Literature as Arduous Conversation - Terrorism and Racial Politics in Hanif Kureishi's Borderline, "My Son the Fanatic," and the Black Album

By Pervez, Summer | Cross / Cultures, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Literature as Arduous Conversation - Terrorism and Racial Politics in Hanif Kureishi's Borderline, "My Son the Fanatic," and the Black Album


Pervez, Summer, Cross / Cultures


IN HIS ARTICLE "THE RIGHT TIME FOR AN ISLAMIC REFORMATION," Salman Rushdie writes:

When Sir Iqbal Sacrarne, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, admitted that 'our own chüdren' had perpetrated the July 7 London bombs, it was the first time in [Rushdie's] memory that a British Muslim had accepted his community's responsibüity for outrages committed by its members. Instead of blaming U.S. foreign poücy or 'Islamophobia,' Sacrarne described the bombings as a 'profound challenge' for the Muslim community.1

Rushdie's challenge, or call for Islamic Reformation, brings to mind Hanif Kureishi's work (fiction and non-fiction) on the relationship between the political discontent of South-Asian British youth and their resulting acts of terrorism:2 namely, his recent essays, his 1981 play Borderline, his 1995 novel The Black Album, and his 1997 short story "My Son the Fanatic." The childterrorists in these fictional works are not responding to the state of the world, problems of globalism, or to US or British foreign policy; their problems are right at home, confined to England itself.

Hanif Kureishi is a cogent commentator on issues of ethnicity, politics, and anti-racism, having written powerful articles over the years such as "Bradford" (1986), describing a visit to the city in the wake of its race controversy. In Dreaming and Scheming: Reflections on Writing and Politics (2002), he articulates his own experience of racial prejudice as a person of mixed race. In his next essay collection, The Word and the Bomb (2005), he also questions the forces at work within Muslim South Asian communities, especially the impact of religious fundamentalism. As a politically aware and internationally known prose-writer and filmmaker, Kureishi seems to have predicted where things have gone in Britain as a result of the issues surrounding South-Asian youth culture and their recent turn to acts of terror and Muslim fundamentalism. As Kureishi argues in his essay "The Word and the Bomb,"

the real differences in Britain today are not political, or even based on class, but are arranged around race and religion, with their history of exploitation, humiliation, and political helplessness.3

The parents of the protagonists in his fictional works indeed do have a "history of exploitation, humiliation, and political helplessness" that elicits a dramatic reaction on the part of their children, who are unwilling to sit back and do nothing in response to white hegemonic constructions and expectations of themselves as an 'immigrant' minority culture. These children are, after all, not immigrants, but British-born citizens who must carve out a space for themselves within the nation. Overall, in his work on race relations (plays, stories, novels, and essays), Kureishi usefully foreshadows today's political world, steeped in the climate of global terror, but the solutions offered - in the form of race riots and terrorism - are not necessarily the most constructive responses to Britain's internal differences.

The history of South-Asian immigration to England, and the historical treatment of those immigrants, needs to be kept in mind when addressing the question of why terrorist acts such as the deadly London bombs of 7 July 2005 have occurred. Within the time-frame of Kureishi's life and work, in the 1960s and through the 1980s, the British wish under the governments of Enoch Powell and Margaret Thatcher was to assimilate SouthAsian immigrants and essentially britishize (anglicize) them, while eliminating any sense of difference. Powell's, and also Thatcher's, strategy was one of simultaneously including and excluding black and Asian immigrants by both inviting them into the English nation as workers and also keeping them out ofthat very nation as 'invaders'. Useful to an understanding of these policies is Anna Marie Smith's discussion, in her New Right Discourse on Race and Sexuality, of Thatcher and Powell's similarly hegemonic political strategies. …

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