Middle East studies in the News
Education, Not Indoctrination, the Goal of Forum on Paris Attacks, Coastal Carolina University Says [incl. Jeffrey Halverson]
by Michael Smith
A packed house turned out Thursday for a Coastal Carolina University sponsored panel discussion about recent the Islamic State's terrorist attack in Paris.
About 150 people filled Johnson Auditorium in the E. Craig Wall, Sr. College of Business Administration for the two-hour discussion in what was largely a civil event.
Some conservatives, however, are expressing concerns that the panel only provided liberal perspectives.
"Ethics and Current Events: Understanding the Paris Attacks" was the subject of the panel discussion that featured five CCU instructors.
Panelists discussed the Islamic State and its relationship to the Islamic world, the future of ISIS, its capabilities and ethical questions regarding military and terrorist tactics, according to a university news release.
The panel also discussed "French colonialism and the treatment of Muslims in France," the release said.
Robert Rabon, chairman of the Horry County Republican Party, took issue with linking French colonialism with terrorism. He saw that as an example of indoctrination.
"If conservatives had a forum, they'd be marching around the building. They'd be going crazy," he said.
One woman addressing the panel at Thursday's event noted the predominantly Muslim Ottoman Turks also had a violent history, conquering the Middle East and ruling it "ruthlessly" for centuries.
"You all seem to be in agreement, although each with your own different area of expertise," the woman said. "I don't think that's very good for panel discussion. I think you need to have someone who has a different opinion. You need the point, counterpoint."
The intent of Thursday's forum was not to indoctrinate, but rather to foster discussion about the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, and also to explain why they happened, said Julinna Oxley, chair of CCU's department of philosophy and religious studies, who organized and moderated the event.
"We are not by any means anti-military. I noticed there were several folks in fatigues who were there," she said. "We're not trying to say we ought not bomb. The intent of the panel was to think about why [the attacks] happened. The goal was to get the conversation started and not do a foreign policy analysis."
Oxley said the event was organized on short notice shortly after the Paris attacks.
She said she was grateful to the participants who volunteered, noting they were tasked with discussing the Islamic State through historical, theological and ethical contexts.
"I didn't have any ideological agenda," Oxley added. "I wanted people to understand why it happened, not what we ought to do."
The Islamic State, commonly referred to as ISIS, has claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 129 and wounded 352.
According to news reports, at least one of the attackers entered France posing as a Syrian refugee. The Islamic State has openly stated that's how the group plans to conduct future attacks.
Gov. Nikki Haley and at least 30 other governors have expressed opposition to allowing Syrian refugees to resettle in their states.
A bill that would further restrict Syrian resettlement recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives.
What panelists said
On Thursday, some panelists criticized efforts restricting the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S., while others cited examples of Western racism directed at Muslims.
Some others questioned the wisdom of using military force to combat the Islamic State, including one panelist who supported putting terrorists on trial, with neutral nations taking the lead.
"One of the implications of this might be that we need to establish some sort of world government or world state to bring terrorists to justice and put them on trial," said Emily Crookston, lecturer of philosophy at CCU.
"I don't think I have to say states that have been attacked have to be totally uninvolved in what happens to terrorists, but they shouldn't be the primary punishing body," she said.
Philip Whelan, a history professor specializing in French history, said terrorists targeted Paris because it's "very emblematic" of Western values, particularly secular values the Islamic State finds offensive.
"Secular values can be provocative to those who would prefer to advance different interests, different agendas," he said. "There is a cultural clash of sorts."
Whelan said France is unique because its constitution insists on secularism. As an example of that secularism in practice, he cited Algeria, which France annexed in the 19th Century.
"Muslims had to choose between being a French citizen or remaining Muslim. You couldn't be both, you had to be one or the other," he said. "There is a background of frustration, oppression and indeed racism in France."
Whelan noted that the logic isn't sound, "but we know how that's being pitched" by the Islamic State.
Some professors expressed views questioning how nations respond to terrorism in general, and the Paris attacks in particular. There was also criticism of rhetoric from the campaign trail.
"Already I've heard voices locally and nationally including people running for president of the United States who insist on inflating the world's 1.6 billion Muslims with ISIS, insisting there's no difference between your Muslim neighbor or your Muslim classmate, with ISIS," said Jeffrey Halverson, an assistant professor of religious and Islamic studies.
Joseph Fitsanakis cautioned attacking ISIS without first understanding the Islamic State and having a plan for what follows military action.
"I'm definitely not a friend of violent Islamism," he said. "We have to ask questions before we let them have it. Are we seriously saying we're going to go into such a complex environment when we have no clue what's going on?"
Fitsanakis said having an international coalition is key to defeating ISIS. He said the Iranians and various militia groups could also be effective in battling the terrorist group.
"Currently we have counted 7,000 militias in Syria," he said. "Everybody's got a militia. There are Christian militias. We don't talk about them because it's not convenient, but we have them."
Crookston didn't think military action is ineffective because it's often an emotional response rather than a strategic one.
"The ground troops, the air strikes—are they likely to protect innocent civilians?" she said. "You just heard from my panelists, I think they're skeptical. I'm skeptical too."
Crookston said the rationale behind military action seems to be punishment and revenge.
"Air strikes are not stopping an attack in progress. It's hurting people for what they did yesterday or last Friday," she continued. "I don't know what we should be doing to fight ISIS, but I know whatever responses that are coming out of people's mouths right now aren't well-reasoned and reflective. We need to be concerned about that."Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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