Will Terrorists Go Nuclear?

By Jellissen, Susan M. | Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Will Terrorists Go Nuclear?


Jellissen, Susan M., Middle East Quarterly


Will Terrorists Go Nuclear? By Brian Michael Jenkins. New York: Prometheus Books, 2008. 457 pp. $27.

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 Hfroshima."

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. Hc blames this phenomenon largely on mediahype, sensationalist popular fiction, and the opportunistic utterances of some government officials, notably in the aftermath of the 9/1 1 attacks. While Jenkins painstakingly seeks to dispel many of the myths propagated by these outlets regarding the inevitability, if not the iniminence, 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. …

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