The contemporary terrorist novel and religious fundamentalism: Richard Flanagan, Mohsin Hamid, Orhan Pamuk

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This paper argues that since 9/11 terrorism has provided a compelling new theme for fiction. Three contemporary political thrillers are examined, to show how their ideologies and narrative structures differ according to national circumstances and responses to the threat of terrorism from diverse geographical regions. Richard Flanagan’s The Unknown Terrorist, a fictional response to the Australian official reaction to the Bali bombings of 2002 in which 89 Australians were killed, can be read in terms of the emerging ‘traumatological’ aesthetic which terrorism has generated. Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, is a psychological thriller as well as a novel about cross cultural exchange; through subtle narrative technique which represents a conversation through a single monologic voice, it raises questions of cultural relativity: about the value of American economic imperialism, by contrast to that of its major enemy, religious fundamentalist insurrection, here associated with Pakistan (the novel is set in Lahore). Orham Pamuk’s postmodernist novel Snow, parodies the relations between the secular nationalists and religious fundamentalist Islamists in the modern state of Turkey; promoting revolution as a means of seizing control when the opportunity presents itself, it both examines and performs the political uncertainty which dominates the Turkish state. All three novels demonstrate Malise Ruthven’s argument that, inherent in the Protestant use of the word fundamentalism, are the responses of individual or collective selfhoods, of personal and group identities, to the scandal or shock of the other. All expose media manipulation of public opinion as an assault on the real, an obfuscation of reality. The Unknown Terrorist, a schematic manifesto against counter-terrorism, reveals a dystopian society motivated by greed and self aggrandisement, turning against itself. For Changez, the hero of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, becoming engrossed in a media-saturated reality (TV footage of the destruction of the twin towers, websites about hostilities in Pakistan and India and the build- up of the Afghanistan campaign) leads to a change of belief: he rejects the values of his adopted country, America, and reverts –albeit in modified fashion as a returning native-- to embrace his original culture and the values of religious fundamentalism. In the postmodern, metafictional world of Snow, events occur only through being first textually inscribed; the media control reality, report what will happen and so bring it about. Finally I suggest that these (and other) post 9/11 novels represent new uncertainties of cultural threat and upheaval through revised cultural ideologies, national identities and a heightened awarenesss of borders. The generic reformulations and new aesthetics of the novels collectively reveal the spiritual dystopias and dysfunctional cultural relationships which are often associated with late capitalism, now adapted to the new theme of terrorism
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBurning Books: Negotiations between Fundamentalism and Literature
EditorsCatherine Pesso-Miquel, Klaus Stierstorfer
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherAMS Press Inc.
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9780404642600, 0404642608
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2012

Publication series

NameAMS studies in cultural history


  • Fundamentalism
  • terrorist novel
  • post-9/11
  • Orhan Pamuk
  • Richard Flanagan
  • Mohsin Hamid
  • dystopia


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