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07.21.16 – Luncheon Notes

SPOKES Notes by Roger Morgenstern

Dr. Jonathan White gave us a very interesting historical prospective on ISIS (also known as the Islamic State) and its effect on current day’s events. It was an interesting viewpoint and not one captured in the daily news headlines.

While Dr. White is now full time as a professor of interdisciplinary studies in the Frederik Meijer Honors College at Grand Valley State University, his past roles have included consulting with and advising the FBI and CIA.

He has studied the issue of strife and unrest in the world, including the Middle East, and said a long view is necessary. “As a society, we do not think about historical change or social change over time.”

White said today’s ISIS is nothing new, calling it “a militant political movement that starts in Islam in the Middle Ages.

He said he continues to believe that Islam is not a violent religion, but those with aims of disrupting the organizations in power in the Middle East are using religious reasons for their actions, even if it’s not right.

White said the current rise in ISIS has its roots in 2010 when the U.S. largely left Iraq, but he’s not pointing fingers just at the Obama administration.

“There’s plenty of blame to go around with both political parties,” he said. “You can argue we should have never invaded and should have never left when we did…ISIS is essentially a secular Baathist movement in Iraq and it’s not going away anytime soon.”

In response to a Rotarian’s question, White chuckled about the discussion among policymakers over what to call the movement, saying “I don’t care what you call it…One (president) called it a war on terror and the other didn’t want to use the world terrorism….instead opting for calling it a ‘violent criminal extremist group’. ”

White said the outbreak of violent attacks across Europe by ISIS is “a sign of weakness….The weaker they become the more terrorism we will see.”

Social media is “the new battle field,” White said. “There’s an old, slow media and social media which is immediate and allows you to control the message.”

White said the best tool the U.S. has to combat terrorism is the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is run by the FBI and includes an office in Grand Rapids. He said this task force helps “break down barriers” we have in the justice system in America “and is our best bet domestically.” He said one change he would make, if he could, was to make the task force “intelligence based” and not just based on cases that are opened by law enforcement.

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