At the start of the semester, Muzammil Siddiqi, Ph.D., told the 19 Chapman University students in his
course that beyond discussions of what constitutes a true religion, he wanted them to know “what is true about Islam.”
Now he wants everyone to know what is false about the terrorists who killed 130 people in Paris on Nov. 13.
“Even though they may have Koran in their hands, what they have done is absolutely un-Islamic,” said Siddiqi, an adjunct Chapman professor who also directs the Islamic Society of Orange County and is the former president of the Islamic Society of North America. “These ruthless and criminal terrorists are enemies of Islam. They are motivated by political desires. They want to create a cleavage between Muslims and people of other faiths.”
Siddiqi is among a number of Chapman scholars seeking to foster understanding in the wake of Europe’s deadliest terror attack in more than a decade. He spoke during a recent candlelight vigil attended by Chapman students, faculty and staff in the Fish Interfaith Center and has been widely sharing his message of measured response: “Don’t react to madness with more madness and anger.”
He says that the students in his
Introduction to Islam
class at Chapman are highly inquisitive and have engaged in good discussions. He’s eager to see their term papers on topics such as misunderstandings about Islam and how to respond to the word “Jihad.”
Ahmed Younis, an adjunct faculty member in the
College of Educational Studies
, studies the science of radicalization. So what does he think is driving many of these young, mostly male extremists to violent Jihadist groups? Perhaps surprisingly, it is many of the same factors that push American urban youths into street gangs, Younis says. Such challenges were a key topic at the recent
White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism
, a gathering of thought leaders, including Younis.
“Much of the science … comes from our knowledge of dealing with gang realities — the need to fit in,” Younis says.
Dean Stearns urges students to battle fear with knowledge
At a campus vigil held in the wake of last week’s Paris attacks, students lit a candle for each victim, flickering symbols of hope for a more peaceful world.
But it will take work to continue that hopeful spirit and defuse the rhetoric of fear and hate, the Rev. Gail Stearns, Ph.D., dean of the Fish Chapel, told the crowd gathered at the Fish Interfaith Center.
“I know it feels like there’s nothing we can do in the face of this horrific act. But there is a very, very concrete thing you all can do,” Stearns said. “Every time you hear a comment, every time you see a tweet, every time you see a post, every time you hear someone repeat a sound bite that tries to connect any community of ordinary people with these terrorists, you can say no. Whether it be Syrian refugees, the Muslim community, the Sikh community, anyone. Any time you see that, you can say no.”
In Europe, it’s even more complicated. Like salt in the wounds, Muslim immigrants from North African countries are cut off from the larger society and economic opportunities because of legacy of colonialism and its attendant racism, he says. They are ripe for recruitment.
“You essentially have the colonial powers now hosting the descendants of the colonized and that definitely leads to forms of identity crisis,” Younis says.
America’s more pluralistic society helps protect against that degree of alienation, he says.
“Here one can be 100 percent Muslim and 100 percent American without finding conflict,” Younis says.
Regardless of its causes, though, violent Jihadism is condemned by the greater Muslim community, he says. And he believes inherent in that denunciation is some protection for all Americans.
“That is likely going to be our best tool in the fight against terrorism, us in the American Muslim community, we who belie the ‘clash of civilizations’ theory,” Younis says.
Still, the main effect of the Paris bombings is societal, says James Coyle, Ph.D., director of Chapman’s Center for Global Education. It involves the refugees who have been flooding into Europe after fleeing war-torn Syria,
“Last week, elites in Europe were discussing how to distribute refugees among the various EU member states. This week, the discussion is how to stop the refugees from coming, how to deny them access to the EU, and how the refugees are possibly sheltering terrorists in their numbers,” notes Coyle, formerly director of Middle East Studies at the U.S. Army War College and special assistant to the FBI/New York Joint Terrorism Task Force. “Right-wing parties are in the ascendancy throughout Europe,” he adds.
In addition, civil liberties are being abridged, Coyle says.
“Europeans, and especially the French, have long criticized the United States for actions taken under the Patriot Act, such as the large-scale collection of data that Edward Snowden uncovered,” he says. “Now the same people are evoking emergency powers to crack down on terrorist suspects.”
It would be tragic if legitimate terrorism concerns morphed into misplaced fears that sparked the closing of borders to “Syrian mothers trying to take their children out of harm’s way,” said Gregory Daddis, Ph.D., the retired Army colonel who now leads Chapman’s new program in War and Society.
Daddis is helping his master’s students prepare for decision-making moments such as now are being faced in France, the White House, the Pentagon and other centers of policy and power. The hope is that graduates will have the skills to meet these international challenges without resorting to war.
The test is never more difficult than when bombs and bullets seem like the only appropriate tools of response, Daddis notes.
“In the cases like we saw in France and in the aftermath of 9/11, there is almost this political imperative to lash out. ‘I have to demonstrate my resolve and demonstrably exact revenge,’ because issues of national honor are at stake,” says Daddis, a West Point graduate and veteran of Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom who most recently was chair of the American History Division at the U.S. Military Academy.
Daddis advocates for “more constructive engagement,” even in the wake of terrible mass shootings and suicide bombings.
“We need to think about the deeper causes of the attack, or after ISIS is destroyed, another organization will just take its place,” he says.
A more comprehensive approach means identifying and attacking root causes of radical extremism, he says. For instance, in Syria drought has caused a social dislocation, with unemployed farmers moving into urban areas, straining an already fragile system that’s now in crisis.
“So there are actually linkages between climate change and terrorism,” Daddis says. “That’s why I say that the response has to be more holistic.”
Political and military insights are important, Daddis notes, but other pathways may be more effective in the long run.
“We hope that the kind of interdisciplinary education we’re promoting here at Chapman will allow our students to advocate for a more measured look that’s not just based on armed conflict,” he says.
Dawn Bonker contributed to this report.