The Legacy of Shame, with Kamila Shamsie (A Book Review of ‘Home Fire’)

Book Reviews, fiction, Fiction

“I pledged to ISIS in January 2015 and left in March,” said Raad Abdullah Ahmad, 31. “My family disowned me after that. Imagine having no family. I left because I didn’t like what they did to people.”

ISIS Fighters, Having Pledged to Fight or Die, Surrender En Masse (NYT)

When I read the lines above in a NYT article, my thoughts immediately went to Parvaiz Pasha, a fictional character in Kamila Shamsie’s book Home Fire: A Novel (Amazon | Indiebound) which was long-listed for the Man Book Prize for fiction.

Since I migrated to the U.S. in 2004, the political reality of the country has always stayed the same: at open war. Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria. Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS. That has translated to war against Muslims, officially ordained as “terrorists” by the West.

My coming-of-age story is marked by this reality, a young Filipino immigrant slowly understanding the social pathology of violence, of the industrial military complex, of the other-ing of militants who essentially wanted the same thing the U.S. did.

In Home FireI was able to get a glimpse of the story behind Parvaiz’s decision, a British Pakistani who was recruited to a militant group on accounts of being the son of a famed jihadi warrior. Shamsie takes her readers beneath the layer of what we see on our TV screens, or what politicians have chosen as their generic anti-terrorism mouth pieces.

Parvaiz’s dad brought shame to their family, after joining a militant group himself. His involvement was immediately frowned upon, he was disowned. As a child, the boy took great pains to conceal his father’s identity, and it was only when he met another elder, a father figure who intentionally tried to recruit Parvaiz did he realize what his father’s work meant to other people.

1[1]

These responsibilities were what estranged the father from Parvaiz’s twin sister Aneeka and older sister Isma. The legacy of their father loomed in the household, a cause of great shame to both women. The story centers on these three characters, as Shamsie skillfully adopts and mimics their struggle as a Greek tragedy. She hones in on their relationship, illustrating the ebb and flow of simultaneous allegiance and estrangement.

We Won’t Back Down, No

Sunday Spotlight

It’s been a little over a week since Trump won the presidential election and what gives me hope these days is the rising resistance against a fascist regime.

As a queer Filipino immigrant, I feel the fear in my chest. While waiting for his victory speech early Wednesday morning, the sight of white millennials in the crowd cheering and smiling with their red “Make America Great Again” caps made me cower.

trump1

Around the country, people are taking to the streets to show their collective power against what a Trump presidency will look like. The rise of hate crimes against people of color and immigrants since he won is a manifestation of the Trump brand: a toxic concoction of white supremacy, racism, xenophobia, misogyny and hyper-capitalism.

In San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland, people filled the streets — thousands deep — to denounce his presidency. The next day, thousands of high school students in San Francisco walked out chanting “Not my President!” It is anger, it is rage, a fury unfurling itself and it demands to be seen, heard and felt.

Many organizations, both grassroots and nonprofit, have come out against Trump, have compiled resources for the most vulnerable of our population, have affirmed their commitment to uplift the voices of those that Trump aims to silence. GABRIELA, a Filipino women’s organization that I’m a part of, calls on people of the U.S. to intensify its mass movements and defend the democratic rights of the most disempowered people. The Black Lives Matter movement also released a statement, calling for a reckoning of the country’s inherent anti-blackness and to operate from “a place of love for our people and a deep yearning for real freedom.”

trump2

Writers have also spoken out, indignant at the thought of fascism and the delusion that many have started to buy into. Teju Cole wrote a piece on The New York Times where he referenced Eugène Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros,” a play about mob mentality, conformity first created as a response to fascism during World War II. Sixteen writers from The New Yorker also wrote about Trump’s America post-election, which include essays from Junot Díaz and Toni Morrison.

At last night’s National Book Awards Ceremony, the mood was somber. I was particularly moved by Terrance Hayes’s speech, who quoted Elizabeth Bishop: “Poetry is a way of thinking with feelings — imagine 20 years of thinking with one’s feelings while someone is trying to kill you.” Colson Whitehead won the award for fiction with The Underground Railroad, of which I read and wrote about last month. PEN America published a few writers’ reflections on the results of the election with Walter Mosley penning: “the older we are, the more we live in the past.”

A few days ago, I started reading Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and my nose has been buried in these pages since then. His searing satire on race and popular culture couldn’t have been more timely — since the country appears to be rapidly regressing decades back and is looking to align itself with fascist regimes.

Where do we go from here? Perhaps a line from the International League of People’s Struggle statement can guide us:

“History shows us it is the parliament of the streets, not the parliament of the state, that determines change.”

trump3

The rhetoric of politics can be draining: it is a roller-coaster ride of hope, repudiation, alarm, back to hope, at times inspiration, and then it’s back to more repudiation, more alarm, until your realize your mind becomes a pestle, your heart an unduly mortar.

No wonder so many people are apathetic about politics, even if their own lives and their interests are at stake. What does it take to keep engaging?

This is even more compounded for folks like me, a wild-eyed child of the (queer) Filipino diaspora, perpetually straddling two worlds. The flourishing of one requires the sacrifice of the other. If it isn’t taken, it is forced out. One is oil, the other, water.

In the past two weeks, I’ve been a witness to three major speeches: two American presidential nominees in their respective party conventions and the first State of the Nation Address of the Philippines’s president.

From “I alone can fix it” to “We’ll fix it together,” coverage of both the Democratic and Republican conventions was nonstop. My inbox reeks of “Breaking News” alerts every time someone says something to counter the other. I’ve never been more dismayed, disillusioned with the state of party politics.

I was never for Hillary Clinton, in spite of the fact that I am a fervent women’s rights activist. What matters to me, more than her gender identity, are her political views, accomplishments and perspectives. And while her stance on social issues like abortion, immigration and access to healthcare are liberal, it’s her economic agenda that rattles, unsettles me. What do you call someone who would rather free the money, not the people?

A neoliberal.

Celebration of income inequality? Lower corporate taxes? Labor deregulation? Weakening of trade unions? Privatization of public goods and services?

And it’s no secret that whatever economic agenda the U.S. sets, it reaches the farthest corners of the world. If Hillary wins, the Trans Pacific Agreement might survive Obama’s lame duck moment of crisis.

Voting for Trump is a no-brainer, although I’m convinced he’s really just trolling all of us (h/t to Katchingles for this one) but what choice do I have?

cobdvu9xgaans-f

Back in the Philippines, Rodrigo Roa Duterte gave his first State of the Nation Address which elicited high hopes for a better government, the resumption of peace talks in the country (finally!), reforms in taxation and social services, with a few chuckles here and there. He also reiterated his crusade against the drug trade, the most recurring theme of his presidency so far.

He made me tear up when he talked of a permanent and lasting peace before his term ends as his goal, as his dream. I laughed when he called out members of the Congress, when he commented on the inefficiencies of public agencies. While #SONA2016 was charming, rousing at times, with a this-is-your-good-ol-uncle-giving-you-a-talk feel to it, it was also exasperating as this article points out.

 

He announced a unilateral ceasefire between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, of which he rescinded a week later after Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit. Go figure.

I was skeptical of Duterte while he was campaigning, but upon his election and subsequent appointment of progressive forces in his Cabinet I started to pay more attention.

After #SONA2016, the Center for Women’s Resources came out with a 100-Day Challenge to his administration. Filipinos like me in the diaspora are watching his administration closely, in support of his pro-people policies. He must be accountable to his promises, he must serve his people genuinely.

* * * 

My nose is usually buried in books, and I know that my Sunday Spotlight usually features literary musings. I can’t help but focus on political discourse for today’s post, specially at this time, when folks teeter on extremism or worse, political apathy.

In the end, while we are at the mercy of the media, while we are lambasted with senseless political prose, while we are offered promises that at times ring hollow, we should not be deterred.

Indignation must always be the answer to indignity. Reality is not destiny.

– Eduardo Galeano

Sunday Spotlight: State of the Nation

Sunday Spotlight