A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb

A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 13 photographs Published: June 2010

Author: Amitava Kumar

American Studies, Asian Studies > South Asia, Cultural Studies

Part reportage and part protest, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb is an inquiry into the cultural logic and global repercussions of the war on terror. At its center are two men convicted in U.S. courts on terrorism-related charges: Hemant Lakhani, a seventy-year-old tried for attempting to sell a fake missile to an FBI informant, and Shahawar Matin Siraj, baited by the New York Police Department into a conspiracy to bomb a subway. Lakhani and Siraj were caught through questionable sting operations involving paid informants; both men received lengthy jail sentences. Their convictions were celebrated as major victories in the war on terror. In Amitava Kumar’s riveting account of their cases, Lakhani and Siraj emerge as epic bunglers, and the U.S. government as the creator of terror suspects to prosecute. Kumar analyzed the trial transcripts and media coverage, and he interviewed Lakhani, Siraj, their families, and their lawyers. Juxtaposing such stories of entrapment in the United States with narratives from India, another site of multiple terror attacks and state crackdowns, Kumar explores the harrowing experiences of ordinary people entangled in the war on terror. He also considers the fierce critiques of post-9/11 surveillance and security regimes by soldiers and torture victims, as well as artists and writers, including Coco Fusco, Paul Shambroom, and Arundhati Roy.


A Foreigner Carrying In The Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb is a valuable book, a nearly academic (and therefore highly meticulous) inquiry into anti-terrorism. In the past ten years, we have seen war through the eyes of artists and through the eyes of journalists, but Kumar's middle ground brings something different to the discourse, and allows him to analyse both these responses as well.” — Sharanya Manivannan, Sunday Guardian (New Delhi)

“[A] fascinating tour through the creative response to the war on terror; and an acute analysis of the hidden assumptions behind, and implications of, the West’s new culture of ‘homeland security.’” — David Mattin, The National

“[A] thought-provoking, engaging, and scary narrative of the global outcome of the war on terrorism post 9/11. . . . Kumar shows the reader that the fear of suspicion, ever-expanding claustrophobia, and the license to stereotype and make generalizations is prevalent in the world we live in today. It is a potent reminder.” — Sweta Srivastava Vikram, India Currents

“[A] thought-provoking, incisive, and intelligent look at America’s war on terror and its linkages to terrorism in India. . . . Kumar’s reportage is a compelling read; his portraits of different men — Siraj, Lakhani, Geelani, Prakash — rendered with the deft hand of a talented writer. He is careful to explore the many dimensions of each case and to provide a nuanced and balanced picture. At the same time, he levels a searing critique of the practices of nations that pride themselves on their democratic principles.” — Nalini Iyer, International Examiner

“[An] eloquent analysis of the weird cocktail of buffoonery, violence and inefficacy that is the War on Terror. . . .” — Daisy Rockwell, Bookslut

“[Kumar] sheds light on the human costs of the global war on terror and reminds us that the unwitting victims caught in the dragnet are more than just a statistic—they are real people like you and me. Almost as sobering is the realization that by zeroing in on these peripheral targets, the war on terror has become even more misguided and expensive than we have known it to be.” — Poornima Apte, Khabar

“[O]ffer[s] a reasoned, empathetic account of a subject about which people are passionate—torture. . . . Kumar’s account can serve as a call for humanizing counterterrorism strategies and tactics. An invaluable resource for students of war and terrorism—in any discipline. Essential.” — T. Niazi, Choice

“A disturbing look, in a somewhat meandering but consistently engaging tour, at part of the 'war on terror', in the US and abroad, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of his Arm a Tiny Bomb is a useful reminder of how wrong things have gone (and continue to go wrong) and if only in making readers aware of some of these issues already serves a useful purpose.” — M.A.Orthofer, Complete Review

“Addressing important issues of identity, immigration, foreignness, religious tolerance, stereotyping, torture, war, national security, civil liberties, cultural production, and surveillance in its relatively brief two hundred or so pages, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb is a hugely impressive work. Instructors looking to introduce their students to some of the complexities of our current globalized age of terror, would be hard pressed to find a better—or more thought provoking—place to begin.” — D. J. Mulloy, Terrorism and Political Violence

“Amitava Kumar writes like few other writers―of Asian descent or not―in that he writes with his whole self. . . . We are often exhorted in the subways in this city―if we see something, say something. Luckily for us, that is exactly what Amitava Kumar has done.” — Ken Chen, Mead

“By focusing on the banality of the state’s cases against the old, the infirm, the misfits, the ill-suited, Kumar reminds us that the war raging far from our doorsteps is also all around us. . . . [A] clear challenge to the ossified discourse on terrorism in the United States.” — Manan Ahmed, The National

 (Starred Review) “Kumar’s searching and humane account of the global consequences of the U.S. ‘war on terror’ gets behind the rhetoric and state public relations campaigns in a brisk but thoughtful narrative. . . . An arresting and heartrending work of public protest and valuable social analysis, this work contributes forcefully to a subtle, human-scaled accounting of 21st-century geopolitics.” — Publishers Weekly

“Kumar's study (think Jane Mayer's The Dark Side meets Coco Fusco's protest art) reveals how deeply the figure of the ‘terrorist’ has seeped into our imaginations by brilliantly synthesizing straight reportage—on the Mumbai blasts and the trials of two putative terrorists in New York—and contemporary conceptual art's responses to “’he war on terror.’“ — Parul Sehgal, Publishers Weekly

“Much of the success of this book comes from the honing of this mercurial style and voice; gaining authority over these many books, this voice is now recognizable as Kumar’s own. And here, the meandering—through almost every aspect of the domestic ‘war on terror,’ and to moribund destinations ranging from Srinagar (the capital of battered and besieged Kashmir) to the federal penitentiary in Springfield, Missouri—is wonderful and thought provoking. . . . This is the kind of sophisticated synthesis that only a talented writer immersed in the many facets of his subject can pull off.” — Mukund Belliappa, Rain Taxi

Foreigner is part contemporary history, part investigative journalism, part political treatise, part memoir – and an absolute must-read. . . . Kumar is an excellent storyteller. He’s also immensely convincing. Drawing on his vast, voracious knowledge of literature, film, television, and breaking headlines, Kumar makes a case that post-9/11 fear has created a not-so-brave new world of bullies and fools.” — Terry Hong, Christian Science Monitor

“[A] perceptive and soulful . . . meditation on the global war on terror and its cultural and human repercussions. . . . A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb carries in the crook of its own arm Mr. Kumar’s plaintive appeal. If we’re to bridge the perilous divide that separates us from those poor and unnamed people who resent us, we first need to see them, to look into their eyes. We need, Mr. Kumar writes, 'to acknowledge that they exist.' This angry and artful book is a first step." — Dwight Garner, New York Times

“[A]n essential book for our times.” — Nilanjana S. Roy, Business Standard

(review of the Indian edition) “After you read [A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb], you will never look at the global war on terror in the same way again. You will, also, finally know how to look at the war on terror, especially as it is fought here. . . . [S]tunningly researched, brilliantly thoughtful, boldly imagined and courageously executed. I can't think of a more urgent, important and necessary book for us this year. You should rush to read it.” — Pradeep Sebastian, The Hindu

(review of the Indian edition) “Full of sublime narratives and subtle descriptions, it is a thoroughly fantastic book. The best thing about Kumar's writing is that seldom does he allow his personal prejudices to creep into the text. He acts more like a cameraman of a documentary film showing you a plethora of images. He also knows what to focus on, and when to zoom in or out. Then he leaves you free to reach your own conclusions. Like his earlier book Husband of a Fanatic, it is a must buy. And, of course, a must read too.” — Abdullah Khan, Star Weekend

“More than a piece of reportage, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb illuminates the dangers to civil liberties from extraordinary governmental powers and torture’s questionable effectiveness. . . . Whatever one’s views on 9/11 and its accompanying legal changes, the use of torture, or the war on terror, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb is a worthwhile read. Kumar’s perspective is one not often seen in American writings on similar subjects. That alone would recommend the book; the high quality of the writing should secure its place on any library shelf.” — J. G. Stinson, Foreword Reviews

“Moving fluidly between his adopted U.S. home and his birthplace of India – another country altered by concerns over terrorism – Kumar carefully exposes what he sees as the senseless abuse of power justified by the so-called ‘war on terror.’” — Terry Hong, Bloomsbury Review

“Amitava Kumar has written a unique book. It is ultimately a book about neoliberalism, about the public interest defined as militarism rather than as well-being. It is a book about the imagination reduced to suspicion and fear rather than hope and liberty. It is a book that swells from India to Indiana, depicting the global ecology of antiterrorism.” — Vijay Prashad, author of The Darker Nations. A People's History of the Third World


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Amitava Kumar is a novelist, poet, journalist, and Professor of English at Vassar College. He is the author of Husband of a Fanatic, a New York Times “Editors’ Choice”; Bombay-London-New York, a New Statesman (UK) “Book of the Year”; and Passport Photos. He is the editor of several books, including Away: The Indian Writer as an Expatriate, The Humour and the Pity: Essays on V.S. Naipaul, and World Bank Literature. He is also an editor of the online journal Politics and Culture and the screenwriter and narrator of the prize-winning documentary film Pure Chutney. Kumar’s writing has appeared in the Nation, Harper’s, Vanity Fair, American Prospect, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Hindu, and other publications in North America and India.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments xi

Prologue: A Missile in the Living Room 1

Introduction: Have You Seen This Man? 13

Part I. Lakhani

1. Birth of a Salesman 33

2. The Late Career of the Sting Operation 58

3. The Art of Surveillance 66

4. The Terror and the Pity 92

Part II. Siraj

5. I Have Delivered the Pizza 111

6. A Collaborator in Kashmir 141

7. A Night in an Army Camp 151

8. Tourist-Theorist-Terrorist 162

Epilogue: We Are the World 179

Notes 186

Bibliography 199

Index 202
Sales/Territorial Rights: World exc South Asia

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4578-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4562-6
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