Middle East studies in the News
UT 'Teach-In' Tackles ISIS, Refugee Fears [incl. Ovamir Anjum]
Though it broke into heated voices at times, a "teach-in" at the University of Toledo peacefully covered a wide range of issues related to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Paris terrorist attacks, and the Syrian refugee crisis Thursday.
About 70 people attended the meeting in a UT law school classroom presided over by UT law professor Benjamin Davis, who had just returned from France.
Shelley Cavalieri, associate professor of law, summarized the way Syrian refugees apply for resettlement and strongly rejected the claims of some that terrorists could sneak into the U.S. along with legitimate refugees.
"They are going to have multiple screenings through the Department of State, the FBI, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security," Ms. Cavalieri said. Those checks include documentary history, biometrics, and cross-checks of their passports to determine if their narrative is consistent.
"Because of the concerns about security we now have an even higher level of screening put in place" to be resettled in the United States, she said.
"It takes 18 to 24 months. This is not the way that someone who wants to bomb Manhattan comes to the United States," Ms. Cavalieri said.
She said the facts are "boring" but are clear that refugees from Syria must pass through a rigorous screening.
When a man in the audience said that 72 percent of the refugees are men in their 20s or early 30s, she said in that in reality 50 percent are children and 25 percent are older than 50, and that people with a military background are screened out.
Joel Voss, assistant professor of political science, described the process through which terrorists are recruited from aggrieved groups who are drawn to become mercenaries motivated by greed.
"ISIS pays very well — wives, houses, so on. Greed is what drives most of the individuals in a terrorist organization," Mr. Voss said.
The introductory remarks by the faculty led to a discussion that touched on how ISIS is funded, whether American military intervention makes sense, and the contribution of western imperialism to the instability in the Middle East.
Professor Ovamir Anjum, the Imam Khattab Chair of Islamic Studies at UT, said Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is made up of the "war-hardened generals around [former Iraq dictator] Saddam Hussein who have been out of a job."
He suggested the Islamic fervor of ISIS is a pose, the way it was with Hussein.
"Saddam knew he was on his way out so he got religion," Mr. Anjum said.
"Throughout the Muslim world there is a consensus among Muslim authorities, clerics, that ISIS are heretics. Even al-Qaeda calls them heretics," he said.
"Their claim to be a caliphate is a joke but it's very, very potent politically," Mr. Anjum said. A caliph is someone to whom all Muslims pay allegiance.
Several students wanted more focus on where ISIS is getting the money to carry out its conquest of territory.
"Why aren't we addressing who they're getting the money from?" asked one student. "They're not pulling weapons out of their behinds."
Shayan Parsai, a first-year law student, wanted to ask the same question, saying later he already has a suspicion of where the money's coming from, other than the seized oil wells ISIS is operating.
"I think we as a country are being dishonest about the role of Saudi Arabia, the ideology they propagate, the private business entities that are affiliated with Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It should be definitely looked at more than it is," Mr. Parsai said.
The hourlong meeting turned briefly into a contest between two men arguing why Syria degenerated into the current chaos.
Ammar Alo, a local attorney and Syrian-American, attacked the president of Syria, Bashar el-Assad, for 300,000 deaths and the destruction of multiple cities.
A member of the audience accused him of hijacking the discussion, and said before the start of the Syrian civil war, Syria was where the refugees from the rest of the Middle East wanted to go.
The teach-in was sponsored by the International Law Society.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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