George Diepenbrock
KU News Service

Media advisory: Experts can discuss ISIS beheadings of American journalists

Wed, 09/03/2014

LAWRENCE — The U.S. government confirmed Wednesday morning the second beheading of an American journalist in two weeks in the Middle East at the hands of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

ISIS released a video Tuesday showing the killing of freelance journalist Steven Sotloff, who was also an Israeli citizen, and ISIS leaders have said the killings are a result of recent American airstrikes in Iraq. Journalist James Foley was also executed in a similar ISIS video last month. University of Kansas faculty members are available to comment on the tactics of ISIS, the implications of a U.S. response and recent violence in the region.

Don Haider-Markel, professor and chairman of the Department of Political Science, can speak about the Middle East political situation and the terrorism tactics of groups like ISIS and al-Qaida. Haider-Markel's research includes terrorism, public policy and American politics.  

He said recent U.S. air strikes in Iraq have slowed ISIS down but also served to tell other actors in the region that America is willing to get involved. Still, he said, ISIS is not a massive army with major bases or supply lines, so the effects of air strikes are limited unless they are coordinated with on-the-ground intelligence and engagement by ground forces.

"All terrorism is theater, and the beheadings of two American journalists are a very ugly example of this dictum. The acts are gruesome but simple, and with inexpensive modern technology the act can be captured and widely displayed. The news media enhance the reach by sharing the video, describing it and asking others to describe what they see," Haider-Markel said. "All of this brings attention to the group and their cause, which can help to recruit new members. With the attention of the news media, and thereby the public, government leaders are forced to respond in some fashion. The group may even be trying to invoke a visceral reaction that leads governments to overreact or react without a real plan."

Marie Grace Brown, assistant professor in the Department of History, is a cultural historian of the modern Middle East with a special interest in imperialism, nation-building, gender and identity formation. She is available to comment on the historical, systemic factors that contribute to the rise of religious extremism.

"The first priority of ISIS is to gain adherents to its so-called Islamic state. The tragic murders of American journalists are clear attempts to provoke an emotional reaction from the U.S. government," Brown said. "Such an ill-considered response may alienate us from potential allies in the region and will not address the long-term issues that prompt people to turn to religious extremism."

Nazli Avdan, assistant professor of political science, is available to speak about transnational terrorism, particularly how conflicts tied to terrorist groups can spill across state borders. Avdan's broad research interests include international relations, international migration and transnational terrorism.

"The somewhat counterintuitive consensus is that terrorism, through intimidation and the spread of fear, is actually not effective in obtaining long-term goals. The use of publicity, does, however, serve shorter-term goals. For ISIS, these are more concrete goals: Seeking ransom and obtaining publicity. The militant group exploits media to that end," Avdan said. "ISIS has also been successful in obtaining new recruits and in luring away militants from other groups — from al-Qaida affiliates for instance — in part due to its brazenness."

To arrange an interview with Haider-Markel, Brown or Avdan, contact George Diepenbrock at or 785-864-8853.

Tears. Smiles. And hugs. That’s what Match Day brought as KU Medical Center’s first Salina class learned where they would go for their residencies — the next step in their medical training. See the Salina Journal’s report and photos: Tags: #KUworks #KUmatch #Match2015 University of Kansas Medical Center Salina Journal KU School of Medicine-Wichita

RT @kulibraries : #KUArtsWeek kicks off next week w/ fantastic events across campus! Learn more:…
Lauded race and class historian becomes KU Foundation Professor David Roediger’s award-winning research and writing has already transformed how historians view the growth of social freedoms in America though the intersection of race, class, ethnicity, and labor. Now Roediger, as KU’s first Foundation Distinguished Professor of History (, will continue to break new ground in those fields as he leads KU’s departments of American Studies and History. Roediger likes to study historical flash points — where one particular change brings a cascade of wider cultural changes. His latest book, “Seizing Freedom, Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All,” makes the point that as slaves began freeing themselves across the South during the Civil War, their emancipation inspired and ignited other cultural movements for freedom — such as the women’s movement for suffrage and the labor movement for better working conditions and an eight-hour day. Understanding the individual stories of average people who wanted to make their lives better, including slaves or factory workers, is important to understanding the wider political movements and elections, Roediger said. “It's tempting to think that all the important political questions have been decided,” he said, “but actually people are constantly thinking about what freedom would mean for them.”

One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
26 prestigious Rhodes Scholars — more than all other Kansas colleges combined
Nearly $290 million in financial aid annually
46 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
23rd nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets," Military Times