Expert discusses radicalism, foreign policy

Article by: Jeff Fish and Tom Logan

“There needs to be a more realistic view of Islam”

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a short man with big credentials when it comes to the study of radical Islam, which is why Suffolk GOP and the Foreign Policy Forum partnered to host a roundtable discussion featuring the successful Middle Eastern expert. Gartenstein-Ross is the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Director for the Center for Terrorism Research, and has been published in numerous scholarly journals and newspapers including The Middle East Quarterly, The Washington Times, and The Wall Street Journal of Europe.

He’s also testified for the U.S. Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and is the author of My Year Inside Radical Islam: A Memoir.

The discussion kicked off when Phillip Smyth asked about his experiences working with Al Harman, a radical Islam Charity linked to terrorist organizations. Gartenstein-Ross didn’t go into much detail mostly because he “feels bored” talking about his experiences. “One experience isn’t the end all be all experience.”

The rest of the event carried on the same way with Gartenstein-Ross responding to questions from the audience.

Gartenstein-Ross defined radicalism from the output, in this case, violence in service to a cause. He also stated that there is no clear linear, single-step process to becoming a radical. He then gave criticism of an NYPD study about radicalization and their concept of four stages to becoming a radical, saying that it’s also wrong to ascribe radicalism to religion alone and that Gartenstein-Ross stated that there four main reasons for religious beliefs—a desire for wealth, a desire for power, and a desire for recognition.

Gartenstein-Ross joked that having a lot of sex is one reason that people become extremists. “If you look at the terrorists, you’d see their sexual deviants.” He recalled an incident in which a captured terrorist’s laptop was seized the most accessed file on was called blonde on blonde, “which isn’t a Bob Dylan song.”

He also said that humiliation is a big factor in the rhetoric of radicalization. Gartenstein-Ross said that radical Islam isn’t necessarily growing, but that it depends on the country. He compared the recruitment process for radical Islamic groups like Al Quada to Harvard University because they get many applicants but only accept a few. “[Recruiters] like to come in, and speak to people about radical Islamic ideals, telling people that they’re bound for hell unless they turn to the Jihadist movement.”

Right now the west has two views on Islam, according to Gartenstein-Ross. There’s one view that Islam is peace and “True Islam” is different from the kind of Islam taught to Al-Qaeda members. The problem with this view is that most people that make this claim have never really read Muslim scriptures like the Quran from cover to cover. The second view is the belief that Islam is the problem, to which Gartenstein-Ross said, “Anyone who’s known a Muslim or a handful of Muslims could tell you that’s just not true.” Another problem with this view is that it relegates all theological ground to people like Osama Bin Laden by saying his definition of Islam is what Islam actually is. There needs to be a more realistic view of Islam in order to dull both arguments, he said.

“It’s not like what we did back during the Cold War; we would have people who would put themselves in the shoes of Soviet officials to see things from their point of view before passing judgment. The problem with doing the same for Islam is we tend to make judgments too early,” said Gartenstein-Ross.

Junior Mike Gomez asked for Gartenstein-Ross’ opinion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gartenstein-Ross says that he supports the surge in Afghanistan like he did with Iraq, though he thinks going into Iraq was a mistake in the first place. If the United States were to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, it would be similar to the 1990s: the Soviet Union left and war lords fought over control of the country. Gartenstein-Ross acknowledged that the Taliban will never be completely eliminated and when the United States finally pulls out of the Middle East, there will be insurgents, but the goal is to pull out when the Afghan government is stable enough to contain them.

Gomez later asked why there is such an animosity towards Western civilization despite all the things it has done for humanity. Gartenstein-Ross replied, “They love the technology but hate the culture.”

The event wrapped up after about an hour and went well according to Foreign Policy Forum co-founder, senior David Daoud. “I think it produced a very vibrant discussion. The questions that were asked were all important to the subject. Daveed got his point across really well and over all it was a great success.”

According to Suffolk GOP President Karl Hoffman, 2011, there were over 40 people in attendance at one point. “I think that the attendance and interest on campus was huge. I counted at the peak a little over 40 people in the room. We had people from both sides of the aisle, which I think was good. It really helped to keep the discussion interesting and I hope this will be a jumping off point to really start talking about national security issues.”

Senior Phillip Smyth, Foreign Policy Forum co-founder said, “As you can see, a lot of people were entertained and intrigued and we need more events like this. I think that Suffolk would do a great job if they encouraged more of this.”

Layla Albalooshi, a grad student from the United Arab Emirates enjoyed the event, but didn’t agree with everything Gartenstein-Ross had to say. “It was good, but he really marginalized Islam. There are many schools of Islam but he didn’t really talk about all of them.”