As a former U.S. Middle East peace negotiator, Dennis Ross understands why ISIS continues to get recruits, even though those recruits know they will die soon and violently.
“It appeals to those who feel completely disaffected; it appeals to those who are alienated, who feel left out. They create a sense that they offer a prescription for purity. Their claim is that they have a divine mandate and you can be part of something heroic. They’re slick in terms of their presentation on social media. Like many such groups that preceded them, they claim to explain what’s wrong and they offer a prescription for how to make everything right.”
Ross, author of the new book “Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama” will discuss “The Past, The Present and Future of U.S.-Israel Relations” on April 6 at 7 p.m. at the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies Jeffrey Plevan Memorial Lecture. The free event, which will begin with a reception at 6 p.m., will be held in the University of Arizona’s new Environment and Natural Resources 2 building, 1064 E. Lowell St.
“What I’ll talk about is how to understand the Middle East these days, how to approach it from the standpoint of organizing principles, meaning what is driving the threats we see, how do we understand these threats, how do we respond to those threats,” he says. “I see basically a conflict over identity and the struggle to define identity, so you see a struggle between radical Islamists who are radical Sunnis and radical Shiites fighting each other sometimes, radical Islamists and non-Islamists trying to determine who owns and defines Islam, and I see a threat to the state system.”
Ross says ISIS believes it defines Islam and he sees a correlation between what is happening in Israel and ISIS.
“Many Islamist groups are apocalyptic in character but what’s different about ISIS is that ISIS actually believes that it needs to create the apocalypse; it needs to create cataclysmic struggle so it’s working to that end,” he says. “Part of what you see going on in Israel right now, with the stabbings, 80 percent [of the perpetrators] are under the age of 20 and they have this image of being a heroic martyr and many of them, if you look at those who’ve survived, when they’ve been interrogated by the Israelis afterwards, they tend to be rebellious outcasts, they feel like they’re outsiders, and here’s something that gives them a sense of status. The appeal is much the same for ISIS as it is for those who are drawn to this.”
Ross is the William Davidson Distinguished Fellow and counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is also a distinguished professor in the practice of diplomacy at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He was the director of policy planning in the State Department under George H. W. Bush, was Bill Clinton’s Middle East peace envoy and served as special assistant to President Barack Obama.
“[Ross] has been involved in U.S.-Israel relations really since the ‘80s, so he’s got a longstanding, bipartisan working relationship between the United States government and Israel and issues pertaining to that,” says John Winchester, outreach coordinator for the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies. “With the Iran agreement, turmoil in the Middle East, and the nature of the friction between President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, people want to know, where are we going from here? He’s going to create a back story, analyzing the present for the purpose of gauging what the future might look like in U.S.-Israel relations. In terms of U.S. perspective and U.S. policy, he’s probably the number one person to talk about it.”
The event is cosponsored by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and the Marriott Tucson University Park. For more information, call 626-5759 or visit judaic.arizona.edu.