Can We Imagine the Life of a Terrorist?

By Robert F. Worth

A decade ago, suicide bombings were still rare events. The political scientist Robert Pape counted a global total of 315 attacks from 1980, when they were first established as a modern terrorist method, through 2003. In the following two years, that number doubled. Today, the total is more than two thousand, and each day seems to bring news of more. Yet the tactic has not lost its power to shock and horrify. There has been a steady proliferation of efforts to make sense of it, not just among academics and policy wonks, but by novelists, filmmakers and artists the world over. John Updike (whose penultimate novel was “Terrorist”) and John le Carré may be better known in the West, but there are dozens of others who have tried to dramatize the world of violent jihad, including the Algerian novelist Yasmina Khadra and the Moroccan writer Mohammed Achaari.

In a sense, these efforts are the literary analogue of the “Global War on Terror,” which is only now belatedly coming to a close — or so President Obama promised last month. In fiction as in politics, the enemy’s outlines grew vague and vast; he was too big to be tried in our courts, too deadly to be fought without torture, too radical to be understood. [Read more...]

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