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Expert Alert: UNL historian, political scientists offer insights on terrorism in Belgium

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Contact: James LeSueur, professor of history, University of Nebraska-Lincoln,  402-472-3494 or

Courtney Hillebrecht, assistant professor of political science, University of Nebraska-Lincoln 402-472-5973 or

History professor James LeSueur has interviewed jihadists in Belgium as part of his study of radical Islam, terrorism and decolonization, particularly in Algeria.  He’s been working on a documentary and a book about the war on terror and radical Islam.

Courtney Hillebrecht, an assistant professor of political science, is an expert in human rights, international relations and international law.

Historic and demographic factors helped make Belgium a target, LeSueur said.

Belgium is recognized as one of Europe’s receptive countries toward immigrants and political refugees.  A significant portion of its immigrant population arrived as political refugees and asylum seekers. Its population includes many second- or third-generation immigrants.

“It has a pretty large, pretty active mosque community. ISIS recruits within those immigrant communities,” said Le Sueur, who has interviewed those threatened by radical Islamists, those with political asylum and suspected terrorists.  “There are a lot of illegal arms dealers in Belgium, many Jihad biographies point out that arms dealers are a significant part of the criminal population.”

Hillebrecht said increasing terrorism-related activity along the Brussels-Paris corridor has long been a concern.

“Indeed, this is not the first instance of terrorism or terrorism-related activity in Brussels over the past few years,” she said. “Operatives in Brussels helped to facilitate the Charlie Hebdo and November 2015 Paris attacks and the 2014 attack on The Jewish Museum of Belgium. “

Belgium has one of the highest rates of nationals leaving Europe to fight along ISIS and other Islamic extremist groups, she said.  Many attribute this to a particularly influential leader of Sharia4Belgium, a radical Islamic group that recruited young people to fight in Syria.

Some experts also say low employment and social exclusion have contributed to the radicalization of Muslims in Belgium, Hillebrecht added.

Yet Belgium has been slower to adopt the security measures taken by other European nations in the wake of the 9/11 terrorism attacks in the U.S.

“It’s got porous borders; these kinds of criminals can get from one country to another,” LeSueur said. “It hasn’t had the same kind of Islamist movements and it doesn’t have the police infrastructure of Germany, France and the U.K. to track extremists.”

“ISIS tends to attack countries that have operations abroad – it sees through the lens of who’s attacking them and they attack their attackers,” he said.  “France has been one of the main European nations to do so.”

In addition, ISIS thrives on media attention – both as a source of intelligence and to publicize their cause, Le Sueur said.  Belgium has called for a media black-out in the wake of Tuesday’s attacks.

That does not mean Belgium can expect to escape future terrorist attacks.

“This is the new reality of Europe,” Le Sueur said, noting that Belgium is the headquarters for the European Union as well as home base for many other international organizations.

Hillebrecht said the terrorist attack in Brussels had its roots in a number of factors.

Belgian authorities on Friday arrested Salah Abdeslam, a suspect in the November attacks in Paris that left 130 dead. Belgian authorities seem to have been anticipating some sort of reprisals at least since their hunt for the Paris suspects began.

“The loss of life in the Brussels attack, as with the attacks that came before it, is appalling and tragic,” Hillebrecht said.

“That said, this attack does not alter much in terms of national or international security,” she continued. “Instead, it points to three major, ongoing challenges.  First, it highlights the problem of ‘home-grown’ terrorist threats in Europe and the radicalization that is taking place within the EU.  Second, it reemphasizes ISIS’s growing reach and callous methods (consider, too, the recent attacks in Turkey).  Third, it accentuates the already tense environment within European states, as policymakers and the public reckon with a nearly unprecedented number of refugees entering the Eurozone and the rise of right-wing parties in response.“

UNL Expert Alert: Researchers with Nebraska ties join fight against Zika

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

Two sources connected to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are joining the fight against the Zika virus.

Asit Pattnaik of the Nebraska Center for Virology is consulting with colleagues to begin a Zika research effort, with an end goal of developing a vaccine or an anti-viral medication.  The first step is to replicate the virus under laboratory conditions to better understand how to develop a vaccine. This effort could take years, he says.

Daniel Brooks, a parasitologist and a senior research fellow with the H.W. Manter Laboratory of Parasitology, has been a vocal spokesman for scientists who are concerned climate change will lead to more disease outbreaks, with changing habitats exposing people, plants and livestock to new parasites and pathogens. He will participate in a Climate Science and Policy conference  at University of California, Santa Cruz, Feb. 26-27.

Here is more information about Pattnaik and Brooks.

Virologists consider response to Zika | UNL Newsroom | University of Nebraska–Lincoln

For more information and assistance in arranging interviews, contact:

Leslie Reed

National News editor

University Communications, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

402-677-0853 or

UNL LGBTQA advocate: Jenner case brings more trans students forward

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

Pat Tetreault, director of the LGBTQA+ Resource Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says she’s getting a lot more questions from and on behalf of transgender and transsexual people in the months since Bruce Jenner began his public transformation into Caitlyn Jenner.    Caitlyn Jenner came out on the cover of Vanity Fair this week.

Though she doesn’t have statistics  – UNL does not track whether students identify as transgender –Tetreault  said requests for resources and referrals are now dominated by transgender issues. It’s a challenging, specialized area that people know little about.

The questions aren’t so much “Am I transgender?” as they are requests of practical information, such as where to obtain hormones, how to find a friendly doctor, where to find housing and how to change records. She also is getting more requests for information from faculty, staff and advisers who are working with students who have come out to them.

She dismisses the idea that youth might be “copycatting” a celebrity’s actions.

“Changing a gender is not like going and getting a new haircut.  A lot of people get counseling first. It’s not like they just make this decision, ‘I’m going to change my gender.’” she said. “This is a big deal; it takes effort and work and there’s a lot of misunderstanding, ignorance, prejudice and discrimination.  I don’t think people jump on the bandwagon.”

Tetreault said Jenner has been a strong role model for trans youth.

“I think Caitlyn Jenner, like most trans individuals, is a brave person. I also think that her taking a public stand will help with raising awareness and can help shift attitudes,” Tetreault said.

Although Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover might reinforce some stereotypes about feminine beauty, it dispels many others, she added.

“A lot of people think of transwomen as being men in drag,” Tetreault said.  ”She looks beautiful.  Yes, she is airbrushed and has make-up on, but so are most people who appear on magazine covers.  Clearly Caitlyn doesn’t look like Bruce Jenner in a dress. She doesn’t look scary. ”

Tytus Zink, a transgender student who volunteers at the resource center, said he is inspired by Jenner’s example.

“This is a person who was considered the pinnacle of masculinity, a heart throb,” Zink said. “The fact that somebody like that could be grappling with gender issues their entire lives, it sets an example for the people who feel like they’re not the gender they seem. If somebody like Caitlyn Jenner can come out, anybody could.”

Tetreault and Zink can be reached through the LGBTQA+ Resource Center, at (402) 472-1652.  Tetreault also can be contacted at her email address,

Expert Alert: UNL’s Hoff talks about ISIS threat to Palmyran Antiquities

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

Michael Hoff, an art and art history professor from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has been project director of the Antiochia ad Cragum Excavations since 2005.  At that site along the Mediterranean coast in southern Turkey, he has uncovered mosaics, statues and other antiquities dating back to the Roman Empire of the first and second centuries.

He specializes in Greek and Roman archealogy.

Like other archaeologists and historians, he is concerned about ISIS’ recent takeover of Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra and its threat to antiquities there. Palmyra features monumental ruins of a city that was an important cultural center in the ancient world. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In his work in Antiochia ad Cragum, Hoff has noted that Christians in the Third and Fourth Centuries destroyed pagan artifacts from the Roman Empire. Though there are some similarities, he sees key differences between what happened then and the more recent destruction of artifacts by ISIS.

Some of Hoff’s thoughts:

About the importance of the Palmyran ruins:

“Because of its location on a communications route between the Near East and the Mediterranean, Palmyra served as a trade conduit and entrepot for many cultures from earliest Mesopotamian culture through the Greek period and the Roman period and into the Middle Ages.”

“It contains an impressive set of remains that date from the Roman period. ISIS will likely destroy them.”

About Islam and antiquities:

“Anything that’s ancient and has to do with a culture that’s apart from or distinct from Islam is considered idolatrous to Islam. Most mainstream, conservative Islam people generally will just ignore things of antiquity that date to the Greek period, the Roman period or other cultures that predate Islam. Or they are protected because of their intrinsic value as  tourist attractions.”

“ISIS in fact is using them as political statements. They may say they’re destroying these antiquities because they are idolatrous. But it’s telling that they’re filming and recording what they’re doing and putting it out on the Internet.  It’s for the shock value. They’re trying to shock and disturb the people of the West. “

“It’s almost like terrorism. The whole point is to scare people, to frighten people. That’s why they behead people, not just execute them. It’s all meant to keep ISIS in the front pages.”

“These are acts of terrorism.”

About the differences between ancient destruction and current events:

“As Christianity became the dominant religion after Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion and Emperor Theodosius’ edict declaring Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire,  Christians sought to destroy and damage the monuments of past religions. “

“This happened in Antiochia ad Cragum. However, indications are there were practical reasons, too.   After granite and marble columns toppled, the marble bases were salvaged to make lime mortar, but the granite columns are still lying there.  Statues were broken up and melted to create lime. While they were getting rid of those naked statues of Aphrodite and other Gods because they no longer mattered in the Christian world, they were also doing it for a prosaic reason of getting lime mortar.  Some temples, including the Parthenon in Athens, were converted to churches.”

“While we know a great deal of very zealous Christins who did perpetrate the destruction of antiquities, they did so almost certainly with religious zeal behind them. That’s not what ISIS is doing, in my opinion. They’re playing lip service to pure Islamic values, but they’re making a political statement. “

“Why play it out before the cameras?  They’re very technology-savvy and they’re trying to get as much impact as they can out of it.  I have no doubt the buildings of Palmyra are going to be heavily damaged by ISIS.  Any major site that falls under their control will suffer the same fate.”

About looting of antiquities:

“ISIS absolutely will loot and sell some antiquities on the Black Market. That’s how they finance their operations.  But they are not the only ones who sell antiquities. Ever since the Gulf War , antiquities have been political pawns. When  the U.S. invaded Baghdad, there were thieves ready and poised to strike the Baghdad museum.  As the troops made their way to the museum, they could see the looting going on, but could not intervene.   The Baghdad Museum was totally looted and carted off.”

“There was no policy about antiquities. That has changed since then. Many of the objects were returned but many more were not.”

“Antiquities are among the first casualties of war.”

Poker players: American heroes for the 21st Century?

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

Nine players players from six countries are to battle over a $28 million pot in the Main Event of the Word Series of Poker beginning Monday Nov. 10 in Las Vegas.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s  Aaron Duncan, a communication studies lecturer and the director of the speech and debate program, can offer insights about why the World Series of Poker resonates so deeply with Americans.  The author of an upcoming book, tentatively titled “Gambling with the Myth of the American Dream,”  Duncan has studied the imagery and mythology of poker and how it fits with the American ideal of the “self-made man.”

He has analyzed in-depth how ESPN’s sports-style coverage of the 2003 World Series of Poker transformed the image of the gambler and poker player to become an heroic figure for the 21st Century.

For a more detailed description of Duncan’s thoughts:

Poker: Gambling with the myth of the American Dream? | UNL Newsroom | University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Duncan is available for interviews at 402-450-7830 or at

Expert Alert: Thoughts on the upcoming Oscars by film studies prof Wheeler Winston Dixon

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar of film history, theory and criticism.

Here are a few of his thoughts about the 86th Annual Academy Awards, to air March 2 on ABC:

– “It continues to amaze me how few people understand that this isn’t some sort of national poll of either critics or audiences; it’s an industry event.”

– “Directing will go to Alfonso Cuarón for ‘Gravity,’ though Steve McQueen for ‘12 Years a Slave’ is a strong contender, and in my opinion should get the nod.”

– “Best Actor to Matthew McConaughey for ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’ but Bruce Dern is a strong favorite for ‘Nebraska,’ now that Robert Redford is out of the running. Best Actress to Cate Blanchett for ‘Blue Jasmine,’ which seems to me pretty much a lock.”

–  Other “locks:” “12 Years A Slave”‘ for Best Picture,  Best Supporting Actor to Jared Leto for “Dallas Buyers Club,”  Best Animated Feature to “Frozen.”

– To be taken with “a huge grain of salt:”  – Best Supporting Actress is a three-way toss-up between Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle;” Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years A Slave;” and June Squibb, “Nebraska.”  Best Original Screenplay is too close to call, though “Nebraska”’s Bob Nelson has a decent shot.

– Thomas Vinterberg’s superb film “The Hunt” should win Best Foreign Language Film, though this category continues to rankle. “To pick simply one film to represent the entire world is really a suspect enterprise.”

For more details, visit Dixon’s “Frame By Frame” blog:

To contact Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472-6064 or