Panel sparks discussion on U.S. responses to the Islamic State

Students came together on Wednesday Nov. 12 for a panel focusing on the Islamic State and its motivations, ideology and how the United States should direct its policy toward the insurgency. The event was planned by History Club and featured both history and political science professors. The panel consisted of visiting assistant professor of history Jennifer Lofkrantz, visiting assistant professor of political science Nayma Qayum, professor of political science and international relations Edward Drachman and American historian and member of Veterans for Peace James Swartz. Each had a small presentation.

Lofkrantz, who specializes in Islamic intellectual thought and jihad movements, started off the discussion with a brief history of Islamic law, its sources and the different schools of thought therein. She spoke about how IS does not meet Islam’s requirements for interpreting the sources for deriving law, and therefore has essentially “overly misinterpreted” the Islamic laws.

She traced IS’s history to the Salafi movement, which started out as a “modernization movement, seeking to throw out the laws and look to the sources for modern meaning.” The movement was hijacked by fundamentalists, however, which has spawned the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and IS.

Qayum then delved into what IS actually is, how it operates and what its goals are. Her main point for differentiating

IS from Al-Qaeda and other insurgencies is that IS is a state-building entity, whereas Al-Qaeda “simply exists to wage war on the west.” IS’s main goal is to redraw the borders of the Middle East, thus creating an “Islamic state.”

Much of IS’s appeal is derived from social justice, as it attracts many Sunni Muslims who “feel pushed aside after the coalition government of Iraq was put in place in 2004.” Qayum stated how the Sunni population feels that the left has failed and become repressive, so they’ve turned to radical conservatives.

Qayum ended her presentation by making it known that IS will likely not lose legitimacy soon, as it is selling petroleum on the black market for funding and many members are former soldiers and members of Saddam Hussein’s previous regime.

Swartz brought the discussion back home, discussing how and if the U.S. should engage IS. He staunchly disagreed with former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s ideology that “if you break it, you own it.” Swartz felt that the U.S. has time and time again “been much better at destroying than saving,” citing the Vietnam War.

He concluded by saying that “based on our past history, it is more than obvious that the U.S. is incapable of resolving conflicts pertaining to social, religious, ethnic, tribal or economic issues.”

Drachman wrapped up the discussion panel by asking students to realize the complexity of the issue. He also asked students to consider what authorization is needed for U.S. intervention. He quickly informed the crowd, however, that, “it doesn’t make any difference.” He cited how authorization or no authorization has made no difference in past president’s decisions regarding military intervention abroad for the last 50 years.

Drachman mentioned how we have a responsibility in the region, “but not to destroy ISIS … we can’t defeat ISIS because the idea is always there.” He advocated spreading the message of progressive Muslims, while simultaneously dealing with root problems such as corruption, authoritarianism and stagnation.