Contingency of Empathy and Muhsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist


At a time when global interdependence has become our destiny more than ever, empathy and the ability to empathize have been increasingly praised as skills necessary for better social and political interactions. However, as the studies on international politics of emotion to empathy have argued, empathy is culturally and historically contingent and its productive possibilities might be limited by differentials of power. The present paper engages the politics of empathy with a focus on Muhsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist as a transnational text to show problems on the way of empathetic engagement with the Muslim other in the aftermath of 9/11. It will argue that by creating an interrogative mood and especially by depicting two scenarios of successful and unsuccessful empathetic engagement which indicate empathy as a site of tense power dynamics contingent on positionalities of those involved, the novel offers a critique of the detached, goal oriented perspective which forms and informs American empire’s economic and political plans. The novel also invites readers to engage in a productive process of self-interrogation by considering one’s standing in conversations on empathy.


Katayoun Zarei Toossi


Contingency of empathy, politics of Empathy, self-interrogation, The Reluctant Fundamentalist