MASTERS: Hello. Good morning, or good afternoon I should say, everyone. This is Jonathan Masters, deputy editor for the Council on Foreign Relations' website, CFR.org.
I'm very pleased to be joined today for what is an extremely timely media conference call by Farah Pandith, CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow, and formerly the special representative to Muslim communities at the State Department. Farah was of course the first person to serve in that role.
She was also the senior adviser to the assistant secretary for Europe in the aftermath of the Danish cartoon crisis. She Tweets at @Farah_Pandith. And she's currently writing a book on Muslim Millennials and how to counter the ideology of the extremists.
So Paris, of course, remains on edge today with two hostage situations that have reportedly come to a deadly end it looks like. Headlines are still unfolding.
One on the outskirts of the capital involving the Kouachi brothers, Said and Cherif, the pair believed responsible for Wednesday's deadly attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo; and the other in eastern Paris involving Amadi Lebali (ph), a man with potential links to the brothers and who's suspected in the killing of a police officer in Paris yesterday morning.
So the massacre at Charlie Hebdo of course targeted the cartoonists and other staff that often mocked Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. The brothers' interest in radical Islam was reportedly known by intelligence services in France and the U.S.
I think Cherif was given a three-year sentence in 2005 for his involvement in recruiting French Muslims to fight with Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Said reportedly traveled to Yemen in 2011 where he received Al-Qaeda training. And counterterrorism officials, of course, investigating whether the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen ordered Wednesday's attack.
And French President Hollande described these attacks as the worst of the past 50 years and has called for a meeting of European leaders this weekend to discuss steps to disrupt terror networks.
So, Farah, as you watch -- well first of all, could you talk to use a little bit about the demographics, the Muslim demographic in Europe? I think that might be a good place to start.
PANDITH: Sure. And good afternoon to everyone. And thank you, Jon, for convening us.
Yes, the demographic in Europe is really important. And obviously the diversity of Europe is really important.
I don't want to be obvious about things, but we can't be -- we cannot generalize about what it means to be a Muslim in Europe because each country heritage and culture makes a difference to the way in which the demographic is growing up.
We have some countries like the U.K. and France that have a much older population of Muslims. And some countries like Italy and the Nords that it is not always sort of multigenerational. Many of the immigrants that are coming to these countries are newer.
And that makes a difference. It absolutely does. Whether or not a country has been a colonizer, has not, whether or not there are local laws in place that make it comfortable for some of the immigrants to live.
How they think about themselves and their identity is where I'm going with this. And that is an important point.
So when we think about Western Europe, we're talking about more than 44 million people in Western Europe that can call themselves Muslim. And that's a number that a lot of people are really surprised by because we don't generally think about it as a whole.
But if you think about -- I'm not talking about Bosnia or Albania or other countries in the eastern side of Europe. I'm talking about Western Europe.
The conversations that are taking place among that demographic of Muslims is very important for all of us to understand. And so we have to know the facts on the ground in terms of the numbers and the shape and the contours of the communities of Muslims across Western Europe.
MASTERS: And so you know an investigation will likely go on for months and months. But as you look at these brothers and the other suspects, what does your experience tell you may have led to these violent acts?
And what are we, you know we governments, civil societies, communities not doing to stem this tide? I mean have we been looking at Muslims in Europe?
And what's changed? If you would, maybe talk about the difference between the approach during the Bush administration and the Obama administration.
PANDITH: Right. So I think these are really important framing questions.
I mean first of all, as I was mentioning in terms of the numbers of young people, well the numbers of Muslims in Europe. Let me give you a broader frame and then I'll come back in.
We know that there are -- one-fourth of our planet is Muslim, 1.6 billion people. Sixty-two percent of that number is under the age of 30. And that is a really important number for us because those are the Millennials.
Those are the young people who have grown up in a post-9/11 world. These are young people who have grown up with the word Islam or Muslim on the front page of the papers online and offline since Sept. 12, 2001. And this has significantly impacted the way in which they think about themselves.
And so when I talk about the generations of Muslims in different parts of Europe, whether you're a fourth generation Brit who happens to be Muslim, whether you are a second-generation you know Belgian, it doesn't -- these experiences for this generation -- these generations of millennials is very different from their parents and their grandparents before them.
And I say this because when we as government, for example, were having conversations about Muslims around the world after 9/11 you will remember that we were looking primarily at places that are Muslim majority countries.
We were looking at Afghanistan. We were looking at Pakistan. We're obviously looking at the Middle East, all unbelievably important. But what we all tend to do, and should not do, is to dismiss areas of the world in which people just sort of simply forget that there are Muslims that live there.
And the point is that a Muslim living in Paris is as Muslim as a Muslim living in Kuala Lumpur. And the conversations and the ideology that is present in the world that comes from the extremists preys upon these generations of young people no matter where in the world they are.
Because Europe is a place, obviously, with free borders that absolutely celebrates, as they should, the importance of diversity of expressions, and the freedoms that we hold dear to us. It actually also is an opportunity for those to be able to move around intellectually and physically in a space that allows those that are moving toward extremist thought to be able to do that comfortably.
So when we think about what happened here this week, this tragic event that happened in Paris, it has not happened in a vacuum. I mean the first -- I mean the first time that we began to really think about how a conversation in a place like the U.K., for example, in 1989 with Salman Rushdie, could impact the way we think about foreign policy in the world, obviously the fatwa against him.
But let's also be clear. The things that we are learning from this kind of event, whether it was the fatwa in 1989 all the way through the Danish cartoon crisis, the Teddy-Bear-Gate (ph) that happened with the British teacher in Somalia who named her teddy bear -- the teddy bear in the class of children was named Mohamed. And you will remember that became a very tragic and very complicated situation during the Bush administration.
The video -- film that was made by the Californian, you know the film that the Obama administration says was responsible for the rioting and eventually the devastation in Benghazi and the killing of Ambassador Stevens.
You see all of these kinds of events in which extremists are using and pushing forward this idea that there is one way to be Muslim. It's their way. And anything that moves away from that is not allowed.
And so when you see that diversity of thought that is pushed forward in art forms, and in this case unfortunately you know the use of a pen in a cartoon or whether it's a film or whether it's a song or whether it's a comic book series. You will see the same kind of repercussions.
So when you ask the question, Jon, how do we think about this, there are a couple things that have to be said. First, we have to absolutely understand that Europe matters, that what's happening with Muslims in Europe matters.
How they think about themselves. How they view themselves as Muslim, as they navigate through a crisis of identity, which is something that I saw firsthand right in the context of the Danish cartoon crisis.
Right after you know that crisis the United States government, you know we did -- we were not prepared in 2006 when the Danish cartoon crisis happened to say that something that happened in Copenhagen was going to have an effect on a life in Kabul.
And clearly, sadly, it's 2015. We obviously know that everything matters everywhere, right. But at that point our government didn't know.
And I will tell you what happened. Indeed we decided to get to know Muslims in Europe better. And the State Department created the position as the senior adviser to the assistant secretary, which I was honored to be able to serve as.
But what it allowed me to do was to travel on behalf of the United States government to meet Muslims all over Europe and talk to them about what it meant to be Muslim in Europe. And the conversations were very clear and distinctive that this crisis of identity was pulling them in directions where they were asking themselves things that their parents couldn't answer.
And so where did they go to get answers? They went to Sheikh Google. They went to places at that time they thought could help them understand who they were.
And it absolutely relates to what we are seeing on our screens over the course of the last couple of days. These young kids that were -- well they're not young now. So they're in their early 30s. But as they -- in their 20s as they began to be a part of this demographic that I'm talking about, were saturated with narratives that were saying that you don't belong.
And I will say this is not distinctive. It is not surprising to see that kind of identity crisis move in a direction where they find the appeal of a narrative by extremists to be something that they wanted to take to the next level.
MASTERS: And when you talk about -- you talked about identity. You talk about the sea of culture.
What is -- can you talk maybe a little bit about the development of that identity? I mean at what age is someone particularly, or age range is someone particularly vulnerable to these types of extremist ideologies? And...
PANDITH: Right. Yes. So I mean, Jon, look, everybody, no matter who you are, whether you're male or female, you know what faith you are or a background I mean every teenager goes through a who am I and what's my purpose in the world kind of thing. It's not unique to a particular faith. That's not what I'm saying.
But when you think about what happens to a young person who is seeing images, seeing words, Islam, Muslim, all day, every day, online and offline. This generation is experiencing something that is truly profound. And it is very complicated for them to navigate through.
And so when you ask about an age, you know when we were looking at this right after the Danish cartoon crisis and I was doing the work in Europe, I was seeing this as young you known as 15, 16, 17 onward.
Where people were asking questions -- I remember a conversation I had with a young woman in Denmark who was a teenager. And she -- I was talking to you know 50 or so young kids who were Muslim. And we were sitting in a room chatting about the experience.
They'd all been brought up in Denmark. They all obviously spoke Danish and they saw themselves as Danish.
And this one girl said you know my imam tells me that I'm not a Muslim. And I said what do you mean? And she said look at me. And so all the kids in the room and I, we looked at her. And I couldn't understand what she meant.
And she said -- you know I said I'm sorry, I don't understand what you mean. She said look at me. I'm looking at her again. I still don't get what she's talking about.
And then she says look at me. And she points to her T-shirt and her jeans. And she says my imam tells me that if I dress like this I'm not a real Muslim.
And I said, well who's your imam? And it was an imam that came from outside. It was a foreign imam who didn't speak Danish, of Moroccan descent, who came from a village in Morocco and didn't have any context about what these kids were going through growing up.
That's an extreme example. But it's an important one. It's this kind of identity conflict that they have that they don't have the ready answers.
And if you fast-forward, that was around 2007, 2008, 2009. You fast-forward to now and all these kids you know with the push of their finger are getting answers from the loudest voices online to tell them what they -- how they must dress, what they must do, what they must eat, how they must look to be a real Muslim.
And it is you know, I think for many policymakers and others you can dismiss that. I think that you know wow, this is some sociological thing that's taking place and it has no bearing on foreign policy.
But guess what? It is these generations that are growing up in the post 9/11 world that are most important to us.
As I said, 62 percent of 1.6 billion people are under the age of 30. They're digital natives. They're connected, and the narratives that the extremists are pushing out matter to them.
MASTERS: And so this narrative, you know of course a lot is spoken about the need for a counter-narrative. Can you talk a little -- I think that word is often thrown around loosely.
Could you talk a little bit about what an effective counter-narrative is? And how that plays a role in sort of countering these threats?
PANDITH: So, OK. So when we think about ideas, we think about the ideas of the extremists, what they're putting out, what I'm calling a narrative. The thing that they think is important is built upon an us-and-them framework, right.
It's also built upon a monolithic version of what it means to be -- there's only one way to be a Muslim, right. So, when you -- you begin to unpack that.
You begin to see that form of narrative demonstrated in various ways, not just in the way in which they're teaching people to be and to live. But it's what they want around them as well. There's no tolerance for anything that deviates from where they are.
Now the facts of the matter are Islam has been around for hundreds of years. I mean it has a very, as you know, a very rich cultural history and diversity.
The way the religion is practiced all over the world is extremely diverse. But the extremists are trying to eradicate any kind of memory that there is any kind of diversity of thought.
And you know we tend to have conversations about the sectarian differences in Islam and these wars that are going on. It is much more than that. It is decimating any kind of nuance, any kind of diversity of thought, any kind of diversity of expression.
And so when you take in that narrative, we have to be worried about what is happening not just when the bombs are going off. It's what's happening before all of that is taking place, those questions that a child, a young person's mind are absorbing.
And let's remember that a young person's mind is not fully formed until their early 20s. So what they're getting at these ages is very complex for them.
When they want -- when we are trying to push back against the narrative of the extremists, what we've seen, and you've seen it too here in this tragic event this week. You're -- everybody's begging for people to stand up and speak out against.
Incredibly important to stand up and stand strong for freedom of expression for people of all faiths and backgrounds to say this will not stand, this is not who we are. That is really important.
But the credible voices, those people who are able to push upon a young person to think differently come in forms that we don't always think about.
It isn't just the guy with the longest beard and the highest hat. Or the person who's the head of whatever university or whatever scholarship school or whatever multilateral organization we think has the right voice.
It comes from the peers. It comes from when you think -- also you know this is common sense when you think about things at the local level.
So it's the local players that have value for these kids. Whether it's an athlete, whether it's a businessperson, whether it's a hip hop guy, whether it's a graffiti artist, whatever that -- whoever that person is that makes sense is a credible voice.
What we know we can do a better job of is lifting up the credible voices to push back all day, every day online and offline to drown out the narratives of the extremists.
MASTERS: OK. Thank you, Farah.
And for those of you who've joined us late, this is a CFR media conference call with Farah Pandith focusing on -- focusing on Islamic extremism and of course the attacks in Paris.
So at this point, operator, I think we can go ahead and open it up to questions.
OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time we will open the floor for questions.
If you would like to ask a question, please press the star key followed by the one key on your touchtone phone now. Questions will be taken in the order in which they were received.
If at any time you would like to remove yourself from the question queue, you may press star, two. Again, ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question, please press star, one now.
Our first question comes from Rachel Oswald with CQ Roll Call [sic].
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you so much for having this call. My question is a two-parter.
Firstly, in your time at the State Department did you feel that you had enough -- there were enough resources devoted to doing what you just outlined, raising up the voices of local players to combat extremist Muslim.
And secondly, for policymakers, what is it there for them to do on this? Is it giving the department a bigger budget to devote to lifting up and supporting a more diverse vision of Islam?
Or is it a whole of government approach? Does it involve soft culture, the forms of media that are produced by Hollywood, et cetera?
PANDITH: Thanks for the question. And it's an important one and a critical one at this moment in time.
We have a brand new Congress and you couldn't be asking a more important question. I actually briefed new members of Congress at Harvard a few weeks ago, and appealed to them to think differently about how we look at this problem.
We do not -- so you know you saw this in my bio. I just want to be really clear because you are calling from Roll Call and I know you have a political perspective.
I was a political appointee for both President Bush and President Obama. So I'm not coming to this with a partisan perspective.
I'm coming to this as an American who had the honor of serving my country for more than a decade on these issues. And seeing a very firsthand impact of what it meant to try to do something and not have the kind of tools that we needed to get done.
When you ask about resources, no, we do not have enough resources. I think we absolutely must be thinking differently about how we deal with how kids are getting recruited. That's actually what this is all about.
How are ISIS and Al-Qaeda building their armies? They're building their armies with recruits. We have to stop the recruitment.
And they're not recruiting people over the age of you know 40. They're recruiting young, nimble people who are able to aggressively move their ideas forward in a physical space and in their virtual space.
And so in order for us to fight what I still call a war of ideas, it is up to the U.S. government to lift as many tools forward as we can in the hard power space, which we talk about a lot, but also in the "soft" power space. And I don't just mean -- you know you just talked about Hollywood or you know other tools, incredibly important.
But I think if you would allow me to say this, as the special representative to Muslim communities, and as the person who was asked to do this by Hillary Clinton because she heard what I had done in Europe in the post-9/11 context with the Danish cartoon crisis.
We were doing this -- using the strength of the United States government to be the convener, the facilitator and the intellectual partner with the ideas that we heard on the ground.
It is not the American government that is going to put the ideas forward. It is young people on the ground, who know how to fight this ideology from a very local level.
How can you allow them to let their ideas move forward? We need to be creative. We need to be nuanced. And we need to fund in the soft power space to be able to do that. And we have not gotten those funds at all.
So you're looking at a generational problem with extremism. My goodness, one of the most important things that we should be doing is to recalibrate how we're thinking about solving this problem, stopping the recruitment at the very heart of it. And that is going to require far more effective dollars across the interagency in this soft power space.
MASTERS: Great. Thanks, Farah.
Can we have the next question, please?
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Josh Miller (ph) with Foxy's Gym (ph).
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you so much for this call. I'd like to get your thoughts on whether or not this could be the beginning of a series of events.
There have been some reports today, that or some chatter, that a group in Syria is trying to organize attacks against the West. And this week was obviously several events here. Would there be any indication that these events are part of a larger plot or a series of plots?
PANDITH: So thank you for the question.
I can't know what's in the mind of people around the world. I can only say what we've learned from the past. And I will say I think it's important for policymakers and others to go back.
There's a reason why I mentioned all of the other sort of the timeline of experiences, tragic experiences that we've all learned from. And I just want to hearken back to a couple of things.
You know you will remember that when the Danish cartoon crisis happened we went back and said well when was the cartoon published?
PANDITH: How did this all happen?
Well, when it first came out there were bumbling and there were some responses and reactions. But it was months later when somebody took that cartoon, went to Egypt and started sort of peddling it around saying look, look at what was done.
It started sort of a very sophisticated, if you will, I mean sort of crowd source idea of we got to do something about it, right? And that kind of reaction happened with other things too you know: the Bay of Bengal murder, the threat of the burning of the Quran by Geert Wilders, the threat of Terry Jones, the pastor in Gainesville, Fla. burning a cross.
We began to see, and because -- I mean look, all understanding this is -- nothing happens in a vacuum. People get ideas and they're moved forward in different ways.
But it takes somebody to stir the pot with an image or with a video or with a song. Look at what just happened. Let's go out there and march again, or whatever that thing might be.
So I would not be surprised if this is, this horrifying event in Paris is replicated maybe not as tragically but in other ways. Whether it's you know online or offline I don't know. But that people will use this for their means. Excuse me, as a means to their ends.
So you know that's what we've seen from the past. I can't imagine why it wouldn't be true going forward.
MASTERS: OK. Great. Can we have the next caller or the next question, please?
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Jacqueline Albert-Simone with Politique Internationale.
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you so much for that wonderful exposure of the situation.
I -- you talked about Europe in the beginning. You said Europe is important. But later we went back to the United States. My question, of course because of the event in Paris, is how are the individual countries in Europe handling this problem?
I think first to France, who has never been authoritative about including the Muslims in their own culture. They've practically done everything very little, one would say, to include them, manages to isolate the Muslims.
There are six million in Paris. And your figures are the same for Paris as the world. That makes it 62 percent of them are in that position you talked about of being very vulnerable.
So could you just talk about not only France, but the other countries and what they are doing, if they are cooperating to the extent that you feel the United States is doing or trying to do?
PANDITH: So, thank you for the question. I mean I want to be really -- I want to be really direct. You know this horrible event isn't just the first time that European countries are obviously looking at things. And even in the context of the chaos of ISIS and foreign fighters.
The Europeans in a post-9/11 world have really thought about this issue both in the hard power space and in the soft power space. But the question is, where and how do governments get creative about what they're doing?
Having talked with many European governments post Danish cartoon, you know there's been a great movement and change in the way these countries think about these things. And I -- you know whether it's Spain or the Netherlands or Germany, whether it's Sweden. Each of these countries have had different philosophies about how they want to think about things.
And that's why I started the call with talking about when you look at a country in Europe, we're not just saying Europe monolith, obviously we know that's not true. But even Europe -- I'm sorry, even a country monolith.
I'll give you an example. If you look at the country of Spain, a Muslim in Madrid and a Muslim in Barcelona are having two very different experiences, right.
In Madrid, Europe's largest mosque exists: the M30 Mosque. But in Barcelona the Catalonian government has made it very complicated to build a mosque.
Now why am I stating that? Because the ease with which we talk about the communities of Muslims within a country is very, very different.
When you go to Barcelona and you talk to the Muslims there you know you begin to hear how uncomfortable they feel about not having a place to pray. The so-called "garage mosques".
But when you go to Madrid they're very proud of the M30 Mosque and they say they have a place to pray. And there're a lot of converts in Madrid.
So how does the government think about those issues? And that's just a minor example for a bigger thing.
When we think about the experience of these communities, not only are we looking at the generations of people in Europe, which generation, which cultural heritage. Are you someone of Moroccan background, of Turkish background, of Pakistani background? That makes a difference to what's happening in the home.
And then also what are the local issues on the ground that make the experience for those Muslims -- you know how do they feel? Are you in Cologne where you know there's been such controversy over the Cologne mosque?
Are you having conversations about whether minarets should be built? Are you thinking about -- and I'm not, by the way, blaming -- I'm just talking about the ecosystem in which you're growing up and you're thinking about these things.
In all of the cities that I travel to, and when I was senior adviser to Ambassador Dan Freed in the two years between 2007 and 2009, I went to 19 Western Europe and 55 cities. And I went to places where many senior government officials never went. And so I can say that many, many of the things I'm telling you are just echoes of what I've heard from them.
And that nuance you know I cannot underscore it enough. Whether you're a Leipzig or a Dusseldorf or a Berlin or a Frankfurt, it makes a difference because of the community in which -- the support the Muslims are getting and how they think about themselves.
So I don't want to paint this as you know a problem of you know boy, Germany is different from Belgium and the U.K. ought to do this compared to Italy. It's not only that. It's not -- many of the conversations are quite advanced now in 2015.
But what we have missed across the board, whether it's -- and this is consistent in every Western nation I've gone to, including our own country, by the way. Whether it's Australia or New Zealand or any of the Western European countries, you are not seeing the kind of response outside of government to help think about innovative ways in which we can create counter-narratives. And that is the missing piece.
MASTERS: Great. Can we have the next question, please?
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Kenneth Jost with Jost on Justice.
QUESTION: Hello. I guess I want to ask in effect an elaboration on your answer there.
What policies do European governments have that interfere with Muslims' freedom of religious expression? What policies do they have that fail to protect Muslims from discrimination on the basis of religion? And what can be done in regard to those inactions or omissions?
PANDITH: So I want to be -- yes. I appreciate the question. Thank you.
It would seem one would want to say that because this happens, that happens. And I want to be clear that that is not the case. I think it's important you're asking the question about what the ecosystem is in which a young person who happens to be Muslim grows up.
Obviously it affects them. And you know it goes toward the crisis of identity sometimes that I've been talking about. But it isn't because you don't -- again, I'm not. OK.
Clearly I am not advocating for like it's OK not to have a place to pray because as an American I absolutely believe in those freedoms of expression. I believe in freedom of religion, all the things that we hold dear as Americans of course.
But I think what I will tell you is across Europe you're seeing a complicated series of answers that governments are -- local and on the federal level that you try to put in place to stem a particular thing from happening which has a backlash.
You know I think it is -- you know we want to see as Americans the ability for people to pray freely. We want to see the ability for people to build a mosque, a church, a temple freely.
We want people to be able to express their religion in the way they dress, whether you're wearing a yamaka or a bindi or a cross or a turban. Those are values that we hold very, very dear.
Some of the policies that are complicated come around issues of these kinds of freedoms. And some of the conversations also which doesn't always get talked about is what happens in the context of dignity, OK, how people are thought about.
Is there an easy facilitation of opportunity for people to say something if they feel discriminated against? Are there coalitions built within communities, multiethnic and multi-religious coalitions of support. Are there -- is there the kind of environment in which you know it's OK to have a faith?
I remember having a conversation very early on after the Danish cartoon crisis where the gentleman -- it was a roundtable actually that I had in Belgium. And a Belgian told me, an older man looked at me and said, "What am I supposed to do in this country? God is dead here," right.
And I say that because it's the facility of living. It's the human component to this that sometimes we miss. We have to look at it from our own perspective too here in America the conversations that we are having with ourselves about what it means to be an American: how we think about race, how we think about dignity for all, mutual respect.
I'm not trying to sound like Pollyanna. I'm just simply saying these things matter. As you think about the cultures and the contours of the experience of an individual.
Is there a place to pray if you're -- I mean, excuse me, to be buried when you die as a Muslim? Are there cemeteries available? Not every place in Europe has that facility.
When you pay your tithe does some of that tithe go toward the Muslim cemeteries and not just the Christian ones? These are nuances that local and state actors within the European context really need to make sure are equal across the board.
MASTERS: Farah, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about you know what are some of the programs in these communities which seem to be, as you describe, capacity building? Not necessarily you know not a heavy-handed sort of government approach, but building capacity sort of at the grassroots level?
I mean obviously they're very sensitive to the context, to the local context. But can you talk about maybe some of the commonalities and you know is there a certain model that's worked and should be sort of promoted in some of these high-level discussions about you know about preventing these types of events in the future?
PANDITH: Yes. I mean it is actually all about local. It's all about the grassroots. It's organic, nuanced initiatives that may from a government -- you know you look back and you think wait, what -- (inaudible) quick to criticize programs.
But if a community tells you, in Luton, U.K., for example, with the Khayaal Theater Company or that says look, in this community we have a lot of people of South Asian background who are third and fourth generation. And we know that street theater actually works really well as a place to tell -- for narratives. We want to invest in local street theater to provide for opportunities for kids to hear things in a different way.
You know most governments are like wait, what are you talking about? Show us the return on that investment. If we give this kind of money to the small NGO here, how is that going to make a difference to the big picture?
There's no magic wand here. There's no silver bullet. We have to invest in really, really local efforts and coalitions of networks that can push back so that the voices that are heard are not government voices.
We've built several of these initiatives in the past with small seed grants to local players. The network Against Violent Extremism, for example, is a fantastic example of local players all across Europe and actually all across the world who are former extremists of all kinds who are able to talk about their experience of how they got radicalized.
And they do this. And that makes a difference to a young person to hear. Has it been scaled up big enough? No. Those are the kinds of places that we need to see investment.
We need to see investment in public service announcements with creative filmmakers who have done things and you know they're trying to do Kickstarter campaigns. That's where government you know power can be to help identify places where they need help and to connect them, to be the connector with nongovernment entities that can actually get those ideas up and out and off the ground to build platforms to do that.
I often think about things you know. When we look at global problems, look at HIV/AIDS for example. Twenty-five years ago you know no one could even talk about the issue. It had something -- it was very unseemly.
People couldn't talk about condoms. You couldn't say that word in public. It was a very uncomfortable conversation. People didn't want to have it. But in fact it was a global threat.
It's something that people didn't know how to deal with. Until we got local and grassroots and leaders talking about this issue and thinking about wow, while government is working on this issue themselves, we too can do our part in thinking about how we educate kids.
It took 20 years but now I mean it's totally mainstream. We put new kinds of money into the research. We're defeating this disease.
I mean all that kind of stuff can be connected to how we think about this issue of extremism. We must mainstream this conversation so that local and organic ideas can bloom.
Then it's not something that people think oh this is a government problem, they have to deal with it. In fact we need the innovation of nongovernment actors to defeat the extremists.
MASTERS: Great. Thank you.
Operator, can we have the next question, please?
OPERATOR: Yes, sir. Our next question comes from Lisa Rizzolo with ARD German Television.
QUESTION: Hi there. Thank you for taking my question. Wanted to ask if you can comment on the cooperation between Europe and the United States in handling the problem?
And also Attorney General Holder is traveling to Paris this weekend to meet on the ministerial level. They're saying addressing terrorist threats, foreign fighters and countering violent extremism. What do you think could be accomplished from a meeting like that?
PANDITH: Yes. I think it's a wonderful thing that Attorney General Holder is going to be part of that conversation.
There are no lines that separate anymore. What's happening in Europe matters for the United States and vice versa, and as I said earlier in this call, globally.
What we should -- there is lots of cooperation. You asked that direct question. Of course there's lots of cooperation on a wide range of fronts. That's not the issue here.
The issue is not just the intel piece about what's happening. What we need to see is the cooperation around the CVE piece, the countering violent extremism piece, the stuff that I've spent the majority of this call talking about. What can we do to bring the resources to the table to inject new initiatives into the global landscape to stop the recruitment from happening?
OK. A couple of examples here. This is the most basic. But you know we need to really be looking at what's happening within the home.
Do parents really understand how a kid gets recruited? Have we spent the kind of time explaining to them what we learned in government about how the recruitment process takes place, what we're seeing online and offline? How do we help parents that have kids that we think -- that they think are you know susceptible and need help?
There's a fear situation going on. Have we built the kind of infrastructure and the mental health capacity and the social workers to be able to work on these things?
We haven't done that stuff. We haven't done it the way we need to be doing it. And the time is now.
MASTERS: Great. Thank you.
Operator, can we have the next question, please?
OPERATOR: Yes, sir. Our next question comes from Boya Li with People's Daily.
QUESTION: Thank you. Yesterday the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that Obama's duration would prioritize fighting Islam-phobia in aftermaths of the terrorist attack in France.
And he said the real problem is lack of leadership in defending Islam. And this has been interpreted as an effort to promote Islam. So could you share your thoughts on this with us?
PANDITH: As Americans we believe in freedom of faith and we respect every faith on this planet. That is who we are as Americans.
The president talking about one particular faith, he would do this for any other attacks of any other faith, of any -- and he must. As the commander-in-chief of our country the tone that he sets about who we are as Americans is important.
Going back to the founding fathers of our country, from George Washington to President Obama, almost every single president has made very clear and concise statements about their respect for all religion, their respect -- and including Islam, by the way. You can go back and look at this.
So to me it is a ridiculous conversation to be promoting one religion or another. The president is promoting mutual respect of, and dignity, of all faiths, and he always has.
MASTERS: Great. Thank you. Can we have the next question, please?
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Lynnard Duberstein (ph) with Public International News (ph). Sir, your line is now open.
MASTERS: Farah, I have a question. As you've worked in this community how much does -- I mean a lot of these are immigrant communities. How much does economics play a role? And you know how is that a component of as we think about putting together the programs, or funding the programs that would help prevent these types of attacks? How does economics come into play?
PANDITH: In terms of how the extremists are able to do their stuff or?
MASTERS: Well, in terms -- no, no. In terms of -- sorry. In terms of poverty. How much is poverty and economic status and that type of -- how does that play a role?
PANDITH: Thank you for that question. So yes, sorry. Thank you for the question. It's an important thing to address.
Look, the data -- look. After 9/11 you will remember that everybody said a couple of things about who the bad guys were before we really knew who they were.
Everybody said they had to -- the absolutely must not be educated because clearly somebody who's educated couldn't do this. Everybody said they had to be really poor because they have nothing to live for and so therefore that's why they did this.
We have debunked this kind of stuff. I mean what we know, tragically 13 years after 9/11, is a whole lot of information. One of the things we've done really well is to understand who these people are, right. Where -- so age is an indicator, OK. That's one thing that is out there.
But guess what? What we've learned is education level, financial you know comfortability, race, these aren't things that are -- gender, are not things that are playing into what happens in terms of the recruitment process.
The one caveat I'll tell you on the money thing is this. There are places that I've been in the world in which extremists will pay people to wear particular kinds of dress. To send off an image, to build the kind of ecosystem to suggest, as I went back to the beginning of the call, this sort of monolithic view of what it means.
So money comes in that way. Why not get a couple hundred dollars a week to cover my hair? You know I'll do that. You know this happens, right. I also -- you are also seeing of course there are some examples of places where people are being paid to be sort of the cannon fodder, if you will.
But the vast majority of recruits are not doing this because they're either poor or they don't have an education or any other you know box that we like to put this stuff in. It makes us all feel so much better -- and I'm not saying this about you. I don't mean it that way.
I just mean the conversation that we've had, if it was that simple you know you have to be this age and you have to be this poor and then therefore you become a bad guy. That isn't what we've seen in the context of the last 13 years.
MASTERS: OK. I think we have a couple more questions here. Operator, can we go ahead with the next one?
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Alden Petkov (ph) with Bulgarian National Radio.
QUESTION: Hello. Thank you so much for the call. I want to hear your comments on something that happened immediately after the attack.
There were statements by far right groups in Europe, including in the U.K. that attacked those attacks. The attacks show that multiculturalism model doesn't work. What's your take on those comments?
PANDITH: Yes. Those are comments that are predictable. I mean we've seen that repeatedly. And politicians will use whatever they want to use for whatever purposes that they have.
We're in a really serious moment in our human history. We are seeing a bunch of non-state actors have the facility to recruit young kids. And that's the issue that we need to be focusing on.
The politicking around this I have really very little patience for. What it does is it takes the eye off the ball of the bigger issues that we really need to pay attention to.
Directly to answer your question, of course people are going to take advantage of this. And they have in -- not just in the two places that you've talked about. It's going to happen all over the world.
As an American, I believe in the power of diversity. And I believe that it makes communities stronger.
Operator, we can go ahead with the next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Jean Yu (ph) with Evco Times Newspaper (ph).
QUESTION: My name is Jean -- hello? Can you hear me?
MASTERS: Yes. Go ahead with your question.
QUESTION: Sure. You mentioned after 9/11 the world -- the national community started to respond to the issue. My understanding is did they start to realize the issue from -- to respond to that crisis?
And do you think after all this, over 20 years, do we fail? Or do we succeed to duly respond?
And also you mentioned the different countries have their own strategy to overcome this crisis. But extremists, they are then dedicated to use all the tools like cartoons, music, movies to achieve their own goals. So do you think for this crisis (inaudible) international?
For this crisis do we need a leader to generalize the idea and strategy? And who do you think should be -- play the leader role?
PANDITH: I don't think we need one leader.
I think governments around the world need to catalyze new ideas and to help us explain to the nongovernment players who have innovation in the online space, who have innovation in the offline space to help us think creatively about how to build an all day, every day machinery that is going to rebut and deflate the narratives of extremists of all kinds, whether we're talking about Boko Haram or we're talking about Lak Shabiba (ph) or we're talking about AQ or ISIS or whatever it happens to be.
That can be done. This is not an unsolvable problem. This is a problem that we have the knowhow. The question is can we ramp up and do what we need to do in partnership with nongovernment actors to be able to do this right.
MASTERS: OK. Great. Thanks, Farah.
Given time constraints I think we have a pretty tight 1 p.m. deadline. But I'd like to give Farah a chance to give some final thoughts here if you'd like to go ahead, Farah.
PANDITH: Yes. Thank you. And thank you all for listening. I think we've talked -- we've covered a lot of ground today. I will just say two things.
One, this is a reality check of what we can do better. And I think moments that people are now asking and talking about the ideology is an important thing so that we can figure out how to build the kind of "virtual" armies to push back against the extremist narrative is now. It was now, it is now. And we can do more.
The other thing is I just would say that I think we need to be thinking. We need to envision what comes after this. What -- we need to be ahead of the thinking of the worst bad guy out there, right. What would they do? How would they build more recruits? And we need to be ahead of them in that way. And the only way we're going to get there is to get those kinds of creative ideas from communities themselves. And we need to absolutely demand.
Going back to the woman from Roll Call, the kind of attention in our country by our elected officials, our newly elected officials to think about things creatively and not to expect the same kind of approach, which was only a hard power approach. But we also need to see on an international scale the coming together of nuanced and organic movements of all kinds of credible voices to be able to do this. And we -- this is defeatable. Thank you.
MASTERS: Great. Thanks, Farah. Well, I think this was a very helpful and engaging discussion. But we'll have to leave it there for now.
I want to thank Farah Pandith for her insights this afternoon, of course as well as the callers for their interest.
Again, this was the Council on Foreign Relations media conference call. And thank you all for joining in.