Will Terrorists Go Nuclear?
by Brian Michael Jenkins
New York: Prometheus Books, 2008. 457 pp. $27.
Reviewed by Susan M. Jellissen
Middle East Quarterly
Jenkins, who has written extensively on terrorism and transportation security, poses an important question in the title of his ambitious book. There is perhaps no greater physical threat to the American homeland than a potential nuclear detonation by a terrorist organization. And while Jenkins frames his analysis around the notion of an amorphous terrorist organization launching a nuclear attack, Al-Qaeda figures prominently. Indeed, as Jenkins reminds us, its leaders have explicitly stated their intentions to employ nuclear weapons against the United States to create an "American Hiroshima."
Jenkins's purpose is less to address the likelihood of a terrorist nuclear attack than to argue that Americans have already succumbed to nuclear terror. He blames this phenomenon largely on media-hype, sensationalist popular fiction, and the opportunistic utterances of some government officials, notably in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. While Jenkins painstakingly seeks to dispel many of the myths propagated by these outlets regarding the inevitability, if not the imminence, of an actual nuclear disaster—and in this way attempts to calm American fears—he surprisingly points out that "some measure of fear is rational."
Herein lies a problem: When does Jenkins's notion of irrational fear become his idea of rational fear? In other words, how do we identify that tipping point? Jenkins offers no insight here.
In an interesting interlude, Jenkins presents the reader with an imagined scenario of a nuclear attack of unknown origin on New York city. However much he plays upon that unknown, Al-Qaeda is lurking everywhere. In fact, Jenkins boldly states that "Al-Qaeda must be utterly destroyed to prevent it from ever acquiring any weapons of mass destruction." But on the issue of motives (which Jenkins emphasizes), and if "religious imperatives" are at work and Al-Qaeda's "approach to war" is "derived from the Koran and Hadith" (as he suggests may very well be the case), then could we not expect new Al-Qaedas to emerge? And if so, does this not effectively amount to a sustained war on the Muslim world itself? But that does not seem to be what Jenkins has in mind.
Related Topics: Terrorism | Susan M. Jellissen | Winter 2010 MEQ
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