UW and Laurier profs talk ISIS and Radicalization

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In light of recent events in the Middle East and worldwide, the Political Science Student Association organized a discussion panel called “ISIS & Radicalization” held Nov. 13 in DWE 3518.


The panel included Dr. Lorne Dawson, Dr. Nathan Funk, and Dr. Veronica Kitchen from UW and Dr. Melissa Finn from WLU. Each scholar discussed the topic from the lens of their respective research in counterterrorism, international security, religious radicalization, and conflict.


The four panelists began by discussing the origin of ISIS, all agreeing that the complex phenomenon of radicalization has a strong historical background, which is essential to understanding the organization. The recent formation of ISIS is the product of previous conflicts and radical responses to those struggles.


As Finn stated, “ISIS was Al-Qaeda; they were in the same car, but now ISIS is on its own.”


They touched upon the subject of ISIS foreign fighters, specifically Canadian citizens who decide to go to the Middle East to fight for ISIS.


Dawson said that it’s not just religious zealotry that drives people to join ISIS, but also strong “media marketing,” at which ISIS has been quite successful.


The message that ISIS puts out attracts people with its religious idealism, and many choose to join because they see an opportunity to be a founder of a “new world order.” However, as Finn pointed out, many are disillusioned when they reach ISIS and see infighting as some members’ use of religion to advance their own political goals.


The panelists discussed options governments have when dealing with returning individuals who did not find what they are looking for in the Islamic State. How should the Canadian government treat them? Finn argued that by automatically punishing returnees with jail time, the government inadvertently pushes them to stay in the Middle East and to keep fighting, for lack of a better place to go.


She argued that this approach dehumanizes jihadists. In response, Dawson mentioned Denmark’s interesting approach, which involves briefing and de-radicalization, not arrest upon return.


On the topic of terrorism and its effects on the world as a whole, Kitchen pointed out that it is challenging to know whether radicalized individuals will plan an attack or not, and what chances they have to succeed in their attack. She stated that the chance of a successful terrorist attack happening in Canada is relatively low. However, it is often impossible to avoid, and no matter how many precautions the government takes, complete security is unachievable.


She stressed the balance between having national security and having civil liberties, and to treat the problem of terrorism within the parameters of the rule of law.


The session ended with some insightful questions from the students. Second-year political science student Dasha Brezhnova felt the panel was very relevant because it’s important to understand the historical context of an issue, which is usually superficially represented by the media.
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