3 books to understand terrorism: Pakistan

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3 books to better understand “how terrorism is born” through the words of some of the greatest writers of the “Islamic world”. Third episode dedicated to Pakistan

The series

Given the tension unleashed in Europe after the barbaric terrorist attacks, I thought it was appropriate to start a reflection on “how terrorists are born”. To do this, I chose to use one of my favorite tools: literature. This week we have in fact brought 3 episodes in which we have analyzed this phenomenon through the writings of 3 great writers of the “Islamic world”, in order to fully understand something so sad and about which so many absurd and imaginative theories have been formulated.

(temporary photo, I loaned “Horses of God”)

The countries will be: Morocco with Mahi Binebine’s “Horses of God”, Egypt with’Ala al Aswani’s “Yacoubian Building” and Pakistan with Mohsin Hamid’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”; enjoy the reading.

(Small note: there are slight differences between the film and the book and, for simplicity and immediacy, we will rely on the first. In the site, however, you will also find something specific about the book)


“The reluctant fundamentalist” is without a shadow of a doubt one of the essential novels to understand the phenomenon of post-September 11 terrorism and this both for the plot and for the ideas provided. The protagonist, Changez Khan, is a young Pakistani who graduated with honors from an American Ivy League university and then hired as a financial analyst in a prestigious Manhattan firm. Thanks to his prestigious occupation, he will build high-ranking friendships that will allow him to meet Erica, daughter of a rich and powerful local family and his future girlfriend. Changez lives “the American dream” in its entirety, but something is about to collapse, forcing him to change his life forever.

The reluctant fundamentalist
Scene from the film

In September 2001 he finds himself on a business trip to the Philippines and, upon his return, he finds his world changed forever. September 11 will change his destiny forever, transforming him from “almost American” to “different” and viewed with increasing suspicion. When he arrives at the airport he is forced to more intrusive checks than all the other passengers and will even happen to be stopped and questioned arbitrarily. The relationship with Erica breaks down and she begins to notice her origins more and more, finding its peak in Istanbul. Here he will go to fire the owner of a publishing house and the latter, amazed to see a Pakistani working for the Yankees, tells him the story of the Janissaries, in which he deeply finds himself. Once back in New York he will resign, returning to Pakistan with a new mind.


Back in Lahore he will quickly manage to become a professor at a local university, giving increasingly lively and popular speeches against the US presence in the country. Following the kidnapping of an American professor, journalist Bobby Lincoln will ask him a series of questions about his past, but failing to fool Changez. The latter has in fact immediately understood that Bobby is actually a CIA agent who has come in search of his compatriot and, for this reason, an increasingly tense and inflamed conversation begins between the two.

The reluctant fundamentalist

Lincoln is in fact increasingly convinced that Changez is behind the kidnapping, but the latter will not reveal the answer until the end, leaving the doubt until the last page / scene.

The reluctant fundamentalist

In reality, as the title suggests, Khan is in no way involved in the affair, but he does not want to give in to pressure from the American because he refuses to collaborate with someone who sees as much enemy as terrorists. Unlike the previous books, in fact, Changez is lucky enough to have an extremely tough mental temper and this will allow him not to be crushed by the weight of so many losses. He will refuse to lose his reason in every way, managing to reject the self-styled imams who come before him and to seriously reflect on his own condition as a human being. Until then he had tried in every way to pursue “the American dream”, not bothering in any way to form his own and thus being trapped in his mind at the collapse of the Twin Towers.

The memory of the Janissaries, however, will be fundamental to unblock his thoughts, allowing him to understand the character he was playing in the course of history and thus managing to align himself between the two extremes, thus finding peace.

Have a dream

The essential spring that will lead Changez to emancipate himself from other visions, even more than external events, will be interior, profound and at the same time simple to pronounce: he has a dream. It may seem trivial, almost silly to most, but it is, together with a better economic situation, the only real big difference compared to other stories. When Changez comes to conceive this, he will be able to create his own inner light, erasing any danger both from the abyss and from the fishermen. At that moment he acquires his mental compass, a real “permanent center of gravity”, which will allow him to elaborate “his dream”, which does not force him to seek his fortune in other clothes, nor to put on the ugliest ones for seek heaven.

The reluctant fundamentalist

The speech deserves a whole book to be explored but, trivially, Changez will set himself a “mission” made to measure, managing, thanks to the presence of the latter, not to fall even if strongly impacted. This “mission” is precisely what the boys of Sidi Moumen, completely abandoned to themselves, lacked, and in Taha, betrayed by those on whom he had made plans. Having “to do” and / or “something to lose” are essential salvation anchors for these souls who, without having walls to break against, are destined to fall more and more rapidly into the abyss.

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