FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
February 17, 2020
Sheldon Richman
Anti-BDS Laws Violate Our Freedom
John Horning
NEPA is Our National Defense System

Evelyn Leopold
How the UN’s Middle East Peace Plan Was Trounced by Its Own Members
Stephen Cooper
“Just Mercy” and Justice Don’t Exist in Alabama
Patrick Cockburn
Sinn Fein’s Victory is Ireland’s ‘Brexit Moment’ When Left-Out Voters Turn on the Elite
Ralph Nader
“Democratic Socialism” – Bring it on Corporate Socialists!
Phillip Doe
Every Day’s a Holiday for the Oil Business in Colorado
Binoy Kampmark
Fashion Fetishism, Surgical Masks and Coronavirus
Cesar Chelala
The Democrats’ New Chapter
Robert Koehler
The Wall: Separating Democracy From Voters
Peter Cohen
Time to Retire the “He Can’t Beat Trump” Trope
Sr. Kathleen Erickson
Lessons From Ministering on the Border
Alvaro Huerta
Another Five Lessons for Democrats to Defeat Trump in 2020
Wim Laven
Donald Trump’s Plan for America: Make it Ignorant
Christopher Brauchli
You Tube’s Trump Predicament
Steve Klinger
Trump Shoots Romney at Prayer Breakfast; GOP Shrugs
Elliot Sperber
Ode to the City Bus 
James Haught
Megachurch Mess
Weekend Edition
February 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Mayor Mike, Worse Than Mayor Pete
Bruce E. Levine
“Sublime Madness”: Anarchists, Psychiatric Survivors, Emma Goldman & Harriet Tubman
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Leader of the Pack
Jennifer Matsui
The Doomsday Cuckoo Clock
Paul Street
Things Said in Confidence to 4000 Close Friends This Week
Jonathan Cook
Even With Corbyn Gone, Antisemitism Threats Will Keep Destroying the UK Labour Party
Thomas Klikauer
Cambridge Analytica: a Salesgirl’s Report
Joseph Natoli
Vichy Democrats vs. the Master Voice
David Rosen
Sanders vs. the Establishment Democrats: McGovern All Over Again?
Louis Proyect
Marx, Lincoln and Project 1619
Robert Hunziker
Amazon Onslaught
Russell Mokhiber
NPR and the Escalating Attack on Single-Payer Health Care
Ramzy Baroud
Breaking with Washington: Arabs and Muslims Must Take a United Stance for Palestine
Mike Miller
Race and Class: Overcoming the Divides
Michael Brennan
Timeline: How the DNC Manipulated 2016 Presidential Race 
Jacob G. Hornberger
U. S. Lies and Deaths in Afghanistan
Rev. William Alberts
Trump Served Up Projection at the National Prayer Breakfast
Nick Pemberton
The Overwhelming Sex Appeal Of Bernie Sanders
David Swanson
Why This Election Is Different
Dan Bacher
Western States Petroleum Association Tops CA Lobbying Expenses with $8.8 Million Spent in 2019
Christopher Ketcham
The Medium Warps the Message Straight to Our Extinction
Erik Molvar
Trump’s Gutting of NEPA Will Cut the Public Out of Public Lands Decisions
William Kaufman
Tulsi Gabbard: A Political Postmortem
Colin Todhunter
Menace on the Menu in Post-EU Britain
Gregory Elich
Mnangagwa’s Neoliberal Assault on the Zimbabwean People
Ron Jacobs
The Lies of Industry and the Liars Who Sell Them
Binoy Kampmark
Subverting the Blacklist: Kirk Douglas’s Modest Contribution
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail