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“Burnt Shadows” a Book by Kamila Shamsie Essay

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Updated: May 17th, 2020

Religious ideals can move people toward finding the answers to their questions and toward proclaiming the ethical ideals in the world. On the contrary, religion can make people develop dramatic wars because of the conflict of religious visions and principles. The same effect has the misunderstandings associated with the ethical and racial questions. As a result, today many people share the developed stereotypic ideas about Islam because of the terrorist activities performed by few radicalized Muslims. These ideas are based on prejudice and misconceptions. The themes of prejudice, war, hatred, religious and ethnic conflicts are discussed in Kamila Shamsie’s book Burnt Shadows in detail, with references to the visions of several generations affected by wars, terror, and biases.

To understand the importance of the themes discussed by the author, it is necessary to focus on the moment when Kim Burton, the American, takes Abdullah, the Afghan, to cross the Canadian borders. Although Kim agreed to help Abdullah cross the Canadian border to escape from the FBI because of the tries to overcome biases and state justice, the woman decided to inform the police about the escape because of following her vision of the American ideals and norms, because of her prejudicial vision of the father’s death, and because of her fears and doubts about her previous decision. Thus, Kim’s actions and associated considerations demonstrate the significant role of such concepts and themes as prejudice, loyalty, war, religion, ethnicity, and conflict in developing the ideas of the book.

Kim agrees to help Abdullah because Hiroko and Raza are inclined to support this Muslim and provide him with the opportunity to avoid injustice; thus, these persons persuade the woman to act against her principles, but she doubts significantly. Thinking over the controversial situation more and more, Kim doubts about all the aspects of Abdullah and Raza’s story. Thus, Kim asks herself: “How did they know the FBI knocked on his door for no reason except that he was an Afghan?

How did they know he had run for no reason except panic about his migration status?” (Shamsie, 2009, p. 345). Kim’s doubts are based on the idea that she is the citizen of the democratic country where unjust cases are the exceptions. Thus, the FBI cannot persecute a person without having credible reasons for such actions. That is why, Kim is inclined to think that something in Abdullah’s story is wrong. From this point, promoting the ideological concepts, Kim cannot discuss Abdullah as a personality, she only sees the Muslim who wants to break the law.

Having agreed to break the law because of the necessity to help Abdullah escape from the FBI, Kim also agrees to violate her visions of the American citizen who believes in the American ideals and has many reasons to support the war on terror because of her father’s death. Reflecting on Abdullah’s actions, Kim notes that “he had offered nothing, hadn’t even acknowledged she was breaking her nation’s laws for someone whose innocence she had no reason to take for granted” (Shamsie, 2009, p. 344). Kim’s focus on the idea of breaking the law can be explained with the fact that Kim is the responsible citizen of the United States who respects and follows the country’s rules and norms. Furthermore, Kim is more concentrated on the idea of her security and responsibility rather than on Abdullah’s problems. That is why, Kim expects that this man acknowledge her contribution to saving his life in spite of the fact that this situation is fully opposite to Kim’s principles.

On the contrary, Kim is persuaded by Hiroko and Raza that to help Abdullah is the great idea. The only problem is in the fact that Kim sees few reasons to help the Muslim who believes that to kill people at war is right because of Islam’s ideals. In this case, Shamsie draws the readers’ attention to the fact that misconceptions, stereotypes, and biases can be the result of the ideology supported in the country.

Kim chooses to inform the police about Abdullah’s actions because of her specific vision of justice and truth. Kim shares the vision that if a person is right he will not avoid contacting the police. This idea is learnt as a result of the years of living in the United States according to the country’s democratic laws. Thus, Kim thinks: “No matter how bad things had become in the name of security no one – no one – was going to be detained indefinitely for just being an illegal migrant worker” (Shamsie, 2009, p. 345). Kim develops her thoughts while noting: “Come on! New York would shut down if that become a crime anyone cared about” (Shamsie, 2009, p. 345). Kim is inclined to support the idea that justice is possible only when the truth is followed, and New York is the place where migrant workers, who did nothing illegal, cannot be arrested without the reason. Kim is the real American in relation to her all ideas and visions, and this fact makes her see the situation only from one side, without referring to the roots of Abdullah’s actions.

Kim’s actions can also be explained with references to the fact that the young woman discusses all the Muslims as potential terrorists who are guilty in relation to the death of her father. While explaining her reasons to inform the police about Abdullah’s location, Kim notes: “If I did look at him and see the man who killed my father, isn’t that understandable?” (Shamsie, 2009, p. 361). Kim discusses Abdullah as the Muslim who can kill because of his religious ideals.

The woman refuses to see the difference between the Muslim who killed her father and Abdullah as the Muslim who needs some help to escape from the FBI. Kim’s conclusions are based only on her own considerations influenced by many stereotypes and biases. Furthermore, the woman’s conclusions are the result of Abdulla’s words that the killer of invaders in Islam is the shaheed, and he goes to heavens (Shamsie, 2009, p. 346). Kim is prejudiced against Afghans because she is prejudiced against the Muslims. The woman is inclined to state that the Muslims’ “heaven is an abomination” only basing on her own vision of Islam (Shamsie, 2009, p. 346). Kim clearly notes that the Muslims are killers, and she allows the inadmissible discussion of the Muslims’ religious principle which can support the idea that the woman is too prejudiced against the Muslims.

Thus, Shamsie accentuates the role of prejudice and stereotypes in affecting Kim’s actions which lead to arresting the persons because of their ethnicity and religion. The problem of misunderstanding religious and cultural norms leads to stereotypes and prejudice which lead to conflicts and wars.

Kim’s actions are the results of her suffering because of her father’s death and because of the fact that the father was killed by the Muslim. The woman allows the pain and suffering to influence her decisions, and the focus on stereotypes and prejudice which is typical for Kim becomes dramatic. Supporting her decision and appropriateness of the actions in relation to Abdullah, Kim states, “you think I’m a bigot? I’m sorry, but it wasn’t Buddhists flying those planes, there is no video footage of Jews celebrating the deaths of three thousand Americans, it wasn’t a Catholic who shot my father” (Shamsie, 2009, p. 361). Kim explains that she is not prejudiced against all the nations and religions.

However, the woman sees the clear logical connections between the 9/11 attack, the father’s death, and the Muslims. Thus, Kim sees the connection between Abdullah’s escape and the idea that he can be a terrorist. That is why, Kim explains her actions with the intention to protect the nations from terrorists because no one could prevent her father’s death. The reader can discuss Kim as concentrated on her prejudicial vision rather than on the real situation. In this case, the author demonstrates the opposition between the ‘mind without borders’ characteristic for Hiroko and the mind full of prejudice typical for Kim while addressing such important themes as racism, prejudice, and absence of loyalty.

The decision made by Kim can also be discussed as influenced by her doubts and worries experienced during crossing the Canadian borders because Kim does not see the right solution to the problem of the illegal assistance in Abdullah’s escape. Kim agrees to help Abdullah cross the border because the police officers usually do not inspect vehicles of people who look like Kim. This fact means that the police officers are also suspicious in relation to the Muslims because of the fear of terrorists and developed prejudice against the most of people of the Arabic origin. Kim’s decision to take Abdullah across the border is a result of her inner struggle to follow her rational ideas and to follow her heart and assist close people. However, the further actions performed by Kim are also the results of her doubts. Kim informs the police about Abdullah’s location because she tries to act as the responsible citizen who supports the war on terror. Looking at arrested Abdullah, Kim “felt both sickened and relieved” (Shamsie, 2009, p. 353).

Kim felt that she did the right thing because the intentions of Abdullah were unknown, but the woman also felt some pain because of the necessity to cause harm to a person whom she really did not know. Thus, Kim “didn’t want him caught, she didn’t want him to escape, she didn’t want to be responsible either way” (Shamsie, 2009, p. 353). The woman tried to avoid responsibility for her provocative and illegal actions, and she tried to relieve oneself while imposing the responsibility on the police. From this point, the reader can state that being influenced by a lot of stereotypes and biases, Kim fears to make important decisions which can be discussed as rather controversial. As a result, ideological beliefs and stereotypes, the weakness of the character, and the hatred can become the reasons for the series of unexpected and ‘dishonest’ events.

Kim chooses to help Abdullah cross the Canadian borders because of feeling the pressure from her close people. However, the inner doubts do not allow the woman to follow her decision, and Kim informs the police about the escape of Abdullah as the Afghan who avoids the FBI. These actions break Kim’s agreement with Hiroko and Raza in relation to the destiny of Abdullah, but this decision is most appropriate for Kim who cannot bear the tension of the impossibility to choose between the visions of Hiroko and Raza and her own visions.

Kim acts in such a way because she follows the ideals of the American democracy, she cannot break the law, and she does not see the reasons to avoid the FBI. Moreover, Kim does not see the reasons to rely on the words of the Muslim who tries to escape from the FBI without stating the credible arguments. In her book Burnt Shadows, Kamila Shamsie discusses the impact of prejudice and racism on the people’s thoughts and actions from many perspectives. Focusing on the character of Kim, the author demonstrates that the person’s concentration on stereotypes can lead to dramatic consequences. In spite of the fact that Kim is a well-educated woman who lives in the modern world according to the principles of globalizations, this female is also influenced by the stereotypes spread after the 9/11 attacks. Moreover, having experienced the death of the father, Kim sees few reasons not to discuss all the Muslims as potential terrorists because of their interpretation of Islamic principles. Thus, Kim is the victim of racial and religious biases which prevent her from looking at the situation objectively.


Shamsie, K. (2009). Burnt Shadows. UK: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. Web.

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