Over 350 students, faculty and community made standing room only in the Harre Union Ballrooms to listen to Historian Juan Cole speak on ISIS and the Iraq War.
The presentation entitled, "The Iraq War and the Origins of ISIS," discussed the role the war had on both people of the Middle East and the International Community.
Juan Cole has spent 30 years researching the relationship between the Western civilization and the Muslim community. Cole, who is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, has written many works regarding this topic during his tenure. Most recently his book, "The New Arabs: How the Wired and Global Youth of the Middle East Is Transforming It," where he discussed the wants and desires of Arab youth, as well as their impact on global politics.
After a warm introduction from Dr. Chuck Schaefer, Professor Dept. of History, and fellow colleague Dr. Melanie Trexler (see Features pg. 5), Cole took to the stage. He explained that Iraq's delicate and complex history since the beginning of time has created a consistently vacant seat in the government. "People in Iraq were in search of a leader," he noted.
Dr. Cole discussed how the rise of the Baath Party in 1968 would be the start of a very dire time for Iraqi civilians. With Saddam Hussein on Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr's side as second in command, they set out to impose authoritarian rule.
Torture, human right violations and genocide began to ensue as Hussein took power until the arrival of U.S. troops in 2003, when the regime had fallen.
Cole told the audience that the torture and oppression that people experienced in the Middle East, like Kurdistan who, "may not be genetically different are certainly linguistically different," continued through the 90's.
Not all of Hussein's war tactics were volatile. A goal that his regime had was to to force all of the Kurdish youth to learn Arabic and as generations proceeded, Arabic would remain the native tongue in the Middle East.
Refusing to cooperate, Hussein killed 500,000 Iraqi Kurds through chemical weaponry and other horrific ways. This created an uproar from people outside of Hussein's regime and allies of the U.S. like Shiite Muslims who fired 100,000 Sunni-Arab employees and hired Shiites in their place.
His message ended with a call to action claiming the issue with ISIS is not a Middle East domestic concern, but rather a concern for our global community. Cole said that while tensions may appear to improving, depending on whose point of view one is considering, the process of eradication could take up to 15 years. Dr. Schaefer echoed Dr. Cole's comment, who said that while ISIS seems to be thousands of miles away, understanding the gravity of the situation is imperative for Americans.
"The fact is we are separated by two oceans, so it is hard for people to even begin to think about what is actually going on over there," Schaefer said.
Cole's talk was well-received by the audience. Shadrach Holland, a junior biology and history major, took Islam theology last semester which made understanding the current updates in the Middle East easier to understand.
"By learning the culture and the way of the people," Holland said, "you get a better and honest version of what is truly happening."
Marie Chetcutti, a junior international service major, echoed Holland. She said that understanding the history of the region allowed her to see the situations that have arisen most recently with a different perspective. "Dr. Cole's talk was extremely beneficial to me," she added, "it provided foundational information on the rise and evolution of ISIS as an international terrorist."
Since Dr. Cole's speech, President Barack Obama wrote to Congress on Feb. 11 to allow for a more constructive attempt to eradicate ISIS that would not necessarily increase ground troops.
While it appears to be a step in the right direction based on the points Juan Cole addressed, one thing is for certain; people are now becoming more educated on what is truly going on.
John Fioretti, senior meteorology major and ROTC student, applauded the university for bringing speakers like Dr. Cole to educate the Valpo body. "It is important that we are always open to learning new things," he said. "A one-sided view of anything is not useful."