Discuss what messages the author wants the reader to take from The Reluctant Fundamentalist regarding how the perception of fundamentalism influences interactions with others.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I tend to think that Hamid is not really driving at any concrete answers to the challenges of terrorism and fundamentalism in a post September 11 world.  I think that Hamid is looking for a way to generate dialogue about how these perceptions influence our view of the world and how this needs to be changed.  Hamid feels that when singular perceptions color the view of human beings, a "deficit of empathy" is evident because one refuses to acknowledge the complex experience of another and simply paint them with a brush that might not be entirely accurate:

I believe that the core skill of a novelist is empathy: the ability to imagine what someone else might feel. And I believe that the world is suffering from a deficit of empathy at the moment... By taking readers inside a man who both loves and is angered by America, and by allowing readers to feel what that man feels, I hope to show that the world is more complicated than politicians and newspapers usually make it seem. We need to stop being so confused by the fear we are fed; A shared humanity should unite us with people we are encouraged to think of as our enemies.

In this, Hamid wishes to move the dialogue past the simple- minded views of what public perception might offer.  When Erica's father says, "You guys have serious problems with fundamentalism,” he does so in a judgmental manner, where there is no dialogue.  It is deliberate that Hamid does not include Erica's father asking Changez about this, or even questioning why this is.  Erica's father has bought into the "fear we are fed."  The message through this inclusion is for individuals to rise above this, ask questions, and initiate a dialogue about these conditions as opposed to basing action off of judgments that are not reflective of any notion of truth.  When Changez tells the American at the end of the the novel that, "You should not imagine that we Pakistanis are all potential terrorists, just as we should not imagine that you Americans are all undercover assassins," it brings out this idea of "empathy" into full view.  The idea that both sides are blinded by the "deficit of empathy" is what drives the novel.  Hamid is seeking to create a condition in which there is dialogue and not mere assumption sedimented upon assumption.  In this, the message is a clear repudiation of stereotypes and silence and a demand for discourse that delves into the nature of reality as opposed to running away from it. 

 

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