In the comments to my earlier post about how the Bomb Bros. must have been provoked by all the uneducated right-wing intolerance of their vibrant diversity that they were exposed to daily in Cambridge, MA, reader Kaz challenges:
Steve, is the MSM on any consistent basis, claiming that the bombers perpetrated these attacks because they felt persecuted?
Slate to the rescue!
What the novel and the new movie The Reluctant Fundamentalist can teach us about the Boston bombers.
By Katie Roiphe|Posted Monday, April 22, 2013, at 11:41 AM
Those obsessively poring over emerging news about the Boston bombers should take a break from their iPhones and laptops and newspapers and read Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, (and see Mira Nair’s film version out later this week). The novel will go further in answering the general bewilderment about the Tsarnaev brothers than the little snippets of their lives we have so far, in answering the bigger mystery: “Why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?” as Obama put it.
There was, as always, a scramble of people who knew them who are “shocked.” The slivers of their pasts seem to place them in the position of children of opportunity, the younger one, Dzhokhar, went to Cambridge Ringe and Latin with a scholarship. Photos show Dzhokhar in his prom clothes, in a red satin vest in a tumble of other boys in a goofy ordinary American high school moment. How does he go in a couple of years from this moment to the one in which he puts nails and ball bearings in a pressure cooker to injure and maim innocent strangers, including children?
The Reluctant Fundamentalist tells the story of a Pakistani kid, Changez, who comes to Princeton University on financial aid and then gets a job at an exclusive McKinsey-like firm where he rises quickly to the very top and then begins to question his new American life. The book points out that the experience of many people who come to America and think of staying is not straightforwardly one of success, or even aspiration or desire. The immigration story, which is in many ways a beautiful one, and is central to America’s idea of itself, is also one of violence. There is a rage involved in assimilation, a radical, dangerous rift in identity that we don’t usually like to think about or reckon with. This is what Hamid writes about, the minor shames, the small denouncements of the past, the sharp conflict between an old identity and a new one, the collision of comfort and discomfort in an adopted country that add up to something troubling and volatile (Though Changez does not turn to violence, he does turn into a vehemently anti-American professor back in Lahore, Pakistan.) ...
The novel (and the film version perhaps even more directly) challenges American culture to take a careful look at itself. One of the issues raised by the novel is that the acceptance we think we have for people of other cultures, the warm embrace that liberals, at least feel that they are giving, is not as absolute, as untroubled, as blanketly wonderful, as we think. After Changez grows a beard to connect, in some way, to Pakistan and goes back to his office, a black co-worker says to him, “you need to be careful. This whole corporate collegiality veneer only goes so deep. Believe me.”
The novel is important not for any single message it has to offer, but for a clarity that could be useful in an emotionally fraught conversation, a careful reckoning of the particular variety of welcome we offer to children from abroad. The issue of immigration, or of our relation to foreigners living here, is too subtle, too nuanced, too delicate for newspapers, which is why we need to look to novelists. To understand the Boston bombers, we need also to understand and be honest about ourselves, the ways in which we both take in and don’t take in people from other countries, the trickier side of the American dream