ISIS experts testify on what it will take to defeat terrorism

The recent terrorist attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando has spurred calls for action to prevent similar future killings.

With GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump calling for a ban Muslim immigration to the U.S., some warn there could be greater implications if America singles out a class of people.

Hassan Hassan, a resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy testified during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee meeting on Tuesday morning, saying that to shut out people fleeing the brutality of ISIS is to miss out on vital intelligence those refugees can provide.

Subhi Nahas was a refugee himself. He spent 10 months being screened by the U.S. government before being allowed to enter the country. An outspoken advocate for LGBT rights, Nahas fled Syria in 2012 to Turkey because of persecution he received because of his sexual orientation.

“It’s very highly unlikely for the process to let any terrorists that comes,” Nahas told the committee. “It’s a highly intense process, which takes security background checks, a waiting period for over like at least a year and eye witnesses that they ask you a lot of personal questions.”   

Nadia Murad is a Yazidi rights advocate, one of hundreds of Yazidi women abducted and enslaved by ISIS. She has also been outspoken about her plight and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Through an interpreter, Murad offered her condolences to the victims of the Orlando attack and said that what happened to them was the same kind of atrocities she experienced under ISIS.

“Every country has the right to protect itself and protect its borders and its laws,” Murad said. “But the people who are escaping from the religious discrimination and genocide, they should not face closed doors. If the terrorists want to go someplace they can go regardless of the process and some of them have already immigrated.”

Murad said the only way to stop ISIS is to first stop it as an ideology and the Muslims need to be the first one to resist the group and its beliefs.

But according to Hasaan, those who prescribe to the ideologies of ISIS are a minority in the Muslim world and even within the organization itself.

Even al-Qaida, the militant group founded by Osama bin Laden and responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attack, sees civilian deaths as acceptable, but only as collateral damage. ISIS, on the other hand, sees it “as the preferred outcome,” Hasaan said.

The Orlando shooter belongs to the category of ISIS followers who believe in political ideology, the expert told the committee.

“He obviously didn’t follow their way of life, but he was probably still animated by this idea of the Islamic State,” Hasaan said. “The group swims in a sea of political failures in the region. … The group has built its narrative around Sunni victimization.”

But that region of the Middle East, in northern Iraq and Syria, had suffered similar violence before ISIS. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad ordered his pro-government militias in 2012 to storm villages and  slaughter women and children, smashing the heads of the condemned with rocks.   

“ISIS thrives in this context and should be defeated in this context to stem its international appeal,” Hasaan said. “This can only happen at the hands of the people ISIS claims to represent.”

And the very same people ISIS claims to represent are the very victims of their brutality, Hasaan said.

But to defeat your enemy is to know your enemy and Dr. Tarek Elgawhary, director of religious studies programs at the World Organization for Resource Development and Education, said he had isolated ISIS ideology into several categories and traced the beliefs to every modern extremist Islamic group.   

In doing so, Elgawhary’s methodology can be used to counter and “inoculate our youth” and future generations against the spread of Islamic extremism.

“Before ISIS, or ISIL, and other related groups declared war on our homeland, they declared war on Islam and this is not a threat to our homeland, not only a threat to our national security, but an existential threat to our religion,” Elgawhary told the committee. “Understanding the divine texts means understanding about a dozen different sciences, beginning with Arabic grammar, syntax, morphology, logic — all of these interpretive tools that we use to understand what does the text actually mean in the context in which it was revealed.”

Elgawhary believes the leaders in ISIS do not have even a fundamental grasp on what the religion is all about and how it should operate in the modern world.

“Violent and extremist groups like ISIL have no interpretation whatsoever, nor do they have a fundamental understanding of Islam,” Elgawhary said. “They are unlettered warmongers who have, in essence, created a parallel religion”

And that parallel religion is no more Islamic than a pool with a lemon squeezed in it is lemonade, he said.    

It’s partnerships, not isolationism as some politicians have said, that will win the war on terror.

“There’s not an appetite in this country for putting boots on the ground,” but there is an appetite to work with coalition to defeat ISIS, said the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.