I, Terrorist

American Taliban
by Pearl Abraham
Random House, 272 pp., $25

A Week in December
by Sebastian Faulks
Doubleday, 400 pp., $27.95

by John Updike
Ballantine Books, 320 pp., $14.95


On May 1, two Times Square street vendors saw smoke wafting from a Nissan Pathfinder SUV parked with its hazard lights on. Police were summoned to the scene and disarmed the crude car bomb before it could cause any injuries. The bomber manqué was Faisal Shahzad, and speculation as to his motives and training is, as I write, still driving the news. 

Shahzad's story turned out to be distressingly familiar: a naturalized U.S. citizen, he returned to his birth country of Pakistan for training in bomb-making after becoming violently radicalized. There are many such stories in the New York Police Department's 2007 report, "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat." Its pages are filled with example after example of young men like Shahzad who have embraced, and acted on, a murderous jihadi-Salafi ideology, mostly in a progression whose four stages the NYPD calls pre-radicalization, self-identification, indoctrination, and jihadization. It is a novelistic arc, and it is fitting that several contemporary novelists have taken it up. In doing so, they have given us a new kind of antihero, a ripped-from-the-headlines young man, raised in the West, affluent, smart, idealistic, who works out his salvation through other people's fear and trembling.  

Sebastian Faulks has a background in journalism, and he layers his novels (nine previous, including a turn as Ian Fleming for the James Bond book, Devil May Care) with impasto-thick plots rich in newsy, knowledgeable detail. His current work, A Week in December, is a Tube-and-Thames loop around London, set in 2007 and centered around two societal threats. One is the collapse of the subprime mortgage system and subsequent economic meltdown, the chief concern of John Veals, a glint-eyed quant; the other is a terrorist plot that occupies Hassan al-Rashid, the radicalized 22-year-old son of Muslim immigrants to Glasgow. Attention is a kind of affection, and Hassan's thoughts, both pre- and post-radicalization, are touchingly earnest: "It was perplexing to him that people paid so little heed to their own salvation; he was puzzled by it in the way he might have been by the sight of a mother feeding whisky to a baby."

This article is locked

Subscribe now for immediate and unlimited access to Web + Print + App + Archive
  • Already a subscriber? Log in to continue reading.
  • Not quite ready to subscribe? Register now for your choice of 3 FREE articles per quarter.
  • Already a registered user? Log in here.

About the Author

Margot Lurie recently received her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her work has appeared in Commentary, Tablet, Parnassus: Poetry in Review, and The New Criterion.


No comments yet.

Want to post a comment? Please register or log in.

Most Read

What Jesus Wasn’t: Zealot

When Fox News' Lauren Green asked Reza. . .

Conservative Judaism: A Requiem

In 1971, 41 percent of American Jews. . .

Editors' Picks

Paradox or Pluralism?

Walzer’s paradox of liberation, if. . .

Lucky Grossman

Vasily Grossman was one of the principal. . .

The Future Past Perfect

Treasure and tragedy in the letters of. . .

In The Next JRB

  • Matti Friedman on Sons and Soldiers
  • Rachel Biale on We Were the Future
  • Bernard Wasserstein on Mark Mazower What You Did Not Tell
  • And more...
Copyright © 2017 Jewish Review of Books. All Rights Reserved. | Site by W&B