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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who's the Villain After All?

Added: Friday, February 24th 2012 at 3:38pm by NanelleT
Related Tags: freedom, pakistan, america

I remember waking up that Tuesday morning over a decade ago to a perfect Fall day. There was no chill yet in the air as in California, it is often very warm into October, and we were only halfway through September.  My two girls, ages four and one were their usual warm, snuggly selves upon first waking.  This changed in an instant with a frantic phone call from my mother to, "turn on the news!"  What I saw, AS it happened sent continuous chills through my body and sickened my stomach.  World Trade Center Tower I had been hit in what started out as concern that something went horribly wrong on an aircraft causing a terrible accident, to something far more sinister and threatening.  Within a few minutes it was determined to be a deliberate attack on America via a hijacked airliner.  I watched, shell-shocked as World Trade Center Tower II was also hit by a second plane, and the Pentagon as well.  The thwarted attempt of Flight 91 headed for the WhiteHouse, but downed by passengers in Pennsylvania was also shown.  The sheer volume of horrific images and commentary was enough to make me dizzy and my feelings alternated between fear, grief, and utter disbelief.  This was magnified a thousand times as I fell to my knees when not only ONE tower collapsed, but the second one did also.  I cannot remember EVER a time when I was so burdened with the weight of tragedy on such a massive scale.  My mind played over and over the images of individuals leaping to their death out of desperation.  I was absolutely compelled to pray fiercely for the everyone involved, including the millions of people enduring the trauma second-hand through their television sets.

This reaction is in stark contrast to the reaction of Changez, the main character in Mohsin Hamad's, The Reluctant Fundamentalist.   Changez, who grew up in Pakistan, then upon receiving a scholarship to Princeton University, attends college their and is snapped up by an elite firm where he enjoy's living the "American dream." Upon seeing the collapse of the World Trade Center, his initial reaction is to smile, saying, "My initial reaction was to be remarkable pleased."(p.72) He goes on to say it was the symbolism of someone had "so visibly brought America to her knees." (p.73)

OK...At this point I was alternately angry and impressed with this very provocative book of fiction. It will certainly grab your attention.  The difficulty is in deciding as one reads along what exactly the author's intentions are! It is precisely this desire to come to some conclusion of the author's intention that keeps me hooked. It is apparent that "Changez" is a play on words, meaning "changes".  I can see that his story is an allegory using himself as Pakistan and change, and Erica representing America.  I appreciate the cleverness in Hamid's writing and can only hope as I continue reading that my beliefs about his intention remain positive at least so far as to redeem the obvious anti-American sentiment that is so blatant in nearly every part of the main character's stories. Oh, he eases us into it slowly at first, with rather innocuous observations, coupled with flattery, even back-pedaling a bit in the first few pages so as to reassure his audience that heis, in fact, as he pointed out a little too quickly, "A lover of America." (p.1)  It is impossible to ignore the negative connotations present throughout the book.  He mocks the American's apparent fear of Pakistanis and criticizes virtually every aspect of America, from its propensity for litigation (p.47) to, "self-righteousness" (p.21), to extravagant, wasteful living.  The contempt is pervasive.  One telling example is when Changez meets Erica's parents. After Erica's father, speaking about some negative aspects of Pakistan, asks a question, to which Changez, "out of politeness" replies, "Yes." He then tells his audience, "But his tone -with, if you will forgive me-it's typically American undercurrent of condescension-struck a negative chord with me." (p.55) In speaking about his success as a businessman with the firm, he alludes to the apparent extinction of flying foxes in the city, obviously referring to natural selection and that only the strongestsurvive.(p.63)  It is for this reason that while in Manila, he "attempted to act and speak-as much as my dignity would permit-more like an American." This man who thinks he loves America, is either deliberately lying, or in denial.

What I suspect thus far in the book is happening is that the author is very purposely inciting discomfort if not outright anger on the part of the reader. Perhaps he is just using it as a mirror to reflect back to "us" as Americans what it feels like to be stereotyped.  As Americans, we may very well deserve to feel badly for the way we have made assumptions about people who appear to be of Middle-Eastern descent after September 11.  It is not our place as individuals, to judge people on even their actions, much less their appearance. There is, however, justifiable anger over the atrocities that happened on September 11th to a country that however flawed, is a place, like no other, of freedom.  A place where you are free to be who you want to be; to worship as you please without fear of retribution or even death.  This is more than can be said about many countries, notably Islamic countries like Pakistan and Iran where only yesterday, a young Christian pastorwas sentenced to death for being a Christian and refusing to convert to Islam.  I pray for his life, as all life is valuable. I value my freedom here in America. If you come here and decide you don't, you can always leave.


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