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Terrorist by John Updike

What makes an 18-year old become a terrorist? In the novel Terrorist, the American author, John Updike, presents a portrait of a young boy on his way to becoming a suicide bomber and jihadist. Read an excerpt from the novel and work on related tasks.


The novel Terrorist was released in 2006. In the story we meet Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy, an American Muslim teenage boy, his counselor at school, Jack Levy, who has a Jewish background and Ahmad's Irish-Catholic mother. In the background lurks Ahmad's Egyptian father, who left the family when Ahmad was three. This complexity of characters demonstrates the plurality of the U.S. society. In this novel Updike explores a young man's development from a regular high school boy and his way into fundamentalism and terrorism.


What do you think motivates some young people to become terrorists?

John Updike

John Updike

John Updike (1932 - 2009) was born in Pennsylvania, USA, but spent most of his life in New England. He is famous for his novels, short stories and poems. What characterizes him as a writer is his ability to capture his contemporary period and demonstrate that ordinary lives are worth writing about.

More information about the author and his works

Check out SparkNotes.com

Read more

Religious Diversity and Identity

Terrorism - a Violent Alternative

Read the Excerpt

Terrorist - novel excerpt


  1. "Devils, Ahmad thinks. These devils seek to take away my God. All day long, at Central High School, girls sway and sneer and expose their soft bodies and alluring hair. Their bare bellies, adorned with shining navel studs and low-down purple tattoos, ask, What else is there to see?" This is the introduction from the excerpt.
    • What is the point of view?
    • How does this introduction affect the reader?
    • How typical do you think his attitudes are for an 18 year-old boy?
    • What seems to be his inner struggle?
    • Can we trust Ahmad as a reliable narrator?
  2. What elements do you recognize from films, sit-coms and literature about a high school setting?
  3. Choose five adjectives that you think are central. How do these adjectives illuminate the character of Ahmad?
  4. Choose 3 words that indicate how Ahmad looks upon:
    • Girls
    • Other boys
    • Teachers
    • His imam
  5. Which words do you associate with Islam and which words do think of as Christian? Are they specifically Muslim or Christian, or do they have something in common?
  6. Do the words that you have picked carry positive or negative connotations? What do these words reveal about Ahmad's attitudes?
  7. Explore the term "Haram" and what it means for Muslims. What is "Haram" for Ahmad? How do you think these "sins" motivate Ahmad's frustration and alienation?
  8. The chapters of the Qur'an are called suras. The imam explains sura 104 to Ahmad. What impact does his explanation have on Ahmad? What is the difference between the imam's and Ahmad's interpretations of the sura?
  9. How do you think Ahmad's closing comment: "I don't care about that. I don't want to be liked" reveals his distance from his peers? Do you believe him, or is it just a defense mechanism? What makes this attitude necessary in fundamentalistic thinking?
Sist oppdatert 13.11.2018
Skrevet av Morten Serkland


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