Islam in Bed with Europe in “My Son the Fanatic” Essay
Islam in Bed with Europe in “My Son the Fanatic”
My Son the Fanatic is a film that addresses the cultural conflict of both Islamic integration in into Europe and English culture, as well as the relationship that arises between a father and his Muslim son when the child grows up to become an Islamic fundamentalist. (Udayan Prasad, 1997, England; screenplay by Hanif Kureishi) A Pakistani cab driver in a Northern English town has an affair with a prostitute and chauffeurs her and her colleagues to make extra money. When his son becomes an Islamic fundamentalist and joins in an effort to clean up vice in the town, the family’s loyalties and beliefs are tested.
This film completely tests the conflict that exists with Islam encountering the European world through migrations and cultural development. Kureishi reveals the core conflict of the reality of English sexual revolution of the 60’s encountering Islamic sexual regression of the present era. In the New York Time’s article “My Beautiful London”, author Rachel Donadio, notes, “One of the most revealing insights into Britain’s recent social history comes early in “My Son the Fanatic,” Hanif Kureishi’s tender and darkly prescient 1997 film.
It’s morning in an unnamed city in northern England, and Parvez, a secular Pakistani immigrant taxi driver brilliantly portrayed by Om Puri, watches Farid, his increasingly devout college-age son, sell his electric guitar. ” The essence of this cultural conflict between Islamic and Western English culture can be seen in both in how the filmmaker and the central character, the taxi driver Parvez and his son Farid, are raised. They are both brought up by mullahs and nuns alike which reveals the complex nature of multicultural issues a Muslim immigrant might encounter living in Europe.
The potential for plot development is endless as the director notes “You can’t ask people to give up their religion; that would be absurd,” he wrote in The Guardian. But hard-line views might modify “as they come into contact with other ideas. ” That was the essence of “effective multiculturalism”: not a superficial exchange of festivals and foods driven by liberal guilt, but something else entirely — an encounter with human desires in all their complexity. Higson poses the question in his article “The Limiting Imagination of National Cinema,” “When is a cinema ‘national’?
, asks Susan Hayward (1993: 1). As if in answer, Crofts delineates several different types of ‘national’ cinema that have emerged in different historical circumstances (1993, 1998). They have performed quite distinct functions in relation to the state (Higson, p63). Hanif Kureishi’s work “My Son the Fanatic” fits this description exactly. The Film is historical and has an effect on multicultralism through its relevance and relation to England and the happenings of the ‘state.
’ In also being historical, “My son the Fanatic is also a product of National Cinema”, as “Proclamations of national cinema are thus in part one form of internal cultural colonialism: it is, of course, the function of institutions—and in this case national cinemas—to pull together diverse and contradictory discourses, to articulate a contradictory unity, to play a part in the hegemonic process of achieving consensus, and containing difference and contradiction Higson p. 139).
Islamic law is formally composed of literal translations of Arab tribal customs and ancient Muslim traditions as well as the Koran, and quotes from the Islamic prophet Muhammad as well as his predecessors. “When you get down to it, there are two types of people in Kureishi’s work: those running toward sex and those running away from it (p. 6)” In the film Parvez’s son Farid notes that he is seeking “Belief, purity, belonging to the past,” and then he notes “I won’t bring up my children in this country.
” This represents the classh between what is now his fundamentalist beliefs through devotion to Islam and the clash European cultures poses on those beliefs. Farid sees no way both ways of life can exist together. Likewise, Parvez represents the embodiment of a westernized Muslim, so much so that he can’t identitfy with son. In the film this conversation boils up into a conflict in which Parvez begins to beat his son repeatedly, until his son shouts to him “who’s the fanatic now?
” A major motif of the film that Kureishi mentions in his interview, is the concept of old Sharia law and the ancient traditions of the past being re-imposed on a post-sexual revolution present. Kurishi points this intergenerational drama out as ironic when he says, It perplexed me that young people, brought up in secular Britain, would turn to a form of belief that denied them the pleasures of the society in which they lived,(Donp.
7 he goes on to pinpoint that exact issue that faces the relationship for shared for young people concerning Islam and western culture to date when he says, “the West, the Nietzschean project, has been to drive out religion and to produce a secular society in which men and women make their own values because morality is gone. Then suddenly radical religion returns from the Third World. How can you not laugh at that? How can you not find that a deep historical irony? ” This irony Kureishi speaks of is the main theme of the film.
In Richard Dyer’s essay The White Man’s Muscle, he talks about stereotypes that have been enforced connecting as far back as the Greek era, and that now dominate film and television basically promoting the superiority of white masculinity. Body hair is animalistic; hair¬lessness connotes striving above nature. The climax of Gli amori di Ercole has Hercules fighting a giant ape, who has previously behaved in a King Kong-ish way towards Hercules’s beloved Dejanira, stroking her hair and when she screams making as if to rape her; close-ups contrast Hercules’s smooth, hairless muscles with the hairy limbs of this racist archetype.
(Dyer) Here Dyer points out how the uppermost essence of masculinity is equated with shaven white muscle, through its very contrast to that of hair apes, who are historically associated with blackness. He acknowledges the racist aspects of this archetype, but also gives notice to the private boys’ club-like tradition that has formed from this prejudice. This mentality demonstrates the epitome of the world in which
A state agency for assessing public religious schools had given a top rating to a Muslim school that was advocating a return to the Caliphate; the interior minister at the time, Jack Straw, came under fire for suggesting that it might be difficult for a community-relations functionary to meet with constituents who wear a full veil; an Indian woman living in England was lured back to India and murdered in an honor killing; the archbishop of Canterbury said he thought England might consider making some accommodation for Shariah, or Islamic law.
What, I wondered, did Kureishi make of all this? (,p. 7) “There aren’t any answers to these questions,” he replied. “They’re just questions that everybody has to engage in and think about. What is it like to make a multicultural society? How far do you go in multiculturalism? Do you have parts of the country under Shariah law, for instance? What would that mean? How does that work? You have to take this stuff seriously. ” (p. 7) In sum, “My Son the Fanatic” is potent with cultural complexity and relevance.
The film speaks volumes about current issues facing the Western world today as well as those being posed by, and imposed upon the Middle East. One can’t see this film and overlook the tension brewing between the two cultures of the Muslim world and the Christian European environment in which it finds itself. The film does an excellent job of providing authentic interpretation for a conflict that is undyingly relevant and prevailingly influential in today’s socioeconomic and political climate.
Bordwell & Thompson “Film History” 2004 Donadio, Rachel “My Beautiful London” New York Times August 8, 2008 Dyer, Richard “The White Man’s Muscles” in White London Higson, & Fowler, Catherine. “The European Cinema Reader” London New York Ptacek, J. , & Dodge, K. Coping Strategies and Relationship Satisfaction in Couples. The Society for Personality and Social Psychology, 21(1), (1995). 76-84. Savran, David. (1998). “Taking It Like a Man: White Masculinity, Masochism, and Contemporary American Culture. ” 380 pp.