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  • Model Minority Terrorist:Post-9/11 Asian American Racial Formation and Brown Peril Narrative Discourse in Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist
  • Stephen Hong Sohn1 (bio)

Over approximately a single decade (1965–1975), the landscape for Asian Americans changed radically: the harshest quotas for Asian immigrants were lifted, ethnic studies programs were created, and academic excellence became associated with Asian Americans. Given all these seemingly positive changes, how can we engage the continued production of novels that fixate upon damaged Asian American subjects? How does racism get configured in today's age of unparalleled legislative inclusion? If the model minority stereotype merely represents the flip side to the yellow peril (Okihiro 142), then Asian American racial formation continues to revolve around a subtle dialectic in which oppression and prejudice emerge in more insidious ways. We can thus read the work of contemporary Asian American fictions through their illumination of the malleable contours of racial formation, as it has changed during the post-1965 period.

Since 1966, the predominant racial formation attached to Asian Americans has been that of the model minority. Presumed to be astute, hardworking, and obedient, Asian Americans have been promoted as the minority ideal. However, South Asian Anglophone and South Asian American fiction writers have been incisive in their attention to racial formation, as it was re-scripted in the post-9/11 moment and as civil liberties [End Page 232] began to erode in light of the war on terror. In a range of novels, the South Asian American body transforms into a site of racial anxiety that manifests in acts of prejudice and violence. Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist takes a prominent place within this grouping, which includes Marina Budhos's Ask Me No Questions, Saher Alam's The Groom to Have Been, H. M. Naqvi's Home Boy, Nafisa Haji's The Writing on My Forehead, and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's Queen of Dreams. But Hamid's status as a transnational author has moved critical considerations of his work largely into the purview of postcolonial and global studies. Though published in 2007, the novel has already received widespread critical attention in dozens of articles, book chapters, reviews, and conference papers. Some scholars read the novel as exemplary of a global or world novel (Medovoi; Morey, "'The Rules of the Game Have Changed'") or as a postcolonial narrative boasting a trenchant critique of American imperialism and globalization (Singh; Haider; Keeble). Others focus on its unique combination of formal elements and social contexts (Adami; Mandala White).

My article builds upon the work of Anna Hartnell, who argues that the novel reveals the complicated dynamics of religion and racial formation. As Hartnell notes, "The fact that America hosts a far more assimilated and upwardly mobile population of Muslims and Arabs than any European country suggests" (340) a form of privilege that some minority groups could not claim, at least prior to 9/11. Hartnell's larger point is that the novel critiques the melting pot formulation precisely because America's racial and religious minorities rarely inhabit the same positions in social hierarchies and are often positioned against one another. I extend Hartnell's argument by emphasizing the shift in American ethnoracial and religious alignments that repositions South Asians alongside Arabs and Muslims in the period following 9/11. The novel's depiction of a Pakistani transnational necessarily places this text within the purview of Asian American Studies, its attendant critical methodologies, and its central thematics (such as racial formation).

At the same time, this novel encourages further interdisciplinary dialogues. With respect to US ethnic studies after 9/11, Ibrahim G. Aoudé provocatively considers how "Ethnic Studies, especially Asian American Studies, is compelled to deal with Arab American issues if it wants to remain a relevant field and revitalize its traditional commitments" (144). [End Page 233] Nadine C. Naber notes the affiliations between Asian American and "Arab/South Asian/Muslim American(s)" in that same period through the germination of activist coalitions (217–27). In light of the heightened paranoia, Shireen Roshanravan investigates how the targeting of Filipino airport screeners after the terrorist attacks demonstrated a large-scale attack on civil liberties in the name of...


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