ISIS panel packs out Founders
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Founder’s Dining Room was standing-room only on Monday evening as students, professors and staff gathered to hear the Westmont Forum panel “What’s so Islamic About the Islamic State?”
The panel consisted of religious studies professors Telford Work and Charlie Farhadian, history professor Heather Keaney and Imam Yama Niazi, from the Santa Barbara Islamic Society.
Moderated by history professor Mariane Robins, the panel explored a variety of perspectives on the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, though general condemnation of their motives and methods was unanimous.
Keaney began the event with a brief background on ISIS, including their first known actions in 2006 and more recent international attention following the acquisition of territories in the Middle East.
Keaney identified a primary objective of ISIS to be the revival of the caliphate, a form of Islamic central government previously abolished in Turkey in 1953.
Led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdad and employing gratuitously violent means, ISIS has managed to gain control of major cities in both Iraq and Syria, establishing a foothold in the region with alarming speed.
Farhadian followed Keaney’s remarks by positing that Islam is not essentially violent, and that if it is, “the majority of Muslims are unfaithful” for not being violent enough.
ISIS’ position as a radical minority remained a theme of the evening’s conversation, with all panel participants affirming the group as an unfortunate and dangerous anomaly.
Work noted that one of ISIS’ central motives is the revival of foundational Islam and classical
Muslim civilizations, elements ISIS sees as left behind or missing from modern Islam.
He also stressed that both in the past and in the present, Islam has never been monolithic or incapable of change.
“Contrary to popular arguments, Islam has had plenty of reformations,” argued Work, and many of these reforms have been catalyzed by Muslims themselves.
Keaney and Niazi found a point of contention on the topic of appropriate responses to ISIS; the former advocated for non-violent resistance, while the latter quoted civil rights activist Malcom X as he implored counter-ISIS efforts to utilize “any means necessary.” Both Keaney and Niazi categorically rejected the morality of U.S. drone strikes, though Niazi pushed back against the idea that because the U.S. wasted its efforts in Afghanistan it should not react militarily to the threat of ISIS.
Niazi, who may have unfortunately been circumstantially identified as the mouthpiece of Islam, spoke about the power of media and news outlets over the American layperson, and fellow panelists also advised caution in blindly ingesting potentially fallible information.
Niazi was especially frustrated at the American media’s hijacking of the word “jihad,” citing its use as a common scare-tactic by news sources.
Students who attended the event also weighed in, commenting on the value of the experience. Fourth-year Nataleen Sorfazian commented, “It was really important that they brought someone from the Muslim community to the conversation. An excellent way to
start a dialogue.”
However, fourth-year Sajid Hai complicated this view, saying, “As a panel, the conversation was enlightening, but it was interesting that they only brought one member of the Muslim community. It might be better to have more than one Muslim panelist. That way one person isn’t singled out to answer most questions.”
Finally, fourth-year Spencer Dusebout expressed his desire for further discussion in the community: “A follow-up would be nice, since it was such a great start.”
Photo By Donald Brubaker