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Summary: 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

On ISIS and religion:

  • Gerecht: In public, State Department officials talk about “violent extremism.” In private, they all talk about “Islamic extremism.”
  • Kepel: Islamists are waging a concerted campaign to label all criticism of extremism as “Islamophobia.”

On U.S. government understanding of terrorism:

  • Gerecht: In the 1990s, the CIA had an office commonly known as “Islam and God.” It had just two people, and their cables rarely actually mentioned religion.
  • Wood: After I wrote my Atlantic cover piece “What ISIS Really Wants,” many U.S. officials and members of college faculties continued to resist the idea that ISIS has anything to do with religion.
  • Gartenstein-Ross: To me it’s crazy that people ask if it “matters” for us to understand the enemy.  To me, it obviously matters. “If we’re misdiagnosing where their strengths are, then we’re simply not well-equipped for this battle.”
  • Kepel: If we don’t understand the nature of the Salafi challenge, which is cultural, we understand nothing. It’s true that Salafis are not all violent. But while not all Salafis are jihadis, all jihadis are Salafis.
  • Youssef: We all remember the president calling ISIS the “JV team.” The military was clearly unprepared for its rise, despite warnings by officials like Brett McGurk.

On the future of combatting extremism:

  • Youssef: We are now back on the offensive in Iraq, but no one wants to discuss it publicly. Everyone wants to pretend the Iraq war is over, even as U.S. servicemen continue dying there. For the military, this isn’t an academic matter, but very personal.
  • Gartenstein-Ross: At the start of the Arab Spring, the conventional wisdom was that it would serve as a death blow to jihadism. The idea that extremists could benefit from the fall of tyrants was widely dismissed. Now it’s apparent to all.