FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Ali Eteraz’s “Native Believer”

There are parallels between Mohsin Hamid’s dark narrative, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), and Ali Eteraz’s equally troubling novel, Native Believer. Perhaps you remember Hamid’s main character’s increasing disaffection with the United States—in part triggered by 9/11—and his eventual decision to return to Lahore, the city of his birth. Eteraz’s main character (known as “M”) grew up in Alabama, in many ways becoming as American as apple pie. He effaced any connection to Islam long ago—or so he thought—marrying an American Southern belle, named Marie-Anne, and supporting her career, as well as her health problems that have left him, if not emasculated, then at least playing second-fiddle. He describes himself as “a man who ate the West, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

In short, he doesn’t care a hoot for his Muslim background. Or so he believes.

An incident occurs early in the story, however, that gets him thinking. He and his wife host a party, including in the guests M’s boss, George Gabriel, at the consulting firm where M works. There’s a curious incident when George looks at one of the bookcases and notices the works of Goethe and Nietzsche. George describes the two writers as “Gods among men….” Then he looks at the top shelf at the back and asks about a little pouch covered with dust. Although M has forgotten about it, he knows that it is a miniature Koran, inside the pouch, left nativebelieverthere by his mother. George is aghast, and he asks his host,” You’re putting something higher than Nietzsche?” A few minutes later, he will reveal that his mother was a Nazi and—worse—when M goes to work the next day, he is fired. M’s best friend interprets the incident as a clear example of discrimination and recommends a lawsuit, but M replies, “I’m not about to go around claiming anti-Muslim discrimination when I’m not a Muslim.”

As further explanation, he observes, “For a brief instant, earlier in the decade, there had been a moment when I had been forced to confront the question of Islam. But not for very long. When the towers fell I simply attested to myself that I wasn’t a Muslim—There’s no known god, nor is there an unknown god, and if there must be a god, then all are god—and moved on from any feeling of complicity or guilt or involvement. I decided that I was nothing but a millennial, identified by my income, my profession, my consumption habits, living in this post racial America which through the burning of a Bush had become enlightened enough to follow a man from the Nile despite the fact that his name evoked not one but two of America’s enemies. Then Marie-Anne had gone on to get a job working at a firm whose stated goal it was to keep America safe [by marketing drones], and there came to be an additional buffer between me and Islam. As long as I didn’t do anything to willfully attach myself to Muslims, I had figured I would be secure.”

Eteraz’s novel asks what Muslims must do to themselves in order to be successful in the United States—deny their heritage? Buy into America’s war machine? Watch as the Middle East goes up in flames? Once unemployed, M meets other assimilated Muslims, who have similarly effaced their roots. One of these acquaintances, named Ali, believes he has solved the dilemma by making porn for Muslims. According to Ali, “To be a Muslim was not a physical confinement. It was an invisible concentration camp, where the bulk of our time was spent with each other, talking about ourselves, as if we were inherently problematic, in need of a solution. Maybe that was the nature of the twenty-first century incarceration. It made you gaze at your own reflection, over and endlessly, until your existence became a torture, until you became unbearable even to yourself, until you loathed yourself and longed to be who you were not.”

Ali also makes what he describes as “terrorist porn” and he openly supports a gay rock group—both designed to flaunt his ethnicity and “turn the war on terror into a joke….” Another one of Ali’s pranks is to project passages from the Koran on Philadelphia’s public buildings, including Constitution Hall. M can’t quite decide what his relationship with Ali should be. And his relationship with Marie-Anne has become equally complicated and non-sexual. For several years, she has suffered from a cortisol imbalance that has convinced her that should she get pregnant, the risks will be enormous.

All of these characters and their relationships with one another slowly move toward the novel’s central premise: “There was a kind of deception in being a moderate Muslim.” But how else can Muslims survive in America? That’s the truly disturbing aspect of Native Believer, along with a shocking conclusion that will leave you breathless. I can’t say that I find that ending convincing, but I understand the enormous pain that Ali Eteraz’s narrator has experienced trying to cope with America post 9/11.

You have been warned: read at your own risk.

Ali Eteraz: Native Believer

Akashic Books: 271 pp., $15.95

More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Yves Engler
Ottawa, Yemen and Guardian
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Tracey L. Rogers
Dear White Women, There May be Hope for You After All
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail