Monday, March 13, 2017

Without Warning, by Joel Rosenberg

When terrorists attack, it may not be without warning.  In Joel C. Rosenberg's latest novel, Without Warning, a terrorist attack in the U.S. wreaks more destruction and is more widespread than 9/11.  As New York Times reporter learns, though, this attack was not completely without warning.  He uncovers a reluctance by the president and the U.S. government to hunt down Abu Kahlif, the global leader of ISIS.  The administration's unwillingness to go after him left the U.S. vulnerable to attack, and the reluctance to hunt him down mean J.B. will have to take matters into his own hands.

This is Rosenberg's third novel featuring J.B. Collins, a foreign correspondent who covers the Middle East, and who has seen more combat action than most military veterans.  As the story opens, Rosenberg is meeting with the president just before the state of the union address, unsuccessfully convincing him to take threats about ISIS more seriously.  On this theme, Rosenberg makes several unsubtle jabs at the recently replaced U.S. president.

If it weren't such a serious matter, Rosenberg's jabs at Obama would be almost comical.  Like Obama, President Taylor calls the terrorist group ISIL instead of the more commonly used ISIS.  He avoids linking their religion to their actions.  Taylor says, "The Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a state."  (This is pretty close to a direct quote from both Obama and Hillary Clinton.)  Collins's response: "Such nonsense made my blood boil.  How could the president defeat an enemy he refused to define."  Even after the attacks, President Taylor was slow to assign blame.  "For Taylor to pretend that ISIS wasn't involved in these attacks--or that the fighters working for ISIS, or ISIL, or whatever he wanted to call it, weren't Muslims and weren't driven by their interpretation of Islamic theology--was just asinine."

Further poking at the Democrats, they find that some of the attackers are Syrian refugees.  "Each entered the U.S. in the past year as part of the president's program to welcome and absorb fifty thousand refugees fleeing ISIS."  And in a jab at Obama and Kerry, an Egyptian general says, "and still your president thinks ISIS is less of an existential threat than climate change.  How can he dare say such a thing?"

But jabs at the Obama administration are not the focus on the book.  Collins's connection to Abu Kahlif makes him and his family a target.  Despite his status as a journalist and his disagreement with the administration's policies, Collins sets out to hunt down the ISIS leader on his own.  Collins has plenty of connections throughout the Middle East and manages to build a team and collect intelligence leads as he hops from country to country.

Rosenberg's criticism of U.S. policy takes a back seat to Collins's quest to find Abu Kahlif.  Contrary to what you might think, Rosenberg is not anti-Islam.  To the contrary, he paints a picture of Muslims, Israelis, and Kurds joining forces to take down ISIS.  While ISIS can't be separated from their Islamic theology, Islamic theology can be separated from ISIS's radical interpretations.  Any policy that does not recognize the importance of partnering with Muslims in the Middle East will likely fall short of eliminating the terrorist threat of ISIS.

Without Warning has some overblown action and melodrama, but hey, it's a novel, right?  The major, coordinated attack on the U.S. is not entirely unbelievable.  The willingness for U.S. officials to downplay or overlook the threats from immigration and terrorist cells is all too real.  Rosenberg's time in the Middle East has given him insights into threats coming from Islam.  His novels may not be prophetic (let's hope not) but the perspective he writes from is worth paying attention to.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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