Lecture on confronting global terrorism
By Lou Fancher
“ISIS: The Collapse of a Caliphate,” and the subject of global terrorism attracted a substantial audience to an East Bay World Affairs Council lecture intended to “give people enough information to intelligently talk about foreign affairs.”
The program at the Lafayette Library Community Hall featured scholar and author Donald K. Sharpes, a professor in the Emeritus College at Arizona State University and Senior Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University, who has held professorships at a half-dozen universities in the United States. He has worked in Asia and the Middle East, and his 21 books and more than 240 articles on teacher education, humanities, and behavioral and social sciences include United States and international perspectives.
“This crowd is twice the normal size of our usual gatherings,” said chapter chair Betty Overhoff following the program. “The topic, ISIS (Islamic State in Syria), is the center of everyone’s attention. Crisis drives the news and they do the most damage right now, so this was of great interest to our members.”
Sharpes emphasized that ISIS is only one part of Islamic militant groups that include Al-Qaeda, Boko-Haram, and Al-Shabaab. Outlining their tenets, history and ethnic and faith demographics, he defined “caliphate” as a group that operates under a spiritual or temple leader to administer a specific land area.
“In ISIS’ case, the land is mostly Northern Iraq extending down to Syria,” he said.
Militant ideas formed from the Koran — Sharpes displayed referenced text — he said members of ISIS believe came from Allah through the prophet Mohamed. Included in the quoted text were directives to “kill the unbelievers,” “strike off their heads” and more.
“These are Koranic messages; this is the core of the militancy movement,” said Sharpes. “Keep in mind that these come from their scriptures. They’re not just things they make up.”
During an audience Q&A, a man said the words were similar to Old Testament sections of the Judeo-Christian Bible. He questioned whether taking them out of context might lead to misinterpretation.
Sharpes agreed, and suggested that an apocalyptic vision of the end times is also a shared feature.
Noting that he’d provided complete sentences — not excerpted phrases — he left it largely up to the audience to decide for themselves if quoting the Koran was distortion or clarification of the principles upon which ISIS operates.
After explaining that a power vacuum created when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 caused Islamic militancy to flare, Sharpes showed a timeline of attacks. Technical advances have been advantageous to both ISIS and the coalition forces aligned to defeat them.
ISIS has been weakened, Sharpes said, by drone attacks, a Joint Stars 707 plane loaded with technology, new laws limiting international travel and greater sharing of intelligence information between the United States and coalition forces.
With concerns about the Trump administration’s plans and anxiety about North Korea and Iran’s nuclear weaponry and Saudi Arabia’s continued dependency on oil, questions from the audience steered toward solutions.
Shapes said isolating militant groups so that they do not combine forces, neutralizing propaganda and recruitment operations and creating safe sanctuary for refugees were steps in the right direction.
Ultimately, better understanding the enemy doesn’t preclude applying tactics similar to those used by terrorists: identify and destroy a target. Sharpes said coalition forces using these techniques have recaptured 60 percent of lost territory and have killed approximately 50,000 militant fighters.
The East Bay chapter of World Affairs of Northern California hosts monthly programs between September and June. The meetings at the Lafayette Library are free to students and open to members and nonmembers with minimal fees.
World Affairs, founded in 1947, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that connects local audiences to thought leaders and experts on topics that include health, human rights, technology, international relations and more.
Overhoff said WA chapters are most active in large cities, but rural areas where there may be less opportunities for community conversations also need the information.
“It’s a conundrum for people outside of cities to have access to information,” she said. “Here, where there’s lots of activity, a discerning ear is crucial. If I listen to an expert, I’m also required to read broadly, to question what they say.”