Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Last Night of a Damned Soul and the Reluctant Fundamentalist

I recently read two post 9/11 books of fiction, both by Muslim authors, describing the "radicalization" (politically correct for jihadization) of two young men living in the United States. Although both books were well-written, I thought one of them was excellent and the other was less than honest. Not unsurprisingly, the one I found disingenuous was given rave reviews by the American media and the one I liked was largely ignored.

The first was The Last Night of a Damned Soul by Algerian novelist Slimane Benaissa. The setting is southern California, where young Lebanese American Raouf has been hit hard by the death of his father. A Palestinian associate introduces Raouf to Muslims who convince him that the emptiness he feels is due to his having left the essential elements of his faith, and Raouf gradually conforms to their understanding of Islam. First to go is his gold watch and silk ties (God does not like men who adorn themselves in gold or silk), followed by his beloved Black Labradour Keytal (the Prophet had a dislike for dogs in general and black dogs in particular), and then his girlfriend Jenny (a non-Muslim wife only holds one back from following God wholeheartedly). Step by step, and in great detail, the book presents the arguments from the Quran and the life of Muhammad used by the Imams whose sermons Raouf takes to heart as they lead him closer and closer to fully embracing the concept of jihad as taught and practiced by the Prophet. Raouf is eventually persuaded to sacrifice his life as a martyr for Allah by taking part in a terrorist operation intended to bring down an American aircraft. While waiting to board the plane with his team of fellow martyrs, Raouf suddenly has a change of heart and bolts from the airport. His arrest comes at the end of the book.

Even though I found the book extremely interesting and informative, I have the impression that far too few Americans have the necessary patience to carefully read the sermons, quotes, and commentary from the Quran and the Hadith that were influential in moving Raouf from being an ordinary non-religious American Muslim to one who was willing to kill both himself and others for the sake of Islam. Most people, like the reviewers from Entertainment Weekly, the New York and London Review of Books, the Washington Post and the New York Times, much prefer book number two.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid also describes the radicalization of a Pakistani student who was living in New York City when 9/11 took place. The venue of the story is a restaurant in Lahore, where young bearded Changez strikes up a conversation with an American stranger. As they sip tea and have dinner together over the next few hours, Changez relays how he went to Princeton University as a foreign student, graduated near the top of his class, and landed a prestigious job with a financial company in New York City. He had several unpleasant post-9/11 experiences (someone called him a Fucking Arab and it took him longer than his non-Muslim friends to get through airport security), and a business trip to South America convinced him that American interests were working to destroy the economic well-being of other countries. He grew his beard, stopped doing his job with the result that he was fired, and returned to Pakistan persuaded that he needed to do something to "stop America". The book ends mysteriously with the possibility that Changez killed the American he was talking to, or conversely that the American killed Changez.

Why has this book been so well-received in the West? I believe it plays to a very popular current theme - everything that happens to America in the world is America's fault. Just as President Obama during his Cairo speech named three reasons Muslims around the world dislike America - and apologized for each one - so this book essentially blames America for the events of 9/11 as well as Changez's becoming a "reluctant fundamentalist". America is responsible for India's "aggression" against Pakistan, America is at fault for the failed economies of other countries, America is to blame for the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan. My WTF moment in this book was the author's statement that America was "unwilling to reflect upon the shared pain that united you with those who attacked you".

There is hardly a word in the book about Islam, jihad, the Quran, or Muhammad. The author is attempting to teach Americans what it is about themselves that almost forces others to attack them. It's the perfect book for people looking for introspective answers as to why Muslims become radicalized.

Perhaps without realizing it, the author revealed more of himself than intended when he described the great sense of happiness Changez felt when he first learned about the 9/11 attacks. I believe this happiness was shared by hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world. I also believe the reason goes back to the attitude held by Muhammad about the world of the non-Muslim 1400 years ago that has been inculcated into the fiber of the Muslim mentality ever since. In essence, Muhammad held that the wealth and possessions of non-Muslims consisted of spoils of war that were to be taken by Muslims in raids against them. During Muhammad's life, this began with the raids against his own tribe, the Quraysh, followed by other Arab tribes and then the Jewish communities that had lived in Arabia for centuries. It was then followed by attacks on the Byzantine and Persian Empires, and has never stopped. The entire experience of Changez in America could be seen as an extension of the same raid mentality. He did not come to America to give but to take. He first took his education, and then his salary. At the appropriate time he left, determined to "stop" the same America that had given him opportunities he never would have had in his own country. In the final analysis he was nothing more than a raider, no different than his Prophet before him.


Kalki said...

Beautiful article. One thing to note why the Prophet hated dogs? In one famous Hindu text he is told to be the agent of Asur(Demon) to bring catastrophe to the world. It is also believed in Hindu mythology that Dogs specially black dogs are known to kept the evil away just by their presence so anything evil is afraid of them.

Chris Drone said...

Beautiful article. One thing to note why the Prophet hated dogs? In one famous Hindu text he is told to be the agent of Asur(Demon) to bring catastrophe to the world. It is also believed in Hindu mythology that Dogs specially black dogs are known to kept the evil away just by their presence so anything evil is afraid of them.