Monday, November 1, 2010

“No Room for Outsiders: Fierce Nationalism in The Satanic Verses”

…homogenous, non-hybrid, ‘pure’ (442).
Each of these words suggests similar and unified composition of the self. “Homogenous” means being of uniform composition throughout, like a homogenous mixture where the multiple parts cannot be distinguished from the whole. “Non-hybrid”, in a way, reiterates that point but with some differences though. This term suggests that something is not made up of two or more things, at least not noticeably. Like homogenous, there is no noticeable difference in composition while with heterogeneous and hybrid, there would be a noticeable difference in composition of at least two or more things. And finally, “pure” also suggests a unified composition that is free of foreign contamination. All of these terms could be applied to the staunch views of nationalism and national identity in any given country, but for the purposes of The Satanic Verses, it pertains to English nationalism and “Englishness.” Nationalists like to think of their nation and everyone in it as having the same characteristics as the country itself: the same language, the same traditions, the same pastimes, the same race, and the same color. The same nationalists adhering to these terms of homogeneity, purity, and non-hybridist would be opposed to anything or anyone who could not be described by these terms as they relate to the nation in question.
These terms lead to the post-colonial term “essentialism”, which is the assumption that groups, categories, or classes of objects have one or several defining features exclusive to all members of that category (Ashcroft 73). English nationalists will assert that there are essential qualities to being English: the English language, the English accent, western dress, and white skin just to name a few. At the same time, English nationalist have assumptions about other cultures. Indians, for example, can be described as having brown skin, oriental dress, and speaking the Indian language and accent.
These essential characteristics of Englishness and Indian-ness are the reasons for the acceptance of Gibreel Farishta and the rejection of Saladin Chamcha by the English in The Satanic Verses. Even though both of them are Indian immigrants, they are treated very differently based on their adherence, or lack thereof, to these assumptions. Gibreel is accepting of these Indian assumptions. He dresses in oriental garb, speaks English with an Indian accent, and plays Hindu gods as an actor. Because he is adhering to the ideal homogeneity of his own Indian culture, he is accepted. Saladin on the other hand is a different story. He, too, is an Indian immigrant, but he is trying to pass as an Englishman. He tries to replace his Indian accent with an English one and he wears western clothes. He does not fit the assumptions of the essential Indian culture because he is making a hybrid of cultures. He is Indian and has brown skin like an Indian would, but the fact that he is combining his Indian appearance with English dress and language is seen as a threat to English nationalist identity, which is why he is treated so poorly throughout the book.

1 comment:

  1. This article makes ludicrous assumptions about "English nationalism".