During the month of November, International House is hosting three panels focused on conflict in Israel and Palestine, Iraq, and Ukraine.

International House, Turath House, and the Bayit held a panel on Wednesday, Nov. 12 called “ISIS & the U.S. – The Reemergence of Western Intervention in the Middle East” that focused on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terrorist group in relation to the United States. This was the second panel in a three-part International Conflict Panel Discussion Series. The panelists consisted of Assistant Professor of Government Ioana Matesan; Adjunt Instructor in Arabic Abderrahman Aissa; and Professor of Religion Peter Gottschalk; as well as Rajaa Elidrissi ’16.

The “ISIS & the U.S.” panelists touched on the role of media, the United States, Islamophobia, and Syria in ISIS’s development. All panelists seemed to agree that ISIS had utilized media attention to garner support from sympathizers and spread its message around the globe.

Gottschalk spoke to the planned actions that ISIS has taken in order to attract global media attention.

“When you think about the beheadings of the journalists, these were incredibly intentionally staged events meant to be YouTube sensations as well as news media sensations,” Gottschalk said.

Aissa observed the lack of attention the U.S. media gave to ISIS prior to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s announcement of the group.

“I don’t know why we sat on it [the rise of ISIS] for such a long time,” Aissa said. “We saw the Russian troops as soon as they crossed the border to Ukraine, but we didn’t see this danger going for months.”

The event also allowed for students to pose questions to the panelists and make comments of their own. International House Manager Aarit Ahuja ’16, the event’s organizer, served as the moderator and raised questions such as how the United States might go about intervening on a larger scale.

The format of the talks allows students the opportunity to listen to a panel of experts and discuss relevant topics in international affairs. In addition to “ISIS & the U.S.”, the series’ topics include “Israel & Palestine – Finding Common Ground” and “Ukraine & Russia – What Is To Be Done.” Ahuja hopes to move the conversation on these difficult issues in the direction of solutions.

“A lot of the questions that I pose at these panels are with the intention of figuring out a way for resolution to these conflicts,” Ahuja said. “My questions are primarily not about ‘is this person right, is this person wrong,’ but more, given these two parties and this history, what are ways to meet in the middle.”

Ahuja’s questions for the panelists align with his goals for the discussion series more broadly. He hopes that the panels encourage open discussion.

“We’ve tried to make it as diverse as possible so we can have a well-rounded, balanced discussion,” he said. “I prepare a list of questions ahead of time that I [posed] to the panel. Anyone in the panel can respond to me, and hopefully that ropes the audience in a little bit.”

This desire for inclusivity also motivated the establishment of the panel series as a whole.

“I was thinking of ways to engage my house and other students on campus,” Ahuja said. “We started talking about international issues. One of the things that stood out to me as a possible thing we could talk about was conflict.”

Ahuja collaborated with Molly Zuckerman ’16 of Russian House, Nisha Grewal ’17 of Turath House, and Ian Rice ’17 of the Bayit to organize the discussion series.

Zuckerman stated that each house manager focused on the panel most closely related to hir respective house’s theme.

“Aarit approached me because he was picking houses that had any sort of international ties,” Zuckerman said. “He chose Russian House simply because of the recent conflict in Ukraine.”

The series coordinators have also reached out to various student groups around campus. Last week’s panel on Israel and Palestine involved the participation of both J Street U and United with Israel. Students for Justice in Palestine was also contacted, but they declined to partake in the event, instead releasing a statement suggesting that these discussions promote an image of pseudo-equality between the two sides, effectively normalizing the issue.

“We read out that statement at the beginning of our event,” Ahuja said. “It was [an] important thing that they brought up, and we were able to use that to springboard our discussion.”

Hazem Fahmy ’17 has attended both of the panels held so far and stated that the discussion they foster is essential.

“I think this kind of dialogue is absolutely crucial for all parties involved,” Fahmy said. “[It’s] really important because a lot of people, especially those who come [from] backgrounds where they are not very familiar with these [kinds] of issues, come in with misconceptions; they don’t really know how to talk about them.”

Having grown up in Egypt himself, Fahmy expressed enthusiasm towards opportunities that allow University students to learn about world affairs.

“[The panels provide] a safe space for people to ask questions that otherwise would be offensive or thought of as dumb, which I think are very important to be voiced,” Fahmy said.

The final panel in the series, focused on the recent conflict between Russia and Ukraine, will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 19 in Albritton 311.

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