What evidence is there that Changez is a fundamentalist?
Extract from an interview with Mohsin Hamid…
Do you think the title of the novel is a little misleading, given that the main character isn’t a religious fundamentalist?
First, all Muslims are suspect to a certain extent. We’re all fundamentalists until we prove otherwise, until we order that beer, or our girlfriend shows up in a miniskirt. I think we’ve all felt it. Second, even though he’s not particularly religious, Changez begins to act in ways we think of as fundamentalist. Reluctantly, he starts following a fundamentalist path, though he’s a secular guy - a good yuppie. He’s becoming a Muslim nationalist, and that’s a term we don’t hear.
There are many points of contact between the author and the central character of this ‘fundamentally’ anti-America novel, Changez. Both are raised in Lahore, Pakistan. Both are Princeton educated, intellectually sophisticated, socially skilled and have developed familiarity with American culture from personal experience.
In the book America is skillfully silenced as a non-speaking American is made to listen to the 184-page monologue of a 25 year-old Pakistani. Changez was the former high-earning, top trainee in an elite, highly lucrative American business worth assessment company named Underwood Samson. This itself is significant, for here is a man skilled in assessing not only businesses but also people. At the very start Changez perceptively identified this man to be an American from his bearing alone and his monologue is interspersed with an accumulating appraisal of this quiet American that injects a growing tension to this novel. This novel will allow America no opportunity to respond to the developing critique mounted against it. “America” is now on Changez’ turf or is it Hamid’s? For the setting is provided by Old Anarkali Bazaar by Mall Road, Lahore.
Changez is a Muslim and he is anti-America. It is tempting for Americans, and perhaps other Westerners too, to hastily conclude from this that Changez is anti-America because he is a Muslim. Indeed, even Changez’ beard almost provocatively baits such stereotypes, as the very first words of the book imply. Here the book counters simplistic ‘Clash of Civilisations’ thinking. The title is deliberately provocative. For if anti-Americanism and fundamentalism are one and the same thing then the fundamentalism of Changez is not shaped by his religion but by his experience and assessment of America itself. Since there are aspects of that experience Changez still values he finds himself to be a ‘reluctant fundamentalist’. Indeed, he can even introduce himself to the American as “a lover of America”.