It was a half-truth. The arrested terrorist was indeed the man who was born Dhiren Barot. However, following a visit to India in the early ’90s, the young Barot snapped ties with his family, rejected his ancestral faith and recreated himself as Eisa al-Hindi. Within a decade, Eisa progressed from jehad in Kashmir to planning terrorist strikes in New York.
Throughout history, some converts have tended to flaunt a new loyalty by viciously disavowing their inheritance. This curious blend of new realisation and self-hate has had both horrific and farcical consequences. From the Baader-Meinhof terrorists in Germany to the hippies who found nirvana in dope, counterculture became experiments in declasse.
These were extreme reactions to convoluted pangs of imaginary guilt. By the ’80s, liberal academia found a more acceptable outlet in multiculturalism, the newest battering ram against dominant cultures. A contrived cosmopolitanism provided a cover for what conservative writer Roger Scruton described as a "relentless scoffing at ordinary prohibitions and decencies and the shrill advocacy of alternatives that ordinary people are unable in their hearts to recognise".
Amitava Kumar’s journeys of self-discovery through India and Pakistan belong to this genre of multicultural perversity. A gifted writer from a normal, middle-class Bihari Hindu family, Kumar was one of those many Indians for whom the Ayodhya demolition of 1992 was a watershed. It filled him with fear and hatred of Hindu nationalism,...