Purpose of discussion
Dr. Jacek Lubecki, the director of Georgia Southern University’s Center for International Studies, explained his purpose in convening the panel discussion on the Islamic State group:
The purpose of the panel is to shed light on the recent rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the key question confronting U.S. policymakers and other actors involved in the crisis, namely, what to do with the Islamic State. Given the truculence and cruelty of ISIS, the obvious policy is to confront the radicals, but in the political minefield that the Middle East has become it is far from clear what policy is the best to follow. Experts also know that this is not the first Islamic State that emerged in Iraq — the first one was created in 2004-2008 period by al-Qaida in Iraq and collapsed when the coalition of Sunni tribal militias and U.S. defeated this first incarnation of the radicals’ agenda. The second one, which we are confronting right now, is as much an outcome of the civil war in Syria as it of the persistent problems in Iraq.
Critics of President Obama’s apparent lack of decisiveness in confrontation with ISIS seem to be ignoring the complexities of the region. It is also obvious, from the theatrical displays of defiance of the U.S. by ISIS, that ISIS wants a confrontation with the U.S. Possibly, this “war” against the U.S. would give ISIS extra legitimacy that it needs to compete against other radical organizations — including al-Qaida, which rejects ISIS. In the age when Islamic radicals fight other Islamic radicals one wise course of action
might be to let evil self-consume. However, as the zone of suffering in the region is spreading, and radicals are gaining access to unprecedented resources and capabilities, staying away from the conflict is less of an option. At the same time, to respond to Hillary Clinton’s criticism of Obama’s apparent lack of policy on the issue (“not doing stupid things is not a policy”) one can legitimately ask whether doing stupid things is a policy. Clearly, one has to proceed with nuance and judgment — after sinking over $1 trillion into the sands of Iraq, the last thing we need is another U.S. invasion of the “land of two rivers.”
The sudden, dramatic rise of the Islamic State terrorist group taking over large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria has prompted much discussion, consternation and fear around the world.
It has also prompted scorn and derision, both of the Obama administration’s seeming indecision on what to do until the Islamic State came within shouting distance of Baghdad, and even of the terror group itself by not only Western commentators, but Muslims in the Middle East.
Georgia Southern University hosted a panel discussion Thursday evening on the Islamic militant group with four professors led by Dr. Jacek Lubecki, the director of the university’s Center for International Studies and an associate professor of political science. The group is often referred to by the acronyms ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which refers to land stretching from Turkey around the eastern Mediterranean Sea to Egypt).
Dr. Darin Van Tassell, an associate professor of international studies and political science, said the situation is so complex, it requires more than simply a U.S. military solution — though the U.S. military is a key component.
“Here is a policy that requires a coalition in order to work,” he said. “The United States military is not powerful enough to deal with it by itself. It’s in an incredibly entrenched environment, an environment that’s quite chaotic.”
That statement prompted a critical question from an incredulous student when the discussion reached the Q&A portion: “Were you serious when you said the U.S. military isn’t strong enough to deal with them? Was that a serious statement?”
Van Tassell explained.
“If the objective is to remove a group from a particular area, that’s something militaries can do,” he said. “But militaries don’t build nations. They don’t want to build nations, and they’re not asking people how do I go through my daily life without finding this sort of group and being eradicated from them?”
The panel’s consensus was to support the plan laid out Wednesday evening by President Barack Obama — that the U.S. military engage in airstrikes and a limited combat role as part of a coalition to defeat the Islamic terrorist group.
“The president (Wednesday) night told us we’re going to have a coordinated effort. It’s going to take that,” said Dr. Glynn Ellis, a professor of international studies. “He wants to use, primarily, to use local forces, and that’s an excellent thing. We don’t want countries in that part of the world (adopting the view of) ‘woe is me, they’re going to come and take over’ or ‘somebody outside’s got to come and protect us.’ … We want them to stand up and fight for themselves, take care of themselves, and then we’ll help them. That was the message the president gave us.”
Islamic State is ‘unique’
The Islamic State group is so ruthless in its tactics, even al-Qaida rejected it. Its leaders seem to feed off the attention they receive from their torture and killing of those who don’t believe in them — even Muslims who reject their ideals — including their beheading of two American journalists, which they posted on the Internet.
“They recognize fear is much more powerful when you are taking over, conquering people, than are religious pledges,” Ellis said. “Therefore, they have specialized in fear. They commit horrendous acts of violence, and they record them — pictures, videos — and then they post them for everyone else to see.”
Not only that, but unlike other terrorist groups, the Islamic State actually functions as its name implies — a governing entity — once they have taken over an area.
“They start working to improve the lives of the people that they conquer,” Ellis said. “They start filling in potholes in the roads. They start making medical care more available. … They’re smarter than their predecessors.”
Their goal is not unique — establishing a Muslim caliphate throughout the Middle East — but the militants managed to offend many Muslims by adopting a flag featuring the seal of Muhammad, said Dr. Ahmet Arkturk, a history professor at Georgia Southern.
“This flag annoys many Muslims because it has the prophet Muhammad’s seal on it,” Arkturk said. “And that is why many Muslims hate them.”
Youssef Salhi, a full-time instructor of Arabic in Georgia Southern’s Department of Foreign Languages, listed several Muslim groups that have denounced the Islamic State group, including the Arab League, Organization of Islamic Countries and a group known as the Liberation Front. That last group has a similar goal to that of the Islamic State group — unifying all Middle Eastern countries under a caliphate, but it condemned those militants’ tactics.
He added that some of the most popular videos among Middle Eastern Muslims are those ridiculing the Islamic terrorists in Iraq. Many Muslims also have posted videos of themselves burning the black Islamic State flag.
“Shows like this are very, very popular nowadays in the Arab World,” Salhi said after showing a video that poked fun at militants fighting among themselves over who would shoot someone so they could get the most blessings, and letting a man from Israel pass a checkpoint without demanding anything of him.
Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.