My Son the Fanatic Questions and Answers
by Hanif Kureishi

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What is the thematic concept of My Son the Fanatic?  

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The theme of My Son the Fanatic is culture clash. This first displays as intergenerational conflict between a father, Parvez, a Pakistani immigrant, and his son Ali. Parzev, though raised Muslim, wants with all his heart to embrace the customs and the opportunities offered in England, his adopted home. He works hard as a taxi driver, pays for his son to have a computer and go to college to study accounting, and lives a secular life that includes drinking alcohol and eating pork, both forbidden by the Quran.

Ali, on the other hand, rejects his father's vision to embrace an Islamic fundamentalism who rejects Western values. He throws out the materials goods, like a computer, that his father has given him and holds his father's lifestyle in contempt.

While part of this reflects intergenerational conflict, a son breaking from a father, more significantly, it shows the deep divide in worldview between the secular west and fundamentalist Islam. Parvez believes "life was all there was and when you died you rotted in the earth ... while I am here on the earth I want to make the best of it." He wants to enjoy the material goods of life. 

Ali believes differently:

'The Western materialists hate us,' Ali said. 'Papa, how can you

love something which hates you?' …

Ali addressed his father fluently, as if Parvez were a rowdy crowd

that had to be quelled or convinced. The Law of Islam would

rule the world; the skin of the infidel would bum off again and

again; the Jews and Christers would be routed. The West was a

sink of hypocrites, adulterers, homosexuals, drug takers and prostitutes.

 As Ali talked. Parvez looked out the window as if to check that

they were still in London.

'My people have taken enough. If the persecution doesn't stop

there will be jihad. I, and millions of others, will gladly give our

lives for the cause.'

For Parvez, who grew up in poverty and under the thumb of insensitive Muslim teachers, the west shines like a light. For Ali, who has known nothing but western comfort, the west represents "decadence," lack of purity and degradation.

The father and son talk past each other, not to each other, although the father does try to reach the son. They cannot communicate because neither can understand the other. In the end, violence results. Kureishi is saying that we have to learn to listen to and understand each other before we can hope to solve differences in outlook.

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