How does the short story portray and deal with multiculturalism?

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In Hanif Kureishi's short story “My Son the Fanatic," a Punjabi immigrant father, Parvez, who is living with his family in London, is dealing with changes he observes in his son Ali. These changes have been brought on by cultural differences arising from the multicultural life in London: Ali’s conservative Muslim background in stark contrast to Western life in England. “My Son the Fanatic” therefore looks at the impact that multiculturalism can have on people’s views on life.

Having been a normal teenager up to now, Ali has started to change suddenly. He has no more interests in current trends—his father finds “new books and fashionable clothes the boy had bought just a few months before” in the trash. This is a first indication of clashes caused by multiculturalism: Ali seems to want to turn away from Western culture, thus throwing away Western trendy goods. The fact that Ali does not want to associate himself with English people anymore is further confirmed by the statement that “Ali had parted from the English girlfriend who used to come often to the house.” This upsets his father, Parvez. As an immigrant from a different cultural background, it was important to Parvez that his son managed to fit in well with the new culture they were living in. He “had Ali excelled at cricket, swimming and football, and how attentive a scholar he was, getting A's in most subjects.” Parvez’s desire was that “his dreams of doing well in England would...come true.” This shows that multiculturalism from Parvez’s point of view is portrayed in this story as one culture trying to fit in with another culture, by adapting and taking on the other culture’s customs and traditions, allowing both cultures to peacefully coexist and even blend to some extent.

Ali, on the other hand, deals with multicultural life by developing a strong interest in and in fact even returning to his own traditional roots, radically removing anything English from his life and following the traditions of his original culture. This can be seen when Parvez observes that Ali has suddenly started praying according to Muslim tradition: “Without fail, when he was at home, he prayed five times a day.” Ali also starts to criticize his father for engaging in what he perceives to be wrong and ungodly Western habits, such as drinking alcohol: “It is forbidden.”

This culminates in the boy accusing his father of being “too implicated in Western civilisation," clearly showing how multiculturalism is a bad thing in the eyes of Ali. It becomes very clear that Ali has become radicalized and wants to fight the impact of Western culture. Therefore, multiculturalism from Ali’s perspective is portrayed as something evil and wrong—only one culture can be the right culture, and this culture needs to be the dominant culture, taking over the other cultures, which he perceives as being evil and going against God’s will. Peaceful multiculturalism in this story, from Ali’s perspective, is therefore not possible.

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