Britain Through Muslim Eyes: An interview with Claire Chambers

Anastasia Valassopoulos in the Journal of Postcolonial Writing:

I am looking forward to our discussion here on your latest monograph, Britain Through Muslim Eyes: Literary Representations, 1780−1988. It’s 100,000 words: that’s a very long book! But how long has it taken you to write it?

Claire Chambers (CC): In a way this book goes all the way back to the mid-1990s when I’d had a gap year in which I taught English to schoolchildren in Pakistan. I’d been motivated to go to Pakistan because of my experiences growing up in Leeds with many British-Asian friends. I first stayed briefly in a north-western city called Mardan, which was quite conservative. After leaving Mardan, my friend and I went to what seemed to us to be the big smoke of nearby Peshawar, the capital of what was then called the North-West Frontier Province, now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This was in 1993−94, not long after Osama bin Laden had left the city in 1990, having made it his home for eight years (Rashid [2000] 2001Rashid, Ahmed[2000] 2001Taliban: The Story of the Afghan WarlordsLondonPan Macmillan. [Google Scholar], 132−133). At that time few Europeans knew about the region. From spending ten months in Peshawar I became aware of tension and volatility stemming from the civil war in nearby Afghanistan, despite the city’s many charms and gracious hospitality. In my book Rivers of Ink(2017Chambers, Claire2017Rivers of Ink: Selected EssaysKarachiOxford University Press. [Google Scholar]), which is a collection of essays, many of which come from the columns I regularly write for the Pakistani national newspaper Dawn, I include a short account of my time in Peshawar.

Thinking back on all this a decade later in the mid-2000s, I realized that my middle-class British-Asian friends and I hadn’t really understood what was going on in our own city.

More here.