By Gianluca D’Elia
Analyses of the effects of recent ISIS attacks were shared by political science and global studies professors at a teach-in on Nov. 24.
Professors Jonathan Mendilow, Barbara Franz, Frank Rusciano and Olivia Newman discussed the shift in ISIS’ strategies, the impact of the European migrant crisis and how both have influenced internal debates and electoral campaigns.
“When we’re looking at ISIS, we need to see it as a hybrid organization,” Mendilow said. “It is two things at once. It is both a local and international organization. It is a regular army and it is a terror organization.”
Franz said the French reacted more strongly to the recent events in Paris than to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015. In that shooting, two brothers forced their way into Charlie Hebdo, a satirical French newspaper, after it ran a cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammed. The brothers killed 11 people and injured 11 others.
Mendilow said Paris was most likely chosen as a location for terrorist attacks because it is considered “the center of the West” and that the attackers were lone wolves who were not sent directly by ISIS.
“Muslims and Catholics were not happy with Charlie Hebdo,” Franz said. “There was a rift in the French population after the January attacks because some people demonstrated for free speech, but there were also religious groups who believed we did not need to support this.
“This rift does not exist right now. The French are united. [The recent attacks] aimed at a soccer game. Soccer fans are the most democratic, multinational audience on the planet, and that is part of what these terrorists want to destroy.”
Franz said jihadism — in Islamic fundamentalism, a war against unbelievers — has partially become a youth revolt. Many Europeans under 35 are inspired by jihadism and join ISIS.
“It’s the young people who are interested,” she said. “I believe it’s not a rebellion of Islam as the right wing would like to make us believe, but it’s a revolt of individuals — young people who are frustrated, who feel like they are losers and want to become winners.”
Rusciano analyzed how presidential candidates are contributing to the problem by interpreting ISIS attacks as the beginnings of a cultural war.
In a campaign video, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said there is a “civilizational struggle between the values of freedom and liberty, and radical Islamic terror.”
“In some ways, this is a critique on Obama’s policy of not calling jihadists Muslim,” Rusciano said. “[Obama] doesn’t want to lump [the terrorists] with the other 2 billion Muslims in the world.
“Rubio is doing exactly what ISIS would love, which is not to make the enemy ISIS, but to make the enemy the entire Muslim world.”
Rusciano also discussed the impact of Donald Trump’s claim that he saw footage of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the collapse of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
“ISIS is causing us to attack our own,” Rusciano said. “These things have a profound effect on politics. When people make comments like this — when Donald Trump turns it against American citizens, a vast majority of whom are integrated, who support the United States, who could be a very important resource in terms of finding lone wolves — he is basically accomplishing for [ISIS] many of the goals they want to reach.”
Newman talked about why the West has focused on uniting with France but not with countries, specifically in the Middle East, that have also been attacked by ISIS recently.
“There are problems with the idea that we have to love everyone equally, although it may be a noble aspiration,” Newman said. “It denies the value every single one of us gains from caring about particular other human beings more than the rest of humanity. Imagine a world in which our hearts broke equally every time something terrible happened. We can’t distribute our sentiment equally over everyone.”
Newman stressed that although emotions run high in these situations, it is important to refrain from responding irrationally. The time to act is now, but doing so carelessly will not solve any problems.
“People don’t need sentiment,” she said. “What people really need is help in finding safety and security. The conversation has to move from ranking the value of human lives, to supporting political and military solutions and holding the media accountable.
“Our moral judgment can come in and build on sentiments that are already in our hearts. We have to move past our knee-jerk reactions to something that is more universally just. It is not a time to chastise ourselves – it’s a time to stop and think about how we need to re-orient.”