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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘Reluctant Fundamentalist’ displays uncomfortable truths

    Changez has it all. Freshly graduated from Princeton at the top of his class, he goes straight to making more than $80,000 a year and being a young man in New York with the world at his fingertips – and a beautiful girl on his arm.

    During a business trip in the Philippines, everything changes for Changez. The day before he is set to return to the United States, terrorists attack the World Trade Center and Changez, a Middle Eastern immigrant, is no longer welcome to the American dream. Changez’s initial reaction is to smile because he’s in awe that, through this act of symbolism, “”someone had so visibly brought America to her knees.”” Soon, however, he starts to realize life’s going to change.

    It’s not often we get the other side of the story, and author Mohsin Hamid, a Pakistani émigré, writes with unsettling experience.

    It doesn’t take long for the terrorist attack to affect Changez. Immediately after his return to the United States, he is strip-searched and questioned repeatedly in the airport while all of his colleagues are left undisturbed. Back home in America, Changez is unprepared for the consternation that becomes his everyday life. At one time it gave him pride to claim to be an American, but now he struggles with his identity, fraught with sympathy for Afghanistan, a neighbor of his home country, and his new home.

    The entire story is told one night in Pakistan as Changez is enlightening a nameless American over tea and dinner. The American does his duty and remains on edge for the entire evening, rife with the fear of this innocent man. Changez, for his part, remains calm throughout the story, speaking with the understanding that comes from being so preyed upon. When the American feels discomfort – for instance, every time the waiter approaches – Changez knows the American silently questions the trustworthiness of the waiter and thwarts him of such thoughts.

    The book is uncomfortable like that, displaying an American hatred for Middle Easterners that is felt up-front by Changez. In particular, many react uneasily to Changez’s full-fledged beard, which he grew to battle the struggle with his identity – not to prepare a bomb.

    “”The Reluctant Fundamentalist”” clearly captures the sentiment that has grown so prevalent in America. It extends further though, countering with the bitterness and confusion that exudes from Middle Eastern Americans as their adopted country attacks the land that was once just home. Changez embodies this conflict perfectly, struggling to understand and find an identity.

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