In a post 9/11 world, opinions and judgments are heavily influenced by the media. Our bias and assumptions about others are often predetermined by those media representations that put Islam and the Muslim community under scrutiny and suspicion. In Tabish Khair’s new novel ‘How to Fight Islamic Terror from the Missionary Position’, issues like these are addressed to the extent where the reader is confronted with their own prejudices concerning certain individuals, especially those of particular religious groups. When we were lucky enough to have Khair join us for a class, we were able to ask him questions about why he had chosen to write on this subject. He spoke about how religious groups can be isolated and how prejudice can infuse societies so that certain people are made to feel like outsiders or ‘the other’. For example, Khair addressed the idea that when George Bush was president of the United States, he ended his speeches with ‘God Save America’, instantly dismissing those living in America that are of other religions and suggesting that God that would not save America’s enemies.
The novel itself combines serious issues and a sexual innuendo to create a good read that addresses contemporary problems with humour. The male-orientated nature of the text comes hand in hand with a lad-like perspective, which echoes that of Sam Selvon’s ‘The Lonely Londoners’. Centered on the lives of the unnamed narrator, Karim and Ravi, the text deals with personal relationships (many of which fail) and various human encounters along with issues that surround the treatment of Islam. However, Khair’s text is not your ordinary account of three single men living together. In fact, the ease of reading the text allows you to fall into a trap. The constant references to ‘in hindsight’ and the brilliant build up of what is to come at the end of the novel finally reveals more about the reader than the text itself. Khair’s technique encourages the reader to believe that something terrible has happened and that someone – a muslim – is guilty. In fact, this is not the case. Through the brilliance of the plot, Khair is able to reveal the prejudices of the reader merely through an unexpectedly human ending that re-positions the book in relation to the theme of stereotyping and categorizing certain religious groups. If what we look for in this text is someone to blame and a character to suffer from his or her guilt, then powerfully when we close the book we know that the person to blame for bad judgements is essentially us.
Khair confronts the undeniable problem of Islamophobia that is not only present in countries with high populations of Muslims, but also in Scandinavian countries like Denmark where the novel is set. He challenges the assumptions that are forced upon us through the media and ultimately makes us think about our own guilt for labeling or categorizing complex communities. Khair’s text is a thoroughly enjoyable story that is hard to put down, but what can be taken from this text is the way in which we think and the dangers of easy media-led assumptions.