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Fall 2014

Agora Fall 2014 Hossain

Islam, Terrorism and Bangladesh:
Reading Adib Khan’s Spiral Road 



In his latest novel Spiral Road Adib Khan is primarily concerned with the problem of identity and belonging from which an immigrant suffers both at home and abroad. But in addition to dealing with this particular problem, the writer also attempts to throw light on some controversial issues like terrorism and the rise of the Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh. While dealing with the latter issues, Khan seems to succumb to prefabricated generalizations and stereotypings and thus fails to present an authentic, unprejudiced picture of Islam and its impact on Bangladeshi Muslims. This paper attempts to show how his treatment of issues related to Islam and terrorism replicates Western perceptions and also tries to probe into the factors that may have contributed to the stereotypical representation of Islam and Muslims in Bangladesh.

Owing to the hegemonic control of media and publishing industry by the west “Islam” and “terrorism”, now-a-days, have become almost synonymous. At present a terrorist is usually assumed to be a Muslim and Islam is portrayed “as an inherently violent religion, a ‘religion of the sword’” (Sutton and Vertigans 7) devoid of humane values and tainted with irrational and ludicrous practices. This negative image of Islam and its followers is greatly appreciated by many in the west. As a result, quite a few writers, either consciously or unconsciously, tend to satisfy the expectations of Western readers by dealing with issues like Islam, Muslims and terrorism stereotypically. Adib Khan, a Bangladeshi-Australian writer, also falls in line with the West in his treatment of such issues in his latest novel Spiral Road. This essay examines how Khan’s portrayal of Islam and its influence on the Bangladeshis lacks authenticity and impartiality and conforms to the “orientalist” prejudice about the Muslims in Bangladesh.  It also attempts to explore the possible reasons behind the writer’s stereotypical treatment of these issues in the novel.  

Khan presents Bangladeshi Muslims in Spiral Road as being obsessed with their religion and the state of Islam in the present world. After living long thirty years in Australia when Masud Alam, Khan’s protagonist in Spiral Road, pays a visit to Bangladesh, he is assaulted with a number of embarrassing questions and remarks regarding the condition of the Muslims in Australia, Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War, the problem of the Middle East, the Muslims’ responsibilities in the present circumstances and the like. At the airport Hamid, the customs officer, says to Alam, “Are Australians prejudiced against Muslims? . . . Do Muslims feel threatened in Australia?” (Khan, Spiral 14). He further remarks with “a note of accusation in his voice” (15) that Alam’s country (Australia) took part in the Iraq War – “your country invaded Iraq” (15). At home Uncle Rafiq asks Alam “how . . . he (Alam) feel[s] about the threat to Islam” (59) and “about Australia’s part in the war on Islam” (61). In the street of Dhaka Alam is about to be physically assaulted by a group of bearded Muslims who misconstrue him to be an American spy. Only after getting satisfactory answers to their questions as to his identity and religion do they release him. Bangladesh, in Khan’s representation, appears to be a land swarmed with over enthusiastic conservative Muslims whose only concern is their religion and nothing else. But this is a picture marred by the kind of exaggeration and fancy which a diasporic writer can suffer from while depicting his homeland. Hamid is not a type, rather, he is an individual who has to play a dual role – first as a customs officer and then as a member of a terrorist group. His involvement with terrorists may have made him overenthusiastic to ask questions about Muslims in Australia. But this does not mean that all other Muslim officers in Bangladesh also indulge in this kind of meaningless queries and conversation. Uncle Rafiq’s case is somewhat different. He represents a particular type of people who are educated in madrasas, conservative in nature and regretful about the condition of the present generation of Muslims who have been “enervated by materialism” and “have lost the meaning of self-discipline” (58). People like Uncle Rafiq do not mind the use of violence as a means of attaining their goal – “The only way to get the attention of the developed nations is by making them feel that the rich are not invincible, that they too can be hurt” (62). This kind of people are not rare in Bangladesh but in comparison to the total population they constitute a minority, the majority being liberal Muslims like Zia, Alam’s brother, who would not “let religion become unaccommodating” (90).

Alam’s encounter with a group of bearded Muslims in the street of Dhaka is very much melodramatic and even ludicrous. There is no denying the fact that Bangladeshis love gossip and the tea-stalls by the streets serve as their common gathering places where they talk about personal, social, religious, economic, political as well as international issues. But the problem with Khan’s presentation lies in his depiction of the attitude of some bearded men towards a stranger, Masud Alam, whom they suspect of being an American spy and approach aggressively. Alam describes his plight thus, “I’m now surrounded by religious zealots” (173). This seems to be a little bit exaggerated picture removed from reality. Bangladesh is a “moderate and democratic majority Muslim country” (Vaughn, summary page) and the Bangladeshis are “quite friendly and hospitable” and have the “willingness to share whatever they have with their new friends, even if they do not have much of their own” (American Center, 3). That the people of such a country with their friendliness and hospitality would behave with a stranger in such a fanatic manner as is depicted by Khan in his novel appears to be quite unconvincing and hard to accept. Another noteworthy aspect of this portrayal is the “beard” of the so called “religious zealots”, as if bearded Muslims had greater and more passionate devotion to Islamic teachings and principles and hence were much more radical and violent, an attitude that corresponds with the stereotypical West-centric attitude towards Islam and Muslims.

 While the author presents a negative image of Bangladesh, he tries to portray Australia favorably. In response to Hamid’s query regarding the Australian’s prejudice against Muslims Alam replies, “I’m an Australian. I’m not prejudiced against myself” (14). Again, to show that no difference between the descendants of the British and the immigrants exists in Australia, he remarks, “There are people from all over the world living here” (14). While talking to Amin Haider, Alam further says that he did not experience any change in the attitude of the Australians towards Muslim immigrants even after the 9/11 attack: “I didn’t experience that” (302). But the reality tells a different story which does not conform to the experience of Khan’s fictional character Masud Alam. An empirical study by Goel shows that “after 9/11 … there was little racial tolerance and a lot of religious and racial discrimination” (9) in Australia. Thus, Khan seems to ignore the racial prejudice in Australia whereas magnify the problems in Bangladesh and the result is that Bangladesh and Australia appear in binary opposition in his presentation – Bangladeshis being radical, Australians liberal; the former fanatic, the latter tolerant – though there is little truth in this kind of portrayal of his motherland.

Khan tends to project Bangladesh as a breeding ground of Islamic terrorists in Spiral Road. While going home from the airport, Zia gives the following picture of the political situation of Bangladesh to his brother Alam: “In the north, there’s a fellow trying to establish an Islamic State. Then there’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Ahle Hadith Andolan Bangladesh, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh, Islami Oikyo Jote, Jamaat-e-Islami, Jagrata Muslim Janata … A new political party crops up every week”(40). Talking about the “communal instability and the disorder in the country” (102), Nizam, an old friend of Alam, remarks: “Religious fundamentalists, with links to Al Qaeda, are the culprits! And they’re growing in alarming numbers. Take that fellow Bangla Bhai, for instance. He has openly told the press that he wants to form a Taliban-modeled religious government” (102). Moreover, there is a report by Shabir Jamal, the journalist, on the possibility of the existence of Al Qaeda and its training bases in Bangladesh. All these remarks and reports seem to echo the American journalist Griswold’s fear that though “[t]he global war on terror is aimed at making the rise of the regime like that of the Taliban impossible, . . . in Bangladesh, the trend could be going the other way”. But how much authentic and unprejudiced is this projection? Zia’s picture of the political parties in Bangladesh is seriously flawed and biased. All the parties but one in Zia’s list are Islamic parties. It is as if Bangladeshi politics were dominated by the Islamic fundamentalists only. The reality, however, is quite different. The largest political party in Bangladesh, Awami League, claims itself to be a secular party. In addition, there are parties such as Jatiya Party, Liberal Democratic Party, Krishok Sramik Janata League, National Democratic Party and the leftists like Workers Party of Bangladesh, Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal, the Communist Party of Bangladesh, Socialist Party of Bangladesh and so on. The presence of these parties projecting different ideologies indicates the balance existent in the political arena of Bangladesh. Besides, parties like Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh and Jagrata Muslim Janata are banned and leaders like Bangla Bhai and Shaykh Abdur Rahman were executed, which is a clear indication of the Bangladeshi government’s determination not to tolerate any uprising of the religious fundamentalists in the country.

The rise of Bangla Bhai is an isolated phenomenon and removed from the mainstream politics. Though he was held responsible for several explosions throughout the country, his activities were primarily confined to Bagmara, a remote village in the northwestern part of Bangladesh. However, his attempt to form a Taliban-modeled religious government was nipped in the bud and since then no further attempt has been made in the country. There is some truth in the representation of Bangla Bhai but the depiction here is also not free from prejudice; the writer seems to have bias against a particular group of extremists. Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), the Islamic extremist group led by Bangla Bhai, emerged as a reaction to the leftist extremist group Purba Banglar Communist Party (PBCP) which had been running destructive activities like plundering, kidnapping and killing people for a long time in Bagmara. It (JMJB) functioned “with an avowed objective of neutralizing the left-wing extremists, especially cadres of the PBCP” (Prakash 754). It is only at a later period of time that Bangla Bhai expressed his intention to “establish an Islamic State”. Khan, in Spiral Road, points out this problematic issue of Bangla Bhai more than once but keeps silent and never mentions anything about another equally problematic and terrorist group, the Communist extremists (PBCP), who were active in the same region.

Khan is bent on proving the existence of terrorist groups with Al Qaeda links in Bangladesh. Shabir Jamal “suggests that if Al Qaeda has established its presence in Indonesia and to a lesser extent, in Malaysia, then it’s logical to conclude that it will seek a base in Bangladesh” (Khan, Spiral 111). According to Nichols, the CIA agent, “There are disturbing stories, about Bangali fundamentalists being trained here with the aid of foreigners” (197). All these assumptions are projections of Western views and doubts about a third world Muslim country. Sometimes Khan makes his protagonist, Masud Alam, raise the issue of terrorism unnecessarily and abruptly while talking to native Bangladeshis. The novelist does so with a view to eliciting the response of a resident Bangladeshi to this issue since a native is supposed to have “a far greater grasp” (158) over the circumstances at home than a non-resident and hence his assessment of the situation is much more authentic. After Alam’s visit to Manikpur with Alya when they are in a restaurant, Alya asks, “Are you ashamed of your background?” (157). Alam replies angrily, “Of course not! . . . In fact, I’m quite proud of something here. . . . Like . . . well, that Bangladesh is not a terrorist base. The openness and the friendliness of people. The way families stick together …” (157). The first cause of his being proud does not meld with the rest. The protagonist seems to have dragged the issue of terrorism into the conversation forcefully and provocatively. Being provoked, Alya immediately responds to this issue by saying, “How can you be certain that we don’t have terrorists operating here?” (157). Then she suggests that Al Qaeda has changed its strategies of recruitment. Now disgruntled “Professionals and business people, educated in the West … [are] potential recruits” (157) all of whom may not speak “Arabic or Pashtun or Duric, or wear “a certain type of clothes” or carry “a gun” (157). So, it is difficult to say for certain who belongs to Al Qaeda and who does not. Through her conversation with Alam, Alya intends to imply that terrorists might be operating here in Bangladesh too.

Shabir Jamal’s suggestion, Nichols’ remark, Alya’s apprehension all these are conjectures and no proof is available that can make Bangladesh appear to be a “potentially . . . problem area” (198). It is true that sometimes there are bomb blasts and attacks on individuals on religious ground in the country for which certain groups allegedly identified with Islamic fundamentalists are held responsible but whether these fundamentalist groups are independent and isolated or are interconnected with one another having links with the international terrorist network is open to question. Until there is any concrete evidence, it would not be appropriate to label Bangladesh as a problem area. Khan concocts the evidence in his narrative by portraying Amin Haider and Omar, two western educated people, as terrorists having links with Al Qaeda and showing the existence of a training base in the deep forest of Chittagong hill tracts. Thus, the writer himself verifies the western assumption about Bangladesh represented by the statement of Mills, the ASIO agent: “there’s a serious situation building up in this country” (196). But the real situation may not be as precarious and gruesome as is depicted in the novel. Bruce Vaughn’s remark regarding the issue of Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh gives a clearer picture of the situation in the country:

There has been concern in the past that should Bangladesh become a failed state, or a state with increased influence by Islamist extremists, it could serve as a base of operations for terrorist activity. In more recent years, such concerns have abated somewhat as Islamist militants have been vigorously pursued by the government and Bangladesh has returned to democratic government. (summary page)

While dealing with the issue of terrorism at home, the novelist sometimes goes beyond the local context and refers to global terrorism but even while doing so he cannot take off his “Western lenses” (104) and looks at the world from a stereotypical perspective. The 9/11 attack is still controversial and there are theories and counter theories regarding the issue even within America. There are people who regard 9/11 disaster as a terrorist act carried out by a bunch of Islamic extremists whereas there are others who are a little skeptic and doubt it to be an inside job: “… it’s scary to conclude that 9/11 was an inside job. In fact, it’s terrifying. But it’s not, unfortunately, unbelievable” (Naiman & Roberts 89). But Khan seems to overlook all these and conform to the popularly held western view that Mohammad Atta along with some other Muslim hijackers was responsible for the destruction. Alam says to Uncle Rafiq, “. . . are you suggesting that what Mohammad Atta and the other hijackers did was right?” (62). Uncle Rafiq who is “A Koranic scholar and well read” (56), and thinks deeply and passionately about colonialism and the present deplorable condition of Muslims, instead of rejecting the charge brought against Mohammad Atta, tries to defend the action by saying, “Necessary. Not right, but desperately necessary” (62) as if it were universally taken for granted that a group of Islamic fundamentalists launched the attack on the World Trade Center and Mohammad Atta was one of them.The passivity with which Khan’s character accepts the accusation brought against Muslims regarding the 9/11 cataclysm suggests the author’s acquiescence in dominant West-centric attitudes towards Islam and terrorism.   

In the novel Khan also attempts to explore the causes why young, well-educated Muslims sometimes turn into terrorists. Omar who was educated in “a top-flight university” and had a “Terrific job” (287) in the USA leaves the country and finally takes the path of terrorism. While talking to his uncle, Masud Alam, about his transformation, Omar very poignantly narrates how he was treated by his colleagues at the office after the 9/11 attack and how he was taken into custody and tortured both physically and psychologically during the interrogation. In Omar’s words: “The ‘rightness’ of inequality. You’re intended to feel inferior. It crushes your ego with the force of a hammer hitting an egg. You shrink into a cowering mess, covered in sweat, blood and piss. Two broken ribs, bruised chests, legs and arms. A crushed finger” (288). This feeling of inferiority, crushed ego and bodily injury drive Omar to quit his job and leave the country but even then he “was planning to return to the States after a break” (289). During the break he travels through different Middle Eastern countries like Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine in order to forget “the memory of hurt and humiliation” (289) in the USA, but his experience in Palestine, instead of making him forget the past, revives the memory in him and he, this time, reacts violently: “Then I went to Palestine. That night there was a raid on a refugee camp. Early next morning, I went for a walk. There was rubble, dust and the eyes of silent children. I tore up my return ticket and continued the journey east. There were people I met and places I called home . . .” (89). In his eastward journey he reaches Afghanistan and joins some terrorists there. Like Omar, Amin Haider who was born in Bristol and had education in British educational institutions leaves Britain and takes recourse to violence as a reaction to racial prejudice against the Muslims that he experiences in Britain and which becomes more acute after the New York attack: “The prejudices burst into the open after New York was attacked. It seemed like the signal that a great many people had been waiting for” (302).

Through the characters of Omar and Amin Haider, Khan suggests that a sense of humiliation combined with that of collective suffering may trigger off a young Muslim’s violent reaction and instigate him to join a group that tries to strike back at the force that is the cause of his humiliation and suffering. But is it only Muslims who behave this way under the circumstances mentioned above? The answer is obviously “no” and this is evident from the violent reaction of the Americans or rather American Christians against Muslims after the 9/11 incident. Omar describes this nightmarish experience by saying that after the attack “He has to be netted in the sweeping generalizations of revenge. . . . [When] [h]e goes to work . . . [he] is met with glares and silence. . . . Afterwards, there are snide remarks and threatening notes” (287-288).The “World Report 2002: United States”of the Human Rights Watch vindicates Omar’s experience in the USA:

Following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, private individuals committed xenophobic acts of harassment and aggression against Muslims, Sikhs, and people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent ... Violent assaults, death threats, shootings, and vandalism at mosques and Sikh temples were reported; at several U.S. universities foreign students from the Middle East and South Asia were attacked; and members of the affected communities feared to leave their homes, go to work, or wear traditional clothing in public for fear of attack.

Muslims encountered this kind of hostility not only in America but also in many EU countries as is revealed in “Summary Report on Islamophobia in the EU after 11 September 2001”: “Muslims, especially Muslim women, asylum seekers and others, including those who 'look' of Muslim or Arab descent were at times targeted for aggression. Mosques and Islamic cultural centers were also widely targeted for damage and retaliatory acts” (Allen and Nielsen 7). All these suggest that Christians also have a potential for violence, which was revealed to some extent after the attack on the World Trade Center. In other words, terrorism is not the monopoly of the Muslims; people of any religion or community will react violently if their interests are threatened and they are constantly exposed to injustice, oppression, humiliation, racism, exploitation and economic imbalance. The victim, under these circumstances, “becomes aggressor in the vengeful and ever widening cycle of a life for a life” (292).

There is a subtle attempt to depict Islam as a religion of violence in Spiral Road. While describing the attitude of Americans towards Muslims after the New York attack, Omar states that some of American Christians became vindictive and even did not hesitate to threaten their Muslim colleagues without considering whether they “believe in the extreme interpretation of … [the] tenets” (287) of their religion. The implication is that the tenets of Islam encourage violence and therefore Islam is potentially a threat to world order and global peace. This idea recurs in the novel and Khan seems to approve it. At one point of his conversation with Alam about Islamic fundamentalists and terrorist centers in Bangladesh Mills remarks, “The majority of the population follows Islam. Isn’t it conceivable that there could be terrorist centers here?”(238). Without any protest, Khan’s protagonist accepts the suggestion with an attitude of resignation – “A few days ego I would’ve scoffed at the suggestion. Now I’m reluctant to explore it” (238). Khan also vindicates the sinister implication of Mills’ remark by depicting terrorist training centers in the hilly region of Chittagong. The idea is reinforced even in the portrait of Zia who “manipulate[s] religion” because, otherwise, he thinks “it will turn . . . [him] into a fanatic” (90) as if fanaticism were inherent in Islam.

Khan’s humorous representation of Alam’s reception ceremony back at home and Uncle Musa’s argument for his fourth marriage is aimed at ridiculing Islamic practices. Alam describes the ritual of his reception in the following manner: “I stand outside the entrance, barely controlling my impatience in the heat. Relatives gather at the door, curious about the furore. . . . With utmost solemnity, Ma holds up the Koran in both hands, muttering surahs. When she beckons, I walk under the Holy Book and step inside” (Khan, Spiral 51). This is not an Islamic way of welcoming somebody back after a long absence and nor is it the general practice of Bangladeshi Muslims to receive their relatives coming from abroad as could be testified by any native Bangladeshi. This might have been a family custom or at best a tradition of a particular region of Bangladesh (East Pakistan) in 1950s or 60s which Khan recalls now in the 21st century being unaware of the fact that “Bangladeshi villages have probably undergone more changes during this period (the two decades following the independence war) than in the previous two centuries” (Haq). Besides, this kind of practice has nothing to do with Islam at all.

Uncle Musa’s argument for his fourth marriage is also a distortion of the Islamic law. Zia explains Uncle Musa’s decision to Alam by saying, “The old man claimed that he had only been married thrice and it was his privilege, under Islamic law, to marry once more” (83). A depraved man like Uncle Musa who bribes his maid in order to touch her breasts refers to the holy Qur’an to justify his decision to marry for the fourth time. How reliable his interpretation of the Qur’an may be is easily understandable. The Qur’an says, “. . . marry women of your choice two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them) then only one. . .” (The Qur'an: Text, Translation &Commentary 4:3). According to this law a Muslim man can have four wives at a time. This does not mean that he is allowed to marry only four times rather he can exceed the number of times on condition that the number of wives at a time will not exceed four. One may think that this encourages polygamy but if the verse is carefully analyzed, it will be evident that instead of encouraging polygamy it discourages men from having more than one wife. The implication of the later part of the verse is that a man having even an iota of doubt in his mind about his ability to deal with more than one wife justly shall marry only one woman and no more. Uncle Musa misunderstands this rule and misinterprets it. But quite surprisingly Zia whose collection of “Scholarly works on Islam, . . . Islamic cosmology and Sufism” (Khan, Spiral 79) implies his in-depth knowledge about Islam does not try to remove Uncle Musa’s misconception. Zia’s acceptance of this argument without any protest perhaps reflects the satirical and skeptical attitude of the author towards Islam.

Why Khan presents a distorted and prejudiced picture of Bangladeshi Muslims and Islam in Spiral Road requires examination. To find out the answer at first the writer’s diaspora location should be taken into account and then his relation to the hegemonic market politics of the western publishing industry should be considered.

To begin with the first point, some diaspora writers, while writing about home, depend primarily on their memories of homelands and tend to situate those past memories within the frame of the present. These “shards of memory”, Akhter argues, “may not have the assurance of linearity or wholeness, but they are, nonetheless, fountainheads of creative reconstruction of home” (“Bangladesh Revisited” 231). Regarding the transnational writer’s grappling with the memories of his homeland Rushdie remarks, “he [the expatriate] is obliged to deal in broken mirrors some of whose fragments have been irretrievably lost . . . but [paradoxically] the broken mirror may actually be as valuable as the one which is supposedly unflawed” (Imaginary Homelands 11). But how much “unflawed” the image produced by the broken mirror can be is a matter of question. Khan’s protagonist Masud Alam also poses this question to a panel of writers in Australia – “how authentic . . . [are] the images created by memory anyway?” (Spiral 18). Rushdie himself is dubious about the flawlessness of the image of home “built from the incomplete odds and ends of memory that survive from the past” (McLeod 211). In this regard he observes, “[the immigrant’s] alienation from [home] almost inevitably means that [he] will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost; that [he] will . . . create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands” (Imaginary Homelands 10) whose “truth is simultaneously honorable and suspect” (qtd. in Hazra). After an absence of more than three decades from Bangladesh when Khan attempts to deal with his homeland, it can very easily be assumed that he is not in a better position than his protagonist Alam who, during his last visit to Bangladesh, felt “like a musician confronted with the tuning of an instrument that he hasn’t played for years” (Spiral 5). As the musician’s success is in doubt, similarly the authenticity of Khan’s portrayal of his motherland, more particularly of religious issues in Bangladesh, falls under suspicion and a close analysis of Spiral Road testifies to the inauthenticity of his depiction of home.

As diaspora writers tend to portray home remaining “far removed from the actual contemporary condition of their motherlands” (Akhter, “Home and Diaspora” 47), sometimes, in addition to their past memories, they depend on second hand knowledge of their homelands. Khan also relies on different sources for the information required to depict Bangladesh in his fiction. This becomes evident when talking about his choice of Chittagong hill tracts as the terrorist base in Spiral Road Khan remarks, “I had several Bangladeshi friends who were immensely helpful with their knowledge of the Hill Tracts” (qtd. in Sultana). This second hand knowledge may not be as authentic as first-hand knowledge could have been. Therefore, the second-hand experience of the writer may have resulted in a distorted representation of Bangladesh in his Spiral Road.

Some Diaspora writers and critics believe that the expatriate author’s location outside his mother country places him in an advantageous position from where he can see things objectively without being influenced by the inside. In this regard Monica Ali metaphorically states, “Standing neither behind a closed door, nor in the thick of things but rather in the shadow of a doorway is a good place from which to observe” (Interview). But this standing “in the shadow of a doorway” may not always be good since the insider-outsider may not have the complete view of the inside, which may create a partial and even distorted impression in the mind of the beholder. Though, for Anam, “distance brings perspective and it becomes easier to dwell on issues in isolation and detachment” (qtd. in Walia), for Rushdie, “too much distance can remove one from knowing the place altogether” (qtd. in Hazra). Khan, because of his “too much distance” both in time and space from his mother country, fails to strike “the right balance between the imagined, invented memory and the real thing” (Rushdie, qtd. in Hazra) which is essential to present an authentic picture of home.

Moreover, Khan’s negative stereotyping of Islam and Muslims may be attributed to his awareness of “the hegemonic politics of the publishing industry in the west” (Akhter, “Bangladesh Revisited” 228) and his acquiescence in that politics in order to get recognition as a writer and the western market as well. Regarding Diasporic Writing Uma Parameswaran observes “. . . supported by neither the ethnocentric community nor the larger community, literary efforts of the Diaspora are stifled at birth while the publishers, of course, prefer the marketability of negative stereotypes” (38). One may ask whether Khan had any prior knowledge about the publisher’s preference. The answer is provided by Khan himself in one of his interviews. While talking to Jane Sullivan in the year 2000 about the publication of his first novel Seasonal Adjustments Khan says, “Had I known then what I know about the publishing world now, I wouldn’t have had the courage. I went into it in a state of total naivety” (“Outside Edge”). This frank confession of Khan suggests that by the year 2007 when his latest novel Spiral Road was published, he had had fairly good knowledge about the publishing industry. Publishers want profit and hence look for stuff that sells well. Islam depicted as a religion of extremism, fundamentalism and radicalism, and Muslims as terrorists posing threat to the security of the West present them with that kind of material. This negative image of Islam and its followers is created by the West and the majority of Westerners prefer to see Islam represented as such in different discourses.

Writers have tried to depict Islam and Muslims unfavorably in their writings since the Middle Ages. In Dante’s Inferno Muslim philosophers and leaders like Avicenna, Averroes and Saladin are presented as heathens confined to the first circle of the inferno and mosques are structures that are burning in the eternal fire of Hell. He does not stop here, rather, he goes so far as to place Prophet Mohammad (sm.) and Ali in the eighth circle, the second last of the nine circles of Hell:

How is Mahomet maimed, thou canst attest.
Before me Ali, weeping tear on tear,
Goes with face cloven apart from chin to crest.
And all the others whom thou seest here
Were, alive, sowers of schism and of discord,
And therefore in this wise they are cloven sheer.
                                                                    (XXVIII, 31-36)

Regarding Dante’s treatment of Islam and its followers in the Inferno Said remarks: “The discriminations and refinements of Dante’s poetic grasp of Islam are an instance of the schematic, almost cosmological inevitability with which Islam and its designated representatives are creatures of Western geographical, historical, and above all, moral apprehension” (69). Some other writings that aimed at depicting Islam from the Orientalist perspective in the 17th and 18th centuries are Barthelemy d’Herbelot’s Bibliothequeorientale, Humphrey Prideaux’s The True Nature of Imposture and Simon Ockley’s History of the Saracens.

The propensity towards orientalist representation of Islam does not cease even today, rather, it has taken on a new dimension at this time. At present some western educated non-western Muslim writers tend to join the band of the western orientalists portraying Islam stereotypically and controversially with a view to increasing “the marketability of their narratives” (Akhter, “Bangladesh Revisited” 279). Since the promotion of non-western writers “by the neo-colonial publishing industry is integral to the hegemonic market politics thriving on fiction that reinforces the western gaze of . . . [the] East” (274), these writers attempt to project a negative, West-centric view of Islam and Muslims in their writings. For example, Salman Rushdie chooses such a phrase for the title of his controversial novel Satanic Verses as was coined by orientalists to refer to a number of verses allegedly spoken by Prophet Muhammad (sm.) as part of the Qur’an and later on withdrawn by him. Rushdie incorporates this controversial issue into his narrative by making it an important sub-plot in the novel. Besides, he also derogatorily deals with the names Mahound (reference to the Prophet), Ayesha, Gabriel, Abraham, Saladin and the names of the wives of the Prophet which are associated with Islamic faith, culture and history and are highly esteemed by the Muslims. In Tahmima Anam’s The Good Muslim Sohail Haque is presented as a devout Musim who renounces this world, shuns his responsibilities towards the family and society and even ignores his own son. The author seems to attribute this attitude of indifference, passivity and withdrawal to his devotion to religion though there is no place for this kind of negative attitude towards life in Islam. Thus there is a subtle attempt to present Islam critically in this novel too. Khan, like these writers, also fails to resist the temptation of the Western market and therefore succumbs to the hegemonic market politics by associating Islam with religious fundamentalism and global terrorism in Spiral Road. Akhter’s observation concerning the postcolonial writer’s choice of Islamic terrorism as the subject of their fiction is noteworthy here: “… the issue of Islamic fundamentalism has emerged as a fashionable topic in the contemporary postcolonial literary scene, perhaps because it is deemed to be a viable means for many a writer to render a piece of work readily provoking and thus market-friendly: after all, (Islamic) terrorism sells” (307).

Sometimes the expatriate’s education and stay in the host country may have tremendous impact on his modes of existence, which may bring about a change in his thoughts, views, beliefs and ideology, in other words, he may undergo an intellectual metamorphosis. At this moment the diasporic may tend to think in terms of the dominant discourse. If this happens with an expatriate writer, there is every possibility that the text produced by him under these circumstances would reflect the view of the dominant culture. Akhter succinctly sums up the situation: “... the act of leaving home and settling elsewhere shapes the writer’s sensibility and consequently, his text in a unique way” (236). Khan’s Australian education and diasporic location may also have contributed to his stereotypical depiction of Islam.

Whatever may be the cause(s), Khan fails to deal with the issues of Islam and terrorism both at home and abroad faithfully and impartially in his novel Spiral Road. Religion, according to Khan, “has done . . . [so] much for civilization in the negative and the positive . . . [that one] can’t just ignore it” (“What I’ve Learnt”) and Khan cannot ignore it either in his novel. In Spiral Road he tries to expose various aspects of “religious bigotry, conservatism and fanaticism . . . in the name of Islam . . . in Bangladesh” (298). But while doing so, he ignores the majority of the Muslims and focuses on the eccentricities and idiosyncrasies of some individuals or a particular group of people who do not represent the whole of the Muslim community in the country. Therefore, his portrayal of Bangladeshi Muslims, their behavior and practices, becomes fragmentary and incomplete, and seems to emerge not from the writer’s direct experience of the circumstances but from his second-hand and partial knowledge of the situation. Besides, his attempt to associate Islam and the Muslims with terrorism and terrorists respectively appears to be a continuation of the West’s age-old effort to present Islam as a violent religion and its followers as militants. To sum up it can be said that Khan’s Spiral Road “operates, to a significant extent, within the (western) paradigm of negative stereotyping and clichéd generalizations” (Akhter, “Bangladesh Revisited” 318) of the East. 


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