“War is the atrophy of the individual conscience.”Pankaj Mishra
Fiction, poetry, drama, and creative nonfiction by South Asian Americans and Arab Americans include works that cover a much wider range of imperatives than the “war on terror.” But there is no denying that the declaration by the United States of a seemingly unending state of high alert and militaristic readiness against any perceived threat of terrorism has significantly affected South Asian American and Arab American communities and wrought devastatingly painful disruptions and dislocations in the lives of individuals and families. Some commentators reject the totalizing hold of the phrase “war on terror” with its hegemonic implications of a ceaseless and pervasive belligerence by the United States arrayed anywhere in the world. But as transnational Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie puts it, “to talk about a ‘War on Terror’ novel is to really talk about the consequences of the decisions made by various governments (including those of the US and Pakistan), rather than to place the terrorists of 9/11 at the centre of the narrative.” For her, the formulation “war on terror” lays bare the widespread and unending consequences of this declaration of war across multiple nations and shows that all countries have been affected by it.
“South Asian Americans” are those residents of the United States who trace their ancestry to one of seven (by some counts eight) countries of the geographical region known as South Asia. These countries are Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The World Bank and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) consider Afghanistan as part of South Asia, but it could also be considered as part of West Asia (or the Middle East) rather than South Asia. The ancestry of Arab Americans lies in the many countries of the Middle East or West Asia (e.g., Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Palestine, United Arab Emirates) and North Africa (including Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia). South Asians and Arabs are of multiple religious faiths. It is therefore incorrect to assume that all Arab Americans are Muslim (in fact, most Arab Americans are Christian).