All in all, then, Updike has produced a more convincing and subtle, and, in my view, accurate portrait of a young Islamist terrorist than he has generally received credit for—even for all his book’s literary faults. He rightly sees Islamism in the West as culturally hybrid, rather than as a pure product of Islam: a reaction, albeit one consonant with certain Islamic traditions, to a very severe and, indeed, overwhelming cultural challenge from without rather than as something arising purely or spontaneously from within Islam itself. He understands the deeply human, but also deeply destructive, desire for a simple solution to all existential and practical problems at once. He is sufficiently imaginative to understand that our imperfect societies have more than enough within them to appall sensitive outsiders and marginals (as surely all conservatives should appreciate). He also realizes that violent repulsion can be the consequence of illicit attraction. And all this without for a moment suggesting that Islamic terrorism is other than a terrible scourge.
Please read the whole essay over at City Journal, because it is chock full of Dalrymple's usual insight.
And here's Mark Steyn's take.
What else, indeed? It's doubtful anyone could write "the" novel about Islam today -- it is a faiWth, after all, that can seduce everyone from Ontario welfare deadbeats like Steven Chand to the Prince of Wales. Yet it seems to me Updike has gone awry from the very first word. If Muslims were simply über-devout loners, this whole clash-of-civilizations rigmarole would be a lot easier. But the London Tube bombers were perfectly assimilated: they ate fish 'n' chips, loved cricket, sported hideous Brit leisure wear. Updike's absurdly alienated misfit is a lot less shocking than the video that aired recently on British television of July 7 jihadist Shehzad Tanweer: he's spouting all the usual suicide-bomber claptrap, but in a Yorkshire accent. Imagine threatening "Death to the Great Satan!" in Cockney or Brooklynese. Or Canadian: "Death to the Great Satan, eh?" That's far creepier and novelistic than Updike's opening: it's someone who appears perfectly normal until he gets in the subway car and self-detonates. As for the revulsion at navel studs, compare Ahmad with Assem Hammoud, recently arrested in a real-life plot to blow up another New York tunnel -- the Holland. Mr. Hammoud said he had been ordered by Osama bin Laden to "live the life of a playboy . . . live a life of fun and indulgence." That way he would avoid detection. Pretty cunning, huh? Just to show how seriously he took his assignment, there was a picture of Assem with three hot babes (all burka-less) on a "mission" in Canada. "I was proud," declared Mr. Hammoud, "to carry out my orders" -- even though they required him to booze it up and bed beautiful infidels all week long. But it's okay, because he was nailing chicks for Allah. So he gamely put on a brave show of partying like it's 1999 even though, as a devout Muslim, he'd obviously much rather party like it's 799.