WASHINGTON — Witnesses told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee of the strategic importance of ISIS’ territorial control to its success. What’s more, witnesses pointed out that even if ISIS attracts only a tiny fringe of the world’s Muslim population to its barbaric ideology, its potential adherents could number in the millions.
Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) led what he said was the first in a series of hearings on ISIS. The one held Wednesday was titled, “Inside the Mind of ISIS: Understanding its Goals and Ideology to Better Protect the Homeland.”
Military defeats would mitigate the threat by reducing, but not eliminate the ultimate appeal of ISIS’ ideology, witnesses told the committee. Lorenzo Vidino, director of The George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, testified that “the appeal of living in this utopian Islamic society is cited by the vast majority of the American ISIS sympathizers.” The group’s “territoriality” is its main appeal, he said. Jessica Stern, a professor at the Pardee School for Global Studies at Boston University, testified to the widespread nature of ISIS: “It is important to point out that, as you say, this organization is now in many parts of the world. In Libya, it’s very important, Afghanistan, and it’s also here. It is an ideology that is also here.”
Johnson asked witnesses what percentage of the world’s Muslim population would identify with this extreme version of radical Islam or Islamic terrorism — noting that even 1% of a worldwide population of 1.6 billion would be 16 million people. Witnesses confirmed that even a small percentage of people identifying with this movement would still be a very large number.
Johnson later commented, while speaking with CNN, about another point made by witnesses: “What attracts people? Is there a typical background that attracts someone to this ideology? And the answer is there is none. The diversity of people who have joined this fight, it makes it really difficult for us to really identify those and prevent it. … That’s why you get back to the main goal with ISIS is they have to be defeated.”
As the hearing concluded, Johnson said, “My top priority for this committee for 2016 is to help ensure that the federal government is fulfilling its responsibility to do everything it can to keep our nation safe and protect the American people…We did lay out some realities here. I think we helped further define the problem, and it is incredibly complex, and it’s going to be a long-term project to solve it.”
Watch the full hearing here.
Johnson’s opening statement can be found here.
Witness testimony can be found here.