Yankton lawyer, Army Reservist, and Yankton County GOP chair Jason Ravnsborg brought his “Islam and ISIS” slideshow to Aberdeen today. He gave about 50 Brown County Republicans (plus at least a couple non-Republican observers) the 40-minute version of a presentation that he says sometimes runs a couple hours.
Ravnsborg tells me he’s not running for anything; he’s just touring the state (ten events so far on this topic, and more to come) to educate South Dakotans about Islam and the self-proclaimed Caliphate in Syria and Iraq.
The audience questions and comments following Ravnsborg’s lecture suggest South Dakotans need a lot of education:
- There are a lot of Muslims on our government. Are they in the CIA?
- I heard there are ISIS cells in every state!
- Why do we have to buy oil from ISIS?
- What government agency did you say was invaded by Muslims?
- I heard Obama appointed Muslim Brotherhood members….
- I heard Obama gave money to the Muslim Brotherhood….
- Don’t the Muslims want to bring Sharia law here? I heard court rulings in 26 states have followed Sharia law and not the Constitution….
- I heard 80% of mosques in this country are training jihadists.
All of those comments were made by audience members. Jason Ravnsborg did not affirm any of them. He outright contradicted the third, saying we don’t buy oil from ISIS. He said there are people of all faiths in all parts of our government. He said he does not want people to come away from his presentation thinking all Muslims are bad, but he acknowledged that the Muslims fighting for the Islamic State are fighting for their version of Armageddon—for Muslims, the battle heralding the end of the world takes place at Dabiq, in Syria—and folks convinced the end times are coming can be hard to reason with.
Yet I get the uneasy impression that Ravnsborg’s restrained responses to those comments did little to dispel the evidently rampant misinformation. In fact, his history lecture, far from educating conservative listeners away from their media-stoked Islamophobia, may actually stoke their irrational fears:
What do you mean, irrational? I know all about the history of Islam, now that I’ve listened to that Yankton guy’s 40-minute slideshow. He’s an expert, and now I’m an expert, and I know those Muslims are coming to get us!
Ravnsborg told his audience that he deals in facts and sources. His presentation stuck mostly with historical facts. Yet even Ravnsborg could not filter all Islamophobic misinformation from his slides.
Ravnsborg presented the above slide near the end of his presentation, where it likely stuck in his viewers minds more vividly than most of his detailed material. “ISIS: Map of 5 year plan”—a black plague exploding from the cradle of the Prophets and seizing Saudi Arabia, India, North Africa, and (gasp!) the Iberian Peninsula in five years.
Four, actually: this map was published last year. Let’s look more closely at that map, which Ravnsborg appears to have borrowed from Breitbart:
Oh, what the heck—let’s look at that map in Arabic, because it’s the original and it’s scarier:
ABC News published this “Terrifying ISIS Map” on July 3, 2014, as ISIS declared itself the restored Caliphate (abolished in 1924 by the Turkish Great National Assembly under the very sensible and secular Kemal Ataturk to support Turkey’s transformation into a modern state and, Ravnsborg adds, to get the victorious Western powers off Turkey’s back).
This map is also flawed:
…[E]xperts say the graph does not represent the traditional mindset of a caliphate, which is what ISIS declared itself June 30 when it also changed its name to the Islamic State.
“The idea of the map is kind of screwed up,” Hossein Kamaly, an expert on Middle Eastern history and Islamic studies at Barnard College, said.
…[T]here is no clear evidence that ISIS played a part in making and distributing the map. In fact, experts say, if ISIS had made the map, it shows the groups’ “idea of [the] Muslim past is flawed,” Kamaly said [Erin Banco, “That Map of the ISIS 5-Year Conquest Plan? Flawed, Experts Say,” International Business Times, 2014.07.07].
…or, more accurately, bogus:
Let’s stop this meme right now, shall we? ISIS didn’t even make the map—and a neofascist group is circulating it [Mark Strauss, “That ISIS “Caliphate Map” Is Bogus, So Stop Freaking Out,” io9, 2014.07.01].
Yeah, really. Third Position’s original June 16, 2014, Tweet of that Arabic map includes subsequent statements in which they say “The Polish sat on German land & got cocky with the Germans negotiating for it who only wanted a corridor. Poland became aggressive,” and that World War II was “needless. It was fought by #Britain & #America due to the #Jewish banking interests that controlled them.” Third Position also took time on this July 4th to proclaim that the Third Reich and the Nazi Party are the legitimate government of “occupied” Germany.
But never mind Third Position. Let’s talk to a real expert on Islam and the Islamic State:
“It’s an old image put out by fans of the group,” says Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who also maintains a blog, Jihadology.net, that analyzes primary source material produced by Islamist movements. “There is nothing official about it nor is there some alleged 5-year plan” [Tim Fernholz, “Don’t Believe the People Telling You to Freak out over This ‘ISIL’ Map,” Quartz, 2014.07.01].
Thanks to the Internet, this “ISIS Map” was debunked almost immediately after it gained widespread media attention. Yet it keeps coming back, here, here thanks to Walid Shoebat, and now here in Aberdeen.
Before the questions got ugly, a woman in today’s Brown County GOP audience asked Ravnsborg, “Are you an advisor to the White House? You should be!” Yet Ravnsborg can’t fact-check a simple map that was shown a full year ago to be the product not of Islamic terrorists drunk on the apocalypse but pro-White Fascists.
Ravnsborg also appears unaware of the current realities of U.S. strategy against the Islamic State. When I asked Ravnsborg whether ISIS represents a sufficiently dire threat to justify a full-on U.S. invasion (you know, like in the good old days, when America declared real war and solved problems John Wayne-style) and, if not, what most urgent and responsible steps he would recommend. At no point did Ravnsborg embrace unilateral U.S. war-making. Instead, he complained that first we need to establish a plan, which he said President Obama has admitted recently we do not have.
The president did not call for more bombs or more troops, but instead announced a shifting focus to counter ISIL’s public relations machine while training local forces to sustain progress made on the ground there.
“There’s a cause, a coalition that’s united countries across the globe, some 60 nations including Arab partners,” Obama said, flanked by his top military advisers at the Pentagon briefing room. “Our comprehensive strategy against ISIL is harnessing all elements of American power across our government — military, intelligence, diplomatic, economic development, and perhaps most importantly the power of our values.”
While the vast majority of the coalition’s airstrikes have focused on targets in Iraq, Obama also signaled a growing emphasis on targets in Syria.
“Indeed, we’re intensifying our efforts against ISIL’s base in Syria,” he said. “Our airstrikes will continue to target the oil and gas facilities that fund so much of their operations” [John Parkinson, “President Obama Revamps Strategy to Fight Islamic State,” ABCNews.com, 2015.07.06].
That sounds to me like a strategy. And that sounds to me an awful lot like Ravnsborg. While the audience today in Aberdeen seemed to think that “this President” (a term uttered with clear contempt by one audience member) lacks the political will (Ravnsborg did speak of will) to fight ISIS, the above strategy sounded almost exactly like Ravnsborg recommendation that we attack ISIS on multiple fronts, not just military but also economic, cut off their cash flow and resources, and build an Arab coalition.
Ravnsborg offered a mostly fact-based speech, a product pretty much any college-educated person could put together from a few hours Googling and reading Wikipedia. Unfortunately, Ravnsborg’s educational effort included too-typical right-wing distortion—inclusion of an ISIS map not created by ISIS, and criticism of President Obama’s purported inaction twinned with advocacy for the action President Obama is actually taking—that only reinforces the misinformed fears of his conservative audience.
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p.s.: Reality check: how would we react if a Muslim were touring the state “educating” us about Christianity?