Whenever terrorists attack or attempt to attack Americans, the party line narrative is “they don’t like our values.” So repeated Vice President Biden after the recent Boston attack. And “experts” on television also play amateur psychologist to explain why terrorists act, even equivalencing the 19-year old Chechen with the role of Changez (played by Riz Ahmed) in the film The Reluctant Fundamentalist, directed by Mira Nair.
But that is not how Muslims view the situation. Americans, deliberately kept unaware of their perceptions by the media, now have an opportunity to break through the brainwashing by immersing themselves in The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
The crisis that pervades The Reluctant Fundamentalist is the kidnapping of an American professor at a university in Pakista. The CIA identifies Changez, a Pakistani professor at the same university, as a reasonable person who can facilitate his release. CIA agent Bobby Lincoln (played by Liev Schreiber) is assigned to persuade Changez to divulge where the American is being held. Changez then explains why he has been radicalized in flashbacks to the time when he lived in New York .
At the age of 18, Changez went to America for college, and filmviewers see his success in a firm similar to Romney’s Bain Capital, finding efficiencies in businesses that enable firing of “superfluous” employees. But then 9/11 happens. In a voiceover, he notes the ethnocentric response by Americans. A bizarre art exhibition about Muslims by his girlfriend Erica (played by Kate Hudson) so offends him that their relationship ends. When he tries to board an airplane, his bearded appearance prompts security personnel to take him to a private room where he is strip searched. On another occasion he is falsely arrested. Personal attacks continue as if he were a terrorist.
While sent to Istanbul to shut down a publisher of Islamic classics (including poems of Chengez’s father), he lunches with the publisher, who gently tells him that ending the publishing operation would be attacking his own people. He then has an epiphany, goes to a mosque for the first time in years, and quits his job, returning home to Pakistan as an economics professor. He experiences how his fellow Pakistanis react as the Americans round up suspected Pakistani terrorists, invade Iraq , and otherwise appear to simulate the Crusades. He becomes a leader on campus, followed by many students, though he refuses to engage in acts of terrorism himself. Nevertheless, he agrees with the terrorists that America hypocritically calls itself a democracy while supporting dictators, ramping up CIA surveillance, and forcing regimes to act undemocratically against supposed terrorists.
The climax of the film is about what happens to the kidnapped American professor, whom the American CIA agent finally admits is a covert CIA operative. Although not based on a true story, the plot is very plausible. But will Americans get the message or will they prefer self-delusion?
Saturday, 4 May 2013