The Myth of The Other: An American Tradition

From its earliest stirrings to the present day, The United States has continued to construct itself on the foundation of maliciously mythologized others. The first writers of the American story saw fit to demonize the “Indians,” painting them as savages and uncivilized, conveniently lending settlers the right to take their land. Today, not much has changed. Now the other is in the Middle East, labeled a terrorist in a third world country, and just as conveniently paves the way for America to take their oil.

It is obvious that these stories are born out of greed. A greed that begs for moral justifications. But how does a country create a myth of the other? The ingredients are age old.

The first ingredient is fear. This fear can come in many forms, usually entailing some kind of loss. Loss of culture, loss of stability, loss of jobs. Other times, it comes as the fear of violence. Ironically, slave holders used their fear of slaves to justify their slavery, and yet this group of “others” were the foundation of the southern economy. In the lead up to the Iraq War, this same fear of violence, or nonexistent WMD’s, was used to manipulate the public into supporting an unjust and catastrophic disaster.

The second ingredient is nationalism. This is purely an extension of tribalism, and is just as small-minded. A group bound together by a common fear will act together out of that common fear. This is why many times political leaders will beat the drums of war to silence opposition and maintain power. American exceptionalism is yet another way of creating an “other.” If America is the best, all other nations are inferior. Comparison creates division, and these divisions can be exploited.

The third and most dangerous ingredient is dehumanization. Historically speaking, The United States has been very skilled at dehumanizing groups of people. The most glaring example is represented in The Three Fifths Compromise. If a population dehumanizes another population, it will readily commit inhumane acts against them, oftentimes ending in genocide. But how does a population dehumanize another? Here rhetoric is key. The media and leading figures paint the “other” as an animal, vermin to be exterminated, or as savages who won’t “properly” develop the land, or cannot look after themselves and must be looked after. Once these ideas are planted, they are hard to uproot.

It is incumbent upon individuals and entities to be able to recognize these trends and stop them. If we are to break these cycles, it will be through strong measures. The media must tell stories of the decency of people we once feared. The American priorities of endless wealth and power must be called into question. We must redefine greatness. Above all, we must treat each other with compassion. If we act on that, we can begin to see our reflections in our “others.”

The Relationship between Nadia and Saeed

When I first started reading the book I really thought that Nadia and Saeed would be married and have a happily ever after. That was before the plot began developing. I think they would of had a chance as a couple but I think that they were trying to survive which put a lot of stress on them as a couple. But as a couple I liked how loyal and caring they were to each other. You could tell that they tried to be there for each other even though they were individually “going through it.” I think that them just staying together and not stepping out on each other helped them get through the rough situation they were in,”and whatever name they gave their bond they each in their own way believed it required them to protect the other, and so neither talked much of drifting apart, not wanting to inflict a fear of abandonment”(203). But toward the end of the book I started seeing that as a couple they would not be the best fit and they started to drift away from each other. I think that them drifting away helped them meet more like minded people. At the end of the book I liked the possibility of them maybe getting back together I thought that gave everyone reading the book a little of a happy ending.

Not an Other

In the media today, stories of migrants are written in a way that emphasizes their journey, their struggle, and the hardships they come from. Essentially, these stories do their best to create an “other”, to emphasis everything that makes migrants different from the person reading the story.

In Exit West, Mohsin Hamid takes a different approach. The book focuses heavily on relationships between people, particularly Saeed and Nadia, as well as familial relationships and the connections Saeed and Nadia make with different people as they traveled away from their home. Everyone has relationships of some sort with people in their lives, and so people reading this book, who most likely live in entirely different circumstances from Saeed and Nadia, are able to relate in that way. The use of doors as methods of traveling from place to place reduces the emphasis of the physical journey of a migrant and allows the reader the focus on what is more important: who the characters are and the connections they form with others.

Exit West combats the narrative of migrants as nothing more than a distinct “other” from non-migrants. It emphasizes the things that humans have in common, regardless of what part of the globe they are from.

The News’ Other

The news, social media, documentaries, and film inform the people in the World about what is happening. And much like people, these sources are biased and are created to please a certain group of people. For example, if Fox aired a broadcast about 9/11 and said “It’s a tragedy…hundreds are dead…it’s the Muslim’s fault”, the people who watch that program religiously will probably start treating all Muslim’s as the “other”, and lesser than them, even if they don’t know their situation. On the other hand, If CNN said “Hundreds of people have died… it’s Bush and Dick Cheney’s fault”, about the same situation, they might treat the Presidency and Muslim people as “others”.

Most of the time, when people hear something said from a reliable source, their first instinct is to believe it. Personally, I don’t think the man or woman who owns NBC or some social media company is qualified to speak on the life of an immigrant who just arrived from a war riddled country. Because they are rich and probably live in a mansion overlooking a beautiful view.

These large corporations manipulate people to believe things to collect ad revenue, while people treat “others” differently because of it. It’s not justifiable, and will most likely not change, so everything I hear on the news I take with a grain of salt.

Achieving mutual recognition with global others

Yes, it is 100% possible for mutual recognition to be achieved with global others. It all starts with empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. One must put themselves in another persons shoes by shifting their perspective and thinking how the other would think. This is hard for a lot of people to do because humans are animals that all have survival instincts and whether we like it or not, those instincts make us selfish protectors of our own lives. 99.9% of humans would save themselves over someone else if such a situation arose. This selfish yet natural concept of self preservation is what I believe inhibits humans from achieving mutual recognition. It’s difficult for humans to empathize and help other people with their problems when everyone has problems of their own. Also, many people ask, “Why should I help someone else if I did nothing to contribute to their problems? It’s not MY responsibility.” This mindset is valid and reflects darwinism but it fails to factor in the uneven playing field of life and the people who were put into an unfortunate situation at no fault of their own. This is why empathy is required because everyone must be able to feel for other people and understand what they are going through in order to mutually recgonize.

“others” are unavoidable

While the creation of “other” groups can have many negative effects on how we see the world today, this trend is in our human nature. The other group builds a greater connection between people within our group. Without a global other, our nation would divide itself into others as well, whether that be democrats vs Republicans, east vs west, etc. The other will either be found within, or outside our society.

To try and eliminate or limit the effects of the other’s negative perceptions is an admirable goal. To be aware of what we as a society are doing to another group, we can attempt to mitigate it’s effect on our perception of the other. However, this is never ending battle, as one other is accepted in our group, another will be separated. Humans will always find a way to alienate others, it’s an unavoidable human truth.

Media and Global Others

The media is the source we look to for information on other countries. The media plays the biggest role in news about global others. Never directly hearing from these countries we always get the half of it (the news). The media portrays countries from their perspective. We rarely hear good news of these others. We rely n the media too much. Other countries have problems and we only hear about the consequence. The media is known for shining a negative light on these global others. The media tells you the daily so you can continue your normal day. Why should be reply on the perspective of the media to hear about other countries when we could get our own. The media reports the news but never when it’s bad they offer help. Our influences comes from the media. Everyday life for people in other countries are documented and these documents are also sad or violent. We always get someone else’s perspective regardless because the media, documentaries, and movies are the roles and where are information on global others is acquired.

Saeed’s personal development through life

Saeed is able to grow as a person through his experiences in his life. He finds that a strong way to connect to his parents is through prayer. At a young age Saeed learns and expands on his prayer life with the guidance of his parents. Throughout his later years prayer gives him and escape and allows for prayer to give him answers to his problems when others are not around. Through the process of developing his prayer life it allowed for him to grow closer to his family. Nadia was part of his family for most of his early years. When both of his parents died she was the only one Saeed could turn to. Through prayer however, he is still able to talk to and connect with his parents that had passed away during his life. With prayer being a center point in Saeed’s life it provided him with the opportunity to find a girl that he really connects well with.

In life I believe that it is really important to have an outlet when you are in those tough and stressful situations. Whether that is prayer/ religion or some sort of activity that allows you to connect with people. Comfort is one if not the most important thing when it comes to making certain life changing decisions as Saeed had to make when deciding his future with Nadia.

Not The Stranger but The Other

The stories of global others aren’t told by the proclaimed other. Instead reporters and journalists have mere glimpses into their worlds and come to form their own conclusions on what they believe to be happening. It is rare that the voice of those experiencing these events is the one that is broadcasted when delivering us international news. The majority of the information given by the media does not offer the perspective of the civilian but instead from an outsider perspective simply stating the effect on the particular population as a whole.

Wide groups of people are also viewed specifically as the other due to the way they are depicted in the film and entertainment industry. In many western films, the main character travels to a country outside the United States, and often times these countries are made out to be recognized by the audience as “third world countries.” They depict these arrival scenes with views of streets that are extremely crowded along with people that have raggedy appearances, or dirty street markets that contain beggars on every corner. The different races and religions in these movies are shown wearing specific stereotypical outfits, even though, in reality those depicted often wear brands or types of clothing the same as you or I. The religions represented in these films tend to not represent how diverse the entire population truly is. In conclusion, those we deem as global others are not given the proper platform to share their stories and experiences. The film and entertainment industry holds them down even more so, whether intentionally or not, by creating large generalizations of entire populations for people to base their judgment upon.

Hesitation Beyond The Doors

The author, Mohsin Hamid, did an extraordinary job by building strong connections with the characters throughout the novel. The mystical doors that led to various places interested me the most because they always led somewhere new. In Exit West, the doors seemed to give Saeed and Nadia new and improved opportunities that they would never be given if it was not for the mysterious doors.

Doors can be seen differently through everyone’s eyes. Some might see doors as new opportunities, or they may see them as obstacles that they are facing in life. Either way, doors can be life changing and eye opening. This does not always mean that the life changing moments will always be positive, they can be negative as well. Although, when Saeed and Nadia leave their home to get away from war, it seemed to be a positive until they arrived in England. In London they had a very different job description, “Saeed and Nadia’s worker camp was bounded by a perimeter fence. Inside this were large pavilions of crayfish fabric that looked like plastic, supported by metal trusses in such a way that each reared up, and was airy within, and was resistant to the wind and rain” (170). This quote shows how different their lives were after going through the door (their new opportunity). I do believe that when you take advantage of opportunities like this, they will pay you back positively in the end.

A Trip From Normality

In Exit West, a novel by Mohsin Hamid, two main characters find each other. Saeed and Nadia live in an unknown city full of danger and violence. Barely getting to leave their homes, they find their own ways to have fun.

Early in the novel, Saeed travels to Nadia’s apartment building. Nadia asks Saeed if he’s ever taken psychedelic mushrooms, and one thing leads to another and they try them. After hanging out under the moon Hamid writes, “They did not hold hands until Saeed’s perspective had returned, hours later, not to normal, for he suspected it was possible he might never think of normal in the same way again” (47). After taking the psychedelic drug, Saeed realizes his mind may be altered forever. His realization spans much larger than a experience with a drug, but also with his city. The things Saeed and Nadia witness will change them forever, and they will perhaps never see “normal” again. Violence and destruction are very hard things to witness and experience, not to mention on a day to day basis. Hamid does not sugar code how bad things get in their city: “…had Saeed’s mother not been killed, a stray heavy-caliber round passing through the windshield of her family’s car and taking with it Saeed’s mother’s head” (74). Hamid tells the reader “Saeed had wept only once, when he first saw his mother’s corpse and screamed” (80). Saeed’s reaction to his mother demonstrates the extremities of her injuries. Saeed’s mother’s death is just one example of a far from “normal” event many people will never have to see or experience. Exit West contains tales that are so far from “normal,” the characters may question what “normal” means to begin with.

Are We All “Others”?

When I think of someone being an “other,” I think of someone who checks the other box on a survey. Someone who doesn’t belong to any of the other choice the question asks. At one point or another, hasn’t everyone checked the other box on a question. So wouldn’t we all technically be “others,” not belonging to a certain group. In Exit West, every time Saeed and Nadia would go through a new door and start a new life in a new place, they felt like outsiders and they didn’t belong. They felt like “others.” But they were not the only ones feeling the same they did. They all felt alone and that they didn’t belong with each other, when everyone was the same. While they may not all look the same or come from the same place, they all share the same feelings of being in a new place. Feeling like an “other” or being identified as one creates an unnecessary separation between people because they didn’t check the same boxes as each other. Since they are different, they should be categorized as such. There are various positive reasons to have different groups of people, the word “other” creates a harmful separation between “others” and “natives.” At the end of the novel, an old women who has lived in her home her whole life explains who she feels that she has migrated because of all the new people moving in and out of her neighborhood, “We are all migrants through time,” (209). Everyone changes and goes though experiences that define who they are. Those defining experiences should not end up making them an “other.” The whole idea of being an “other” is still a little tricky to me, so I have a question. If we have all checked the “other” box, why do we create separation from people who have done the same?

Is The Door to Recognition Blocked?

The Global Other is universal; humans tend to fear the unknown, which often manifests itself in fear of people who are not in their direct communities. Though many can relate to such a phenomenon, it is outdated and we have surpassed a need for such irrational fear. In more recent years, the work that has been done by progressive groups in order to aid immigrants and dispel some fear has made differences in the lives of many.

In order to completely dispel these ideas, a level of mutual recognition must be reached within the relationship with the “Other”. In Exit West, this Other is the immigrant, the refugee. In this power structure, the Nativists/Natives are in power and must break this by seeing their new neighbors as equals. However, this goat in itself would be a feat to achieve. To recognize someone is to see, but it may not be possible to understand people who have undergone such trauma. Hamid writes, “…when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind” (98). The Natives cannot even fathom a world in which they have to leave their lives behind, the door most immigrants came from. Though the dominant in the power structure can imagine and attempt to relate to such instances, there is no way to truly understand the life of another, and any claim to is equal to an insult.

Instead, the dominant in this structure should aim to appreciate their counterparts, to hear their stories with an open mind and heart, and understand that though they can recognize, they cannot fully empathize.

The American Dream

In the novel Exit West, a major idea presented is migration. While Nadia and Saeed are in England, the british people don’t want all of them coming in at first. This is very prevelant in reality with not only fugitives but just migration in America. Some people in the US are scared of people people taking their jobs which I think is ridicuclous. If a person that has most likely had a more difficult life than you can come here and take a job from someone, then I don’t think the people who were here originally are working as hard as they could.

My ideals about migration mostly stem from Dad. He legally came to the US from India when he was 13 and worked so hard for him and his whole family. Without knowing English until he came here, my Dad was able to put himself through med school and bought a house for him, his parents, and his siblings. I think many immigrants have his mentality that the hardest part was getting making it to the US. He was preparred to work as hard as possible to get ahead from the moment he got here. He is the only reason my family is currently in a wealthy neighborhood and if he could do it then I think lots of other migrants can too. It does not matter to me if immigrants got here legally or illegally because they should all be given a chance to thrive in the US.

Under a Microscope

Exit West makes many readers, including me, think about how our society tells the stories of global others. Oftentimes, when people think about an immigrant, they see them as a global other before a human being. The media often strips the humanity away from migrant stories, making people see migrant journies as more of an entertaining story than someone’s life. The way that we acknowledge global others reminds me of the way people look under a microscope. When people look under a microscope, they study the specimen with fascination over how unique and different it is.

Similarly, I think that people treat migrant/immigrant stories with that same “other-worldly fascination” that you feel when looking under a microscope. The media treats migrant stories simply as fascinating action-packed tales instead of treating global others with humanity. Instead of regarding an immigrant/migrant as a person first, people often only acknowledge global others by their “other-worldly” migrant history.

The idea is clearly acknowledged in Exit West. By using the doors as a symbol for Saeed and Nadia’s journey, it makes the reader focus less on the actual process of migration and more on Saeed and Nadia themselves. This makes people focus on the humanity behind Saeed and Nadia’s story, not just their journey away from their home country. Hamid knows how people and the media can have a twisted fascination with migrant stories, so he used the doors to make sure readers don’t just focus on the migration aspect of the book.

Doors that End Where?

First off, I am glad I read this book because I wouldn’t have picked it up on my own and I really enjoyed it. I think Hamid did a fantastic job of connecting real like scenarios into the book. I found the concept of the magical doors very interesting. The idea that a new door will lead to a new life somewhere new is something that happens in today’s day and age. Doors can be seen in different forms weather that be a boat, a plane, a car ride, they all tend to promise a new life somewhere new for people.

But do these doors always mean a better life? I would say not necessarily. Yes conditions may be better now for people once they go through their own form of a door, but is it the life they want to live? I do think it was the best choice for Nadia and Saeed to leave their home country due to the war torn city, but once they got to England and they were stuck in the cross fire that isn’t what they wanted. I feel like doors can have a lot to live up to because sometimes it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows behind them. But I do think forms doors are very important to millions of migrants looking for a better life. For a lot of people their form of a door is the last hope they hold. I just wish Hamid’s version of a door could be an actual thing because it would be able to help so many people.

To be uninformed or misinformed, which will you choose?

The news media and documentary filmmaking are the basis of domestic and foreign relations for everyday Americans. The duty of the news is to provide factual information in a way that ordinary people can understand. However, certain news outlets like Fox news have rapidly become opinion based and not factually based in their reporting. News media reporting off their biases and putting out opinion pieces while presenting them as fact becomes extremely dangerous to the American public who look to them for factual reporting. This type of opinion based reporting has become commonplace. An example of this is when Fox news infamously backed and glorified Donald J. Trump’s comments on Mexican illegal immigrants. He said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best, they’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.” While we have many media outlets that run more like tabloids than new stations, we still have a few credible reporting outlets. The New York Times and the Washington Post for example, which immediately after hearing Trump’s comment went to real statistical research from credible sources like the Cato Institute, which found that in a study of “Illegal immigrants are 47 percent less likely to be incarcerated than natives.” This misinformation and biased reporting were among the many widespread examples of racism, hatred, and plain lies being spread and reported on by specific media outlets. This type of misinformation and fear-mongering in the media leads to unreasonable ill will and negative stereotypes towards others outside of their community. Many Americans’ global knowledge relies solely upon the information their source of news gives them, so when opinions start to take the place of facts in the news, you live in an age where you are only left with two opinions. As Denzel Washington said, “You can either read the paper and be misinformed or don’t read and be uninformed.” You must now decide which is better because unbiased and factually accurate news is becoming harder and harder to find.

Saeed’s Disdain for Nadia’s Robes

Hamid comments on gender roles and sexism throughout Exit West, but I felt this theme was somewhat separate from the story of Saeed and Nadia’s relationship. On multiple occasions, Nadia is harassed, assaulted, or generally faces the threat of violence from men: a man swears at her when she’s stopped at a red light on her motorcycle (42), she’s sexually assaulted in a crowd at a bank (63), and near the end of the story, a man comes into her workplace and threatens her with a gun (216). But these events struck me as distinct from the story of the couple. Despite the two being together throughout almost the entire story and being very close, Saeed doesn’t really have to reckon with or address any of this danger, as all of these events occur when he and Nadia are not together, and they do not discuss them. 

I think the fact that Saeed doesn’t understand this aspect of Nadia’s lived experience is part of what causes them to split up. This disconnect between them is particularly clear in Saeed attitude towards Nadia’s robes, which she explained early on she wears “‘so men don’t fuck with me’” (17). It is understandable, after the many negative experiences she has had with men in her life, that she would continue wearing the conservative clothing as a form of protection. But Saeed doesn’t seem to recognize this, thinking that “it was inexplicable that she continued to wear her black robes, and it grated on him a bit…sometimes he wanted to shout, well take it off then” (187). This suggests that Saeed does not really understand Nadia at all. As is too common for people who experience sexual harassment/assault, Nadia’s experiences are not validated, and she is left to deal with them on her own.