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Necropolitics and National Identity in Kamila Shamsie's Home Fire



In Home Fire (2017), Kamilla Shamsie approaches themes such as the instability of national identity for minorities as well as islamophobia and racism. By adapting Sophocles' Antigone to a contemporary setting, she reimagines the contrast between the law laid down by the gods and the law enforced by men to introduce a discussion about the discrepancies between law and justice in twenty-first-century Britain. To discuss how Shamsie presents the tensions between the State and ethnical and religious minorities, this article will analyse her novel under the light of Decolonial studies. Achille Mbembe's Necropolitics (2003) will support a discussion of how Shamsie's plot illustrates the instability of the rule of law for the colonised, while Boaventura de Sousa Santos's conception of "abyssal thought" (2007) will allow us to investigate the structures that uphold patterns of inequality and institutionalised violence against minorities, one of the novel's main themes.
Interdisciplinar, São Cristóvão, v. 31, jan.-jun., p. 153-167, 2019.
Marcela Santos Brigida
Davi Pinho
ABSTRACT: In Home Fire (2017), Kamilla Shamsie approaches themes such
as the instability of national identity for minorities as well as islamophobia
and racism. By adapting Sophocles’ Antigone to a contemporary setting, she
reimagines the contrast between the law laid down by the gods and the law
enforced by men to introduce a discussion about the discrepancies between
law and justice in twenty-first-century Britain. To discuss how Shamsie
presents the tensions between the State and ethnical and religious
minorities, this article will analyse her novel under the light of Decolonial
studies. Achille Mbembe’s Necropolitics (2003) will support a discussion of
how Shamsie’s plot illustrates the instability of the rule of law for the
colonised, while Boaventura de Sousa Santos’s conception of “abyssal
thought” (2007) will allow us to investigate the structures that uphold
patterns of inequality and institutionalised violence against minorities, one
of the novel’s main themes.
Keywords: Decolonial Theory. British Literature. Necropolitics.
RESUMO: Em Home Fire (2017), Kamilla Shamsie aborda temas como a
instabilidade do conceito de identidade nacional para as minorias, assim
como a islamofobia e o racismo. Ao adaptar a Antígona de Sófocles em um
contexto contemporâneo, a autora reimagina o contraste entre a lei dos
deuses e a lei imposta pelos homens para introduzir uma discussão sobre as
discrepâncias entre a lei e a justiça no Reino Unido do século XXI. Para
discutir como Shamsie apresenta as tensões entre o Estado e minorias
étnicas e religiosas, este artigo analisará seu romance à luz dos estudos
decoloniais. A Necropolítica de Achille Mbembe (2003) dará base a uma
discussão sobre como o enredo de Shamsie ilustra a instabilidade do Estado
de Direito para o colonizado enquanto o conceito de Boaventura de Sousa
Santos de “pensamento abissal” (2007) nos permitirá investigar as
estruturas que sustentam padrões da desigualdade e da violência
institucionalizada contra minorias, um dos principais temas do romance.
Palavras-chave: Teoria Decolonial. Literatura Britânica. Necropolítica.
Artigo recebido em 16/04/2019 e aceito em 05/06/2019.
Mestranda em Literaturas de Língua Inglesa na UERJ. O presente trabalho foi realizado com
apoio da (CAPES). ORCID: 0000-0002-0951-1603
Professor Adjunto de Literatura Inglesa da Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro
(ILE/UERJ). Doutor em Literatura Comparada (UERJ/University of London)
Marcela Santos Brigida
Interdisciplinar, São Cristóvão, v. 31, jan.-jun., p. 153-167, 2019.
In Home Fire (2017), Kamila Shamsie presents her readers with an
adaptation of Antigone set in a contemporary context. The plot of
Sophocles’ classical play sees the unfolding of a clash between the law laid
down by the gods and the law enforced by men. This question is raised in
the play as the protagonist – Antigone – sets out to bury her brother against
the will of the king (Creon, who is also her uncle), in obedience to the law of
the gods. Shamsie adapts this conflict into a twenty-first-century setting by
establishing a contrast between the laws of the British State and what
Aneeka Pasha Shamsie’s reworking of Antigone recognises as justice.
Polyneices appears in Home Fire as Aneeka’s twin brother Parvaiz, a young
man who regrets joining ISIS in Syria and wishes to return home, in England.
Shamsie’s novel is particularly poignant due to the creative subtlety with
which the author reimagines classical preoccupations in a contemporary
setting. As a Pakistani-British citizen, Shamsie communicates the sense of
displacement second-generation immigrants often feel in twenty-first
century England.
The fact that Shamsie chose to write this story as a novel – and
not a play is also a point of interest for this study, as the author uses
interior monologue as a key strategy of character construction. In order to
address and discuss how Shamsie brings Antigone’s main themes to a
contemporary setting, addressing Western and Muslim values alike and
providing commentary on the current state of affairs for Muslim minorities
in the United Kingdom, this paper is going to look at Home Fire under the
light of Decolonial Studies. In order to discuss how Shamsie’s plot illustrates
the instability of the rule of law when applied to the colonised and how
Home Fire portrays islamophobia, I am going to turn to Achille Mbembe’s
Necropolitics (2003). Boaventura de Sousa Santos’s conception of “abyssal
thought” in “Para além do pensamento abissal: das linhas globais a uma
ecologia de saberes” (2007) is also going to permeate this paper and help
me discuss the forces that uphold patterns of inequality and
institutionalised violence against minorities. Such patterns contaminate the
lives of all the novel’s main characters and ultimately seals the tragic
conclusion of their lives. I propose here that one can read Shamsie’s novel as
an exercise to comprehend through fiction Santos’s point that the abyssal
“cartographical lines that used to demarcate the Old and the New World
during colonial times are still alive in the structure of modern occidental
Interdisciplinar, São Cristóvão, v. 31, jan.-jun., p. 153-167, 2019.
thought and remain constitutive of the political and cultural relations held
by the contemporary world system” (2007, p. 71).
Home Fire’s epigraph, taken from Seamus Heaney’s translation of
Antigone, titled The Burial at Thebes (2004), sets the tone for Shamsie’s
adaptation. “The ones we love . . . are enemies of the state” is a statement
that slowly spreads over and applies to all the characters. The novel is
divided into nine chapters and is narrated by its five main characters: Isma
(Chapters 1 and 2), Eamonn (3 and 4), Parvaiz (5 and 6), Aneeka (7) and
Karamat (8 and 9). Through this narrative strategy, Shamsie refrains from
the possibility of stigmatising or vilifying any of those characters, eschewing
from Manichean categories of good and evil. The first two chapters, which
are told from Isma Pasha’s perspective, introduce the reader to some of the
main question which are going to be addressed and developed throughout
the novel as well as to the woes her family has endured. Isma is Shamsie’s
reworking of Ismene. However, here she plays the role of the eldest sister
who has raised her two younger siblings – Aneeka and Parvaiz – after their
mother passed away, when the twins were twelve.
At the beginning of the novel, the reader finds Isma locked inside
an interrogation room at Heathrow Airport, London, as she reflects on the
likelihood of missing her flight. We learn she is a British national who is
travelling to Amherst, Massachusetts to read for a PhD in sociology. Rather
than signs of anger or irritation on the account of being held for hours by
representatives of her own government, Isma Pasha shows restraint and
resignation. From her interior monologue, it also becomes clear that she had
expected this to happen and even rehearsed appropriate answers to
possible questions with her younger sister. Finally, a man comes to
interview her once again and as he checks her browser history, the following
exchange takes place before Isma is finally allowed to board a plane to
“Do you consider yourself British?” the man said.
“I am British.”
“But do you consider yourself British?”
“I’ve lived here all my life.” She meant there was no
other country of which she could feel herself a part,
but the words came out sounding evasive. The
interrogation continued for nearly two hours. He
wanted to know her thoughts on Shias, homosexuals,
the Queen, democracy,
The Great British Bake Off
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the invasion of Iraq, Israel, suicide bombers, dating
websites. After that early slip regarding her
Britishness, she settled into the manner that she’d
practiced with Aneeka playing the role of the
interrogating officer, Isma responding to her sister as
though she were a customer of dubious political
opinions whose business Isma didn’t want to lose by
voicing strenuously opposing views, but to whom she
didn’t see the need to lie either. (SHAMSIE, 2017, p.
The question of national identity or, more precisely, that of what
Britishness means, is introduced at this early exchange and permeates the
novel to its close. Throughout Home Fire, we learn that the reason why Isma
Pasha was held at the airport was not exclusively related to her Pakistani-
British identity or to the fact she was a Muslim. It was precipitated by her
complicated family history. Adil Pasha, her father, was not, like Oedipus,
cursed by the gods and doomed to murder his own father and marry his
mother. However, he had made matters difficult for his children in his own
way. Pasha was described by Isma as a man who “tried his hand at many
things in his life — guitarist, salesman, gambler, con man, jihadi”, but who
was “most consistent in the role of absentee father” (SHAMSIE, 2017, p. 39).
After being detained and reportedly tortured in Bagram, he died while being
transported to Guantánamo when Aneeka and Parvaiz were toddlers.
Nevertheless, the reason the Pasha family rang alarm bells for the British
authorities in the beginning of the novel was that Parvaiz Pasha had joined
the media arm of ISIS in Syria some time before Isma’s journey to America.
That is the reason why, it appears, the officer inquired about Isma’s
perception of her own national identity. The question Do you consider
yourself British?” implies an alternative one that, though not openly stated,
can be read between the lines: “or are you a jihadi like the men of your
family, Miss Pasha?”. This is an inquiry about her loyalties as much as it is
about her perception of national identity. In Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and
Belonging (2018), Afua Hirsch describes the difficulty that black British
people of her generation the children and grandchildren of immigrants
from the former colonies in Asia, Africa and Jamaica face when dealing
with their sense of belonging. Hirsch describes her own issues with identity
and belonging as a British woman with Ghanaian heritage on her mother’s
side and Jewish roots on her father’s. Her study shows that here are
Interdisciplinar, São Cristóvão, v. 31, jan.-jun., p. 153-167, 2019.
identities which are not easily circumscribed, and this is a source of anxiety
both in contemporary Britain and in Home Fire.
Speaking about racism in the United Kingdom, Hirsch states in
Brit(ish) that the real problem lies in the “muting of the conversation – the
fact that we cannot in Britain today cope with exploring and accommodating
these identities in a healthy way” (HIRSCH, 2018, p. 26). To the author, this
silencing is also a failure that can turn a complex heritage that is a “rich and
complex asset” into an “identity crisis of epic proportions” (p. 26). Although
Hirsch focuses on the issue of racism against British people of African
descent, her addressing of the country’s problem with white supremacy
one that is remnant from the Empire also applies to questions Shamsie
develops throughout her novel. Hirsch invokes Trump’s white-supremacist
voters to illustrate her point that “recent years have shown us that
threatened identities don’t fade away quietly; they become defensive, and
fight back with new confidence, pride and desperation” (p. 26). However,
she points out that this statement can just as easily be illustrated by the
members of oppressed minorities, such as the Muslim community from
Preston Road portrayed in Home Fire.
The Pasha siblings exemplify the different ways in which people
can react to islamophobia. Isma tries to be as compliant as possible to the
demands the State makes of her: from her calm and collected answers
during the interrogation, to the fact she immediately denounced Parvaiz
when she learnt that he had joined ISIS, she is an almost perfect
embodiment of what Home Fire’s Creon, the Home Secretary Karamat Lone
instructs British-Muslims to do: assimilate and settle. Aneeka’s reaction to
islamophobia shifts throughout the novel. At the beginning of the story, she
is a brilliant Law student with a scholarship at the LSE. Aneeka is alert to the
peculiarities of what she calls “GWM” (Googling While Muslim)
and holds
Karamat Lone’s rhetoric of assimilation in contempt. Later, when she
dissociates British law from her perception of justice, she resigns from
adhering to it. On his turn, Parvaiz internalises his anger at being oppressed
on a daily basis. His feelings of loneliness and destitution grow stronger as
That is, a Muslim person should be careful about the topics he or she searches on the internet,
avoiding anything authorities might find dangerous or threatening.
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Isma prepares to leave for America and Aneeka becomes increasingly
consumed by the new world the LSE offers her. After being groomed by men
connected to ISIS, Parvaiz becomes radicalised.
There is a foil, however, to the Pasha family, which is provided by
the Lone household. Karamat Lone, a Member of Parliament who becomes
Home Secretary at the beginning of the novel, is married to Terry Lone, a
white, English interior designer from a wealthy family. They have two
children; Emily, an investment banker based in Manhattan, and Eamonn,
Shamsie’s version of Antigone’s Haemon. Both were raised with Western
values, away from Islam and the Pakistani culture that Karamat sought to
distance himself from as he became a powerful politician in the
Conservative Party. From his position, Karamat is the propeller of most of
the racial and religious tensions related to national identity and belonging in
the novel. He also personifies the power the State represents and yields in
Home Fire. There is an incident, during the chapters told from Eamonn’s
point of view, where Aneeka arrives at his flat upset because a man had told
her to “go back to the place where she came from” and proceeded to spit at
her in the subway. This took place soon after the Home Secretary delivered
the following speech at a predominantly Muslim secondary school which
“counted among its alumni Karamat Lone himself and two twenty-year olds
who had been killed by American airstrikes in Syria earlier in the year”
(SHAMSIE, 2017, p. 65):
There is nothing this country won’t allow you to
achieve—Olympic medals, captaincy of the cricket
team, pop stardom, reality TV crowns. And if none of
that works out, you can settle for being home
secretary. You are, we are, British. Britain accepts
this. So do most of you. But for those of you who are
in some doubt about it, let me say this: Don’t set
yourself apart in the way you dress, the way you
think, the outdated codes of behaviour you cling to,
the ideologies to which you attach your loyalties.
Because if you do, you will be treated differently—not
because of racism, though that does still exist, but
because you insist on your difference from everyone
else in this multi-ethnic, multireligious, multitudinous
United Kingdom of ours. And look at all you miss out
on because of it. (SHAMSIE, 2017, p. 65)
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Karamat’s words take us back to Afua Hirsch’s point about a strain
of white supremacy that she classifies as being “ever-present” in Britain. To
the author, the British Empire as well as the concept of a Western
Civilisation were built upon a system where several generations were
conditioned to believe in the inferiority of non-whites, non-Christians and
non-Europeans. To Hirsch, for society to move past those constructs, they
must be articulated, recognised and discussed. Until that is achieved, she
says, attempts at becoming a “post-racial society” are pointless as those
have failed to comprehend “racialised identities” (2018, p. 29):
The progress we have made is, in some ways, part of
the problem. We live, the American academic
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has written, in an era of ‘racism
without racists’. It’s an era of ‘colour-blind racism’, of
‘racism with a smiling face’. Compared to what black
people in Britain went through up until only two
decades ago, being roughed up by the police regularly
for no reason, being called ‘nigger’, and chased down
the street by armed Teddy boys, it’s ‘racism lite’. It
makes it so much easier for people to say these days
that they ‘don’t see race’, hoping perhaps that if they
don’t dwell on racial difference, then maybe that
difference will go away. The problem is, there is still
race, and there is still racism. Denying it does not
solve the problem, it creates two further problems.
First, it assumes that seeing race is something bad,
that perhaps to admit to seeing race is to embark on
the slippery slope towards racism. Given that most of
the prejudice and othering I’ve experienced in my life
has come courtesy of polite, smiling people who
claimed not to see race, I know that this is not true.
(HIRSCH, 2018, p. 28)
Public discussions about Britishness permeate Shamsie’s novel.
The author is successful in illustrating, however, how elusive the notion of
national identity is when applied to minorities in the United Kingdom. The
State has the power of stripping the British people of their citizenship as
easily as it can set up surveillance systems around them, keep them from
leaving the country or returning to it. It also has the ultimate power of killing
them, as the characters hint at several times when they speak of Adil Pasha.
Most of such discussions are ignited by utterances such as the speech
transcribed above, which are often delivered by Karamat Lone. At the
beginning of the novel, Isma refers to him as a Member of Parliament that
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her extended family despised. Elected an MP by a Muslim-majority
constituency, Karamat Lone became a rising star in the Conservative Party.
He eventually turned away from his community as controversy ensued after
a tabloid published a picture that showed him entering a mosque that had
garnered media attention for its “hate preacher” (SHAMSIE, 2017, p. 30).
After that, the politician fully and publicly embraced Western values, issuing
a statement that pointed out that “the picture was several years old, he had
been there only for his uncle’s funeral prayers and would otherwise never
enter a gender-segregated space” (SHAMSIE, 2017, p. 31). Lone was voted
out in the following elections, only to be embraced by a white conservative
constituency that led him back into Parliament. By means of that media
stunt, Lone became a part of the establishment that often oppressed and
stigmatised his original community. Furthermore, as I have showed in this
paper, Lone’s rhetoric began to adhere to the construct of a “post-racial
society” that Afua Hirsch described. The sense of betrayal Lone left in his
community reached new heights as he became Home Secretary: “It’s all
going to get worse. He has to prove he’s one of them, not one of us, doesn’t
he? As if he hasn’t already. I hate this country.” (SHAMSIE, 2017, p. 30),
Aneeka wrote to Isma. The pressure to “prove he is one of them” is a
challenge that, the reader soon learns, is ever-present in Lone’s mind.
As a politician, Karamat Lone becomes an enforcer of what
Boaventura de Sousa Santos has called “abyssal thought” (2007). Santos
describes abyssal thought as a system of “visible and invisible distinctions in
which the latter fundament the former”
(SANTOS, 2007, p. 71). These
invisible distinctions, he argues, are established by “radical lines that divide
the social reality into two distinct universes” (p. 71), which Santos presents
as “this side of the line” and “the other side of the line”. The lines are radical
because what is perceived as pertaining to the other side of it “disappears as
a reality”, fading away in the sense that it ceases from existing “under any
mode of being relevant or understandable” (p. 71). Thus, all the markers of
Pakistani heritage such as the way extended families congregate, their
culinary practices, their dress code and, above all else, their religion, is
perceived in the Britain presented in Home Fire as alien, other, and
Translated from the original in Brazilian Portuguese to English by me.
Interdisciplinar, São Cristóvão, v. 31, jan.-jun., p. 153-167, 2019.
dangerous. When a white man spits at Aneeka inside a train carriage, he
does so because he identifies her as belonging to this inexistent reality of
the other side of the line. He is enraged by her hijab, the colour of her skin,
and the way she holds herself. Those characteristics offer him cues to her
non-complacency to the codes imposed by people like Karamat Lone. This
random man’s hate is somewhat legitimised in the political context of the
novel as intolerance against otherness is enforced by a member of the
minority that is being targeted. Karamat Lone is the first to instruct
Pakistani-British Muslims to conform and not set themselves apart.
Confronting Eamonn Lone about his father’s speech, Aneeka asks her fiancé:
What do you say to your father when he makes a
speech like that? Do you say, “Dad, you’re making it
okay to stigmatize people for the way they dress”? Do
you say, “What kind of idiot stands in front of a group
of teenagers and tells them to conform”? Do you say,
“Why didn’t you mention that among the things this
country will let you achieve if you’re Muslim is
torture, rendition, detention without trial, airport
interrogations, spies in your mosques, teachers
reporting your children to the authorities for wanting
a world without British injustice”? (SHAMSIE, 2017, p.
Eamonn is taken aback by her words. As someone shielded by the
privilege his father’s position and his mother’s whiteness, as well as their
wealth and social status afforded him, Karamat’s son cannot fully grasp the
extent of what Aneeka calls British injustice. In the Home Secretary’s
speech, the consequence of non-compliance to his instructions is to be
“treated differently” and to “miss out” on the great opportunities Britain has
to offer. As Karamat tries in every possible way to conclude his transition to
what Santos has called “this side of the line”, he acts as an enforcer of
abyssal thought and his rhetoric grows harsher. On the other hand, Aneeka’s
words introduce us to her vision of Britain as a State where Necropolitics are
a reality made possible by Abyssal Thought. Boaventura dos Santos
illustrates his concept of the two sides of the line by indicating the colony as
the place where the rule of law can be easily withdrawn as the humanity of
those who live there is relativized. He states that the “denial of a part of
humankind is sacrificial in the sense that it creates the conditions for the
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other part of humankind to affirm itself as universal” (SANTOS, 2007, p. 76).
Furthermore, we see a return of the colonial:
In this movement, the “colonial” is a metaphor for
those who understand that their life experiences take
place at the other side of the line and rebel against
that. The return of the colonial is the abyssal answer
to what is perceived as a threatening intrusion of the
colonial in metropolitan societies. This return takes
on three main forms: that of the terrorist, that of the
undocumented immigrant and that of the refugee. In
different ways, each of them brings on the global
abyssal line that defines radical exclusion and legal
inexistence. The new wave of immigration and
antiterror laws, for instance, follows the regulating
logic of the “appropriation/violence” paradigm in
many of its dispositions. The return of the colonial
does not necessarily mean a physical presence in
metropolitan societies. It is enough to have a relevant
connection with them. In the terrorist’s case, this
connection can be established by the secret services.
In the case of the undocumented immigrant worker,
it is enough for him to be underemployed by
metropolitan multinational corporations that operate
in the global South. In the refugee’s case, the
connection is established through the application for
a refugee status in any given metropolitan society.
(SANTOS, 2007, p. 78)
The clash of the colonial and the metropole is best exemplified in
Home Fire by the discussion around national identity introduced early on the
novel as Isma and her PhD supervisor, Dr Shah, reminisce about a class
discussion they had years before:
Dr Shah, if you look at colonial laws you’ll see plenty
of precedent for depriving people of their rights; the
only difference is this time it’s applied to British
citizens, and even that’s not as much of a change as
you might think, because they’re rhetorically being
made un-British.
Say more.
The 7/7 terrorists were
never described by the media as “British terrorists.”
Even when the word “British” was used, it was always
“British of Pakistani descent” or “British Muslim” or,
my favourite, “British passport holders,” always
something interposed between their Britishness and
(SHAMSIE, 2017, p. 33)
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Isma’s criticism of how discourse about Britishness was presented
in the media coverage of terrorist attacks is particularly poignant when one
considers Karamat Lone’s rhetoric as Home Secretary when addressing
issues of citizenship. Pasha is highly critical of the fickle grasp ethnical and
religious minorities have on their own identities as British citizens. They can
be quickly divorced from their Britishness by the authorities and public
opinion if they step out of line. Within this context, I return to the question
asked by the officer who interrogated the eldest Pasha sibling at the airport:
“Do you consider yourself British?”. Government officials evidently wished
to gauge Isma’s loyalties. Nevertheless, her pledge of allegiance to the
Union Jack would count for nothing in case a high-ranking officer or
politician decided she was engaged in any activities or liaisons that could be
understood as “unbritish”. In turn, to present himself as a suitable candidate
for the post of Prime Minister, Karamat became a person who was seen by
the community he came from as “Mr. British Values. Mr. Strong on Security.
Mr. Striding Away from Muslimness” (SHAMSIE, 2017, p. 42).
Karamat Lone defends the right of the State to strip any “British
passport holders of their citizenship in cases where they have acted against
the vital interests of the UK” (SHAMSIE, 2017, p. 131). The Home Secretary
states that “citizenship is a privilege not a right or birth right.” (p. 131),
taking the expression Isma criticises, “British passport holders”, one step
further in his quest to become Prime Minister. Parvaiz Pasha’s murder by
members of ISIS in Turkey ignites a crisis that ultimately holds up a mirror
that reflects both the similarities and discrepancies between Home Fire’s
and Antigone’s characters. Parvaiz regretted his choice of joining the group
and wished to go home. As soon as she became aware of this, Aneeka began
trying to find a way to convince the Home Secretary to allow her brother to
return. Although it is clear to the reader that Karamat Lone could not
possibly agree to that, Parvaiz is shot down before he could do anything to
prevent the young man’s return. The Home Secretary did, however, prevent
Pasha’s body from being repatriated to England by stripping him of his
British citizenship. Lone refused to refer to Parvaiz as a British citizen and
stated that the government would not allow “those who turn against the
soil of Britain in their lifetime sully that very soil in death” (SHAMSIE, 2017,
p. 132). At this point, Isma mirrors Ismene as she refrains from reacting
against the law of the State that she had so passionately criticised when
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younger. With Aneeka already hurt by the knowledge that Isma was the one
who had alerted antiterrorism authorities to the fact that Parvaiz had joined
ISIS, the strained relationship between the two sisters hits its final
argument. Shamsie provides the reader with a long, unmediated exchange
between the sisters that resembles a play format. Aneeka wants to bury her
brother by their mother’s side, in London. The younger sister asks Isma what
she would be willing to do for Parvaiz, to which she replies she can only pray
for his soul. Aneeka remains resolved to “bring him home, even in the form
of a shell” (SHAMSIE, 2017, p. 140). To her, it is a matter of honour as much
as it is a matter of justice. “Accept the law, even when it’s unjust” (p. 140),
Isma instructs her sister. Aneeka’s final refusal cements the point of rupture
where the allegiances are most clearly laid out; Isma will obey the law,
Aneeka will seek justice.
Parvaiz’s body is repatriated to Pakistan as his loses his dual
citizenship. The fact he is stripped of his British passport post-mortem
highlights the instability of national identity, especially for minorities, and
especially in Britain. When narrating her father’s story to Eamonn, Isma tells
him of how little she and her family knew of what happened to Adil Pasha.
The eldest Pasha sibling states that secret service officers went to her home
asking questions about her father some time after he left them without
stating their reason for doing so. The official procedures that define the
government’s handling of Adil Pasha’s disappearance and death implicate a
silencing of the family’s questions about his whereabouts and even their
grief. The price for remaining a part of their London community was to
refrain from questioning the legality of the procedures applied to his case
and renounce to keeping his memory altogether. The Pasha family had to
forfeit their right to look for answers:
We knew something was wrong, and my grandmother
said maybe we should try to contact someone—the
Red Cross, the government, a lawyer—to find out
where he was. If my grandfather had still been alive
that might have happened, but he wasn’t, and my
mother said if we tried looking for him, we’d be
harassed by Special Branch, and by people in the
neighbourhood, who would start to suspect our
sympathies. My grandmother went to the mosque
looking for support, but the Imam sided with my
mother—he’d heard too many stories of abuse
suffered by the families of British men who’d been
Interdisciplinar, São Cristóvão, v. 31, jan.-jun., p. 153-167, 2019.
arrested in Afghanistan. One of my grandmother’s
friends had said the British government would
withdraw all the benefits of the welfare state—
including state school and the NHS—from any family
it suspected of siding with the terrorists. (…) My
mother knew that wasn’t true, but she allowed my
grandmother to believe it. (SHAMSIE, 2017, p. 41)
Isma’s rhetoric always reiterates the duty of colonised minorities
to repeatedly reaffirm their loyalties. Although she speaks of the “British
men who’d been arrested in Afghanistan”, it appears that by the time Pasha
had been killed, he was not thought of as a British citizen anymore. In
Necropolitics (2003), Achille Mbembe approaches the concept of
sovereignty by assuming that it resides “to a large degree, in the power and
the capacity to dictate who may live and who must die” (p. 11). Therefore,
the discretionary judgment, by the State, of those who must be killed and
those can live is inherent to the exercise of its sovereignty: “to exercise
sovereignty is to exercise control over mortality and to define life as the
deployment and manifestation of power” (MBEMBE, 2003, p. 12). This is
something Adil Pasha’s case illustrates. Karamat Lone states that Parvaiz
was a “peculiar case” among Pakistani-British boys from Preston Road
because he had “terrorism as family trade” (SHAMSIE, 2017, p. 79). He is
thus aligned with his father among the “enemies of Britain” who must be
kept away from it. Father and son were both killed, and their family was not
allowed to mourn their deaths as they crossed the abyssal line that tossed
them into unreachable otherness. The Home Secretary does not see Parvaiz
as a British boy who became radicalised; he became the enemy as soon as
he left for Syria. To be labelled as a terrorist automatically strips Parvaiz of
his humanity in the eyes of Western society. This process of dehumanization
addressed by Santos as being made possible by abyssal thought is also
approached by Mbembe as a symptom of Necropolitics. Within the logic of a
Necropolitical State, the attempt to deny, expatriate and erase the
Britishness of citizens who ally themselves with radicalised forces is part of
an effort to link them to the archetype of the colonised savage. Mbembe
points out that, historically, the “savages” were perceived as disposable or
“‘natural’ human beings who lacked the specifically human character, the
specifically human reality” (2003, p. 24). Therefore, in killing them, the
colonisers would argue that they had not committed murder at all.
Marcela Santos Brigida
Interdisciplinar, São Cristóvão, v. 31, jan.-jun., p. 153-167, 2019.
In Home Fire, Pakistan is seen by Karamat Lone as the motherland
of savage behaviour and Sharia law, its enforcer. The Home Secretary
becomes enraged when Aneeka Pasha states that she is leaving Britain to go
to Karachi in search for justice after Parvaiz is killed and Lone forbids the
repatriation of his body to England. To Lone, having renounced any
allegiance to his Pakistani heritage, there is no such thing as justice there.
He speaks of the Middle East as “a place of crucifixions, beheadings,
floggings, heads on spikes, child soldiers, slavery, and rape” (SHAMSIE, 2017,
p. 179). This echoes Mbembe’s analysis of how the necropolitical metropole
looks at the colony:
The colonies are not organized in a state form and
have not created a human world. Their armies do not
form a distinct entity, and their wars are not wars
between regular armies. They do not imply the
mobilization of sovereign subjects (citizens) who
respect each other as enemies. They do not establish
a distinction between combatants and non-
combatants, or again between an “enemy” and a
“criminal.” It is thus impossible to conclude peace
with them. In sum, colonies are zones in which war
and disorder, internal and external figures of the
political, stand side by side or alternate with each
other. As such, the colonies are the location par
excellence where the controls and guarantees of
judicial order can be suspended—the zone where the
violence of the state of exception is deemed to
operate in the service of “civilization.” (MBEMBE,
2003, p. 24)
Although these are Karamat Lone’s views, Shamsie is careful not
to stigmatise the issue of radicalisation by the way she lets the reader into
Parvaiz’s mental restlessness as he leaves Britain and his sisters for Syria. In
an interview with Chris McDonough and Stephanie McCarter, the author
spoke about the grooming techniques of groups such as ISIS, pointing out
that she saw that there was an untold story about how vulnerable young
men such as Parvaiz Pasha are usually seduced into joining. Many times, she
argues, they are attracted not by an opportunity to fight, but by a “more
subtle form of propaganda” that calls out: “come and live here, you’ll have a
better life” (MCDONOUGH; MCCARTER, 2017). By allowing the reader to
watch Parvaiz’s process of radicalisation through his own eyes, Shamsie
restores the character’s humanity as well as the empathy a reader cannot
Interdisciplinar, São Cristóvão, v. 31, jan.-jun., p. 153-167, 2019.
help but feel when following the unfolding of the events that led to his
Home Fire exposes the faults and the distortions inherent to the
understanding of Britishness that Karamat Lone defended. The same
problematic constructs that helped him become powerful also precipitated
his downfall. In her final pledge, delivered under the scorching Karachi sun
by the side of her brother’s unburied body, Aneeka likens Karamat to
“wicked tyrants” (SHAMSIE, 2017, p. 163), to the backwardness and violence
he allowed himself to attach to the colony. Kamila Shamsie’s writing is
masterful as she allows her readers to question and reconsider their
assessment of how public discourse and political actors handle,
instrumentalise and relativize national identity and the construction of
otherness, as well the instability of the rule of law, especially for minorities.
In this paper, I sought to raise and analyse those questions under the light of
Achille Mbembe’s Necropolitics and Boaventura de Sousa Santos’ concept of
abyssal thought. Aneeka Pasha’s final appeal as well as her death alongside
Eammon blur the lines described by Santos. Although Karamat’s son is not
automatically labelled a terrorist, he chose Aneeka over his nation, his
family and his home, embracing her cause. Death soon comes to encompass
all, disgracing Lone in a political and in a personal sense, violently waking
him up to the reality that he was never truly an authoritative voice within
the establishment he so fiercely defended: he was the other as well.
HIRSCH, A. British: On Race, Identity and Belonging. New York: Vintage,
MBEMBÉ, J.-A.; MEINTJES, L. Necropolitics. Public culture, v. 15, n. 1, p. 11-
40, 2003.
MCDONOUGH, C.; MCCARTER S. Reimagining Antigone for the Age of
Extremism: A Conversation with Kamila Shamsie. 11 Dec. 2017. Available
e3d201e75a42. Access on: 20 Jan. 2019.
SANTOS, B. S. Para além do pensamento abissal: das linhas globais a uma
ecologia de saberes. Revista crítica de ciências sociais, n. 78, p. 3-46, 2007.
SHAMSIE, K. Home Fire. New York: Riverhead Books, 2017.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Na primeira parte do ensaio, argumenta‑se que as linhas cartográficas “abissais” que demarcavam o Velho e o Novo Mundo na era colonial subsistem estruturalmente no pensamento moderno ocidental e permanecem constitutivas das relações políticas e culturais excludentes mantidas no sistema mundial contemporâneo. A injustiça social global estaria, portanto, estritamente associada à injustiça cognitiva global, de modo que a luta por uma justiça social global requer a construção de um pensamento “pós-abissal”, cujos princípios são apresentados na segunda parte do ensaio como premissas programáticas de uma “ecologia de saberes”.
Public culture, v. 15, n. 1
  • J.-A Mbembé
  • L Meintjes
  • Necropolitics
MBEMBÉ, J.-A.; MEINTJES, L. Necropolitics. Public culture, v. 15, n. 1, p. 11-40, 2003.