Shalimar the Clown

by Salman Rushdie

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What are the main themes of Shalimar the Clown?

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One of the main themes of Shalimar the Clown is the danger of extremism, which manifests itself in Islamic fundamentalism and Nazism. The former plunges Kashmir into chaos and bloodshed, whereas the latter brings about the Holocaust in Europe, two of whose victims are Max's parents.

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As someone who has been threatened by the forces of extremism ever since the publication of The Satanic Verses, it's not surprising that Salman Rushdie should incorporate its dangers as a theme into many of his writings.

In Shalimar the Clown, he doesn't hold back in presenting extremism as a corrosive, nihilistic force that kills both souls and bodies alike. In the shape of Islamic fundamentalism, it brings about death and destruction, plunging a once-peaceful Kashmir into chaos.

The jihadist ideology, one of the most dangerous manifestations of Islamic fundamentalism, leaves bloodshed and suffering in its wake. Not only that, but it consumes Shalimar's soul as he desperately tries to find an outlet for his pent-up anger and frustration over the departure of his wife Boonyi.

It is often the case that jihadists are young men disaffected with society for personal reasons, and it's the same with Shalimar. For him, the personal has turned into the political, and the terrible revenge he plans to exact upon Boonyi has taken on a notably political tinge. As much as anything else, his determination to kill Boonyi for leaving him is an expression of jihadist ideology, with its fanatical obsession with keeping women in a position of subordination.

The dangers of extremism are also displayed by the Nazis, who carry out the mass murder of Jews in Europe. Two of the Holocaust's victims are Max's parents. As with Shalimar, he responds to a personal disaster by taking up arms and joining a group of like-minded individuals.

The big difference, however, is that Max is fighting against extremism, not for it. As a member of the French resistance, he's determined to see the Nazis defeated and driven out of France. His is therefore a noble cause, not like that of the Islamic fundamentalists whom Shalimar has joined and on behalf of whom he's prepared to commit atrocities.

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