In the wake of the attack on Paris that left 130 dead, many are concerned that ISIS has shifted its focus toward global aggression rather than the insurgency in Iraq and Syria. University of Pittsburgh associate professor and terrorism expert Michael Kenney has analyzed the situation in the Middle East and addressed the potential effectiveness of a global coalition fighting ISIS.
While the recent attacks may seem more focused, Kenney pointed out that this is not the first time ISIS has called for strikes to the Western world. Although ISIS strongly encourages sympathizers to go to Syria and join in the fight, the organization also instructs those who cannot travel to attack their home countries instead.
The organization and scale of what happened in Paris distinguished the attack, according to Kenney. He pointed out that past aggressions were “low level” carried out by “lone wolves,” rather than organized groups.
Despite the increased scale of violence and sophistication by ISIS terrorists, Kenney believes that “community resilience” remains important in responding to these attacks.
“If we completely give in to our fears, we let the bad guys win,” Kenney said. “The power of terrorism is that it seeks to shock us and overwhelm us and provoke this sort of emotional response.”
The Paris attacks reignited controversy over the Syrian refugee crisis. More than half of the nation’s governors have said that they will not allow Syrian refugees into their state. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto received criticism and threats over his decision to accept refugees. Despite the perceived danger, Kenney holds faith in the U.S. screening process.
“I think one thing for us to think about in respect to his problem is just remembering that Syrian refugees that participate in the resettlement policy to the United States face the most rigorous screening of just about anyone entering the US,” Kenney said.
In its totality, the entire screening process can take two to three years, Kenney explained, consisting of multiple interviews, background checks and surveillance. But, another factor may be at work helping to keep the U.S. safe.
“The U.S., this is to our credit, we’ve done a better job integrating immigrants from other countries into the United States,” Kenney said. “People can participate, learn the language, get jobs and become productive tax paying citizens.”
Comparatively, Europe tends to treat immigrants poorly, according to Kenney. European immigrants often find themselves living in poor neighborhoods, unable to get a job and lacking support from social service programs.
This poor treatment can result in a higher number of immigrants, particularly young men, turning to extremist groups like ISIS. While the U.S. estimates between 100 to 200 Americans have left to join the terrorist group, countries like Belgium and France have become the biggest contributor of foreign fighters to the organization.
“They’re literally dealing with thousands and thousands of these angry, young, alienated people that are getting radicalized into this interpretation. So for them, they really are struggling to keep up with the magnitude of that threat.”
Kenney suggests a possible solution would include “countering the narrative,” in which countries reach out to their vulnerable immigrant population and offer support so these people don’t fall into radical organizations. This can be accomplished, Kenney says, by working with other countries to ensure everyone knows the mission and can use their resources to fight the terrorist group.
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