Religion and culture are so intertwined that they can be difficult to pull apart in a fiction setting. The informed reader will try to see these distinctions. In this book, I am not speaking for all Islam or representing global norms of Islam. Rather, I am portraying life in a small, 1960s village in Bangladesh where cultural practice and religion intermingle in their own unique way. Look anywhere, and you will see that culture brings nuances despite the defined religion. Shamanism, the evil eye, and mystic healing are not accepted practices of Islam, but they are cultural practices in certain parts of Bangladesh. Again, remember the setting: this is something that has changed drastically since the 1960s.
Nazli Kabria, author of Muslims in Motion: Islam and National Identity in the Bangladeshi Diaspora, writes: "Informed by a potent nationalist narrative in which Bengalis struggle and prevail over foreign oppression, Bangladeshi identity may be an important source of pride." This evident pride and cultural perseverance is something that drew me to write about this setting of Bangladesh in our imperialistic world.
Without Shame mainly illustrates the concept of cultural imperialism. The idea of the “white savior” is not new, but it is a necessary perspective to continue exploring and challenging. This is the perspective of Rodney, who is almost comically naïve and entitled in his efforts to “change” Sariyah’s village. His flaws - in how he interacts and observes - exist as a statement on neocolonialist attitudes; and his relationship with Sariyah is a microcosm of colonialism itself which begins with the courting, the interfering, the unfulfilled promises, the inevitable destruction, and the colonizer absconding from the mess.
Colonial influence is also important to consider in the context of East versus West Pakistan. After British colonial rule ended, territorial lines were drawn to separate a "Hindu" India from a "Muslim" Pakistan (the lack of thought that went into the Radcliff Lines is worth noting). The "habits" of colonizing did not end there, as West Pakistan took a dominant position over the East. Though East Pakistan had a higher population, West Pakistan politically controlled them. They also set language standards (an Urdu mandate) that threatened the mobility of Bengali-speaking citizens. This isn't my way of pointing fingers but it is about discussing the perpetual effects of colonialism, and now neocolonialism.
On the author’s Western perspective
While there were many postcolonial settings I could have drawn from, I chose Bangladesh because its history embodies the effects of imperialism. Of course, I am most familiar with the cultural values of my American character Rodney, whom I developed as mockery of the “white savior” archetype. Then another character emerged: Sariyah. I found myself walking in another woman's shoes in a culture with different - yet ofttimes very similar - values and truths from my own. I did this because I viewed her voice as more important than Rodney’s. I wanted to portray what it is to be an imperialized culture in a neocolonial world, where my own country is ever the imperialist.