatred and violence. But he is also a realist who knows from experience that the world is far from answering his pleas. The Sirens of Baghdad in the light of ethical criticism and literature as cultural ecology The major divides Khadra delineates do not only develop between irreconcilable religious, ethnic or political groups but within Bedouin society itself. Conflicts arise between an elder generation who shows a temporising attitude towards political events and a younger generation that is characterised by hot-headedness and activism; between those people who hold foreign influences accountable for the current crisis and those who blame it on cowardice, a lack of faith and inner weakness in their own society. Sayed’s intelligent and calculating attempt to stir violent resistance against the American invasion is pitted against Yaseen’s aggressive zeal and lack of education. All characters fall prey to stereotypes, simple answers and hatred – no matter if they are uneducated or intellectual. Intellectual characters are more dangerous, though, in that 5.4.4) 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 297 they have a great ability to manipulate others for their political ends. At the same time, intellectuals also have a positive potential to question stereotypes and influence society towards more humanist attitudes. The character constellation in the novel serves to highlight the divides and tensions within the country. The rifts that are presented run deep, but are relatively independent of religion and are prevalent in many countries – regardless of the question if these countries are predominantly Muslim or not: older vs. younger generation, city vs. countryside, strict traditional norms vs. ‘modern’ attitudes and female emancipation. The novel does not elaborately address conflicts between religion and secularism, and we cannot find strong advocates of exaggerated piety or an Islamic fundamentalism based on religious ideals. The dividing lines remain diffuse. Dr. Jalal, for instance, turns from one extreme to the next but simultaneously violates the codes of conduct of all systems. Sayed, similarly, is presented as an advocate of jihad, but indulges in luxury and does not seem to adhere to Muslim principles of moral conduct. His religious beliefs are never really explained. The choice of an overt first-person narrator makes it clear from the beginning that no neutral voice is narrating and that there can be no ‘objective’, unemotional view on the topic. And this is exactly what Khadra’s depiction of the whole subject reflects: Similar to the other three authors of this literary corpus, he presents the choices and plight of the individual and does not strive to explain Islamic fundamentalism as such. In this respect, the emotionally laden and judgmental attitude of the narrator also mirrors how the topic is mostly dealt with in the media on both sides. All claims made are highly subjective and biased, but it cannot be otherwise. There is no single truth and many claims have their justification. Khadra sheds light on different facets of a problem. He leaves us with the hope that the good might prevail, but this is never achieved without sacrifice. While we wait together with the protagonist for his assassins, we are groping in the dark about the final ending of his story, but at least we learn that his inner conflicts seem to be resolved. Hatred and traditional concepts of honour, shame and retribution are overcome by humanism and the worth of human life. The novel exemplifies how dangerous generalisations and stereotypes on both sides can be. A lack of dialogue and knowledge about ‘the Americans’ or ‘the Iraqi terrorists’ leads to a spiral of violence, retribution and hatred. By showing the reader an ambivalent picture without clear-cut divisions between good and evil, Khadra wants us to question our own preconceptions about potential motivations for terrorist actions and strives to challenge stereotypes about the Arab world: Dans ce roman, ce qui m’importait, c’était de montrer ce côté fantastique des Arabes, ce côté généreux, pacifique, que l’Occident ne voit pas. Je voulais bousculer les habitudes des gens, écarter les oeillères pour montrer un monde plus large et plus enrichissant qu’on ne le pense. […] Ce roman est un combat contre les stéréotypes, les a priori, les raccourcis, contre la paresse intellectuelle. J’ai écrit ce livre pour dire: ‘Non, le monde va bien, ce sont les hommes qui déconnent de temps en temps’ (Valentin 2006: n.p.).167 167 In this novel, what mattered to me was to show this fantastic side of the Arabs, that generous, peaceful side that the West does not see. I wanted to challenge people’s habits, to remove their blinkers in order to show them a world that is wider and more rewarding than one thinks. […] This novel is a 5) Analyses 298 As Nussbaum believes, literature and especially the genre of the novel can help people to see the world with different eyes. Khadra’s novel is a good example for Rorty’s belief in the instructive force of fictional literature (cf. Rorty 1994: 578) and Nussbaum’s claim that the representation of emotion is crucial for the creation of empathy. Kyle Vaughn describes how reading the novel with his high school class changed the students’ view of the Middle East and Muslims. According to his observations, his pupils were able to empathise with the characters, found commonalities with them and began to question stereotypical images. Apparently, reading the novel led them to the conclusion that people sometimes just react to events which are beyond their control and that we have to look at each individual situation instead of cultivating generalising prejudice (Vaughn 2011: 66). The content as well as the structure reflect the difficulty of making choices. Concerning Nussbaum’s interest in the narrator’s or main character’s relationship to the plot, Khadra skilfully manages to give the reader insights into different perspectives despite his choice of a single focaliser. Through the development of the protagonist from a shy boy to a would-be terrorist and back to a person who questions the justifiability of armed jihad, the reader encounters a variety of different arguments and motivations which are also fleshed out by other characters. Despite its high degree of eventfulness, the novel features a relatively balanced mixture of mimesis or ‘showing’ (action, dialogue) and diegesis or ‘telling’ (narratorial comments that mediate between reader and scene). A strong reality effect is created by the graphic description of the main formative events in the plot. Moreover, the novel seems to convey a high degree of immediacy due to the emotional quality of the narrator’s voice – a sensibility which Khadra describes as a key feature of the Bedouin/Eastern storytelling traditions that influence his work. To use Nussbaum’s words, not ‘intellect alone’ but also ‘emotions’, ‘imagination’, ‘perception’ and ‘desire’ (Nussbaum 1992: 33) are roused in the reader. Structure and content complement each other. The protagonist is presented as a round and ambiguous character. We might not always have sympathy, but we are definitely invited to empathise with the character and to understand his motives. This stands in contrast to the matter-of-fact and ironic tone of A Week in December and the fact that some characters (such as the hedge-fund manager Veals) are presented in such a stereotypical way that no credible personal motives for his behaviour are conceivable. As we have seen, the sad and bitter tone of Khadra’s novel differs significantly from the irony employed in the works by Faulks and especially Kureishi. The Sirens of Baghdad does not leave much room for humorous remarks. Some of the characters are at times unintentionally funny, but even these few moments of comic relief that make us smirk are weighed down by the heaviness of the topic, by bloodshed and grief. As Senapati notes, “the terror ordinary citizens of occupied countries experience has uncanny parallels to the terror unleashed by modern day suicide-terrorists” fight against stereotypes, prejudgments, shortcuts, against intellectual laziness. I wrote this book to say, ‘No, the world is fine, it’s human beings who behave like fools from time to time’ (my translation). 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 299 (Senapati 2011: 125). The wanderings of the protagonist through desolate and wartorn Iraqi cities often have a dream-like quality and mirror his inner frustration and disorientation. What Ireland observes in relation to Khadra’s Algerian detective fiction also holds true for The Sirens of Baghdad: His “unusual mix of realist description, lyricism, and political allegory [...] create a nightmarish, often surreal vision” (Ireland 2002: 58). Concerning the negotiation of different beliefs and values in the plot it is evident that Khadra assigns the greatest importance to humanist values. The author gives some merit to traditional cultural values as far as they are connected to the respectful behaviour towards other human beings but questions the ethical validity of these concepts when it comes to concepts of honour, shame and revenge. Religious values are not discussed at all and simply do not play a large role for the description of Islamic fundamentalism in the novel. As Kadari outlines, the novel exemplifies that “l’islamisme n’est rien la représentation emblématique de l’Islam, mais qu’il s’agit là d’un épiphénomène qui, endémique à des troubles socio-politiques, tente d’imposer des valeurs qu’il revendique comme œcuméniques” (Kadari 2007: 143).168 Islamic fundamentalism is represented as a symptom of a political crisis. Moreover, the novel impressively shows the power of collective identities and appeals to the responsibility of the individual to question communal imperatives. Whereas Kureishi and Faulks present a liberal concept of the self in an individualised society, Khadra shows compassion for the pressures cultural communities may exert on the individual. In contrast to The Black Album, for instance, The Sirens of Baghdad shows us a world in which culture seems to be a much stronger determinant of individual identity than gender, ideology, sexual orientation, class or other facets of identity formation. Farah’s female emancipation and Omar’s homosexuality indicate the importance of other identity markers, but in comparison to Kureishi’s protagonist, none of Khadra’s characters is able to act on their feelings openly. Reproach, defamation and in Omar’s case even death are the sad results in a society that does not seem to tolerate defection and the construction of counter-identities. On this note, the novel questions, as Zapf puts it, “the modernist ideology of the autonomous, entirely self-constituting subject” (Zapf 2007: 155) in that it underlines the dependence of the individual on larger cultural frameworks. As has been outlined, Khadra aims at making suppressed voices heard and at giving readers a glimpse of Bedouin culture as a marginalised group. The novel can be seen as ‘cultural-critical metadiscourse’ in that it addresses the deficits, contradictions and double-standards in Iraqi society. At the same time, it is a critique of American politics and the way in which people treat others without the slightest knowledge of their culture and motives. In depicting the deep rifts between local people and invaders as well as between different groups within Iraq, Khadra shows the reader how these conflicts can lead to “deep-rooted civilizatory self-alienation, failed communication and paralyzed vitality” (Zapf 2007: 156). Just like the other three novels in this literary corpus, The Sirens of 168 Islamism is not an emblematic representation of Islam, but it is an epi-phenomenon, endemic to socio-political turmoil, which tries to impose the values it claims to be ecumenical (my translation). 5) Analyses 300 Baghdad exposes the contradictions within and the destructive potential of essentialisms that lead to the alienation and crisis of the individual. The psychological disposition and identity crisis of Khadra’s protagonist mirrors the claustrophobic images of Baghdad. Both the condition of the city and of the protagonist, come close to a state of “death in life” so vividly described by Zapf (2007: 156). Furthermore, Khadra’s novel seeks to empower marginalised voices. He strives to foreground what is neglected. First of all, this finds an expression in Khadra’s decision to narrate the war from an Iraqi perspective to counter dominant ‘Western’ media representations. Secondly, the protagonist represents a position of double-marginalisation in that he is also a member of a rural Bedouin community, which is presented as rather uneducated and poor. Nevertheless, the novel not only shows the violence of a small minority against a dominant majority, but it also depicts the struggle of a whole country against foreign invasion. In this respect, The Sirens of Baghdad is not similar to the other novels concerning the way it represents an imaginative counterdiscourse. The novel describes marginalisation primarily in terms of culture and world-politics, whereas Hamid, Faulks and Kureishi foreground economic stratification and forms of marginalisation based on issues of ethnicity and class. Just as the other novels under discussion, The Sirens of Baghdad does not picture a harmonisation of conflicts. Different worldviews remain separated, war continues and the protagonist finally loses his life without achieving any of his plans. Khadra keeps the American and Iraqi adversaries apart until the end. No reconciliation or understanding is indicated between both parties. Thus, at first sight, the novel seems to bear less potential for a reintegration of different discourses. However, the end still symbolises hope and a “moment of regeneration” (Zapf 2007: 159) as the protagonist chooses the protection of innocent human life over doctrine and revenge. Furthermore, representing various factions within Iraqi society as well as a world-political conflict, the novel brings together a variety of different lifestyles and points of view. On the level of content, no reintegration of conflicting discourses seems to be possible. Nevertheless, The Sirens of Baghdad contains elements of a reintegrative discourse in that it opens up a dialogue between different cultural discourses and negotiates individual and collective traumata. Khadra uses the example of an individual that readers are invited to empathise with to shed light on communal problems. The phenomenon of fundamentalism is fleshed out by a personal story the readers can comprehend even though they might not have been familiar with the depicted cultural codes before. Khadra’s novel is quite pessimistic about the ability of the individual to change the course of history – maybe because its author had served in the Algerian Army for most of his life and comes from a world in which war is omnipresent. But for all that, Khadra’s belief in the positive potential of intellectuals to fight for their ideals shines like a ray of hope through the novel. Like Kureishi and Hamid, Khadra points out the role of intellectuals and art in promoting humanist ideals and confronting fundamentalist attitudes. Simultaneously, the author emphasises the demagogic potential intellectuals might unlock in societies where education and nuanced evaluations are rare. 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 301 The protagonist’s childhood friend Kadem, Dr. Jalal and his friend Mohammed Seen all represent different roles intellectuals might take. Kadem denotes an intellectual stance that is peaceful and symbolises art as a recluse from the harsh reality of war. The deeply unhappy and traumatised young man derives new hope and comfort from playing the lute. His character stands for tender love, nostalgia and the power of music and art. He is not ashamed to admit his vulnerability, loyalty and faithfulness and shows a great respect for women, which makes him an endearing character the reader might find likeable. Art is generally presented as a source of inspiration, consolation and recluse in times of war. Khadra underlines the power of art in expressing emotion and joining people in love and understanding, as a key to the comprehension of a culture: ‘All Arab songs are love songs’, he said. ‘If the West could only understand our music, if it could even just listen to us sing, if it could hear our soul in the voices of Sabah Fakhri and Wadi es-Safi and Abdelwaheb and Asmahan and Umm Kulthum – if it could commune with our world – I think it would renounce its cutting-edge technology, its satellites, and its armies and follow us to the end of our art...’ (SB 71). Art rouses empathy. It opens people’s eyes for the really important things in life and enables them to look beyond outer appearances. The US soldiers, however, seem to be blind to this message. GIs later on smash the “fabulous lute of inestimable value, a tribal and even nation heirloom” (SB 104), therewith destroying Kadem’s only recluse. Kadem symbolises pacifism but also helplessness and an inability to fight for self-determination. Dr. Jalal, in contrast, is presented as a representative of a more political and intellectual stance. His sharpness stands in contrast to the simple-mindedness and lack of education of the villagers in Kafr Karam. He takes up a minority position in Bedouin society and his stance even seems to have an impact on the media and public opinion. Notably, Jalal criticises the West as well as Muslim societies and seems to have been equally abused as a mouthpiece by both sides. The attitude of the protagonist towards Jalal changes from merciless rejection to admiration and praise: His theories about the dysfunctions of contemporary Muslim thought were veritable indictments; the imams rejected his writings in toto, even going so far as to predict hellfire for anyone who dared to read them. For the ordinary devout Muslim, Dr. Jalal was nothing but a mountebank, a Western lackey in the pay of factions hostile to Islam in general and to Arabs in particular. I myself detested him; I thought his learning perverted, exhibitionistic, and conventional, and his contempt for his people seemed obvious to me. In my eyes, he offered one of the most repulsive examples of those traitors who proliferated like rats in European media and academic circles, fully prepared to exchange their souls for the privilege of seeing their photographs in a newspaper and hearing themselves talked about. I didn’t disapprove of the fatwas that condemned him to death [...] (SB 249). The passage not only shows the strong moral judgment of the narratorial voice, but also forms a stark contrast to Dr. Jalal’s later praise by the protagonist for his criticism of Western imperialism: “I adored the man that day. [...] Better than anyone, he knows how to express our anguish and the insults we suffer and the necessity of breaking our silence and rising up. [...] He’s hypersensitive and exceptionally intelligent, a mentor of rare charisma” (SB 250-251). The emotional quality of the passages 5) Analyses 302 and the blatant change of mind make the reader aware of the large influence and demagogic potential intellectuals may exert. Mohammed Seen, a friend of Dr. Jalal and a fellow novelist, embodies a third position between passive inactivity and demagogic resistance. He stresses the responsibility and also the power of Muslim intellectuals to simultaneously fight for their rights AND a peaceful coexistence with people from other countries and creeds. In his argument with Jalal on the final pages he draws a conclusion that sounds like a sermon and a plea for a humanist world-view: [‘] We’re the world’s conscience now, you and I and the other intellectual orphans, jeered by our own people and spurned by the hidebound establishment. We’re in the minority, of course, but we exist. And we’re the only ones capable of changing things, you and I. The West is out of the race. It’s been overtaken by events. The battle, the real battle, is taking place among the Muslim elite, that is, between us two and the radical clerics.’ ‘Between the Aryan race and the non-Aryans.’ ‘That’s false and you know it. Today, our struggle is internal. Muslims are on the side of the person who can project their voice, the Muslim voice, as far as possible. [...] They need a myth, an idol. Someone capable of representing them, of expressing them in their complexity, of defending them in some way. Whether with the pen or with bombs, it makes little difference to them. And so it’s up to us to choose our weapons, Jalal. [...] We have in our hands an incredible instrument: our double culture [...’] (SB 274-275). Seen appeals to the principle of personal choice, which seems to be so alien to the society Khadra describes. Bedouin tradition might dictate to wash away dishonour in blood. But intellectual tradition dictates to question these rules, to reflect about conflicts in their complexity, to defend one’s values with words – not violence. He appeals to personal responsibility and deliberation when he urges Jalal: “Vandals don’t build; they destroy. We have to take responsibility, Jalal. [...] We have to transcend our rage. It’s a question of humanity’s future” (SB 277). Khadra’s work is a manifesto for the value of life despite its cruelties and abysses. Many of his novels read like a ‘dance on a grave’ and embrace life even though everything seems to be lost: Je ne suis pas un messager, je suis un homme alerte, vigilant, qui voit le monde courir à sa perte et qui essaye de réagir. Je sais combien les gens sont abusés par les raccourcis médiatiques et les stéréotypes politiques et, armé de mon expérience et de mon amour pour l’espèce humaine, j’essaye de calmer les esprits en remettant chaque chose dans son contexte. Je tente de rassurer les intelligences, d’éveiller les consciences et de mobiliser les esprits autour d’un merveilleux idéal qui s’appelle : la vie. Les gens, souvent, ne se rendent pas compte de la chance qu’ils ont d’être en vie. La vie est tellement précieuse qu’il devient impératif, obsessionnel de la préserver (Interview with Marie Laure 2007: n.p.).169 169 I am not a messenger, I am an alert, vigilant man, who sees the world running to ruin and tries to react. I see how people are being abused by media simplification and political stereotypes and, armed with my experience and love for the human race, I try to calm people down by putting everything in context. I try to reassure our intelligence, to appeal to our conscience and to mobilise our spirits for a wonderful ideal which is called: life. People often do not realise how lucky they are to be alive. Life is so precious that it becomes imperative and obsessive to preserve it (my translation). 5.4) Yasmina Khadra’s The Sirens of Baghdad 303 Khadra desires to make the reader aware that life is worth living and that all ideologies which deny the value of this life are not worth dying for. 5) Analyses 304

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Abstract

Nina Liewald analyses literary representations of so-called 'Islamic fundamentalism' by contemporary authors whose cultural background and approach to the subject matter differs substantially: Hanif Kureishi, Sebastian Faulks, Mohsin Hamid and Yasmina Khadra. The author focuses on the narrative depiction of this complex phenomenon and its economic, religious and sociopolitical framework in selected contemporary novels. The interdisciplinary study is offering contextualised readings and combining narratology, literary and cultural studies with approaches from political science. It explores the potential functions of literature in a highly politicised context and specifically the potential of literature to shed light on radicalisation processes and to promote public discourse and intercultural understanding.