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This, then, is the novel out of which Mira Nair has fashioned a motion picture in which Kiefer Sutherland and Kate Hudson agreed to act. Simply put, the book is a loathsome piece of work. Hamid, whose writing teachers at Princeton reportedly included Toni Morrison and Joyce Carol Oates, places no critical distance whatsoever between himself and Changez. Nothing in the text suggests that Hamid disapproves of Changez’s benign picture of Pakistani society or his view of the Taliban as “friends” of Pakistan. One plainly unintended moral here is that the more generous America is to certain foreigners, the more they’ll hate America for it; another is that that that intelligent, polite, clean-shaven young Ivy Leaguer from the Muslim world who seems so thoroughly Westernized may, in fact, be secretly cheering for America’s destruction.
Durra professes to feel at home everywhere; Hamid, like Changez, has said that he feels at home nowhere. Nonetheless there are significant continuities. Both are plainly fond of life in Western world cities: while Durra recently moved from New York to London, Hamid, unlike Changez, “now divides his time between Pakistan and abroad, living between Lahore, New York, London, and Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Greece.” Thanks to Western freedoms, Durra and Hamid, like many others with Muslim backgrounds, have been able to pursue careers and lead lives of a sort that would be denied them, or that would put them in grave danger, in most of the Islamic world; the only downer is the embarrassment they feel among their upper-crust Western compeers every time something happens to remind everybody of the primitivism and brutality of that world. That embarrassment breeds a powerful defensiveness which renders them constitutionally incapable of giving the West, especially America, the credit it’s due – unwilling to put any ideological distance at all between themselves and the totalitarian thugs in places like Beirut and Lahore who would stone them to death for doing any number of the things they do on a regular basis.
Are they on America’s side in the war against jihadism? Both Durra and Hamid belong to a breed of narcissistic, self-consciously cool young jet setters, the sophisticated progeny of the Islamic world’s privileged classes, who would be likely to dismiss such a question as vulgar, ill-informed, lacking in nuance – in short, uncool. Or who would reply with some comment about American aggression, the implication being that Islamic violence is purely reactive, or about the disparity between Western wealth and Muslim poverty, the implication being that Islamic violence is purely a response to economic injustices caused by Western capitalism. Reading Hamid’s book, however, one cannot help reflecting that while the standard liberal move is to attribute jihadism to poverty, what’s striking is how many perpetrators of Muslim violence have indeed, like Changez, been affluent beneficiaries of the West’s bounty.
Hamid’s book made the New York Times bestseller list, and Nair’s celluloid adaptation, which was praised by critics who saw it in Venice, is already being embraced by the bien pensant crowd; the latest news is that it will open this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Whether it will reach a wide audience remains to be seen – but countless young readers, as it happens, have already been force-fed the novel’s twisted picture of reality. In the five years since Hamid’s book first came out, several U.S. colleges, including Tulane and Georgetown, have made it required reading for incoming freshman, who, during their first days on campus, are presumably expected to participate in teacher-led “discussions” of its deeper meanings. The reason why Hamid’s book is so popular for these purposes is obvious: it’s an ideal tool for faculty-lounge America-bashers and jihad apologists who are eager to get started brainwashing their little charges. Alas, given the kind of reception these morally bankrupt works have received, it’s a good bet that we’ll be seeing a lot more of this sort of swill in the months and years come – for while the overwhelming majority of authors and directors today, as we know, may be scared to tell the truth about Islam, a great many of them have no compunctions whatsoever about recycling fashionable lies.
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