By Nicole Bauke
Defeating ISIS requires defining who and what we are fighting as a radical, violent Islamic group, emphasized Dr. Jonathan Schanzer at Northwestern University College Republican’s winter speaker event Tuesday night.
The event was organized by NUCR President, Dominic Burke, and NUCR Secretary of Events, Harrison Flagler, with the aim to provide an academic discussion rather than take a political stance, according to Burke. Schanzer, the Vice President for Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, spoke about the current climate of the Middle East as well as the need for the United States to take decisive action against ISIS. Schanzer believes that progress cannot be made as long as people tiptoe around the discussion.
“People are very uncomfortable saying these things out loud on a college campus,” Schanzer said. “I believe if we are going to defeat something we need to be able to call it by its name.”
According to Schanzer, the term “war on terrorism” provides no intrinsic value, because terrorism is a tactic, not a people or an idea. This fight must be recognized as a war against militant Islam, said Schanzer.
“Ignoring this is less respectful,” said Schanzer. “The terrorism we see today is overwhelmingly coming from their areas. If we don’t go to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, and some of these other hotbed areas and have an honest conversation with them, how are we going to change anything?”
Schanzer added that it must be recognized that extremists represent a very small percentage of Muslims. Only 20% of Muslims support acts of terrorism, according to Schanzer. However, he noted that extremists are able to speak for the majority because their voices are loud.
“I think it’s a matter of English, of language,” agreed Burke, a junior studying economics and political science, although he notes that NUCR does not endorse any of Schanzer’s statements. “You have to fight a people, not a tactic.”
Schanzer criticized President Obama’s foreign policy, including not only his inability to act against ISIS but also his decision to prioritize economic relationships with Asia over the turmoil in the Middle East. Schanzer also went on to identify Iran’s nuclear possibilities as a much larger security threat than ISIS.
“If we wanted to take care of ISIS, it could probably have been taken care of in a month,” stated Schanzer. “If we put boots on the ground, ISIS fighters would panic. They don’t have the technology that we have, they don’t have the mechanized military, they don’t have the ability.”
Foreign policy in the U.S. has become weak, according to Schanzer, labeling Bush as too ambitious and Obama as too feeble. Due to the current inaction in the U.S. government international security is suffering and this could lead to a lot of repercussions, he stated.
Schanzer went further, calling out Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions groups on college campuses, specifically supporters at Northwestern.
“These guys are not pro-peace, and typically speaking many of them lean towards the Islamic ideology,” said Schanzer, noting that they only add to the problem. “I’m being honest, these are dangerous ideologies.”
ISIS has been able to grow powerful in part by social media, said Schanzer. Sites like Twitter allow anyone to have a platform to spread their opinions, although extremist-linked accounts are frequently shut down. The U.S. faces two problems here, said Schanzer.
“Destroying the accounts erases intelligence. We can learn from what they’re saying,” he said. “The other part of the equation is the whack-a-mole—anyone can make an account; you shut one down, another pops up.”
Herd mentality is not the only reason young people are leaving for Syria, according to Schanzer. The idea of an ideal Islamic state appeals to self-radicalized lone wolves and people who have found it difficult fitting into Western societies, he said.
“It is not solely a military operation,” said Schanzer, on combating the militant group. “It’s about getting people together in a room, and it’s about getting them to understand what we’re fighting, and being able to talk to each other.”