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The Theme of Identity Hanif Qureshi’s story “My Son the Fanatic”.

Q: Explore the theme of identity as portrayed in Hanif Qureshi’s story “My Son the Fanatic”.

My Son the Fanatic is a short story that revolves around the relationship between Pakistani- migrant Parvez and his newly converted son, Ali. It reflects on a controversial topic which is, sadly perhaps, quite contemporary; in other words, identity, the clash of cultures resulting from immigration, and the inability to bring them together.
There are two major characters in the story Parvez and Ali. Parvez is the main character, he is an Anglo- Pakistani cab driver who enjoys the rights which come with living in Britain, for example having the freedom to drink alcohol, eat pork and associate with women- all of which would be forbidden in Islamic ruled Pakistan. He wants the best for his son Ali and for Parvez that means western prosperity. So he projects this idea of success onto Ali, pushing Ali to become an accountant, “marry the right girl, and start a family?” However, this dream is rejected by Ali when he turns to Islamic teachings and rejects his father and western society. Parvez’s son Ali, who was once a popular, outgoing model with a white girlfriend, then rejects his old life and goes against his father’s philosophy of life. Ali becomes fanatically religious and extremely devout. He begins lecturing his father on his corrupt lifestyle and insults Bettina when she tries to talk to him. This conflict between father and son helps us understand different themes, philosophies, and points of view presented by the author. They go as:

Generational tensions
From the very first sentence, "Surreptitiously, the father began going into his son’s room,” readers become accomplices of the father and closely identify with his point of view and his bewilderment at his son’s fundamentalism.
Throughout the story, Parvez emerges as a sympathetic figure because his attempts to understand his son’s newfound faith are met with confrontation. For instance, when Parvez takes his son out to dinner, Ali immediately goes on the defensive, questioning: “Don’t you know it’s wrong to drink alcohol?”In this scene the roles of parent and child seem to be reversed, with Ali scolding, criticizing, and lecturing Parvez on what he sees as Parvez’s immoral lifestyle. However, Parvez is unwilling to allow his son to dominate him. Parvez says,
“he wouldn’t stand for his own son telling him the difference between right and wrong.”

Identity describes the unique inner characteristic, defined by biological, psychological, social and judicial influence that is responsible for your decisions and behavior. Identity is what makes you who you are based on your personal development and values. This aspect has been conveyed very openly in the story.
Ali says: “‘[m]y people have taken enough. If the persecution doesn’t stop, there will be jihad…” Ali is using typical Islamic fundamentalist rhetoric, and here Ali says “My people” and not “our people”, which shows that he sees his father as part of the West, since he accuses, “you’re too implicated in Western society”. Ali, on the other hand identifies with the ‘East’, thus with Parvez symbolizing the West and Ali symbolizing the East, Kureishi creates binaries which, although polar opposites on the map, are situated within Britain.

Ali has chosen the pure identity. He is not open to any other belief but Islam. And anyone who doesn’t believe it is wrong, because: “Around the world, millions and millions of people share my beliefs.” He doesn’t believe that so many people can be wrong. He is annoyed that his father doesn’t live by the same “rules and regulations” that he does. And it irritates him that the father doesn’t have the same beliefs and that the father has become too “westernized”. When Ali chooses to live by Islam he also chooses to have nothing to do with the cultures of the west. On the other hand, his father, Pavez, has completely given up on his Punjabi religion and culture. And as a result, has completely adopted the western way of life. Ali’s sudden change might be the result of a teenage revolt, denying the beliefs of his father and establishing his own ones.

Ali has grown tired of the British every day and as he says: ”there are more important things to be done”. He needs a bigger purpose than to just be an average English boy with a girlfriend and normal hobbies. He was perfectly integrated in the British society and had the same norms and hobbies as other British boys – He played guitar and had posters on his room – . Now he has become religious and lives his life like a native Panjabi and has completely isolated himself from the British society.

Ali’s identity changes from creole to pure. Before, his life was a combination of being Muslim and being English. But then he changes, because “there are more important things to be done”. He is now very concentrated on Islam and isn’t open to other beliefs. His focus is only on this belief, and he isn’t querying it, because he is sure, that this is the one and the only thing worth believing, and he knows that “around the world millions and millions of people share his beliefs”. Until now he had absolutely nothing against the western culture, but his sudden change of identity makes him disagree with it, and therefore also disagree with his father.

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