Academic journal article ARIEL

Tracing the Fundamentalist in Mohsin Hamid's: Moth Smoke and the Reluctant Fundamentalist

Academic journal article ARIEL

Tracing the Fundamentalist in Mohsin Hamid's: Moth Smoke and the Reluctant Fundamentalist

Article excerpt

For some time we have witnessed the emergence of a generation of "postcolonial" writers for whom (post)colonialism has become an increasingly distant family memory. They understandably find it rather tedious to be read first and foremost as representative of a certain cultural and national context. In contrast to this, Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid appears to willingly accept the ambitious task of "explaining" his country to his readers. Meanwhile it seems that at least Western audiences continue to be in desperate need of such explanation, given the limited knowledge about other parts of the world that prevails in the West. Pakistan is often perceived as merely one of those far-away places that serve as breeding grounds for extremism and violence. Hamid's acceptance of his position as a mediator--though clearly not the only significant feature of his work--is visible in most of his writing. For example, it is also prominent in his journalistic opinion pieces featured in Western newspapers, articles such as "Pakistan Must Not Be Abandoned" (in The Guardian), "Pakistan's Silent Majority Is Not to Be Feared" (in The New York Times) or "Why Do They Hate Us?" (in The Washington Post). The strong public interest in Hamid's second novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist, as well as the nominations for major literary prizes that it garnered, underlines the extent to which this novel speaks to issues troubling the contemporary reading public.

Assuming that it is also the "fundamentalist" of the title that is drawing a larger audience, I will examine the ways in which this figure of the fundamentalist is negotiated in Hamid's two novels. The starting point of my consideration consists of a question and an observation: The very "fundamental" question (which has been hotly debated in recent years, leading to a large number of conferences and an even larger number of publications dedicated to the very topic) is this: What is fundamentalism? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term "fundamentalism" refers to the "strict adherence to ancient or fundamental doctrines, with no concessions to modern developments in thought or customs" ("Fundamentalism" 267). Applied to modern fundamentalism, much of this very basic definition is debatable, most notably the claim that fundamentalism makes "no concessions to modern developments in thought or customs." The organization and structure of many fundamentalist groups as well as their use of modern technology and media imply otherwise. Positioning oneself in ultimate opposition to modernity in the contemporary world appears, in fact, to include a rather strong 'concession' to the rule of modernity (or to what I would rather call the rule of modernities). Taking into account the generally problematic quality of the term "fundamentalism," I set out to detect "the fundamentalist" in Hamid's novels.

Hamid originally submitted his first novel Moth Smoke from writing he did at Harvard Law School. When somebody inquired about this in an interview, Hamid explained: "A trial is about trying to come at truth through competing, contradictory narratives, and I wanted to write a book that explored the same ideas" (Thomas). I will focus what follows on these two topics: the figure of the fundamentalist and the process of "uncovering the truth."

I will begin by looking at Moth Smoke, where fundamentalism may not, at first glance, strike us as a central issue at all. Moth Smoke is the story of one man's career of drug abuse and crime, which ultimately leads to a scandalous trial. Fundamentalists appear as figures in the background, whom the protagonist Darashikoh "Daru" Shezad and his wealthy, fashionable friends in upper-class Lahore call "fundos" and mock. However, Daru and his increasingly violent resentment against precisely this rich elite may yet mirror the sentiment growing among the country's religious fundamentalists. Hamid has pointed out that Daru is "the violent backlash to the system. …

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