le 18 mars 2012
This is a strange novel and the first strange element is that it sounds like an autobiographical story in the first person, and yet the name of the story teller and main character in the novel is not the author's.
Apart from that the story is fascinating because it concerns the crisscrossing conflicts in the mind of a Pakistani Muslim living in the USA and confronted to the fundamentalist Muslims in the Päkistani community in Milwaukee; then to the open American society that preaches autonomy, independence and self-building for every individual, though showing how only a small minority can succeed along that line; and finally to the Jewish community.
The fundamentalist Muslims consider submission to the authority of the Quran, to the father and to the husband is the center of life itself. Submission to a set of rules that are amplified by exile and a non-Muslim environment becomes a straightjacket that cannot be evaded not untied.
To succeed in American society you have to look after yourself and only respect one rule that is "Be successful!" The means are never very clear or clearly discussed. That side of the novel is in a way like a void and can give you a vertigo because the concrete reality of surviving or living in the USA is not explained or explored though kind of identified with the side effects of it, mistresses and alcohol.
The confrontation with the Jews is explored in details and it is definitely dramatic and traumatic. It all turns around verse 62 of Surah 2, The Cow. The prophet in this Surah tells the story of Israel and how they were made the chosen people by God and how they betrayed that God over and over again till they were rejected. And it is summarized by one fundamentalist as follows:
Disgrace and humiliation were stamped on the children of Israel
They earned the burden of God's wrath.
And all because they denied what God revealed.
They killed His messengers. They rebelled.
They did what was wrong. [...]
Evil is the pride for which they sold their own souls,
And rejected what God has revealed,
Jealous of others whom God chooses to favour.
They have earned the burden of God's wrath. Over and Over.
And that is were verse 62 seems to modify the meaning:
It is true: the faithful, those who follow the
Jewish faith, the Christians, the Sabians - all
who believe in God and the Last Day and do
right - these find reward with the Lord.
They will not fear. They will not grieve.
This weak verse of tolerance is at once tuned upside down into the reverse by the fundamentalist since the Jews and other infidels will have to first accept to live by the standards of Islamic law and Islam's God. They can remain Jewish provided they accept Islam's God authority.
The local Imam goes even farther when he preaches:
O Bani Israel!
Remember how I favored you.
Fulfill your promise to Me.
I will fulfil my promise to you.
Of Me Alone stand in awe!
Believe in what I have given.
Confirm the truth you know.
Be not the first to deny.
Do not give away My revelation for a trifling sum.
Of Me alone be aware. [...]
For disbelievers, warn them or not, it makes no difference.
They will not believe!
Allah has sealed their hearts and ears.
And veiled their eyes.
Great will be their punishment.
And the novel demonstrates the truth about this fundamentalism: Once a Jew always a Jew. You cannot convert or do whatever good you may do, because once a Jew always a Jew.
But at the same time, the main protagonists of the novel show how deeply the Jews and the Muslims are attracted to each other because deeply in their traditions they are much the same by origin. Not only do they have Abraham or Ibrahim in common, but they also have the same conception of God and the same direct relation with Him. Between the two there could be love and even living together in peace if it were not for some deeply impressed and rooted racist and segregationist principle that makes Jews believe that common life is impossible and the Muslims believe that common life is unacceptable because of the Palestinians, the state of Israel, and so many other details of history that correspond to the deepest dramas of at least twenty centuries of human history.
Apart from tat this novel is a fascinating love story of unsatisfied love though it is totally recognized and respected, even when officially rejected. A love affair doomed to fail and yet to survive its failure.
On the other hand it is the long shameful painful confession of a child and teenager about his mistakes amounting to crimes from a purely human point of view. But what is a child in the grip of the ruthless fundamentalism of exiled Muslims? Just fodder for the dust-making machine of frantic fanatics who are successful in the USA only by rejecting their own principles that are made even more fundamental in their private life and their religious practice. In other words they are plain hypocrites and renegades.
An interesting attempt at understanding an aggiornamento that is agitating the Muslim community all over the world where it is constantly confronted with the famous market economy that does not respect - by definition - the Sharia, the Islamic law that should govern all, absolutely all aspects of life, as it auto-self-proclaims.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU