My Son the Fanatic by Hanif Kureishi
In My Son the Fanatic by Hanif Kureishi we have the theme of worry, radicalization, change, conflict, control, struggle and acceptance. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realizes from the beginning of the story that Kureishi may be exploring the theme of worry. Parvez has concerns with the direction his son, Ali’s, life is going. Ali is no longer interested in the things that once occupied him. He no longer plays with his computer or plays the guitar and Parvez asks colleagues at the taxi cab company what might be wrong with Ali. They suspect that Ali is selling his belongings for drugs but despite Parvez’s best efforts to monitor Ali this does not seem to be the case. It is only when Parvez’s female friend Bettina talks to Parvez that he gets some idea what might be wrong with Ali. Ali appears to be becoming radicalized and dropping any type of interest he has in western culture.
This upsets Parvez who has adapted western culture into his life. He is more of an Anglo-Pakistani than anything else. He drinks, he doesn’t pray and Ali thinks his father keeps bad company (Bettina). Not even a family dinner between Parvez and Ali can persuade Ali to anglicize himself and accept western culture. If anything it is Parvez who makes changes to his life, starting by growing a beard. He hopes that in some way Ali will see that he is trying to make an effort and connect with him. However no matter what Parvez does it does not please Ali, who is set on jihad. Taking jihad as a word that means struggle or effort there does not seem to be anything wrong with Ali’s beliefs. However he may be more radicalized than Parvez knows. Which ultimately causes conflict between father and son. If anything there is a sense that Parvez is attempting to save Ali by controlling him. However things do not work out well for either character.
There may be some symbolism in the story that might be important. All the toys and games that Ali disposes of can be seen to represent an impurity for Ali. He does not wish to be westernized or anglicised. He even gives up his job as an accountant because of his beliefs that accountants are open to corruption. Bettina is also an important character. She represents everything that Ali thinks a woman should not be. She is a prostitute who sells her body for sex. Though she is close to Parvez there is no suggestion that Parvez has ever retained Bettina for her services. Their friendship appears to be based on a common understanding when it comes to the difficulties they face in life. They share how they feel about things.
The end of the story is interesting as Parvez is the one who loses control and beats up Ali. He may be drunk when he is doing so but this is no excuse for the violence expressed by Parvez towards Ali. If anything Parvez has struggled to accept Ali’s position and religious beliefs. It is also interesting that Ali does not strike Parvez back. He allows his father to beat him up. Something that might be odd to some critics who believe that Ali has been radicalized and is lost forever. Ali has found a calling that he is comfortable with and it is Parvez who is unable to accept this calling. At no stage in the story has Ali been violent. He may seek Jihad but as mentioned this may be in its proper and purist context.