What does Hamid mean when he says “We’re all fundamentalists until we prove otherwise, until we order that beer, or our girlfriend shows up in a miniskirt”?
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.
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I think that Hamid is trying to bring out the idea that in a modern and globalized world where interdependence on one another has led to an embrace of cosmopolitanism, fundamentalism is difficult to maintain. In the interview segment, Hamid suggests that Islam is a religion that might be prone to fundamentalism because of its edicts and penchant for strict adherence. Yet, these notions can become mollfied and negotiated when one interacts with the modern culture, which is more liberalized and more tolerant than the notions of orthodox religion. It is for this reason that Hamid in the interview juxtaposes the religious austerity of Islam with the reality of "beer" and "miniskirts." In a globalized world where images from all over the world are bombarding individuals at lightning speed, it is very difficult to consistently hold to the orthodox notion of fundamentalism, repelling the modern world. The advent of technology and interconnectivity linking all parts of the world to one another is another element that makes this fundamentalism a challenge. It is here where Hamid believes that many individuals "prove otherwise," in that fundamentalism works in many until it collides with modern reality, represented by "beer" and the "miniskirt." In this Hamid is suggesting that the notion of fundamentalism be examined and assessed in a cultural contexual light.
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