Panel discusses ISIS crisis

By Evan Leahy

Phyllis Bennis, author and fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies spoke at an event held Wednesday, February 3, by the Whatcom Community College Social Justice, Equity & Pluralism Committee at the Syre auditorium, explaining that after nearly 15 years after the United States declared war on international terrorism, that strategy was unlikely to start working against ISIS now.

“You can bomb cities and you can bomb people,” Bennis said, “but that doesn’t solve terrorism.”

Bennis’ presentation Wednesday, “Understanding ISIS,“ was meant to answer questions about Isis and explain today’s global war on terror. Bennis said that, to understand ISIS, one must understand the root conditions that give rise to terrorism. Conditions like poverty and political unrest add to the recruiting power of terrorist organizations, she added.

The way this systemic mass recruitment cycle works, Bennis said, is that violence and unrest caused by military occupation leads to unfair distribution of political influence of an area by one particular group, effectively forcing those not in the politically favored group to seek protection from sympathetic militia, becoming allegiant to those sympathetic militias in the process.

A primary point Bennis made was that ISIS has been allowed to gain a foothold in Iraq and Syria because of the unrest caused by military occupation in the Middle East and the primarily Shia government that was installed in Iraq after Saddam Hussain’s removal. She said that many Iraqi Sunnis did not see their needs reflected in policy decisions made by the predominantly Shia government and have had to align themselves with militias in the region that are sympathetic to Sunni needs.

“ISIS began as a militia opposing occupation,” Bennis said.

Bennis brought up the frequently asked question of how this group representing the beliefs of one fringe branch of Islam could have such impact and gain such a following in such a small amount of time. The answer, she said, is that ISIS doesn’t fight alone and that they aren’t an ideal situation for many who follow them. Bennis said that, instead, they simply fill needs that would otherwise go unmet. Bennis said that many who were seeking jobs and protection in recent turmoil had found themselves aligned with ISIS because it was better than any alternative.

Bennis came back to the point that ISIS stemmed from disagreements and exploitation that were enflamed by United States military intervention on multiple occasions, also saying that continued air and drone strikes have helped fuel ISIS’ recruitment efforts. Bennis said that the more aggression the US exerts in the Middle East, the more hostility they will meet and the more people in the region will identify the US as the enemy.

The United States military presence in the Middle East has not rendered the stability that was once hoped for, Bennis said, adding that the Taliban controls more territory in Afghanistan today than at any other time since 2001. She said that there was an often used argument that Afghanistan was better because kids are in school now. Bennis also said that this argument was invalid because 42% of children have now dropped out or never went to school at all.

Before opening the floor for questions, Bennis said that stopping ISIS was a bigger challenge than just questions of war and peace and that, while a more complete solution is outlined in her book, “Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror”, the most fundamental piece of it was to discontinue this degree of blunt military aggression and consequently and to stop helping ISIS in their recruitment efforts.

The question of which current US presidential candidate could offer the best solution to the ongoing threat of global terror was brought up, to which Bennis said that the Republican candidates looked to be currently competing for who “can go to war with [ISIS] best,” citing phrases recently used by candidates such as “light up the sand” and “nuke ‘em.” She said she was in favor of Bernie Sanders’ idea to implement no-fly zones in the areas occupied by ISIS and that Hillary Clinton had done great work in the region before, but didn’t identify her favorite.

Another topic brought up was Persian Gulf states’ willingness to accept refugees from the areas ISIS currently occupies. Bennis acknowledged that those nations are not generally accepting refugees but also pointed out that the people fleeing the places formerly governed by notoriously brutal dictatorships are unlikely to want to seek refuge in places governed by notoriously brutal dictatorships. While refugees are unable to go to Saudi Arabia, she said for example, no one really wants to go there anyway.

The concern of how to provide for the influx of refugees into the United States was brought up by one person in attendance, arguing that more people require resources to provide services for them. Bennis said that withdrawing this level of military involvement in the region would be an easy place to start. “We don’t have a refugee crisis in this country. We have a racism crisis in this country,” she added.

The event was scheduled from 3:00-4:30 p.m., but was drawn to a close shortly before 4 p.m.

In addition to “Understanding ISIS”, Phyllis Bennis has authored or co-authored five other books carried on Amazon about the Middle East and has also written books covering other political topics like the United States degree of influence in the UN.

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