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Boston College Expert: ISIS, Terrorism

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Natana DeLong-Bas

Natana DeLong-Bas
Assistant Professor of the Practice
Theology Department and Islamic Civilizations & Societies Program
Boston College

(617) 552-3322 (o); (508) 423-8393 (c)

DeLong-Bas is an expert on Islam, the Middle East, Islamic law, women and gender, and terrorism and extremism. DeLong-Bas’ research focuses on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, issues related to Islam and women and gender issues, especially family law, religious extremism, and terrorism, particularly Al-Qaeda and ISIS. She is vice president of the American Council for the Study of Islamic Societies, editor-in-chief of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Women and author of the book Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad, which was named “1 of the 5 best books for understanding Islam” by the Wall Street Journal. She serves as a consultant to the United Nations, the media, and to U.S. and international governments and corporations. She has appeared on the BBC World and in the Boston Globe; her research has been cited in The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.  



Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik "seem to have started to radicalize around 2012 which is before the Islamic State even existed,” says Natana  DeLong-Bas, assistant professor of the practice in the Theology Department and Islamic Civilization & Societies Program at Boston College and Editor-in-Chief of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Women. “They had this idea of engaging in jihad, they had this idea of wanting to become martyrs and it may be that they chose the Islamic State because that was the only caliphate that was available at the time and because this was a hadith that they believed they needed to fulfill.” 

DeLong-Bas says if the couple had not found a valid caliph, they would not have been abiding by the particular hadith – the traditional account of things said or done by Muhammad – and salvation wouldn’t have been achievable.

“This hadith says if you do not proclaim allegiance to a valid caliph, even if you have lived a pious and righteous life, and you have fulfilled the pillars of Islam and you prayed every day, it won’t count,” said DeLong-Bas, author of the book, Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad. “It’s that pledge of allegiance to a caliph that ultimately matters. This was a matter of saving the soul rather than necessarily an indication that ISIS has been involved in the planning or financing.”

The apocalyptic End Times scenario to take down “the last remaining great empire” – the United States – in a ground war is at the heart of the ISIS plan, and the last thing President Obama wants to feed into, says DeLong-Bas.

“The Islamic State has an apocalyptic approach - they honestly believe that they have the responsibility to usher in the End Times,” says Delong-Bas. “They are specifically focused on a battle that’s supposed to take place in a town called Dabiq in Syria which they acquired last year. According to their apocalyptic literature, they want to draw these Western forces to Dabiq which is going to bring in the End Times scenario. Their efforts to draw the United States into a ground war really do have an apocalyptic tone to them and I think President Obama is trying to avoid playing into that ideology.

“This idea of human beings having a role to play in bringing about the apocalypse, bringing about the End Times, is not unique to the Islamic tradition but the Islamic State is using it politically in a way that can’t be overlooked.”

San Bernardino case:

“This should probably cause us to take a step back and think about some of our assumptions - which we always seem to assume only a man would be capable of making a terrorist attack or responding or engaging an agency. Because we know so little about the Tashfeen Malik, it’s possible she might have been the main organizer in this event and talked her husband into doing it. 

“We do have examples of women who have been radicalized before and there’s a tendency in the portrayals of them to assume that it had to have been for some kind of personal or emotional reason, that maybe the woman had lost a family member or suffered some sort of trauma as a child.

“We tend to deny women the capacity for political agency or for having political motives and goals. It may turn out to be that Malik was the one who was radicalized, who felt that she had a political agenda that she wanted to pursue and perhaps talked her husband into engaging this with her.

“We know far more about Syed Farook than we do about his wife. Malik seems to be a very nebulous figure.  Her ability to slip under the radar and not be suspected may have made it easier for her to engage in her activities. None of the neighbors seem to have known her, no one at the mosque knew her.”



The fact that ISIS is threatening more attacks in Europe and even a strike in the United States comes as no surprise to a Boston College terrorism expert, who says the group is shifting tactics by attacking “far enemies.” She wonders if the U.S. strategy to defeat ISIS is effective enough. 

“Up until this point most of the activities of ISIS have been limited to Iraq and Syria but over the last few weeks we have seen attacks on Shia mosques in Saudi Arabia, we have seen bombs go off in Beirut, ISIS claimed responsibility for bringing down that Russian airliner,” says Natana DeLong-Bas, Assistant Professor of the Practice in the Theology Department and Islamic Civilizations & Societies Program at Boston College. “Now we’re seeing these coordinated attacks in Paris.

“What this likely indicates is they have decided to take the fight outside of their own territories,” continues DeLong-Bas, author of the book, Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad. “It’s another example of a case where they are succeeding where Al-Qaida essentially failed. The leadership of Al-Qaeda for years went back and forth as to whether they should attack the near enemy – those who were closer to home first – or the far enemy. ISIS has been focusing on the near enemy but now they’re reaching beyond in a very spectacular fashion against the far enemy and they have succeeded there.”

In the video posted to propaganda websites of ISIS, a man praises the Paris attacks, threatens more attacks in Europe, then says the group won’t be stopped because it’s much stronger than before. DeLong-Bas, vice president of the American Council for the Study of Islamic Societies, agrees ISIS is stronger and more determined than ever.

“The longer ISIS has been allowed to grow and fester, the stronger it’s become geographically, financially, militarily. So even though there are reports that they’ve lost 25% of their territory, the attack in Paris was designed to show that they are here, they are strong, and they’re going to be very active.”

While Secretary of State John Kerry says the United States is on course to defeat ISIS, Delong-Bas, editor-in-chief of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Women, wonders how effective the strategy really is. 

“On the one hand, ISIS has lost significant portions of territory in recent days. On the other hand, they retain important land holdings, financial resources, and a strong military, both domestically and, sadly, as seen in Paris, trained operatives abroad. 

“A multi-tiered strategy addressing both short and long-term goals is needed - provision of security and elimination of ISIS' military capacity in the short term, but a stronger and more robust program for discrediting its morally bankrupt ideology while discouraging recruits by providing viable alternatives capable of responding to the needs of disaffected youth ISIS is currently attracting.”


Media Note: Information on Boston College faculty sources on a range of subjects is available at: /offices/pubaf/journalist/experts.html


Sean Hennessey
Associate Director
Office of News and Public Affairs
Boston College

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