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Violent Extremism in the Name of Religion

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On Thursday, September 22, Peace Islands Institute Connecticut hosted a lecture titled “Violent Extremism in the Name of Religion” by Dr. Hasan Tahsin Arslan from Pace University.

Dr. Arslan began his lecture with an overview of the history of terrorism since the 1970s that emerged with Greek anarchist groups, “Post Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, terrorist groups began to move towards Asia, and not until the 1990s terrorism was present in the Middle East”. According to Dr. Arslan, one of the benchmarks of this big shift is the impact of 9/11 that gave birth to more terrorist organizations. For those interested in researching more about the past of violence, he shared some of the ideologies from “Holy Terror vs. Left-Wing Terror” by Jessica Stern, who’s a prominent leader in religious studies.

Following the history of terrorist acts; Dr. Arslan went into more depth about formed organizations and stated that it was highly crucial to understand their standards and guidelines in order to fight back. The foundation of such ideology was Mark Sager, a British journalist who monitored terrorist organizations. After being a captive in one of the deadly terrorist organizations over 6 months, Sager said “Researchers need to talk to terrorists themselves in order to better understand them”.

Based on data received from government intelligence agencies, Dr. Arslan said, “The number one reason of recruitment in most terrorist organizations is through friendship, 68% of all members are recruited through their friends and relatives”. They either collectively decides to join or follow their childhood friends’ paths. Kinship with 20% and discipleship with 10% were among the reasons for recruitment. Of those who are recruited, 78% are married, and the average age is recorded as 25.

Dr. Arslan identified the Islam religion as being hijacked by extremist, terrorist groups. However, the informed us those most new recruiters are associated with Salafi Islam, which are identified as “Early Muslims”. The Salafis, according to Dr. Arslan, are a minority group that evolved in one of the most “deadliest” terrorist organization of 21st century, ISIS, which was founded by Musa Al Zakabi in 1999.
Dr. Arslan stated that ISIS didn’t encounter until 2013, and declared their caliphate in June 29, 2014 after dissatisfaction with west; “ISIS is copying the terror methods of Ghangiz Khan, operating like a bell-run company with a core group from Syria and Iraq”. According to US Intelligence, 7,000 fighters are in Syria, and 3,000 in Iraq, perhaps, 5,000 are foreign.

Identified as the most deadly organization, killing more than anyone, ISIS is one of the richest, encompassing assets worth of 2 million dollars, “After fall of Mosul, ISIS seized money from Mosul’s Central Bank, has taken their oil rings”. Based on the data Dr. Arslan shared from intelligence agencies, among its members, young women, foreign fighters and psychopaths are seen. Interestingly, the 2015 poll suggests that 16% of ISIS members were French, of which 27% are supported by youth.

Dr. Arslan firmly stated that ISIS did not preach true Islam whatsoever, and the cause of their existence was the return of khilafacy. He believes that they, like any other terrorist organizations, are corrupting justice on earth.

Professor from Pace University ended the lecture with his own analysis “The solution to violent extremism begins in your community”. He supported his thesis with Charlie Wilson’s quote “Break the vicious cycle with education and dialogue”.

Hasan Tahsin Arslan, J.D., Ph.D.
BIOGRAPHY: Dr. Arslan has law degree from Marmara University in Istanbul, Turkey. He earned his doctorate in criminal justice from Sam Houston State University (Huntsville, TX) with a doctoral thesis that has one of the largest Eco-terrorism databases in the world.
Prior to his academic life, Dr. Arslan spent nine years working as the Assistant Director of Collection for the Institute for the Study of Violent Groups (ISVG), where he contributed to the development of a database capable of tracking more than 2000 global and domestic extremist groups. The ISVG database was one of five finalists chosen for the 2007 Mitretek Innovations Award in Homeland Security, an award given by the Ash Institute at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Currently, Dr. Arslan teaches both graduate and undergraduate level courses for Criminal Justice & Security Department at Pace University.

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