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Transcript: Jihadism: Can It Be Defeated?

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  • Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
  • Gilles Kepel, Professor, Sciences Po Paris
  • Graeme Wood, Contributing Editor, The Atlantic
  • Nancy Youssef, Senior National Security Correspondent, The Daily Beast
  • Reuel Marc Gerecht, Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

GERECHT:  Are we ready?  I can't tell.  This lighting in here reminds me of Studio 54.  All right, since we don't have much time today, I'm going to start right off.  I think if you've looked at the paperwork, the schedule, you'll see that this is a discussion about Jihadism and whether there is an end to it.  We're very lucky to have a quite accomplished panel today. 

I will start introducing very quickly everyone.  Just because he came the farthest and he's my -- one of my older friends, Gilles Kepel, who is certainly one of France's great, the west's great scholars of -- of Arab history and Islam, is with us today.

Graeme Wood, who I'm -- all of you probably are aware of his quite provocative piece that was in The Atlantic on ISIS.  Nancy Youssef, who's the national security correspondent for The Daily Beast.

And our own, David Gartenstein-Ross, who I think, as of late, has actually moved a cot into the CNN studio.  I, you know, I -- I think where I'm going to start today with -- with Gilles.  And I'm going to ask a historical question. 

And that is, if you look back at the 1980s and 1990s and as the Soviet Union was withering and finally dying, you saw concurrently the slow death of radical leftism -- radical leftist terrorism. 

And by the time the Soviet Union finished, radical leftist terrorism was, for the most part, certainly in the west, over.  It had finished.  So, I wonder if there is possibly a parallel to Islamic terrorism.  Is it possible that if ISIS or others in the classical Middle East, if they were to end, would Islamic terrorism end with it, particularly in the west.  Gilles?

KEPEL:  I want to thank you, Reuel.  Let me answer to your question with a question.  In this general comparison, who plays the role of the now-defunct USSR.  I guess that the ISIS so-called caliphate could, at best, be a sort of Cuba.  But, then, what's the USSR?  Is it Saudi Arabia?  Or is it the whole petro monarchy system?  That's -- that's a big issue. 

Because, you know, to some extent, extreme left terrorist movements, whether they be the Brigate Rosse in Italy or Red Army Faction in Germany or our Action Direct in France, they, you know, we now have evidence that some of them have relations or were trained in, at least partially, in some iron curtain countries. 

But, nevertheless, their relation with the core USSR system was indirect.  And, by the same token, I believe that the -- the Salafi Jihadist brand, which I believe is what was the -- the core ideological cluster of what we now know as what you call ISIS, we call Daesh in French, because you know Arabic and French are now mixed languages.

The -- this is why -- how I survive in my country.  The -- they have a sort of very complex relation with the core, Salafi, Wahhabi ideological conundrum.  And, like, you know, Algerian writer, Kamel Daoud, published a piece a few months ago saying that Saudi Arabia is a successful Daesh, or vice versa. 

And, the -- but nowadays, a number of petro monarchies are being hit by Daesh insurgency.  And among the -- the 47, if I remember well, people who were put to death in Saudi Arabia a few months ago, which led to the severing of the diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, well, everybody focused on the four Shias who were put to death, but there were 43 Sunnis. 

But those 43 Sunnis, some of them, you know, just a minute.

GERECHT:  I mean if -- if -- if -- let me -- let me rephrase it.  And oh, by the way, I should mention Gilles Kepel has a new book out and of course all of you read French.  It will be translated by -- by Princeton Press, (indiscernible).  It's actually a -- a best seller right now in -- in France.  And Gilles will be talking about it tomorrow at 11:00 at the Washington Institute.

Well, let me -- I mean, let me rephrase that.  I mean, there is a debate and you are in the midst of that debate in -- in France and in Europe, on the issue of whether you're looking at the radicalization of Islam or the Islamization of radicalism. 

And, (Olivier) whom we both know and love, (Olivier) made a remark that, you know, if ISIS could vanish from the earth and you would still have a radical Islamist/Islamic problem in Europe, that Europe is generating its own terrorism to -- to -- to a great extent.

Would -- would you agree with that?  And if not, why not?

KEPEL:  Well, now.  This -- this is a rhetorical question because everybody knows that we have a big controversy.  And, well, what he thinks, and he should express it himself, of course, is that between the Red Brigades of yesterday and the Green Brigades of -- of today, as we say in colloquial Moroccan French, it's kif-kif.  It's just the same.

And, it's all about nihilism.  And this is, you know, the -- the frustrations of the youth and of marginalized groups and so on and so forth, that used this sort of red language yesterday, use a green language today.

And, there is not much to see.  You know, the same -- the same model can be used to -- to decipher what is happening today and what happened yesterday, in the days of the Soviet Union and China and so on and so forth.

Which, I -- I do not believe.  There are similarities, of course.  But, comparison is not reasonable, as we say, in France speech.  And, the -- I believe that there is a major difference, which is the -- the central place of Salafism as an ideology that creates a clear break with the values you care for. 

That is to say the defense of democracy, whatever you -- you mean by the defense of democracy.  We may not share exactly this idea.  But the, you know, no -- no democracy because this is couffe, this is (indiscernible) misbelief.  No freedom because this is couffe.  No equality between genders.  This is couffe, and so on and so forth.

And this is something which is creating an enormous difference.  There is -- there is a cultural battle at stake.  And, all Salafist are not violent and, you know, people who have -- who are pushed by petro monarchies are not going to -- to kill people who buy oil from petro monarchies.

But if not all Salafists are Jihadists, definitely all Jihadists are Salafists.  They come from this culture, this is their basic.  And if we do not understand, they -- the nature of the Salafist challenge, which is a major cultural challenge, we understand nothing, you know.

And, this is what -- what is at stake between the one you call (indiscernible) on this side of the Atlantic and my humble --

GERECHT:  I mean I -- I think that, I mean, we'll come back to it but, I mean, I think that would strongly suggest that those who want to, for example, ally themselves to Saudi Arabia, perhaps should think twice or three times about doing that.

Graeme, let me -- I think connected to that, it would be -- it would be good for you to actually talk about the reaction that you had to your piece on ISIS.  Because I think in that reaction, we can see sort of the strong differing opinions on -- on how we should deal with this problem.  So why don't you tell us, after you wrote that piece, how -- how others responded to it.

WOOD:  Well, the -- the piece went viral and that creates a completely unmanageable reaction for any -- any person who's the -- the victim of the virus.  But, it might be helpful to describe sort of where the piece came from, which dovetails nicely with -- with what Gilles just said.

I had been looking at ISIS for a bit and had been finding a lot of the explanations for ISIS that -- that had been -- that had been floated, inadequate.  So, some of the cliches about origins of terrorism in poverty, or in Ba'athists revanchism, or even in the -- the hypothesis that -- that ISIS represented a -- a continuous growth from a familiar strain of -- of Al-Qaeda. 

So, from there, it was just a matter of -- of doing what journalists do, trying to find people who -- who could speak as supporters of ISIS with some knowledge of the group, with personal knowledge of the group, and -- and talk to them.  That's what I did. 

That resulted in a piece that had, I think a strong reaction because there was enough general awareness in the ether among -- among readers, that -- that yeah, that these previous explanations that had a -- that especially discounting religious aspects of the group and ideological aspects of the group, were inadequate.

So, at that point, we had all seen images of the beheadings.  But, I think a lot of people had even seen clips of -- of some of the more perplexing aspects of ISIS propaganda.  There was one -- one image of a -- a Peruvian convert on the border between Syria and Iraq speaking to the camera in English about the abolition of the (indiscernible) border. 

This is not something that -- that is easily explained by poverty or even by -- by, again, some continuity between previous incarnations of Al-Qaeda.  So, I -- I -- I think that there was -- there was this understanding that -- that there was a part of the explanation that was not being mentioned. 

And yet, because of the mass nature of the movement and the availability of the propaganda, there was an awareness that -- that -- that it was out there.  And so, the piece, I think, had a strong reaction in part because it was feeding that awareness of a -- of a gap. 

Now, the -- the types of reaction were manifold.  There were some who, I think, took it to be -- to be pushing a -- a -- a single explanation from a religious standpoint, which it was not attempting to do.  But that -- that -- there is a wave of -- of -- of popularity for the piece because of that. 

And there was a strong reaction from many quarters within government, and especially within academia, that were very resistant to the idea that religion had anything to do with this at all. 

Which, is -- it's a completely untenable belief if you -- if you look at what ISIS churns out in its propaganda, or if you spend anything more than about 90 seconds with someone who's part of the group.

And, I think having some of the raw material in the form of interviews, description and analysis, in a -- in a digestible way for a -- a popular magazine like The Atlantic, I think fed a lot of that.

GERECHT:  Well, I mean, let me pose a question.  I mean, I've gone over to, say the state department and I've had discussions about Islamic militancy. 

Now, of course, when I went over to the state department, the rubric of the discussion was countering violent extremism, alright?  So we -- we didn't mention Islam in the handout. 

But as soon as I got, you know, in the state and I'm sitting with -- with folks in policy planning, everyone's talking about Islamic radicalists, alright?  No one in the room is using the term countering violent extremism.  It's as if it's just for public consumption.

So, does it matter?  I mean, do you think that if you had a more open discussion of say the religious component of ISIS, how it has its own historical aspirations, that that would actually make a difference for counterterrorism or no?  It's really a cosmetic issue.

WOOD:  I think recognizing that means also recognizing that there are big portions of this problem that government cannot attack. 

And, if -- if you -- if you understand aspects of -- of the problem that are -- that are religious, then you can see that government has no ability, no standing to pronounce on these issues and so, this -- it -- it essentially turns over the problem to -- to civil society, to non-governmental elements. 

This is -- this is a very worrying thing.  Because if a huge portion of the problem is religious and the government can't deal with it, then a huge portion of the problem can't be managed through -- through the state department or through many of the tools that we already have.

But, I -- I do think that as a -- for analytic purposes, to understand the distinctions between these groups, and to be able to distinguish, for example, Salafis who are -- are Jihadists, and Salafis who are not, is -- is quite vital.

GERECHT:  Gilles, did you want to say something to that?

KEPEL:  Just very briefly.  As I spend a lot of time in jail -- maybe not enough as some of my colleagues would like, and -- and I was, this Monday morning in Paris, in the northern outskirts of Paris close to the airport actually. 

And at one of the big jails where the number of former -- of still of Daesh people, people who came back from Syria were arrested, and so on and so forth.  And we spent the morning in conversation. 

And -- and they -- what they were interested in talking about was religion, politics and religion.  But this -- this -- the relation to Salafism, their understanding of how -- how it should be implemented and so on and so forth, was absolutely quintessential.

And -- and this is, you know, what we -- when we -- now we have a lot of access to not only tapes, that you mentioned, of videos, but also the -- the Whatsapp Exchanges, the Facebook walls, and it's -- it's, you know, this is -- this is what is interesting.  This is what -- what moves them.

And, part and parcel of the debate with (Olivier) and others is that they shun this issue and they are interested in radicalization.  So, it's -- it's our -- it's the European translation of countering violent terrorism, what have you.

And I believe that it's a sort of (indiscernible) and antibiotic, if you wish, you know.  It's not efficient.  So on the one hand, you're caught between the hammer of radicalization and on the other hand, you have the tabu of Islamophobia. 

So, you are not allowed to discuss what's happening in the black box, in the middle, which is -- which is the battle which is raging now everywhere in -- in the Islamic world but particularly in Europe, as who's going to have the Herr Germany, in terms of the Islamic discourse.

And, there is definitely a battle, which is waged by Salafists, in order to silence their opponents in the name of Islamophobia.  If you criticize Salafism, then you're an Islamophobe and you're an apostate, right?

And this is -- this is a big issue, which is, of course, you may know, what do you care or not, you're Muslim.  And I'm a Frenchman.  And those guys are French people, also, right?

So, I believe we have to -- we have to be part and parcel of this debate.  And we have to understand that this is -- this is one of the core issues for what we're talking about.  If we -- if we just say that it's -- it's none of our business, I think we miss -- we miss the whole point.  And this is, again, part of the controversy that you...

GERECHT:  Well, I mean, you've written a lot about analytical myopia in -- in the American government.  Why don't you tell us a little bit on how you think we don't see things.

GARTENSTEIN-ROSS:  That's a great question.  And I think it's -- it's, you know, not just within the U.S. Government.  It's also within the sphere that we inhabit, that is the...

GERECHT:  Of course, no one on this stage.  No, no.

GARTENSTEIN-ROSS:  ...the somewhat public, somewhat government sphere.  I think that, one thing I've written about a lot is the initial misreadings that we had of the Arab Spring. 

And this is something that Michael Morell, who was twice the acting director of the CIA, writes about in his most recent book where he talks about how their initial diagnosis was that the Arab Spring, these revolutionary events, were devastating to the Jihadist movement.  Because it shattered their narrative. 

That was something I had gotten to experience firsthand in my, you know, discussions with the public sphere and within the governmental sphere at the time.

I think that one of the reasons that we got it so wrong, gets back to the argument that both Gilles and Graeme are making.  I remember prior to these revolutionary events how many times I would read academic articles and they would talk about Salafism. 

And very clearly defined three types of Salafism, and they would clearly state that the predominant form of Salafism was quietist Salafism, which I think actually was not inaccurate, but it assumed that it was quietist, that is, wasn't trying to influence government at the time for genuine philosophical ingrained reasons, as opposed to lack of opportunity.

You know, you have a strong strain for example of quietist Salafism in one of the countries I've spent a lot of time studying and a lot of time in, Tunisia, prior to the revolution.  After the revolution, it basically disappeared. 

You know, you maybe have a few figures associated with that, but Salafi Jihadism and political Salafism absolutely dominated the space.  So I think that -- that getting to your question to Graeme about does it matter? 

To me, it's -- and it's a question that many people ask.  But to me, it's crazy that the question would be asked, why does it matter if we understand the enemy.  Like, why does it matter if we actually have a correct understanding. 

To me it obviously matters.  That if -- if we're misdiagnosing where their strengths are, and I think there -- there were several aspects of misdiagnosis, then we're just not going to be well equipped for this battle.

The final thing I'd add to that is, to me a lot of this comes to the architecture of how our -- how we're set up as policy makers, as scholars, as government.  A lot has changed over the course of the past 20 years. 

I think that I often analogize what we see in the political organizing sphere, with violent non-state actors, to the competition, the economic sphere, between startup industries and legacy industries.

And one area where startups have a decisive advantage is they have internal organizational structures that are meant for the problem that they're trying to tackle and for the adversaries they're up against. 

Often we, those who care about government's prosperity, don't have the right architecture to get done what needs to get done.

GERECHT:  I might add on that just a little personal historical note that in the -- in the late 1980s, I went to go see the -- the little shop inside of the director of intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency that officially was labeled Islam and God.

And -- that's no joke.  And there were -- there were two folks in that shop, alright?  That was it.  And I can say that, in all the cables that I read, both CIA cables and state department telegrams, the number of times where you would actually have a religious discussion, I could probably count on my hands and my toes.

It's just something the U.S. Government congenitally does not do.  I mean, that brings up, I mean, speaking of -- of -- of cables, telegrams and reports, I mean, I'll go to -- to Nancy.  I mean, you've written about the problems of -- the bureaucratic problems of American intelligence talking about Islamic militancy. 

Why don't you tell us a little bit about your reporting on this, of the troubles that you have encountered.

YOUSSEF:  So it's good to remember that back in 2014, there was very little talk about the Islamic state.  You'll remember, the president famously in January of that year called them the JV team. 

And there were clues that the military was not prepared for the rise of the Islamic state.  Everybody seemed to be caught off guard by the fall of Mosul to the Islamic state in June -- on June 10th of that year, even though people like Brett McGurk were warning for months about this possibility.

And -- and by -- by -- September, of course, the U.S. was intervening back in Iraq.  And so it was in that context that we started asking questions about how the military, with all its intelligence apparatus -- you have over 1,000 analysts in CENTCOM, Central Command, which is in charge of the Middle East alone.

And yet, there was something that they just couldn't understand in terms of the trajectory of the Islamic state and even the rise of it.  And so it was in that context that we started asking questions and we started hearing people really complaining about how the intelligence was gathered, how it was assessed. 

That people who were making assessments that the Islamic state was a potent force, one to be reckoned with, were coming up against commanders who wanted to give a more positive assessment about the U.S. effort to confront ISIS and -- and -- and to quell it. 

And it's an -- an environment where people are trying -- you have commanders trying to get promoted or have mixed ideas about what the expectations are from their superiors. 

And so we started looking at this and -- and documenting a real uprising in and of itself within CENTCOM among those analysts who were saying, we're not being allowed to put forth credible assessments on the Islamic state.

And so once they went and filed a report with the inspector general, we started writing about it and talking to some of them and you can hear the real frustration in their -- in their -- in their explanations because they, you know, for the military this is not just an academic exercise or even one about foreign policy.  It's personal.

These are guys, many of them, who were part of the first Iraq -- well, I guess second in 2007, many of them who have lost comrades there, many of them who were part of the intelligence in the run up to the invasion of 2003 and bear a real scar from how intelligence was assessed at that time.

And so, we've been really tracking how the military assesses the -- the -- the Islamic state threat and -- and how that information is allowed to be communicated.  And it's fascinating how just a few people can be the difference between a right assessment and a wrong one because of all the military channels that that happen.  It's not just an analysis and it goes through. 

There's a whole machine that sort of massages and takes hold of that intelligence.  And it really gives you an insight about why, with all the resources that the United States has, it can miss things like the Islamic state taking the second biggest city in Iraq.

GERECHT:  I mean, but, I mean, let's -- let's play devil's advocate.  Let's assume that the -- the pentagon had gotten the intelligence assessment correct.  So what?  How would that -- how do you think that actually would have changed?  Would that have changed policy or no?  It just would have meant they had gotten the analysis correct.

YOUSSEF:  Well, just as (indiscernible) said, at least we would be starting from the right foundation.  I mean, the idea that -- that after 13 years of war that these questions haven't been answered, it doesn't pretend well for future conflicts.

Remember that with each Jihadist movement we see, it's more complicated and more new ones.  And the idea that the U.S. is getting worse at sort of managing the intelligence that it gathers is a very dangerous sign. 

And I -- and I would argue that that sort of misinformation on the -- the inability to talk about it properly, is something that has continued to haunt the -- the -- the U.S. approach towards the Islamic state.  When you look at how we talk about war, the language is critical and our understanding of it is critical.  I mean, we're...

GERECHT:  Do you think that problem also exists in the press?

YOUSSEF:  Well, yeah.  I mean, I think because the -- the information war has become as important, if not important, than the war. 

This is a war where there were no boots on the ground originally.  When there then were boots on the ground, there were no combat boots on the ground.  When a U.S. service member was killed, it was that he didn't die in combat.

And now -- we're now back offensively in Iraq and we have never discussed it publicly or acknowledged it.  You have U.S. forces that are using artillery and helping the Iraqis charge towards Mosul, and we've never had that -- we've never acknowledged it publicly.

And so, yeah, the press part of it is important because everybody wants to pretend that these wars are over, or that we're not in them, even as U.S. service members are dying and are doing offensive operations.

So I think the language is critical and I think it's really made it difficult for the American public to understand what's being asked of its military.  And the fact that, despite all the pronouncements that the war is over, that the -- that the U.S. is not leading the fight, that the U.S. is not back in Iraq. 

It -- it is very much back in and will be a key part in any push to retake -- to reclaim Mosul from the Islamic state.

GERECHT:  Alright.  Gilles, I mean that brings up and let's -- let's -- let's, would you then say that -- that inevitably a part of countering Islamic militancy, Jihadism, with the Islamic state (indiscernible), you are going to have to use military power in the Middle East. 

That -- is there a way that you can conceive of this burning out without the injection of western military forces in the Middle East or do you think that proposition in and of itself is counterproductive and you should, as some argue now, pull back completely and thus let this run rampant until it -- it burns out?

KEPEL:  Well, the rhetorics of the militants, of the ISIS or Daesh militants, in the west says that, you know, the justification for attacks in France or Europe or elsewhere is because the west is bombarding -- is -- is bombing, sorry, Mosul or Rucka and everything and they kill innocent victims and so on and so forth.

But this is only the rhetorics, because the -- the very Jihadist nature of -- of ISIS and what I call third generation Jihadism in the book, i.e., you know, after the writings of Abu Musab al-Suri were put online in 2005, it was very clear if you just read. 

And, you know, and the CIA translated all that into English, had it translated a few months after it was put online in -- in Arabic, that Europe was now the soft underbelly of the west.  You know, after the sort of first generation from -- from 79 to 97, from Jihad in Afghanistan to Algeria.

The -- the aim was -- the target was the nearby enemy, ( Adu el Karib).  It failed.  Then, bin Laden and (indiscernible) shifted the issue towards the far away enemy.  And Abu al-Dhaid, which was -- which led to 911, it failed, also.

And the big issue is mobilization.  You know, the particular economy of -- of Salafi and Jihadism is that on one hand, you have to terrorize the enemy, to inflict maximum casualties, to demoralizing. 

And in the same time, you have to mobilize the masses.  I mean, to -- to go back to your previous left -- left wing comparison, you know, you have to go from the stage of the Vanguard, of the Islamic Vanguards to the mobilization of the masses.

And both failed, you know?  And it's a sort of (indiscernible) dialectics if you want.  The affirmation phase was first generation Afghanistan to Algeria.  Then, the negation phase was bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.  And then we have a sort of (indiscernible) of negation of negation phase now.

Europe is neither the nearby enemy nor the far away enemy.  No one cares if Arabs kill Arabs.  But, on the other hand, America is too far away and too powerful.  And then Europe is -- is the right dimension.  It's right in the middle.  You have millions of -- of Europeans from...

GERECHT:  Right.  Take -- take the European approach, I mean.  It -- it had been, I think, a general view in Europe.  You know, with exceptions here and there. 

But a general view was that they could handle the internal counterterrorist threat through using security forces and domestic intelligence services, that they could essentially keep this under control using police operations.

And that military actions in the Middle East were unnecessary, if not counterproductive.  Do you think that's a -- do you think that's a -- do you think that's a correct assessment or that needs to be revised?

KEPEL:  Well, it has changed.  Because, you know, of the -- as far as France is concerned, for instance, for 16 years, and we're the biggest Muslim country in Europe, right? 

For 16 years, between 1995 when Khaled Kelkal was killed, and it -- it was when the Algerian Jihad overflow in France, to the (indiscernible) Affair, the killings in Toulouse and Montauban in 2012, let's just say for 16 years approximately, we had not a single Jihadist terrorist attack on French territory.

Because the -- the intelligence services had broken the code, the software of the Al-Qaeda system, you know.  They had intercepted communication, they knew which mosque, and they arrested everyone before they would go to action.

But I think they completely missed the French and all the others -- the cultural revolution of the 2005 revolution of Abu Musab al-Suri's call to global Islamic resistance.  And they took it lightly. 

Because at the time, you know, Jihadism was perceived as sort of pyramidal system, you know.  Bin Laden would send orders, pay for business class plane tickets, private lessons and what have you. 

And 911, you know, unfolded perfectly in terms of a plot.  It was, you know, they boarded the planes on time, they did everything on time.

Now, with the new generation, you know, there -- there is a sort of road map which is defined at the supreme level -- if there is one in the ISIS leadership.  But, the -- the implementation is, to a large extent, left into the hands of the guys who do it on the ground.

And the Brussels and -- and Paris attacks, for instance, were not very well implemented.  And, the fact, you know, they killed a lot of people but particularly they failed to mobilize the Muslim masses that wanted to mobilize. 

Particularly in November in Paris, they killed a lot of their co-religionists.  And, you know, in jail for instance, many -- many Muslim inmates told me, well, you know, when we watched TV on the 13th of November, who were those guys? 

I mean, they are putting -- planting -- trying to -- to detonate themselves in the stadium of France.  Well, my brother was there, my cousins were there, my -- my -- my neighborhood friends were there.

And this has engineered very strong resentments against those guys, against the -- the Jihadists.  And, you know, in would-be sympathizing, sympathizers groups.  And this is the big difference.

Now, to go back to your core question, the more ISIS suffers of the caliphate territory, if you want to call it that, suffers casualties, the less it would be able to develop the sort of mobilizing myth of -- of ISIS.

If you see their videos for mobilization, for instance, they depict life under the caliphate as a foretaste to -- to paradise, you know? 

It's (indiscernible) implemented and everything is great and, you know, and we have testimonies, you know, on videos whose -- who, you know, people being filmed in Rucka and say, look at that, isn't that paradise on earth and everything.

It's not the case anymore, you know.  It's this -- this -- this imagery is broken.  It's broken because it is now -- you have -- it is confronted to -- to -- to reality, which was not the case before.  And everybody knows it.

And another thing, and I will end with that, is that, you know, the image of the -- the lions of the caliphate, you know, who fought in the west, were, you know, idealized, and Muhammad Nari, for instance, in Toulouse, is perceived as someone who fought against the whole French police for a day and everything. 

He died as a martyr.  He goes to paradise and then so on and so forth.  Well, it's not the case for Salah Abdeslam.  You know, who was chicken.  You know, he -- he -- he ducked and he went away and -- and he was caught and now he's -- he's -- he's ready to -- to be a collaborator of the police.

And the same was true with Mohamed Abrini, who was caught -- caught this weekend in -- in Belgium.  And this is, I think, if we're not defeating, of course, the Jihadist as of now, it would be a statement that would not be right.

But, you know, as opposed to what happened only a year or -- a year ago, we're trying -- we're starting to understand how it works.  And what are the fault lines. 

And the -- and the -- I think it is, to go back to what you asked, if you pull -- if you pull back from -- from attacks on the caliphate, it will not have much of -- of a consequence in turn on their rhetorics, because they will -- they will find another protect.  This is not the issue.

GERECHT:  I mean, Graeme, you had -- you had mentioned the limitations of government actions.  Why don't you explain a little bit more of that?  I mean, and imagine every journalist's dream you actually get to have plenipotentiary authority.  And you get to do, have done, whatever you want done. 

I mean, how would you adjust what we're doing, and would you?  I mean, do you think that the approach that we're essentially taking now more or less, weaknesses aside, makes sense, or no, it -- it doesn't really make sense?

WOOD:  First of all, I have -- I have to correct you on what you think the journalist's dream is.  Many of us become journalists so we don't have the responsibility of any kind of plenipotentiary authority, but...


WOOD:  So, I would echo something that Gilles just said.  That -- when --when I communicate with people who -- who have direct links to Syria, the way that they see the situation now is very different from what it was a year ago.

And that is because of action that has been taken mostly from a military side, to -- to destroy the dreams, to destroy -- of the -- of the caliphate.  To make life that was -- that once could plausibly or not be depicted as paradise, cease to be so. 

And they say, once upon a time, they were idealistic.  Now, they are confused, they are depressed, and they want to die.  That's -- that's -- that's a good development.  And that's a development that -- that is through, as I say, through government actions, through military force.

Now, that does not, however, deal with what I consider the -- the kind of long-term background issue, which is that this remains a mass movement.  It remains a movement that -- that mobilizes people through Utopian thinking -- through religious thinking, that the government -- no branch of government will be able to -- to eradicate or to convince people out of except through this kind of slow falsification through -- through -- through destruction in that military sense.

Now, that means that -- that it's -- it's something that will exist for quite some time just as it has already for quite some time.  And I think that the efforts, as you mentioned with CVE and so forth, that's -- that's a sign of really the -- the -- the impotence of -- of efforts to eradicate that -- that -- that root problem.

GERECHT:  I think, folks, unfortunately I'm going to have to wrap this up.  We have insufficient time for this panel.  So, I am going to draw this to a close and I just want to thank all the folks on this panel for a fine discussion.  Thank you very much.