Author: Amy Waldman.
The Submission (2011) is a fictional account of the process to select the 9/11 memorial. When the anonymous winner, Mohammed “Mo” Khan, is revealed to be Muslim, the political, social and media landscapes of New York, and of America are shaken into further chaos. The panel of judges must decide whether or not to use Mo’s planned garden for the memorial as Islamophobia and racial division escalate on the streets.
The novel locates itself very clearly in the present landscape of Islamophobic discourse in the West. It also presents the fears that many citizens have of terrorism in a post 9/11 era. Waldman manages to provide a balance where all voices are given a platform as her diverse cast of characters have various political affiliations and are from different racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds.
As the novel progresses, identity and affiliation become fluid and these barriers are broken down as characters question their own morality and who they are. Mo’s character goes through many stages where his identity shifts. He is a non-practising, liberal Muslim who, because of being badly perceived in the media, transforms himself into a caricature of people’s fears; he grows a long beard and does not comply with the judges wishes for him to dilute his identity by attaching a different name to his winning garden.
There are also breakdowns between groups as the judges become disagreeable with one another, and various Muslims argue over what Mo should do. It is a very interesting look at the fall out over someone’s name, and how ideologies behind things can be greatly exaggerated resulting in major consequences.
Waldman, with her background in journalism, cleverly scrutinises the world of media stories, commenting on the dis-junction between perception and reality. Throughout the novel, news stories have an affect on real life, causing riots, protests, and creating distance between individuals. Characters are made to present themselves in a certain way in order to win over the public. It reminded me of House of Cards in the way that media stories are used to construct a “reality” to the public and gain their confidence. Everyone in this novel seemed to performing an identity, which points towards the superficiality of public appearance.
It is an extremely relevant novel that discusses race relations in USA and across the globe, as well as muddying the waters of Islamophobia and media spheres.