More Updike: Empathy for the devil

Yeah, I wrote about this on Friday but there are new interviews on the wire today and there’s nothing else going on.

Reuters quotes him describing the protagonist of his new novel, Klansman Abortion-Clinic Bomber Terrorist:

“I did feel very much with him when he becomes alone in his mission,” Updike said with affection, likening Ahmad walking through the streets to pick up the truck bomb to his own boyhood walks when he would plot his future as a writer.

He saved a gold nugget for ABC, too:

[H]e is a boy trying to make sense of his life and trying to be a good Muslim. … And it’s not so unlike what we ask of our soldiers, to sacrifice themselves or risk death on behalf of a cause, of a set of ideals.

He tells Reuters he made his character sympathetic because “[a]nybody can write a novel about an evil terrorist.” But anybody can write a novel about a good terrorist too if they’re willing to draw parallels as broadly as he does. If the only way you can find a shared human experience between two sides is by ignoring the substance of their values to emphasize the fact that each has values and feels strongly about them, then I’d gently suggest there isn’t much to this particular human experience that’s actually being shared.

The consequence, whether intended or not, of this “common humanity” jive is that it flattens the moral playing field between each side. What’s really the difference between Ahmad dreaming of his truck bomb and young Johnny Updike dreaming of being a writer? As long as they’re both dreaming. One wonders what Updike thought when he read about the 9/11 hijackers ritually shaving themselves before heading off to the airport. “Wait — they shave their pubes? I shave my pubes.”

I’ll stop now because I can’t say for certain if Updike is as sympathetic to terrorism in his book as he sounds here; after all, I haven’t read it. But Charles McGrath has, and he says, “Ahmad is lovable, or at least appealing; he’s in many ways the most moral and thoughtful character in the entire book.”

Of course, McGrath was writing for the New York Times, so it’s hard to say whether that message was intended, or just received.