The hybridization of Mohsin Hamid

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First aired on Q (24/04/13)


The isolated immigrant story is popping back into popular discourse following police identification of two ethnic Chechens living in America as primary suspects in last week's Boston Marathon bombings.

Author Mohsin Hamid, whose novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist was recently turned into a Hollywood movie starring Canadian Kiefer Sutherland and Kate Hudson, stopped by CBC's Q. He spoke with host Jian Ghomeshi about the immigrant experience and extremism.

"There isn't any one single immigrant narrative," said Hamid, who was born in Pakistan, attended Ivy League colleges in the States and lived in the U.K. before moving back to Pakistan.

However, the experience is rarely benign, he says.

For many people, the sense of giving up something when taking on a new citizenship is troubling, he said. Add to that a personal crisis, a political context, and perhaps a mental illness, and someone could become capable of doing terror.

In Hamid's Booker Prize-nominated novel, the main character Changez is a Pakistani-American who becomes successful in the U.S., but finds himself increasingly alienated following the September 11 attacks.

It is unclear if Changez becomes an extremist, though his increasing isolation leads him back to his native Pakistan.

Hamid discussed what he called becoming "contaminated" with another culture and the problems that can pose when our society makes it hard to live as a hybridized person.

"As one becomes more and more American, it can be strange to look in the mirror," he said. "And that can cause a crisis in people sometimes."

Hamid says that, unlike his protagonist, he learned to live as a "mixed bag of all kinds of stuff." He said he understands that he "can never be just American or just Pakistani or just Muslim or just Western." He embraces these multiple identities.

It's dangerous to live in a world where, like Changez, "hybridized people feel they can't exist."

Hamid wants to change that. He hopes the world will learn to accept people who have been "contaminated" because it means we are broadening as a society.

"I hope the path of less resistance will win out in human history."

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