“The reluctant fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid

This article is also available in: Italiano

An incredible text that we could talk about for hours. Mohsin Hamid’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is without a shadow of a doubt the novel that best analyzes how the world changed after 11.09.

The reluctant fundamentalist

Each empire has its own Janissaries, and Changez is a Janissary from the American Empire. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful encounter . . . Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by an elite valuation firm. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his budding romance with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.

The reluctant fundamentalist
Scene from the film

But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his relationship with Erica shifting. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.

Between extremisms

Beyond good and evil there is a field. We will meet there.


Mohsin Hamid‘s text is one of the brightest ever to fully understand a seemingly very simple matter: the point of view is always relative. To do this, the writer will drag us into his story, showing how, because of others, his life has completely changed after 9/11. At that moment, in fact, it is not Changez that changes, but it will be the whole world that transforms one’s way of seeing “the other”, creating barriers that will force the individual to choose between 2 extremes. However, Hamid‘s novel, as in most of his works, opposes this, claiming his independence of thought, something that is beyond both extremes.

Mohsin Hamid
Mohsin Hamid

In fact, the author highlights the very profound similarities between Islamic and white extremists throughout the text. The latter are identical to the former in the way of seeing the world in only two colors: black and white, either you are with me or you are against. The only way to really try to solve things, however, is to observe the world in its complexity, the only way to fully understand yourself.

Modern Janissary

Another theme linked to this story (especially in the film in which the scene takes place in Istanbul) is the concept of “modern Janissary”, something that we often don’t notice but which has very strong repercussions in the life of each of us. The Janissaries were the chosen body of the Ottoman sultan, young Christians (but later also Muslims) who were torn from their families and sent to Istanbul to serve the emperor. Here they abandoned their faith and their culture, becoming one of the pillars of the Sublime Gate, sometimes managing to even reach the rank of Grand Vizier, equivalent (approximately) to the role of Prime Minister. This type of choice is not very different, in reality, from what we still observe today.

It is not in fact strange to watch boys and girls even come to deny their past in the name of a brighter future. Young people from all over the world ready to convert to values so different from their own in order to be able to afford a dignified life. The problem, in this case, is not so much in the gesture itself, but in the forcing or not of the choice; at a time when the choice is solely between black and white, it is very likely that it will be strongly conditioned. To remain independent, then, there is only one way: to pursue one’s dream, not the American one and not the Taliban one, a new way that is tailor-made for the individual / country and that does not suffer from inferiority complexes, a real problem. If you are a fan of this site, you cannot fail to read it.

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