Academic journal article Transnational Literature

Global Citizenship in Mohsin Hamid's the Reluctant Fundamentalist

Academic journal article Transnational Literature

Global Citizenship in Mohsin Hamid's the Reluctant Fundamentalist

Article excerpt

'What is the purpose of your trip to the United States?' she asked me.

'I live here,' I replied.

'That is not what I asked you, sir,' she said.

- Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist

As a response to socio-political developments in the US and its global actions since September 11, 2001, a number of new and established authors from Muslim backgrounds - such as Mohsin Hamid, Michael Muhammad Knight, Khaled Hosseini, and Mohja Kahf - have reviewed American civic life through the lens of social imaginaries of a heterogeneous minority whose very identity has been under critical scrutiny since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.1 This scrutiny of American civic life is very much tied to a particular sense of globalisation, and an emphasis on what Amartya Sen2 has called the global, rather than the merely Western, roots of democracy. Unlike Masao Miyoshy and Harry D. Harootunian3 and David Harvey,4 these writers do not define globalisation as a break with modernity. Rather, like K.A. Appiah,5 their writings also harken back to what Alex MacGilivray (2006) calls 'archaic globalization,'6 which includes the history of Muslim colonialism and its economic and cultural impact on the world and the notion of Muslim Ummah as an early form of planetary consciousness.

Citizenship, by definition, requires a state's legal recognition of a person as its subject, whether native or naturalised. There is no doubt that social contracts bind citizens together and to their nation, as Joseph Stiglitz argues,7 but these writers seem to circle around the idea that there are flexible forms of citizenship, in times of accelerated globalisation, which entail more of a planetary consciousness of rights and duties. In their works, citizenship entails that everyone can, even if only abstractly, come to participate in the rewriting of social contracts and contribute to governance itself. In this essay, I will take a closer look at citizenship in Mohsin Hamid's global success, The Reluctant Fundamentalist.8 This success shows that many issues at stake in this novel resonate across a diverse number of ethnoscapes and mediascapes, to use Arjun Appadurai's terms.9 By casting 'Muslims as an interruptive presence on the global stage',10 Hamid's novel adds complexity to the emerging field of post-9/11 fiction.11 It problematises popularised ideas about fundamentalism, globalisation, and what Mahmood Mamdani calls 'culture talk,' a discourse on culture in political and territorial terms.12 Building the narrative around the terrorist attacks on New York, Hamid's contribution to post-9/11 fiction may be, as most critics have pointed out, an allegorical discourse on global capitalism (with America as its core). In my view, this discourse is but a basis for a deeper inquiry into the notions of civic life and citizenship. Put in the context of Ali Behdad's critical historicism, since the novel describes 9/11 as something that takes place on both a national and a global stage, it shows how 'the project of national identity in the US perpetually returns to the figure of the alien by way of defining itself and promoting a normalized notion of citizenship that itself is a symptom of historical amnesia'.13 Indeed, the treatment of Muslims after 9/11 is a continuation of anti-democratic governmental practices of curtailing citizens' civic rights, which have stood in contrast to the 'Jeffersonian myth of immigrant America as a haven of democratic pluralism'.14 What is different in the post-9/11 era is that there are, as Peter Morey shows, increasing 'proposals to strip Muslims in western nations of their citizenship in the event of their being connected to terrorism,' which are examples of 'nations suspending the due operations of the laws by which they are supposed to be defined'.15 This call for deterritorialisation of citizens suspected of terrorism seems more and more common. These citizens are in a sense deemed worse than other types of criminals for whom even prison would be too good. …

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