The Reluctant Fundamentalist



Although this book was published in 2007, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, was a motion picture directed by Mira Nair, starring Liev Schreiber, it did not come to my attention until I began listening to book podcasts several years ago. Consequently it had been on my TBR list for at least two years when I came across it in a used bookstore. I needed something short (it is 184 pages) and different (about Islam) to read between two ponderous books, when I found this book on my shelf.

This is a disturbing book. I will reveal no spoilers, but there is one line in it that affected me as though I had been struck, and it has stayed with me, and probably will stay with me into the immediate future. Four words. But as a westerner and an American, one very short, scary sentence.

The story is narrated by Changez, an American-educated Pakistani man who holds a powerful job in a valuation company in New York City after graduating from Princeton. He is living the American Dream. Fast forward to 9/11 when everyone’s life changed, although, admittedly some in more profound ways than others. It is from that point on that Changez’s values become clear to him.

This book has caused me to think anew about how countries in the Middle East view America and to reconsider the historical narrative that is our legacy. Looking at America from another perspective suggests an alternate interpretation of the military and diplomatic actions our government has taken. Looking forward, I wonder if I will view American foreign policy in quite the same way and hope that our leadership can find a way forward in that region, with strength and compassion, in an effort to diffuse a forever more volatile political climate where American intervention is frequently unwanted.


One of the revelations that Changez has when he returns to Lahore after 9/11 and the arrival of American troops in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s next door neighbor, is that he had been conditioned to look at things as an American. As he puts it when talking to the American in a Lahore cafe, “I was looking about me with the eyes of a foreigner, and not just any foreigner, but that particular type of entitled and unsympathetic American who so annoyed me when I encountered him in the classrooms and workplaces of your country’s elite.” Once Changez recognized this in himself, he felt the depth of his youthful impressionism, and could once again begin to appreciate the enduring beauty of his country’s rich history as reflected in the architecture and the grandeur of the Mughal art in his own home town. In that spirit, I searched and found the Wazīr Khān, a Mughal era mosque in Lahore. The mosque was completed in 1642 during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. It is the most ornately decorated Mughal-era mosque with intricate faience tile work and interior surfaces that are almost entirely embellished with elaborate frescoes, as you can see from the images below.


From Pakistan Insider;

From Muhammad Ashar  CC By – SA 3.0



Changez orders for himself and the American in the Lahore cafe where they meet. When the food is delivered to the table, we know  only that there is yoghurt, chopped vegetables, and kebab, which the American approached enthusiastically. In researching Pakistani recipes, I kept reading  how much people like Seekh kebabs, prepared with minced meat with spices and arranged on skewers. The kebabs can be cooked in a Tandoor or grilled, and since I had no Tandoor, I grilled them on the griddle on our gas stove. The kebabs made a great sandwich in naan with the chutney- especially good the next day using the leftovers. Seekh kebabs are part of the traditional Pakistani diet, they say. They are well worth the effort and will be made again in this household. Delicious!

Chicken Seekh Kebabs

1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp coriander seed
1 lb. ground chicken thighs (grind in food processor)
2 T finely grated onion
2 T chopped fresh cilantro
1 T freshly minced garlic (about 3 medium cloves)
2 tsp finely diced green chilies (about 2 whole chilies, I used jalapeño)
1½ tsp finely grated ginger
1½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ teaspoon garam masala

6 wooden skewers, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes prior to use.

Place cumin and coriander seeds in a cast iron skillet over medium heat and toast until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, and grind into a fine powder.

In a large bowl mix together ground cumin and coriander seeds, chicken, onion, cilantro, garlic, chilies, turmeric, salt, and garam masala until chicken is evenly seasoned.

Form meat mixture into 6 skewer-length cylinders on a baking pan or tray. (I did not use the skewers.) If using skewers, press one into the chicken cylinder and form meat around the stick. Repeat with remaining meat. Place chicken (both skewered or unskewered) in the freezer for 20 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the freezer and carefully transfer to a hot grill. Cook until the skewers are brown all over and are cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a serving tray, let rest for 5 minutes, then serve immediately with green chutney.

Cilantro-Mint Chutney (Green Chutney)

2½ tsp chopped fresh ginger
3 scallions chopped
½ C (packed) fresh mint leaves
½ C (packed) fresh cilantro
1 T fresh lemon or lime juice
1 jalapeño chili, seeded, chopped
2 T (or more) plain yogurt
½ tsp salt (or to taste)

Place ginger into the bowl of a food processor and process until coarsely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add scallions, mint, cilantro, yogurt, jalapeno, lime juice, and salt. Process to a textured paste similar in consistency to pesto, adding water to adjust the consistency if desired. I used a small food processor that worked quite well with these ingredients.



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