Saturday, March 9, 2013

9/11: A Date All Americans Instantly Recognize

" 'Offensive to all Muslims or just to those radicals whose aim is to destroy America and the West.' This is a distinction without a difference." (Comment on BreitBart).

Even today, attacks of violence, vandalism, and arson against people believed to be Muslim in the US continue. Over a decade later, 9/11 still shakes us, angers us. Some hate Islam as a whole, still striving to place the blame for the 3,000 lives lost. Others hate the bigots who blindly hate Islam because of their ignorance to the complexity of the situation.

Amy Waldman’s novel, “The Submission,” honestly portrays many sides of the issue, humanizing everyone. She gives everyone a story, the hated and the haters, revealing extreme religious intolerance in the US and honestly examining our country’s reaction—both an understandable and repulsive one—to the terrorist attack.

Waldman creates no main character in her novel. “The Submission” opens with a jury elected to choose a design for a 9/11 memorial. It begins through Claire Burwell’s eyes, widowed by the attack, but quickly cycles through various other characters. The architect of jury’s chosen design, a beautiful garden, is Mohammad Khan, a Muslim-American, sparking extreme controversy throughout the novel. Rooted in a fear of Islam from 9/11, Khan’s refusal to withdraw or change his submission, causes even more racism, hatred, and resentment.

Waldman channels the hatred and misunderstanding of Islam into her novel and dissects it, giving a voice to all sides: a white widow confused about what to think, an Islamophobic white man whose brother died, the Muslim-American architect, and a Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh whose husband also died when the towers fell.

Waldman’s language reflects her journalistic background; it’s simple and direct, every word matters. Despite the swift changes between narrators and the direct language, however, each narrator has an astounding depth. Their inner-thoughts are almost a confession to the reader, each section almost journalism in their minds, which creates an ability to see and better understand each character’s perspective.

In the novel, when Burwell says the hatred and resentment “isn’t about you. It’s about the religion,” Khan’s response is:

“How would you feel if I justified what happened to your husband by saying is wasn’t about him but about his nationality—his country’s policies—damn shame he got caught up in, that’s all—but you know, he got what he deserved because he paid taxes to the American government. I get what I deserve because I happen to share a religion with a bunch of crazies?”

Burwell only hears “damn shame” and “what he deserved” and angrily concludes Kahn believes her husband was just “collateral damage…and bore responsibility and guilt simply because he was American.” But this is exactly what Kahn argues against. She simply doesn’t listen.

That is the point the novel makes. That is why it’s important to read. It makes us reflect on our reactions, misconceptions, and prejudices and realize we need to open to other people’s stories. We need to listen.


  1. I agree with your synopsis, but I also think your review did a good job incorporating text from the book and using to back up what you were saying. Also you noted how Waldman's journalist background influences her writing, which is a nice observation.

  2. Aliera,

    This was a very well-written review. I really appreciated all of the elements you included - you covered a wide variety of information important to a potential reader in a very limited space! I too enjoyed the way Waldman allowed us into the minds of the characters - I thought they showed some depth, although I know several classmates did not seem to agree. Great review!