Wilson, J. M. (2009) Besieged identities: terrorism, the individual and the nation-state. Panel Presentation presented to: Re-imagining Identity: New Directions in Postcolonial Studies: Inaugural Conference of the Postcolonial Studies Association (PSA), Waterford, Ireland, 06-08 May 2009.
This paper aims to examine the reconfigurations of identity as represented in recent fictions which deal with the threat of violence from terrorists and their networks. In three novels--Richard Flanagan’s The Unknown Terrorist (2006), Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), and Orhan Pamuk’s Snow (2004) -- reactions of citizens and governments to terrorist attacks issue in retaliations such as a demand for greater security measures or in internal conflict. In the political sphere boundaries between geographical regions within the nation and between different nation states are challenged and often reasserted. Drawing on Stuart Hall’s premise that social and ethnic identities are constructions rather than givens, the paper will attempt to show, with reference to the novels, how such identities are tested and modified when subjected to the dangers that terrorism and violence present. It asks whether in the current political climate in which dissident groups create new fears and tensions (e.g. after the 26/11 bombings in Mumbai), individual identities are also under siege. Does the encroachment of fundamentalist beliefs lead to deracination of social and national identities, because the individual potential to take up a cultural identity within a given context or locale is reduced? Or are individual identities reinforced by steps which emphasise cohesive social and familial bonds, and the introduction of tighter security measures. Do such changes within the citizen contribute to the production and circulation of a changing ‘national’ identity?