Why did Hamid title his novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the way he did?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It seems to me that one of Hamid's overriding motivations in his novel is to create a sense of the unsettling dynamic that is present in the current understanding of the forces of fundamentalism and the forces of "freedom."  Hamid wants to create a zone in which dialogue and discourse are evident, elements that have been sorely missing from the arena.  In this, Hamid seeks to develop valences where individuals are forced to question and reexamine positions.  He indicates this in his own personal views of the topic:

I believe that the core skill of a novelist is empathy: the ability to imagine what someone else might feel. And I believe that the world is suffering from a deficit of empathy at the moment. The political positions of both Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush are founded on failures of empathy, failures of compassion toward people who seem different. 

In this, Hamid creates a "reluctant fundamentalist."  This title seeks to bring out the human element in the "fundamentalist," a stereotype that has become synonymous with monolithic destruction.  The "reluctance" comes in the exploration of complexity and depth that is within the character who feels compelled to embrace a position with so much volatility in it.  Through the title, Hamid is able to create this "empathy," in which the reader is forced to assess the motivations and understandings of "the fundamentalist" or "the terrorist," something that is a challenge.  Imagine trying to understand the motivations of Mohammad Atta or any of the hijackers of the planes on that fateful day.  It is a challenge to do so, but in this, one does their part to lessen the "deficit of empathy" to which Hamid alludes.  It is in this light that Hamid titles his novel in the hopes of generating discussion and understanding from a mere arrangement of words in a title.

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