Kamila Shamsie: Intersection of British Muslim Identity

As a child, I often paused before answering the question, “where are you from?”. I was never confident nor interested in trying to briefly summarize my Tibetan-American identity which I was still working to piece together for myself throughout my adolescence. During standardize testing, I hesitated when requested to fill-in-the-circle which best encapsulated my multicultural identity of “Asian”. Although I lacked the vocabulary and emotional maturity to articulate my thoughts, my intuition guided me to a gut feeling of wrongness. I felt reduced by a statistic which worked to devalue the individuality in my existence. In the novel Home Fire (2017), Kamila Shamsie develops scenes which successfully illuminate intersectional identities of British Muslim character Eamonn Lone.

From a young age, Eamonn develops a sense of instinctual uncertainty and defensiveness of his precarious British identity. Born into a Pakistani immigrant family, Eamonn identifies more comfortably with the predominantly white culture of Notting Hill’s upper-class. Eamonn’s father, Karamat Lone, who holds the position of British home secretary, has been accused of being an extremist by native Londoners and a traitor among London’s Muslim immigrant community. The insecurity which Eamonn feels towards his identity roots itself in ideologies of assimilation in which his father encourages the “need for British Muslims to lift themselves out of the Dark Ages” in order to dodge discrimination (Shamsie, 61).

Eamonn makes a trip to Aunty Iseems’ home outside of London after befriending Isma in Amherst, MA over the shared connection of being British Muslim abroad. Upon entering Aunty Iseems’ home, the hypersensitivity to which Eamonn feels towards the emblems of Pakistani culture decorating the walls of her home is outstanding when Eamonn observes Aunty Iseem as “determined to inhabit a stereotype” while warmly offering to fry him samosas (Shamsie, 64). Shamsie’s choice of diction when articulating Eamonn’s observation of Aunty Iseems determination to fulfill the Muslim stereotype of eating samosas suggests a rhetoric which acknowledges the act of eating samosas while being Muslim as negative. Shamsie’s choice of diction when she describes Aunty Iseems as “determined”, hints at the foolish irony of her chasing what is harmful to her. So, the determination described by Eamonn of Aunty Iseems, implies the associations of the Muslim identity as shameful, unlike the British identity. The effects of this observation, works to reveal how Eamonn prefers to claim and engage identities associated with Britishness over Muslim.

In this same interaction, Eamonn reflects on his missed experience of not knowing his “dadi” or paternal grandmother (Shamsie, 64). Eamonn’s “wishing” for a paternal grandmother reveals feelings seeking familiarity (Shamsie, 64). In conflicting interest, Eamonn stands in between his wish for further connection into aspects of the Muslim identity which don’t disturb his Britishness. Eamonn wishes to obtain a sustainable balance of both his Muslim and British identities. The significance of his observations relay the consistently shifting dynamic Earmonn faces in his intersectional identity. Eamonn will always shift between identities because that is the nature of an intersectionality.

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Works Cited

Shamsie, Kamila. Home Fire. Riverhead Books, 2017.

2 thoughts on “Kamila Shamsie: Intersection of British Muslim Identity

  1. In your post, you do a really great job of showing how Eamonn’s intersectional identity influences the way in which he not only interacts with others in the story but understands himself. In my blog post, I focus on how a character like Parvaiz struggles on the opposite end of this British and Muslim intersectionality. But after reading your post I recognize how he almost seems powerless to reaffirm his Britishness to the government and return to London, in comparison to Eamonn’s flipped perspective as the son of the home secretary.
    Upon nearing the British consulate, Shamsie highlights Parvaiz’s option of going before the consulate to face the consequences in hopes of going home. But before he could do so, the author says, “But he was the terrorist son of a terrorist father. He rested his head on his knees. He didn’t know how to break out of these currents of history, how to shake free of the demons he had attached to his own heels” (175). The way Shamsie uses diction to pair “terrorist son” and “terrorist father” suggests a stereotypical narrative of Muslim men as threats to Britain’s security. She also does this by describing the “currents of history” that he is trying to escape from. What I find especially interesting is how Shamsie juxtaposes that repetitive cycle with diction and imagery of “demons he had attached to his own heals” (175). This description of being at fault for one’s actions seems to address the question of how one can both decide to become a “terrorist” while also being manipulated and being enveloped in discrimination within a society that basically charts the course to Syria for him in certain ways.
    And so in thinking about how Eamonn’s British identity overpowers his Muslim identity and your point of “the insecurity which Eamonn feels towards his identity roots itself in ideologies of assimilation,” Parvais contrastingly recognizes that his Muslim identity does not fully live within a British context.

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