Published in 1997, The Terrorist has sparked its share of controversy. The primary concern is that the novel contains many unchallenged stereotypes of Muslims as violent wife-beaters and terrorists.
There are opportunities for the author to correct this bias. She includes a character, Mr. Hollober, who is the Current Events teacher at Laura's international school. Instead of taking the opportunity for him to balance Laura's ignorance, he repeats the stereotypes and gives them further legitimacy:
'If a girl from an observant Moslem family were to fall in love with a Christian,' said Mr. Hollober, 'or flirt, or expose her face or limbs or hair in front of men except her father and brothers, she would taint her family's honor. She would be punished because honor of the family matters more than she does.' ... Mr. Hollober insisted he was telling the truth. 'Girls who tempt men are criminals. Girls who disobey their fathers and brothers are criminals. And criminals in Islamic countries pay with their lives.' [pages 118-119]This book is filled with outrageous stereotypes, with nothing to balance or confront them. On the contrary, the main character observes that, "When you live abroad, you found out that some stereotypes were true" [page 55]. The exerpts below are just a few of dozens of such passages.
'The man chosen for me is a general in his fifties. I will be his third wife. His is a traditional household. I will be forced to wear a black robe like my servant, and have my face covered by a solid veil with eye slits. I will not be permitted to leave my house. I will not be allowed books to read or television to watch or a radio to listen to. Laura, you are too American to know what such a marriage means. It is living death.... My money would be his, and I would never be permitted to touch it. I would obey my husband, always, no matter how painful or cruel or wrong. I would have no purpose except to give birth to sons. If I had daughters, he would punish me and quickly get me pregnant again.'The main character sums up the underlying theme throughout the book:
Laura felt as if Jehran occupied another planet, a place without gravity or sunrise....
Islam. You thought that religion was a pact between you and God, but it wasn't. Religion was a group, and sometimes even a government. In some countries, religion was a government by the tough and the cruel. Men who hated women. Men who wanted women literally locked in their clothes and their houses.... [quoted from The Terrorist, pages 107-111]
They were wrong when they said if you went overseas, you would better understand other nations and people and religions. The more Laura heard, the less she understood. The less she wanted to understand. She usually wanted to give American lessons so people would see that the American way was best. [page 120]
There are Muslim children sitting right alongside children of other faiths, as our schools become increasingly diverse. What might seem funny or entertaining is neither if done at the expense of any group of people. Muslim children in the U.S. already report peer rejection, victimization, and social isolation because of their religious affiliation. This book was written in 1997, and things are much different in a post-9/11 world.
Concerned parents should be in close contact, now and always, with their children and their local schools. Find out if this and other books are in the school library, on the recommended reading list, or assigned in class. Get involved. Offer alternative perspectives and reading materials.