Tag Archives: ISIS

‘The Nature of the Terrorist Threat Has Become Complex:’ Schwartz Says at Panel

A week before the United States presidential election, the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy held a panel on an issue that has been heavily addressed this campaign season: terrorism.

On Nov. 4, the Center hosted a discussion titled “Terrorism: Threats and Responses.” Peter Krause, a political science professor, moderated the panel, which was composed of Mia Bloom, a professor at Georgia State, former Boston police commissioner Edward F. Davis, and Kurt Schwartz, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

Krause began the panel by asking Bloom what the effects would be if ISIS lost territories like Mosul and Raqqa. Bloom referenced her research into the social media chatrooms of ISIS supporters.

“When ISIS is winning, their chat rooms are talking about ‘we’re making orange soda, pizzas,’ etc. showing shelves stocked with food,” Bloom said. “When losing, they will say they’re winning. In real time, we’re seeing a shrinking of ISIS.”

Bloom said that ISIS itself consists of approximately 35,000 people.

“It leaves us with a high degree of threat perception and we are constantly on edge.”

-Mia Bloom, a professor at Georgia State

Krause then asked Davis how he sees the threats of ISIS changing over the next couple of years. Davis spoke about U.S. strides in crime control after Sept. 11. After the terrorist attack, the U.S. responded again by passing bills, including the Patriot Act.

Davis also commented on the Boston Marathon bombing and said that he does not believe anyone could have built the bombs with just instructions from the internet, as the media reported.

“The terrorist brothers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev] had to have had real, hands-on training,” Davis said. “There are a small number of people who are radicalizing things and getting people to do things just by a remote control.”

Schwartz noted the importance of first understanding the nature of terrorist organizations’ threats.

“The nature of the terrorist threat has become complex,” Schwartz said. “When you’re reading the news, what exactly are we reading? We’re not necessarily aware of an immediate threat.”

Bloom agreed with Davis that the U.S. is not always aware of an immediate threat. She also talked about how the media portrays the constant danger of terrorist attacks when, in reality, a person is more likely to die in a bathtub.

“It leaves us with a high degree of threat perception and we are constantly on edge,” Bloom said.

One of the final questions Krause asked the panelists concerned the governmental efforts in the area and the need for improvement.

Bloom explained that community engagements have been at the heart of prevention.

“The more knowledge kids have about the Islamic faith, the less susceptible they are to the radicalization of Islam,” Bloom said. “We should not talk less or learn less about Islam. The more we know as Americans, the more we can fight radicalization and the more capable communities are of fighting it.”

She talked about the need for diversity within the police force to have it accurately represent the public, which will make it a more trusted presence.

Bloom closed out the panel by warning the audience that not every person who claims to be with ISIS is actually affiliated with the organization.

“Just because someone says they are with ISIS does not make it true,” she said. “ISIS is more than happy to take credit for any bad things that happen. Attacks in Belgium, France, Syria, etc., versus a guy taking a gun into a nightclub and saying ‘I am with ISIS’ is not the same authenticity. We cannot keep assuming every single attack and someone randomly saying ‘I’m with ISIS’ is true.”

Featured Image by Kristin Saleski / Heights Staff

‘We Have a Lot at Stake:’ Hersman on Use of Chemical Weapons

Rebecca Hersman, former U.S. assistant secretary of defense for countering weapons of mass destruction, warned on Friday that the ongoing use of chemical weapons in Syria threatens to normalize their use worldwide, and that the crisis engulfing the country has seen such attacks increase at an alarming rate.

The presentation, titled “Toxic War: Syria, ISIS, and the Use of Chemical Weapons,” was sponsored by the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC).

Hersman began by pointing to the first full-scale use of chemical weapons in warfare, when German forces deployed chlorine gas against Allied troops at the Second Battle of Ypres during the First World War, resulting in thousands of casualties. The chlorine gas reacted with the water in victims’ lungs, creating a violently corrosive acid that ate away at their flesh, killing them horrifically.

Following the conclusion of the Great War, the world was so sickened by the widespread use of chlorine gas, mustard gas, and other chemical weapons by both the Allied and Axis Powers that it was decided that such weapons had no place in any future war, said Hersman. The Geneva Protocol, signed in 1925, banned the use of any poisonous gasses in wartime.

Hersman said that this ban on the use of chemical weapons was not violated even during World War II, when both sides actually possessed massive stockpiles of poison gas. Even Adolf Hitler thought it unthinkable to use such weapons against his most dangerous enemies.

International distaste for chemical warfare kept such weapons from being used for decades after the protocol was enacted. The government of Iraq, however, began using nerve agents extensively in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War, Hersman said, pointing to the massacre of Kurdish civilians in the town of Halabja in northern Iraq as an example.

In what is now considered an act of genocide, Iraqi troops used the presence of a few Iranian soldiers as an excuse to blanket the heavily populated town with mustard gas and sarin, a nerve agent, killing over 5,000 Kurdish civilians.

This attack stunned the international community, and a special United Nations body, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), was formed in order to rid the world of all poison gas stockpiles, Hersman said. By 2010, the use of chemical weapons had disappeared, with most countries voluntarily pledging to destroy their capabilities—except for Syria, which maintained one of the largest chemical weapons programs in the world.

“We have a lot at stake. [Prohibitions on the use of chemical weapons] are among the foundational humanitarian principles and norms that have been respected since 1925—and they’ve gone out of the window in Syria.”

—Rebecca Hersman, former U.S. assistant secretary of defense for countering weapons of mass destruction

After the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, Syria descended into civil war, with rebel groups fighting to wrest control of the country away from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Hersman said that, at the time, the international community wasn’t worried about the possibility of an outbreak of chemical warfare, as Assad’s forces were thought unlikely to face a serious challenge.

But after a sarin gas attack on the rebel-occupied city of Aleppo by government forces in 2013, the U.N. dispatched a team to conduct what is now known as the Sellstrom Investigation. The U.N. team was denied permission to inspect most of the Syrian government’s capabilities, and were unable to conclusively report on the state of Assad’s arsenal.

While the team was waiting in Damascus, Syria’s capital city, government forces dropped large quantities of sarin gas into heavily populated, rebel-controlled areas on the outskirts of the city. Hersman said that over 1,300 civilians died in the attack, most of them women and children. It was the deadliest chemical attack since the 1988 Halabja massacre in Iraq.

President Barack Obama, who had just months earlier stated that any Syrian use of chemical weapons represented a “red line” that would necessitate U.S. intervention if crossed, opted to pursue a diplomatic effort to eliminate further atrocities, Hersman said. The administration brokered a deal with Russia and Assad’s government, whereby the three nations agreed to destroy Syria’s remaining cache of chemical weapons.

While vast quantities of these weapons were successfully destroyed, Hersman pointed out, the government of Syria was not sincere in its efforts to comply with the agreement, making it difficult for foreign observers to assess the amount of chemical weapons that remain in Assad’s formerly massive arsenal.

Chemical attacks on Syrian civilians have continued, Hersman said. The Syrian American Medical Society’s 2016 report on the crisis alleged that over 160 chemical attacks have been carried out by government troops, two of which have been conclusively proven to have been perpetrated by Assad’s forces. On Sept. 6, over 100 civilians in Aleppo were killed by a gas attack, and Hersman said she sees no indication that these atrocities are on the decline in the embattled nation.

“We are standing at the threshold of the normalization of use of an internationally banned and virtually eliminated weapon in the Middle East and beyond,” Hersman said.

She pointed out that such war crimes being carried out with impunity on a large scale are concerning from more than just a humanitarian perspective.

“We have a lot at stake,” Hersman said. “[Prohibitions on the use of chemical weapons] are among the foundational humanitarian principles and norms that have been respected since 1925—and they’ve gone out of the window in Syria.”

Correction: the Syrian American Medical Society was incorrectly referred to as the Syrian-American Medical Society.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

Professor Peter Krause Discusses Terrorism on ‘The Take,’ ‘Live With Tamron’

Last week, Ahmad Khan Rahami set off bombs in Chelsea, N.Y., and Elizabeth, N.J.. News stations from across the country rushed to cover the tragedies that left 29 people injured, and to study Rahami’s possible connection to the Islamic State of Syria. MSNBC, NECN, and WGBH called in Boston College political science professor Peter Krause to give his take on the bombings.

Krause, who focuses his research on Middle Eastern politics, terrorism and political violence, national movements, and international relations, was featured on NECN’s The Take, MSNBC’s Live with Tamron and WGBH’s Greater Boston on Monday afternoon.

Krause believes that there was a mass amount of press coverage surrounding the bombings because they were set in New York, the most populous city in the United States, and the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

On The Take, host Sue O’Connell asked Krause about why officials were reluctant to attribute the explosions to bombs and to connect Rahami to international ties. Krause responded by saying that officials must be careful to not instill unnecessary fear in the public and to not be accusatory of a certain group until they have all the details and evidence.

O’Connell also brought up the question of when ISIS gets to claim responsibility for attacks on U.S. soil. Krause differentiated between the bombings and a mall stabbing in St. Clair, Minn., that injured nine people last weekend, for which ISIS did claim responsibility. In the Minnesota stabbing, the suspect was pronounced dead and the operation was complete, so ISIS was able to claim him as an ISIS soldier, whereas in the New York and New Jersey bombings, the suspect is still alive, so ISIS must be more careful in taking responsibility for his actions.

O’Connell and Krause also discussed the decreasing prevalence of the ISIS. Krause said that in terms of territory, ISIS will eventually lose out against powerful western nations. As a terrorist organization, however, Krause thinks that it will continue to carry out attacks throughout Europe, the U.S., and Africa.

In his interview with Tamron Hall, Krause spoke about the difference between Rahami and the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He said that the Boston bomber operated more intelligently than Rahami. The bombs this weekend were placed in a dumpster, which limited the explosion; Rahami left fingerprints on the devices, which allowed the authorities to quickly identify the culprit; and cell phones were left with the bombs, which were not completely destroyed and gave the police access to additional records.

Hall and Krause also discussed whether the bombings this past weekend were a test run for future attacks. Krause believes that it is still too soon to tell whether these bombings will stand alone.

For his final appearance of the day, Krause joined Greater Boston host Jim Braude and executive director of  Community Resources for Justice Christine Cole to talk about Boston’s reaction to the bombings in New York and New Jersey. Braude brought up a cellular alert that was sent out to New York residents in the area to warn them about the bombing and to keep an eye out for the perpetrator. Braude and Cole debated the merits of alerting the community when a tragedy occurs, and whether the cellular alert encouraged racial profiling.

Krause also discussed how web browsers like Google have started to filter the results of people’s web searches to discourage the public from allying itself with ISIS. For example, if a person were to search ISIS on Google, links to negative press on the terror group would come up, rather than beheadings or killings of civilians.

Krause and Braude discussed whether incidents like this affect voting patterns, especially within weeks of the presidential election. Krause explained that people will often vote conservative after an instance of terrorism, as the right often has more critical stances on issues of national security. In this election cycle, however, Krause explained that polls show that the population puts more trust in Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, when it comes to terrorism issues.

When Krause was earning his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he served as a predoctoral fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He was listed online as studying terrorism and insurgency in the Middle East, and news stations began to reach out to him to conduct interviews.

“With a lot of these media things, if you speak articulately and they like you, then they’ll invite you back,” Krause said.

By the time he became a professor at BC, Krause had published several articles and NECN’s booking agents reached out to him to talk about terrorism and political violence. BC’s Office of News and Public Affairs has also helped Krause set up interviews with local news stations in the past.

Before doing interviews with news stations, Krause said he does extensive research on the topic he is speaking about. When he has a positive relationship with the stations, Krause can also pitch topics and points that he thinks are relevant to cover within the interview.

Krause said that media interviews can be difficult to fit into his schedule, as he is constantly working on research as an assistant professor at BC.

“At the end of the day, if I feel I can still give some good insight, it’s worth it,” Krause said.

Featured Image Courtesy of Gary Gilbert

Correction: The article previously stated that Krause served as a predoctoral fellow at the Belfort Center. He worked at the Belfer Center at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

From the Middle East to Westeros: A Flickering Light in Syria

Editor’s Note: In 2014, Layla Aboukhater, like many Syrians, packed up her life and escaped from the violence of her home city, Aleppo, in search of a peaceful existence. This exodus led her to the United States and ultimately to Boston, where she quickly applied and was accepted into the class of 2018 at Boston College.

At 3:15 a.m. I woke up to the most beautiful sound: beeping. That beep beep beep of the washing machine would go on every time the power went back on. I knew there would be at least another 45 minutes of electricity. As opposed to other cities in Syria, in Aleppo no one knew when the power would come on or go out, but it was always at the hour mark.

To say that I jumped out of bed would be an exaggeration. Sleeping over two woolen sheets and under four thick blankets, it took me a while to untangle myself from the blanket fortress I usually slept in during the colder months. I rushed to the kitchen, put a pot of water over the electric stove and hurried to look at my electric to-do list for the day. I was hoping to get everything done as fast as possible, to use whatever time that was left before the power went out again to continue Game of Thrones.

The day before, the power went out just as I was 10 minutes into a Game of Thrones episode—things were getting intense, and my man Jon Snow was in trouble. I tossed and turned that night, not because of the nearby shelling and ground-shaking missile strikes—you get used to that. What you don’t get used to is how many times dear Jon ends up in near-death situations, so I lay there worrying about him, and about Bordeaux.

Bordeaux was where we usually went to party, and we had a party there the next night, and I desperately needed some electricity to prepare myself. So motivated by my need to look on-point that night while also having some extra time before the power went out again to check on Jon, I started plugging in all my electronic devices to charge. Next I printed out eight copies of “50 Shades of Mad-Libs” for the sleepover after the party, a fail-proof way to pee your pants laughing. I turned on the electric heater and directed it on an upturned chair, on which my damp laundry hung. Next: beautifying. I turned on the flat iron in an attempt to straighten my wild hair for the upcoming party, and attacked my constantly growing unibrow with the tweezers while the iron heated.

I usually don’t put myself through the excruciating pains of hair straightening, but that day I had calculated that the party wasn’t going to be a hot, sweaty one. It was December, freezing outside, and whatever electricity the generators were going to muster up was going to be used for the lights, the surround sound system, and making sure that the bar was bright to attract as many customers as possible because the unenforced drinking age was 18. No power would be wasted on heating, which was perfectly fine, because I knew that the masses of YOLOers like me would warm the place with body heat as we danced to the usual mix of Arabic and English music. One moment we’re singing along with Mohamad Iskandar as he exuberantly serenades the woman who reigns his heart, next we join Sia as she screams about being bulletproof. Looking back, I’m glad ISIS didn’t take us too literally.

As I straightened my hair, typically, my dad walked in just as Renly is going down on Loras. I burnt myself with the flat iron trying to switch off the show quickly, but I don’t think I was fast enough. After he turned on the water pump, which I always forgot to do, he awkwardly said goodnight and went back to bed. I got to see Arya rescue A Man, aka Jaqen H’ghar. In retrospect, I wish she had left him to burn. But the power went out before I could see the last 10 minutes of the episode, leaving me worrying about Arya’s fate now—another sleepless night. Keeping up with the Starks was taking its toll on me.

I accepted my defeat and decided to call it a night. I went to get my clothes hoping, they had enough time to dry, only to find that the cat and the dog thought the makeshift drying rack was a nest for them, so I pulled out my now not only damp, but fur-covered clothes from underneath their groggy butts. The water was ice cold because in my hurry I forgot to turn the stove on, so I decided to skip the shower. Besides, I could shower at my friend’s house—she owed me three showers so far. At this point my hair was half straight, half electrical-shock style, my laundry was soaking wet, covered in fur, and smelled like wet dog, and my dad thought I was into medieval gay porn. Perfect.

I dug back into my blanket fortress, hoping to sweat off the straight half of my hair, and fell into a fitful sleep dreaming about Jon Snow straightening his beautiful, messy, black locks that caused The Wall to melt, and The Islamic State of White Walkers charged in and bombed everyone with RPGs and wildfire.

But other than the bad dreams, everything went well that Saturday night: we partied—hard—my hair was a mess (but let’s face it, that’s just how I look), and we drank cheap vodka mixed with pineapple juice. As usual, we sang along with Iskandar and Sia, peed our pants with laughter during the sleepover, and Sunday was morning Mass and then cramming for upcoming tests—life just went on as usual.

A few days later, a funeral procession for a fallen soldier went through our street, shooting their kalashnikovs into the air, and a kid got hit with a cold bullet and died. A funeral and two midterms later, the Aleppo University bombings took place at the architectural school down the street from my home. We got off easy, some of our windows and doors burst out of their frames, and my mom and Roxy, our lab, who were in the garden, were able to run inside before the hail of rocks and debris covered where they had been. But the bombings killed at least 82 people, including students and children. For two days people were searching for a Carmelite nun and the kid who ran errands for the local supermarket, both of whom had disappeared around the time of the bombing. People were hoping to find them misplaced in a hospital or to find their remains. But nothing was found of the nun because there nothing was left to be found— she happened to be right at the detonation spot. As for the boy, his remains were found on the roof of a nearby building. This all happened on the first day of final exams. They got pushed back two weeks, but afterward we went to another party celebrating the end of the delayed exams—life just went on as usual.

Back to the present, and it’s three weeks until the season six premiere, three more weeks filled with anxiety about Jon Snow’s fate again. But this time I’m in the States, where the power situation is more reliable, and I’m actually looking forward to being able to watch an entire bloody episode in one sitting. I’m at Boston College now, where most of the action in my life is courtesy of drunk seniors setting Iggy on fire every other week, Netflix, the BC movie Web site and the Fenway Regal theater, where I get my healthy dose of violence, gun shooting, and explosions from movies like The 13th Hour and Deadpool, from the safety of the very comfy reclining chairs.

So yes—compared to Syria, it is a bit safer and, therefore, lame, but if you take the danger thrill away, it’s exactly the same—underage drinking and sweaty kids crammed into an overcrowded space with cheap vodka and awesome music.

Featured Image by Kelsey McGee / Heights Editor

‘Now I’m Here, Where Everything Is Green’

“At first I was afraid,” Layla Aboukhater, MCAS ’18, said before breaking out into a surprisingly light-hearted laughter. “That sounds like the beginning of the song,” she laughed, amused by her unintended reference to the Gloria Gaynor classic, “I Will Survive.”

I couldn’t help but laugh along to this playful outburst with a hint of incredulousness—Gaynor surely wasn’t referring to fear on the same scale of that which Aboukhater was alluding to.

The fear occupying Aboukhater’s mind night after night was rather a product of the noise from far-off gunshots and rockets, which until recently kept her awake at night in her home city of Aleppo, Syria.

“When you’re not used to the noises and how loud they are, it’s kind of terrifying, but then you really get used to it,” she said.

A recent transfer student to Boston College, Aboukhater escaped Syria’s escalating violence in Nov. 2014 alongside her father, who was allowed entry after a multitude of failed attempts to acquire a visa.

The two landed in Boston and began the daunting process of migrating the rest of the family.

Though raised from the age of four in Syria, Aboukhater was born to her Syrian parents during their time studying in the United States, making her a U.S. passport holder.

Though this citizenship made her own entry into the country a relatively simple one, it provided no benefit to her parents, particularly her mother.

“My parents had no visa, no green card, nothing,” Aboukhater said. “They decided to send me by myself, but miraculously my dad got a [professional] visa. We started setting things up, my sister and brother followed with the cat and the dog—who was pregnant—and it took another five months to get my mom here.”

This flight from war-torn Syria is unsurprisingly quite common among Aboukhater’s peers, she explained, several of whom are now scattered around the United States and the world. Despite her success at finding a home in the United States, resettlement in the country is rare among the families of her friends and classmates.

“They’re countable—it’s really, really rare,” Aboukhater said of her Syrian friends with the United States as their final destination. “Most people ended up in Canada, Sweden, or Germany. I could go there and find my whole city packed into one of those places.

“Right now what’s happening is, anyone who has enough money to leave would get to Lebanon [and] get a plane ticket from there,” Aboukhater said.

Urgency became an ever more palpable sensation in Aleppo over the last five years due to escalation in violence, best illustrated by one detail in particular—darkness. As regime and rebel forces fought their war, power lines were destroyed day in and day out, leaving thousands of Syrians without electricity and in a constant state of cold and literal darkness. This darkness provided a stark reminder of the world outside of the walls of Aboukhater’s home.

Recalling the first power outage with a shrug, Aboukhater explained that the power was only out for an hour. As the violence escalated, the number and duration of these outages became increasingly frequent, escalating right up until the bitter end of her stay in Syria. In the month before her departure, the instability was such that during one two-day span, she had electricity for a total of one hour.

The typical “buy a generator” response to this darkness, however, implied a level of acclimation or admission of defeat to Aboukhater’s family, one which she feared deeply. To Aboukhater, her family’s purchase of a generator would be a gesture of acclimation to the violence escalating around them.

With this in mind, the Aboukhater family came to a resolution—they would not buy a generator. They determined that if things were bad to the point where they would need a generator to get by, they would simply leave the country rather than adjust based upon what the situation demanded.

But the darkness grew.

“We went through a really, really dark year,” Aboukhater said. “Literally dark—like candles and flashlights. But then we adjusted like everybody else and got a generator, and you just live life like everyday. Your entire family comes home—that’s cool—but maybe not.”

Aboukhater spoke candidly about living in this hostile environment and the terror of adjusting beyond the point of seeing the need to leave, likening it to the story of two frogs told by her father.

“One frog was put in boiling water so he jumped out and survived,” Aboukhater recounted. “The other was put in water that was heated up really slowly and eventually he boiled to death.”

“We were boiling to death,” she explained.

In the face of this violence and death which daily shook the foundation of her home and her relationships, Aboukhater insisted that life had to go on. For a brief moment of playful inquiry, we talked about the Aleppo party scene.

“You’re kind of dirtier because you’re not as showered,” Aboukhater said, laughing at the absurdity. “But that look became the trend.”

Aboukhater found that this violence, though undoubtedly an exercise in hardship and pain, was also an agent for community building. In her description of the mentality of a community plagued by death and violence, one expression that she emphasized stood out: “YOLO mentality.”

“The people that were left became such a tight community, everyone was going through the same hardships, and the social life was really interesting,” Aboukhater explained. “Our cafes had never been fuller at points when I was there. People would sit outside even when it was really unsafe to do so.”

Taking a moment to be lighthearted was essential to the people of Aleppo—an escape from the cold and dark quarantine of a barricaded basement.

Aside from a physical escape, carrying on in ways like this worked to remove oneself from the shackles of emotional confinement. Maintaining a feeling of purposefulness in the face of extreme violence was crucial to survival.

“I mean you go to a funeral in shock like, ‘Oh my God, they were so young,’” remembered Aboukhater.

But as violence began to escalate and the funerals became more regular, the mourning which accompanied each funerary procession necessarily began to likewise become more regular.

Much like the lack of electricity and the constant sounds of far-off shelling, death and mourning became nothing more than facts of life for a young girl in her teens and early twenties.

“If you want to lose a week every time someone dies, that’s a lot of weeks lost,” Aboukhater said plainly, a frightening reminder of the massive amount of bloodshed with which every Syrian inevitably comes face-to-face. “You have to get work done and get on with life.”

Physically distant now from the battleground that was once her homeland, Aboukhater brings parts of Syria with her, which is not always an easy thing. Having escaped from Syria, the burden of awareness is often a backbreaking weight.

Hot water, electricity, security, and ample opportunity are now realities of Aboukhater’s daily life in the United States.

Realities that, with one eye back on Syria, weigh on Aboukhater with a feeling of helplessness.

She describes it as a feeling of gratitude that is haunted by an underlying guilt—a feeling that while her new life is good, her old one still exists for countless innocent people living in fear in Syria.

The feeling of obligation which comes with this freedom is not merely a peripheral sensation.

“I’m basically just sitting out there in O’Neill Plaza on the grass, and it’s sunny, and looking up at the sky knowing nothing is going to fall on me right now,” she said.

The burden of this knowledge, fears of checking Facebook and learning of neighbors’ deaths, and overcoming the language and cultural barriers of new surroundings are all certainly large loads to bear. But Aboukhater’s positivity is as unmistakable as it is improbable.

Aboukhater’s enthusiasm was self-evident throughout, and her face lit up when she talked about her recent experience of fearlessly wearing a dress to class, a novel experience for her.

“I could not believe myself, I was on such a high,” she said, laughing. “I’m so used to trying to be invisible when I walk, and now I’m here where everything is green and everyone is undressed.”

Certainly, walking out of our conversation I saw the world around me with a very different filter, like I had stepped into Syria for an hour-long verbal tour.

The grass was a little greener, the sky a little bluer. A distinct mix of contagious hopefulness and unseen ordeal pervaded our conversation—a complex mix too difficult to fully put into words appropriately, either in conversation or publication.

It’s a mix that can only fully be lived, not written.

When I inquired about any last-minute requests before walking away, however, the response was an appropriate mix of sincere poignant geniality and BC-student enthusiasm:

“You should mention the Harry Potter club,” she said with a laugh.

Featured Image Courtesy of Layla Aboukhater

What I Think Of When I Think Of Islam

It was August and raining. I stepped outside of the Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies at the Universitat Marburg and prepared to walk about 15 minutes to get lunch with some friends. It was then that I realized I forgot my rain jacket.

Stuck, I considered my options. I could ask someone for their rain jacket, but then they wouldn’t have one. I could just walk without one, but then my hair would be wet for at least another hour—and I care about the state of my hair more than I’d like to admit.

I realized that I could tie my scarf around my hair for at least some protection from the rain. I reached for my scarf and immediately stopped myself, almost as if I was paralyzed. It dawned on me that most of the girls standing around me were wearing hijabs as part of their Muslim faith, and here I was trying to tie up my scarf to not get my hair wet.

I turned to my friend Moza, who is from the United Arab Emirates. “Would you be offended if I tied my scarf around my hair?” I asked timidly. “I mean, I don’t want to disrespect your religion.” I fumbled on. I felt strange—why was I stumbling over such a simple question? Why was I so nervous?

“Of course not!” Moza said, smiling. She reached for my scarf, “Here, let me do it for you.” She tied up my scarf and we started down the road.

When I think of Islam, I think of this moment.

I think of Moza’s warm smile and her willingness to share a part of her religion and culture with me. I think of the fond memories I have from this summer with my Muslim friends from the Middle East. I think about how much I learned from them. I think of these friendships that I will cherish for my entire life.

But sadly, when I think of Islam, I also am forced to think about the heartbreaking amount of Islamophobia present within Western society, the existence of which has been made painstakingly obvious over the past few days.

I do not disregard the threat that ISIS poses to the safety of Americans and Europeans. The terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut (and the continuing attacks in less well-broadcasted areas) prove this reality. The safety of the people across the globe is something that our world leaders are trying desperately to ensure. No one should have to live in fear—that is a given.

Yet it seems to me that when some Americans make the argument that letting refugees into this country poses a threat to the safety of citizens, they are completely disregarding the fact that not letting refugees even apply to live in this country is completely taking away their right to safety. It’s as if they are saying, “We Americans have a right to live without fear … but you refugees, not so much.”

The argument that ISIS terrorists could be embedded within Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the United States is an absurd idea based in extreme xenophobia and outright ignorance.

Though it has been reiterated time and time again by the Obama administration that of the thousands of Syrian refugees that have been admitted into the United States since 2011, not one of them has been guilty of terrorism. If ISIS wanted a terrorist in the United States, they would not spend the time, money, or energy supporting a terrorist posing as a refugee.

Yet, more and more governors have come out against allowing Syrian refugees into their respective states. Refugees are trying to escape ISIS. Refugees have nothing to do with ISIS. Refugees are the West’s scapegoats. Yet it seems as if no amount of statistics, data, and hard evidence pointing to the innocence of a terribly high percentage of refugees will change the minds of xenophobic Westerners.

When I think of Islam, I do not think of terrorists. I think of people who are trying desperately hard to be understood as human beings and separate themselves from extremists who represent nothing about all Muslims. When I think of the future of this country, I am optimistic.

Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphics

1984 To 2015: The Timelessness Of Orwell

There’s a wonderful scene in David Lodge’s novel Changing Places, in which professors of English and the lesser humanities gather for an academic parlor game called “Humiliation.” The point, in short, is that each player, when it’s his or her turn, admits to never having read a classic, canonical work of literature—something like War and Peace or Catcher in the Rye—and scores a point for each other player who has read it. Whoever racks up the most points at the end is deemed the victor. (Lodge’s protagonist ends up winning the game, and losing his job, by admitting that he never made it all the way through Hamlet).

Not long ago, I’d have been able to break the all-time high score pretty quickly. For I had never, until a satisfying binge last week, read a complete page of anything written by George Orwell. Not on purpose, I don’t think.

In high school I managed to get through a few papers and discussions about Nineteen Eighty-Four with big words and occasional recourse to that old Apple commercial. Through college I treated his essays and Animal Farm with similar frivolity. It didn’t seem worth the time, getting acquainted with something so ubiquitous and culturally saturated.

This, it would seem, is one of the more tragic afflictions of writers who become icons—whose surnames morph over decades into moth-eaten descriptors and cliched conversation pieces. Their work is admitted to the canon and added to syllabi and high school curricula the world over, bought up in bulk by high school bookstores, cast aside by students as dry secondary school staples. For little teenage brats like myself, especially, this kind of sacred status can suck the life straight out of a work of fiction, make it almost indistinguishable from a math textbook or those little grammar exercise books.

So I didn’t read Orwell, always believing that there were better, lesser known books and essays to sit down with in the evening.

In September of this year, however, I had signed up for a panel presentation in Christopher Wilson’s “Literature and Journalism in America” class, on Emma Larkin’s Finding George Orwell in Burma. Everyone had to take part in at least one, and this was the shortest and farthest down the syllabus. Reading the first few chapters of Larkin’s book, it seemed for a time as if I could skate by with the usual contrived comments and Sparknote-laden analyses.

But after getting deeper into the book—in which she writes anonymously, describing her search through Myanmar for traces of Orwell’s life and work—I wasn’t totally sure I wanted to. She writes about Orwell with the kind reverence that makes him seem essential—like a man everyone should have a chance to meet.

So I wrote to Professor Wilson, who suggested that I start with Shooting an Elephant and some of the shorter essays, and then took a little blue book from the stacks at O’Neill the next day. On the spine was written Orwell Reader in blocky white library type. The pages were well-thumbed, replete with scrawled comments and marginalia, which looks to have been the work of four or five different hands. It’s on my desk right now, with a bookmark close to the middle. I hope to keep it there until my own copy arrives in the mail from Amazon.

I read what I had to and made it through the presentation unscathed, never having to admit to the class that I’d only read everything I was pontificating about for the first time a few days prior. Although I suppose the cat’s out of the bag on that now.

But there were things about Orwell’s life and writing that stayed with me for days, the way the melody of a good song often does. The takeover was so pleasant and total, in fact, that I didn’t read anything else for days—just more pages from the little blue book.

To read Orwell for the first time is, in a sense, to make something like a lifelong friend. Never before have I had the pleasure of encountering a writer whose work seems so simultaneously classic and thoroughly modern, so orthodox and daring all at once. The prose really does read as if it might have been written days, rather than decades, ago.

On the one hand, that’s because the man had a lucid, direct and incomparably passionate approach to writing in English. Each word he set down seems to have been written in pursuit of total force and clarity, against what he calls “staleness of imagery” and “lack of precision,” in a powerful essay called Politics and the English Language. This, if you’ve never encountered his work, would be, in my necessarily humble opinion, an ample point of entry.

On the other, the endurance of his work is a simple—and unfortunate—byproduct of his subject matter, and the many ways it’s been allowed to fester and endure. That is: tyranny. Subjugation and suppression did not die with the regimes of Hitler or Stalin. They didn’t even lie down. They endure with every attack on Western culture by ISIS and other extremists, and every threat or racial slur shouted at a campus protestor. They’ll be around long after we’ve all gone the way of Orwell and the oppressed populations he wrote about.

What’ll remain is the small stack of pages he was able to type out over his short life, and anything we write out of similar hopes or frustrations. I suppose he’s given me a new appreciation for his craft, and the way it can serve as an outlet for quiet, disaffected contrarians, too shy or prideful to march in protests or cover their mouths in duct tape. If there is a patron saint of introverted activists, I think it looks something like George Orwell.

Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphics


Fighting The Two Headed-Demon

“Islamic State militants burned 45 people to death in the Iraqi town of al-Baghdadi … ISIS has been executing people in droves and using barbaric methods to do so, such as beheading and crucifixion, and publicizing some of the deaths in videos released on the Internet.” – New York Daily News, February 18, 2015

“Hundreds of bodies still litter the bushes of Baga, Nigeria—mostly women, children, and elderly victims too slow to outrun Boko Haram fighters who stormed the town with explosives and assault rifles … as many as 2,000 people have been killed.” – Fox News, January 12, 2015


On Saturday, a message allegedly from the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, pledged the organization’s allegiance to the Islamic State, which is commonly referred to as ISIS. The audio message purportedly stated, “We [Boko Haram] announce our allegiance to the caliph … and will hear and obey him in times of difficulty and prosperity …. We call on Muslims everywhere to pledge allegiance to the caliph.” Notably, the recording was posted to Twitter just hours after Boko Haram was accused of killing at least 54 people through a series of suicide bombings in northeastern Nigeria.

Boko Haram, which translates to “Western education is sin,” has been initiating terror campaigns aimed at instituting its extreme version of Sharia law. Jacob Zenn, an expert on the terror group, observed that a public allegiance to ISIS “will help its recruiting, funding, and logistics as it expands propaganda.” While news of the allegiance should not come as a surprise, given that the two terror groups share parallel ideologies and practices, this publicized affiliation is still significant. While an amalgamation of forces seems impractical given the geographic distance between Nigeria and Syria/Iraq, both ISIS and Boko Haram become further legitimized through this allegiance, making their goal of establishing a permanent political state seem much more realistic. These terror groups, as BBC correspondent Jim Muir states, “look more like a global franchise”—a franchise that seeks to propagate the very terror the U.S. has struggled to destroy.

Yet despite the growing presence of these terrorist organizations that seek to eradicate even the most fundamental human rights, many people question whether the United States has any “right” to be involved, whether that be in the deployment of troops or unmanned airstrikes—a question that not only infuriates me but jeopardizes everything we boast the United States to represent.

As a nation that champions life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we must intervene on behalf of the women, children, and minorities that are being relentlessly persecuted by terrorist organizations. The entire foundation of North Africa and the Middle East is being radically dismantled as Boko Haram and ISIS jeopardize the integrity of centralized governments and the safety of countless villages. Terrorism is turning the world away from progress. It is tearing at the roots of equality and freedom, ushering in an era defined by violence and fear.

These countries need help. If they could eradicate terrorism with their own weaponry or manpower then they would have already accomplished such a task. Yet the alliance of Boko Haram with ISIS indicates the ever present threat of terrorism and the need for intervention.

As a nation so proud of its advancement, we must not let terror succeed in any situation, under any circumstances. The inhumanity and injustices of these people are the greatest evil facing the modern world—an evil clouded under the guise of a “religious war.”

I recognize that the United States cannot solve every problem the world faces, nor can we rightly impose our will on the rest of mankind. Yet the issue of ISIS (alongside Boko Haram) and U.S. involvement goes much deeper. ISIS has directly threatened our nation, claiming they will behead President of the United States Barack Obama and transform America into a Muslim province. This proposed assault on our homeland is a strong enough basis to effectively justify U.S. military campaigns against the group.

However, the conflicts of the world are never simple, and it is hard to preach both military intervention and the assertion of human rights. Likewise, I find it difficult to endorse military campaigns against ISIS while I sit in a Boston College dorm room and know I will never have to face the reality of sacrificing my life for another nation—a reality our soldiers abroad face every day. Although I am conflicted about the deployment of troops, stopping these terror groups must be a national priority and I can only thank and applaud the brave men and women who embrace the fight for human freedom by joining our armed forces.

John F. Kennedy said, “We must face up to the chance of war, if we are to maintain peace. We must work with certain countries lacking in freedom in order to strengthen the cause of freedom …. And as the most powerful defender of freedom on earth, we find ourselves unable to escape the responsibilities of freedom.” His words still hold true today as the U.S. must face a new generation, a new enemy, and a new call to restore freedom in the world.

Countries in North Africa and the Middle East are suffering under the oppression of terror. World peace is not an independent venture, but a global enterprise involving the effort of all nations. The United States, as a leader, must therefore rise to the call of duty and confront the evil that is terrorism.


Featured Image by The Associated Press



Krause Critiques U.S. Response To ISIS

As part of International Education Week, assistant professor of political science Peter Krause discussed the problem of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on Monday evening. Much of this problem is in the fact that everyone wants ISIS gone, but no one wants to do it, Krause said.

The International Club of Boston College sponsored the event, along with the BC chapter of College Democrats, Americans for Informed Democracy, No Labels, the Arab Students Association, and the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Student Association.

The areas ISIS controls tend to run along rivers, since access to water provides a key difference in terms of population centers and control over dams, Krause said. These areas also happen to have oil deposits. It would not be entirely wrong to describe ISIS as a terrorist group, Krause said, but it is more than that—in part because of the land it controls.

“They’re much more than what we think of when we think of an organization that commits terrorist attacks,” he said. “Most groups that commit terrorist attacks are usually quite small … they don’t necessarily have a lot of money. They certainly do not rule and control large areas of territory. ISIS changes all of these things.

“The group also gets 2 to 3 million dollars per day through oil revenue.”

More so than other comparable groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS is able to attract members from other countries—notably Saudi Arabia, Libya and central Europe.

“They are not dominantly a local organization,” he said. “A large part of ISIS’ manpower and womanpower—there are women in ISIS, as well—comes from abroad.”

Krause also said that, in addition to the existing five pillars of Islam, Jihadist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda believe that jihad should be a sixth pillar. The groups’ interpretations of jihad are largely oriented around fighting against those whom “true believers” determine to be non-believers, Krause said.

“ISIS subscribes themselves quite strongly to this ideology,” Krause said.

For the most part, major players in the international community tend to agree that ISIS is harmful, but that does not mean anything will happen, Krause said. He compared this problem to a group project assignment in class: everyone needs to complete it, but no one wants to take the most responsibility.

“Everyone has interest in getting rid of ISIS, but they would prefer that every other actor would pay the cost of doing so,” he said. “That’s one of the major reasons that ISIS hasn’t faced a very strong international coalition at this point.”

In addition, the fact that the majority of the American public do not want the U.S. to intervene with the group and that President Barack Obama has a certain responsibility to the American people’s sentiment is preventing America from leading the charge, Krause said.

“The U.S. is currently stating that it wants to … destroy ISIS, and the way it is going to do that is by partnering with the moderate local opposition,” Krause said. “So, basically, you’re going to start a war against two very brutal and very strong enemies by backing a small, weak, and unpopular enemy. That’s not a winning equation as far as I see it.”

Krause discussed four ways in which the U.S. could be more successful. The first was a humanitarian approach: stop the killing. Second, the U.S. could change the regime by overthrowing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Third, counterterrorism: destroy ISIS. Fourth, stabilize the region by containing ISIS. The fourth tactic would be the most feasible to push ISIS out of Iraq, Krause said.

“Right now ISIS is in the middle of a massive proxy war in the region and it is one that they are not going to come out of any time soon,” he said. “There are no perfect solutions here. There is a common saying in the Middle East that it is all about the least bad option—and that really is the case here.”

Featured Image: Michelle Castro / Heights Staff

BC Professors Join Conversation On ISIS Threat

Last Thursday evening, political science professor Ali Banuazizi and history professor Julian Bourg spoke at the Eagle Political Society’s first topic meeting, “ISIS and the American Response.” The two professors provided background on the situation before delving into the United States’ options and then opening the floor for student opinions.

Ultimately, as Banuazizi noted throughout the lecture, the issue of the Islamic State’s militant control in Syria and Iraq will need to be solved internally from those in positions of power in those countries.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, commonly referred to as ISIS, rose to power due to two main reasons, according to Bourg: the American invasion of Iraq and the Arab Spring. The beginning of the insurgency commenced when the provisional authority of Iraq dissolved the Iraqi army, which left tens of thousands of young men armed and unemployed, Bourg said.

“The emergence of ISIS is the result of a perfect storm of two interlocking events,” he said.

The governments in Iraq and in Syria are very autocratic and corrupt, which means that they are many people striving for justice and freedom, Banuazizi said.

“In this part of the world we are dealing with populations that in many ways are desperate for those fundamental opportunities in life particularly when it comes to the youth,” he said.

The rise of ISIS was not unexpected: Iraq has seen a slow rise in fundamentalism and extremism. The present leader of ISIS was once involved in Al-Qaeda. He now controls a territory that spans roughly one-third of Syria and one-third of Iraq, Banuazizi said.

“It was not a sudden phenomenon. It arose very gradually in Iraq as well as in Syria,” Banuazizi said. “He has been doing this over the past several years and finally came up on the intelligence radar.”

The goal of President Barack Obama’s administration is to degrade and then destroy ISIS. The administration plans to do this by bombarding the group’s sites. On Sept. 19, the Senate voted to approve Obama’s plan to arm Syrian moderates to assist in the fight against ISIS, he said.

“At least we have the makings of a credible coalition which we can support,” he said. “We have quite a fight on our hands.”

It is going to be very difficult to truly defeat ISIS with airstrikes alone because there will always be a new group to take its place, Banuazizi said.

“What will happen after we defeat ISIS?” he said. “This is not going to be the end of the story, because other groups are likely to emerge. Unless we have a strategy that addresses many of the underlying issues and creates realignment in the issue we are not going to solve the problem.”

There is always a possibility that the United States’ effort to defeat ISIS will only lead to more problems. With no long-term strategy, the U.S. is forced to adapt their smaller tactics, Bourg said.

“The shadow that haunts all of this is the term ‘blowback,’” he said. “Without a strategy, there’s a danger in small tactical efforts leading to unintended consequences and creating greater problems still.”

One takeaway from the discussion could be that the U.S. should do nothing, Banuazizi said. However, this could worsen the situation by making it possible for ISIS to extend its sphere of influence. Intervention is inevitable. However, the problem truly needs to be solved by people in the affected areas, he said.

“This is very complicated, and wherever we insert ourselves may be right, may be not, but ultimately these issues have to be resolved in the region by the people themselves,” Banuazizi said. “This is not our fight.”

Featured Image courtesy of Raqqa Media Center / AP Photo