IU experts discuss Paris attacks, ‘homegrown’ terrorism threat

The attacks that struck Paris on Friday produced understandable fear among Europeans and Americans, a panel of Indiana University faculty experts said Wednesday. But the widespread response of cracking down on refugees fleeing the violence in Syria is misguided, they said.

“We’re looking at homegrown terrorists,” said Elizabeth Dunn, an associate professor of geography and international studies. “And this has been the preferred modus operandi for ISIS. Paris has been attacked by Belgians, but our attention has been turned to Syrian refugees.”

IU faculty member Elizabeth Dunn speaks as part of a panel that includes, from left, Feisal Istrabadi, Robert Kravchuk, Leslie Lenkowsky, Rajendra Abhyankar and Mark Levin.

IU faculty member Elizabeth Dunn speaks as part of a panel that includes, from left, Feisal Istrabadi, Robert Kravchuk, Leslie Lenkowsky, Rajendra Abhyankar and Mark Levin.

Experts from the School of Global and International Studies and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs discussed the attacks with an overflow crowd of about 150 people in the Global and International Studies Building auditorium. Besides Dunn, panelists included Feisal Istrabadi of SGIS and Rajendra Abhyankar, Mark Levin, Leslie Lenkowsky and Robert Kravchuk of SPEA.

The discussion came days after attackers from the Islamic State group – also known as ISIS or ISIL – carried out shootings and bombings at locations in Paris, killing 129 people and injuring more than 350.

Istrabadi, director of the IU Center for the Study of the Middle East and former Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, said the attacks were terrifying, but people in much of the Middle East have lived with such terror for years.

“As horrific as the events in Paris are, events like this have been happening in the Middle East for over a decade,” he said. “ISIL and al-Qaida and their fellow travelers have killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims, by orders of magnitude.”

Abhyankar, who served as India’s ambassador to Syria, said the Paris attacks were almost identical to attacks in Mumbai, India, that took place in November 2008, killing 164 people. In each case, he said, the cities showed their resilience by quickly returning to normal life. While supporting the need to fight back against terrorists, he cautioned, “It’s not a fight against Islam. It’s a fight against ISIL.”

Lenkowsky, also a professor in SPEA, agreed that the Paris attackers were homegrown and not recent immigrants. But he argued that Western democracies may be ill equipped to respond to threats from those who don’t share their values of tolerance and freedom.

Several panelists criticized U.S. officials, including Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, for trying to bar entry for Syrian refugees. But Lenkowsky said it’s not just U.S. officials who worry about refugees. Denmark, he said, has produced a vibrant anti-immigration movement “that even Donald Trump would love.”

Dunn, who spent six years following refugee camps in the Republic of Georgia, said it’s a mistake to think Syrian refugees, many of them Muslim, are unlikely to integrate into American society. She said people had the same worry about hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who immigrated during the Vietnam War and Cubans who fled to Florida after the 1959 revolution.

“In fact,” she said, “they integrated very well.”

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