Former terrorism analyst discusses US response to ISIS

Jee Young Lee, Reporter

Jonathan Schanzer, the vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies spoke at Northwestern on Tuesday about the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, and his suggestions for United States foreign policy.

The talk, held at Technological Institute, was College Republicans’ winter speaker event. About 30 people attended the event.

“We’re always looking to bring speakers who would talk about (the) most relevant topics on campus,” said College Republicans president Domonic Burke, a Weinberg junior. “We couldn’t be luckier to have a more qualified expert to talk about this topic.”

Schanzer formerly worked as a terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and published books about political issues in the Middle East.

He briefly touched on the history of ISIS and the group’s current situation, mentioning the onset of the Arab Spring in Tunisia and its spread to Egypt that resulted in the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak.

He then spoke about the U.S. administration’s past failure to turn Syria into a “more democratic” nation and mentioned the uprising that began in Syria in 2011.

“(Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) is owned and controlled by Iran,” Schanzer said. “Iran used Syria to funnel weapons and cash and personnel to groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad … They were not about to let this very important proxy of theirs fall.”

Schanzer elaborated on the emergence and proliferation of the Islamic State group since 2013.

“The group grew at an alarming rate,” Schanzer said. “They began to conquer territory not just in Syria but also in Iraq.”

Schanzer said the U.S. is not committed enough to “winning this war.”

“It’s a world war now,” Schanzer said. “We’ve got Belgium, France, Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar, the United States, EU and even Iran appears to be taking part of the war against ISIS.”

Schanzer also said people need to be more direct when addressing the group that the U.S. is “fighting” against. He said they need to identify religion as part of the problem if its ideology poses a threat.

“We need to reframe the conversation,” Schanzer said. “We need to be specific about who we are fighting in terms of groups but also in terms of ideology.”

He compared ISIS’ growth to that of Al-Qaeda, and said its “ideology is the reincarnation of Al-Qaeda” that “needs to be defeated.”

The fight against ISIS is not necessarily limited to military operation, Schanzer said. He said it extends to financial and ideological confrontations, which begin in discussions at educational institutions like NU.

Schanzer criticized a “BDS group on campus,” referring to Northwestern Divest, a student movement pushing for the University to divest endowment funds from six corporations allegedly involved in the violation of Palestinian human rights in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. NUDivest is pursuing the divestment aspect of the boycott, divest and sanctions (BDS) movement called for by Palestinian civil society to target companies that profit from the violation of human rights, as well as Israeli institutions.

“These guys are not pro-peace, and typically speaking, many of them lean toward the Islamist ideology,” Schanzer said. “They need to be fought as well.”

A Q&A followed the event.

“It was a really interesting perspective to hear,” Weinberg senior Sunjay Kumar said.

Kumar expressed concerns about the accuracy of Schanzer’s statements about NUDivest.

“Having met and talked to a lot of people who are in NUDivest, what he said is not necessarily true,” he said. “The majority of people are very critical of Hamas and the human rights abuses that are happening in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and the flaunting of international law.”

Kumar said because Palestinian civil society consists of many different coalitions, it is unfair to depict the entire movement as supporting violence.

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