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Emmanuel Professors Discuss the Violence in Paris

On November 20 Emmanuel College faculty organized a discussion responding to the November 13 terror attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad committed by Islamic State (IS).

The panel included Professors Melanie Murphy, Petros Vamvakas, Adam Silver, Jeffrey Fortin, Laurie Johnston, Rebecca Morrow, William Leonard, Helen MacDonald, and Campus Safety Chief Jack Kelly.

About 15 students were in attendance.

Vamvakas began the conversation by introducing the concept of political violence – violent acts engaged in for the sake of distinct political motives or statements. He reminded participants that the success of political violence is dependent upon public response, and finished by stating that the most essential arguments to consider were why the violence was committed, and how to most effectively and humanistically react to such egregious actions.

At this point in the discussion, Murphy interjected, asking the group, but particularly Vamvakas, to consider the question of why these acts were committed in the first place.

Vamvakas responded by reminding the group at large that the historical narrative of the United States begins hundreds of years after that of Europe and the Middle East. The days of the crusades, and intense Muslim/Christian violence are prehistoric by the United States’ standards, but lay the foreground for what Islamic State sees as justifiable violence against an overwhelmingly oppressive and Eurocentric historical narrative and global society.

Johnston, who is currently teaching the course War, Peace and Religions, which centers on the relationship between terrorism and religion, suggested that an effective way to look at Islamic State is to see it as a social movement.

While the group does incorporate some historical elements of Islam, such as the concept of an Islamic Caliphate, the majority of the beliefs espoused by the group have no legitimate pretense in Muslim tradition or literature, and manipulate not only the rhetoric of the religion, but the minds of recruits as well.

Remarking on the history of France, or more specifically Paris, as a beacon of the West, of Liberte and of Enlightenment, Fortin suggested that the location of Paris was particularly historically salient as a battleground for Islamic State.

Attempting to explain the geopolitical situation of the Middle East, Vamvakas likened it to a “Frankenstein,” a region in which foreign powers – namely the British and French– imposed state borders through the Sykes-Piquot Agreement without understanding the multiethnic, tribal populations that maintained a very delicate balance within the region. The result of this haphazard state formation has been a legacy fighting between states and tribes, and drastic socioeconomic inequality within the states themselves.

The Islamic State is attempting to carve out its own state or caliphate in Iraq and Syria, currently using a strategy Vamvakas termed “water or bust!” Currently landlocked, IS has no means for outside income, foreign imports, or a navy; in order to attain the potential for legitimacy – even a despotic legitimacy – IS must access water and create its own ports.

“State failure is what I believe this conflict can be boiled down to,” asserted Silver. Many people in the Middle East, but particularly young men, feel completely disenfranchised from their respective states. An active and utopic response such as Islamic State allows these young men to feel as if they have regained control over their own destinies, and to begin to access a quality of life which the state is incapable of providing.

Johnston suggested that it is the combination of these political, social, and historical factors, wrapped in the language of religion, that have made Islamic State the powerful force for recruitment and terror that it is today.

“Violence such as that seen in Paris is performance violence,” Johnston stated, “It is done for publicity, in order to evoke a response from the global community.”

Faculty came to the consensus that a group such as Islamic State has the intention of creating international and intranational divides. It is up to the individuals to determine how we react to such acts of violence and determine its success or failure.

Posted by on December 1, 2015. Filed under Around Campus. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.