Sept 11, 2001 has had a momentous impact on the lives of many living in the 21st century, which significantly gets reflected in identity politics — its construction, perception and reception. The terrorism event — now known popularly as 9/11 — has caused wars and shifts in political affiliations, led to the rise of conspiracy theories and, worst of all, gave birth to anti-Muslim mob hysteria. Literary and Non-Literary Responses Towards 9/11: South Asia and Beyond, edited by Nukhbah Taj Langah, is a comprehensive collection of 10 essays that encompass the full spectrum of the 9/11 phenomenon, ranging from debates on objectification, marginalisation and Islamophobia to visual, literary and film representations.
Kamal ud Din, head of the English department at Forman Christian College, Lahore, in his essay ‘The Discourse After 9/11: Cultural Relativism versus Ethnocentrism’, brings in a new perspective on Samuel P. Huntington’s hypothesis of the clash of civilisations, and provides a critique on how it has been exploited by the West to promote ethnocentrism in place of cultural relativism. On a similar episteme, in ‘Orientalist: Friend or Foe?’ anthropologist Charles Ramsey discourages the vilification of Orientalists. He argues that the reading of the Orient gets richer with a critical response towards the Orientalist perspective. Thus, outrightly dismissing it as an impurity would be an intellectual loss. Ramsey goes on to develop detailed dialectics of Orientalism and suggests that “uncomfortable subjects” should be handled with empathy that may work to appease the rift.
After the ideological delineation of the clash of civilisations in the post-9/11 context discussed in the first part of the book, the second set of papers brings forth a comparative study on non-literary policy formation and the literary front. Mobeena Shafqat, a graduate of history and English literature, uses the USA PATRIOT Act as a fulcrum to showcase the ever expanding politics of ‘terrorism’ and its discontents. The latter half of her essay deconstructs Pakistani literary texts — Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist and H.M. Naqvi’s Homeboy — by critically studying “the changes in gazes of our Pakistani protagonists toward the American society and vice versa.”
In ‘Why They Hate Us: The Rise of Fundamentalism After 9/11’, Debamitra Kar, assistant professor of English at Women’s College, Kolkata, India, studies the similarity of discourse patterns present in Osama bin Laden’s fatwa on war against the Americans and the occupation of the holy lands, and the United States’s national security strategy document on protecting freedom and peace in America.
A book of essays presents insights into the seminal event and its repercussions from a wide range of academic and interdisciplinary perspectives
Kar argues that both of these are driven by power politics to create hegemony over the “other” and to justify protracted war. To substantiate her premise further — that is, xenophobia is an outcome of both cognitive and linguistic programming — she examines the “language of hatred” in John Updike’s novel Terrorist. Kar’s textual analysis reveals that, just like non-literary texts, certain semiotic strategies are strategically at work in literature to fuel otherness.
To cover the full canvas of creative responses, editor Langah relies on various literary genres (fiction, documentary and drama) to suggest Islamophobia and Islamicisation as two critical constructs for understanding the stereotyping of Muslim identity by the West as well as the relationship between the West and the Muslim world. The collective concern of all these literary and cultural forms of expressions is discussed in her chapter ‘Islamisation and Post-9/11 Islamophobia: The Power of Genre’ as a response from Pakistani writers to combat negativity towards Muslims in the West and to better the Pak-US relationship.
Part three of the book focuses on Bollywood, drones and artefacts. In ‘Drones, State of Exception and Truck Art’, Muhammad Waqar, an assistant professor of English, examines the drone phenomenon politically and culturally. The reliance on drones seeks its legitimisation as an unavoidable strategic tool under the guise of preventive measures to save the world from future atrocities. The whole discussion is theorised through Giorgio Agamben’s framework of the reduction of citizens to homo sacer, or someone outside the law. In this chapter, it is interesting to observe the appropriation of Pakistan’s famous truck art into drone art, by Pakistani artist Mahwish Chishty, to showcase resistance.
Meanwhile, Halimah Mohammad Ali, senior lecturer at the school of humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia, examines the moving images in ‘Bollywood Audio-Visual Responses Towards 9/11 Through Kurbaan and My Name Is Khan.’ Her discussion of the 2009 Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor starrer Kurbaan critiques the misrepresentation of Muslims in Bollywood, as well as how Muslims are depicted as terrorists to propagate anti-Muslim sentiments. Countering this pro-West, Islam-loathing rendition is the 2010 film My Name is Khan, starring Shah Rukh Khan, which questions the ostracisation and objectification of Muslims. Ali applies Indian political psychologist Ashis Nandy’s theoretical construct to debate on these two contrasting cinematic responses to 9/11. Her political stance on Bollywood productions on 9/11 becomes even more significant considering that India shares a long border with Muslim Pakistan and Muslims are India’s largest religious minority.
The last part of the book is based on minority voices in the wake of 9/11. Madeline Clements, research lecturer in English Studies at Teesside University in the UK, highlights the worsening of the living conditions of Pakistan’s Christians after 9/11, owing to their faith. She discusses how, in a betrayal of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s vision, Pakistan’s Christians are being persecuted as their religion is “Western” and they are “stool-pigeons of [the] Christian West.”
Clements’s essay, ‘Un-vanishing Angularities: Placing Pakistani Christians in Third-Millennium Cultural Texts’ engages with the biography of Asia Bibi — a Christian woman accused of blasphemy; Christian MNA Aasia Nasir’s orations; and Malcolm Hutcheson’s photographic project on the lives of Christians living in Lahore. These three different forms of expression help Clements substantiate the argument that Christians in Pakistan are living as unequal citizens, which proves Jinnah’s vision merely as a rhetorical trap. She also reaffirms the need for plurality of voices to raise the right sort of questions.
Next, in ‘Visualising Hunza Post-9/11: Indeterminate State Development’, Julie Flowerday, an American sociologist with long anthropological affiliations to Hunza in the extreme north of Pakistan, projects the post-9/11 economic and social troubles of Hunzukts as “Treble Vision.” She compares contemporary Hunza with that of the “good times” of the 1930s and the 1990s when Hunza used to be a meeting point for people from all over the world who enjoyed the local hospitality.
Finally, in the essay ‘Pakistan’s Traditional Muslim Scholars and the West Post-9/11’, Mashal Saif, assistant professor of Religious Studies at Clemson University in the US, contests the constructs that — increasingly after 9/11 — present madressahs as synonymous with terrorism and the ulema as promoting fanaticism. However, I find the presentation of her premise problematic, especially because of a lack of academic rigour.
On the whole, this book would interest scholars, students, and general readers who want to review authentic and interdisciplinary academic approaches towards 9/11 beyond any, or with minimal, bias. This book offers fresh insights about 9/11, based as it is on a composite of dispositions, frameworks, discourses, modalities, policy perspectives and consequences. In addition to state narratives, it captures the responses to 9/11 that emerged from a diverse range of groups, thus treating the topic through a wide range of dimensions.
Literary and Non-Literary Responses Towards 9/11: South Asia and Beyond
Edited by Nukhbah Taj Langah
The reviewer is assistant professor of English at the Forman Christian College, Lahore
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, November 17th, 2019