Professor, Institute of Political Studies; Author, Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West
Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Director of the Institute for Transregional Studies, Princeton University
Senior Fellow, RAND Corporation; Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe; Former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union
International Correspondent, National Public Radio
Experts discuss recent terrorist attacks that have unsettled cities in Europe, and lessons to be learned to prevent future attacks around the world.
AMOS: I would like to welcome—(off mic)—“Lessons Learned From Terrorist Attacks.” I’m Deborah Amos with National Public Radio. The one thing I know about the Council on Foreign Relations is we start on time and we leave on time.
We have an excellent panel so I’m not going to belabor everyone’s bio so that we can get to it. I’m going to start with James Dobbins. He’s written an excellent study called “The End of the Caliphate.” He’s a senior fellow at RAND, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Europe. What is interesting about the study is he actually offers some solutions. And I hope that we can talk about those this afternoon. Bernie Haykel, renowned scholar, friend, professor of Near Eastern studies, and director for the Institute of Transregional Studies at Princeton University.
And Gilles Kepel, who is a professor at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, and the author of a book that is new for English speakers, “Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West.” Gilles has a particular distinction of being loathed by Marine Le Pen—(laughter)—and hated by jihadis, who have threatened to kill him. If you notice the police cars out front, it’s because they have noted that he’s a really smart cookie. And so it’s one of the prices that you pay for doing this line of work.
Kepel’s book talks about terror in France, three generations of jihadis. And I want to start by asking him, as an advisor to the new French president, in a remarkable election for all of us to watch here after hours, I wanted to ask what you will be advising. This was a—certainly one of the biggest issues in the French election. It could have gone the other way based on this issue alone—on terrorism, on jihadis, and France’s history—most recently history of terrible events. Is there a change—should there be a change coming in French policy domestically towards the Muslim population? And will you be advising that?
KEPEL: Well, thank you. I hope you’re not going to raise too many expectations after your introduction, and I would not be able to deliver. And feel free—I mean, no one is going to kill me in New York, because I know this is a tough country.
Actually, most of the pundits believed that Marine Le Pen would come first during the first round, and that she may not win at the turnout but she should, you know, make a very, very strong showing and then that would lead to a significant amount of members of parliament, who are going to be elected next month, from the Front National. And what led people to think that was that it was expected that the terror wave would continue in France. You know, we had 239 people who died between the Charlie Hebdo attacks on January 7, 2015 and the stabbing of the Catholic priest in his church in Normandy on the 26th of July 2016.
So—and the jihadists’ goal, which was made very explicit in their writings which I—many of them I’ve translated in that book—was that the more attacks, the more retaliation they hoped from the global society, that would—people would go and desecrate mosques, have pogroms against Muslims, vote en masse for the extreme right. So that would be expedient for jihadists so that they would tell their coreligionists, you see, there’s no possibility for integration in Europe and French society. The French are all racists or xenophobes, or what have you. So you have to join under our banner, under the prophet’s banner, as they say.
And this did not happen. Among other things because since July the French intelligence finally managed to crack the codes and to have a very efficient CT policy, aiming precisely at this sort of, you know, network based third generation jihadism, which I describe in the book. So there was this thing. And the other thing was that military pressure on the so-called caliphate was actually efficient. You know, people who were busy plotting so as to soak the infidel’s territory in their own blood, as they say, are now busy trying to save their life or fighting on the battle front. And so—and the border with Turkey—between Turkey and the so-called caliphate are sealed now. It’s impossible to get in and to get out. And therefore, the capacity to coordinate attacks in Europe is far less than it was.
You know, you still can have people who decide one morning that they’re going to blow themselves up, but this does not have exactly the same efficiency as when it is coordinated and the like. You know, November 13, when we had the attacks at the Bataclan music hall and the Stade de France, 130 dead in one day, which is enormous. This was in coordination with Syria, with Belgium, and so on, and so on. This is impossible now.
And (essentially ?), the guy who sentenced me to death three times already, you know, was—preceded me in hell, because he’s been droned by an American missile in February. So I may the only French pro-Trump person here, because—(laughter)—you know, he settled the accounts on my behalf. So—only on that ground, of course. And the—so I believe to some extent we have some sort of a window of opportunity here. And this is what President-elect Macron I think understood very well, because to him—and his very—he’s sort of adamant on the fact that he wants to have a CT taskforce in the Elysee Palace, close to him, because to him the way—I can’t read his thoughts because he thinks a lightning speed, and so I have to run—to him, terrorism is not—you know, is not an issue of security only.
It is something that reveals the malaise of French society. It is something that has to do both with the ideology of jihadism and also with the fact that we have neighborhoods, what we call—what you call in America the values—which is the only word in French is still known in English. In the good old days it was champagne, parfait, now it’s values. (Laughter.) And when you have 40 percent unemployment, this is a problem which doesn’t have only to do with ideology. It has to do with the reform of the school system, fixing the economy, and also fixing the justice problem—the prisons problem, which are the sort of incubator of jihadism today.
So this is what he’s very committed to do. And to make a long story short, you know, there is also this feeling when the elections come—after Mr. Trump was elected in America and after Brexit in Britain, then, you know, France would follow the lead. But we still think we’re different, see. (Laughter.)
AMOS: Viva la.
KEPEL: Mmm hmm. Vive la France, what else can I say? (Laughter.)
AMOS: Let me ask the two of you to comment on, you know, the European approach to jihadism. And perhaps we’ll see something different in France. Is there anything that’s applicable to what you’re—to what the policy is in America, that you can see?
HAYKEL: Do you want to take that first?
AMOS: Are there parallels?
DOBBINS: Well, I think there are parallels. I mean, I think the social problems and the problems of inclusion are—or lack of inclusion—are somewhat more acute in France. You also have a larger Muslim population. And the economy has been in doldrums longer than here. So the United States has, by and large, had somewhat greater success in integrating Muslims in American society, and a smaller number of foreign fighters who’ve gone to fight in Syria, and thus a smaller number are coming back. But the problem is not absent here. And so on—I think there’s probably a good deal to learn from France. But there’s also a good deal that France can learn from the United States.
HAYKEL: Yeah, I mean, I would definitely agree with that. I think that, you know, the Muslim population in the United States is not homogeneous in the way it is, let’s say, you know, in the U.K. or France or Germany, where you—it’s largely, you know, one type—one ethnicity or one group of the same origin. So Algerians, North Africans in France, South Asians in the U.K., and Turks in Germany. And we—they’re much better integrated certainly in the United States. Most, actually, I think are African American. So they’re, you know, fully part of this country. There’s a history. They’re not sort of recent arrivals.
I also think that the kinds of programs that they have in Europe—for instance, if you take the Prevent program in the U.K., would be impossible to apply here in the United States. I mean, one of the things I gather, in the U.K. is that if you’re a teacher at school and you see someone, you know, say something that may be threatening or may cause a problem, you can actually, you know, report on that person, and you’re supposed to report on the person. I can’t see that, you know, happening here in the same way. So we have very different problems.
I think we still think of jihadism as a problem—you know, an overseas problem in the United States, whereas in Europe it is really a domestic problem. It’s much closer to, for instance, how the Saudis think of this problem, that it’s, you know, a community within the society that is attracted to this.
AMOS: Then let me ask something that in some ways would be almost impossible here. Gilles, you were on the commission that formulated the law that banned the headscarf, the hijab, in schools. I can’t imagine that happening here. It just would be considered un-American. You can wear whatever you want on your head. Why did you think that that was necessary? And do you think that you’ve had enough time to look at it—that’s 2004—do you think that that actually did what you thought it would do?
KEPEL: Well, thank you. Before I answer that question, could I just comment on what was said before?
KEPEL: Well, you know, what we have in Europe is what I call in the book third generation jihadism—i.e., network-based, bottom-up jihadism—which uses mainly a population which is disenfranchised, youth imprisoned, and something like that—you know, which is not a model which is foreign to America because after all, Malcom X was, you know, the paradigm for that—petty criminal who sort of was redeemed by his allegiance, at the time, to the Nation of Islam, Mr. Mohammad’s religion.
And this third generation, I think, in Europe, came as a sort of reaction, lessons learned from the failure of the second generation, which was bin Laden. Bin Laden sent Saudis and a few—a couple of Emirates, a Lebanese—you know, a Lebanese and Egyptian flying in the air in New York and Washington on 9/11. But then this had no relation to the grassroots in America, was something you said earlier, right? And, you know, it did not bear fruit at the end of it. It was an extreme magnitude, but it did not lead to any mobilization on their behalf. And at the end of the day, you know, the jihad was defeated in Iraq, not necessarily only thanks to American presence but also because Iran delivered, and it’s a majority-Shia country.
Now, what Abu Musab al-Suri, the theorist of third-generation jihad, said is that, you know, as opposed to this top-down jihad in America, which was against America and what they called the faraway enemy, which proved after all too mighty, they should have a bottom-up jihad, network-based; and you know, using the young disenfranchised people.
Now, this is of course something that was perceived because it was far closer to Middle East and North Africa. You can rent a camper, whatever, and travel to—on a ferry boat to Syria, right, or to Turkey into Syria, which is something you cannot do from America, of course. But the issue is to what extent—even though, you know, Europe was dubbed the soft underbelly of the West by these third-generation jihadists—to what extent this can be translated on American soil to an extent.
And I do agree with my colleagues here on the panel who say that the situation is different, but you had San Bernardino and you had Orlando. And if you look at Orlando—and the CTC at West Point just published an interesting report on police action in Orlando—you know, the attack at the—at the gay bar, the Pulse, in Orlando, resembles a lot the modus operandi of the third generation in Europe, right.
So even though the—so the overall social dimension is not the same as was rightly underlined—and I believe that this is not something of which other countries is entirely immune. If you talk to NYPD people, I mean, they are very, very concerned about that in New York.
Now, if I have one—another minute, this—I think that the banning of—not the veil but all signs of religions belonging in schools was based on the fact that, you know, when you have taxpayers’ money and the republic is secular, as—“laic,” as we say—funding the schools, whether they’re private or—public or private. Therefore, you do not have to have religious—display of religion in the schools.
And I know this was criticized, and “frog bashing” was definitely about at the time, but we’re used to it. It’s no problem. (Laughter.) And the—but the result was that, you know, for the 15 years that it lasted, between 1989 and 2004, the schools were sued all the time and the Muslim brothers used that as their main weapon, if you wish, in order to make the community feel that it was victimized and to play the—sort of the heroes and the heralds of this community, build a community under their umbrella.
Now, since the law was passed, the female pupils who wear veils come with their veil to school, take their veil away when they get into school, and put it back when they—when they get out of school. And this has not led to any problem and—because it was something which was instrumentalized largely by the—by the MBs, by the Muslim brothers, to build their hegemony over that population.
And when—then we had the riots in 2005, which were not Muslim riots but took place during Ramadan and so on. And the brothers were sort of sidelined. And then we had Salafism growing in its stead. And this is another—this is a different issue now. But the veil issues in schools is—nowadays is not—it’s not something which is—which is discussed. I mean, it’s been accepted.
AMOS: I want to ask all three of you to comment on this. One of the things that happened in the final debate between Macron and Le Pen was that Macron quoted you and—really interesting idea, and it was an idea that was played out in our election. And the idea was this, that if you vote for, you know, a right-wing candidate and an Islamophobic candidate, you give the jihadis what they want, you know, it builds their propaganda. That argument was certainly around during our elections, but you know, one of the interesting facts in your paper is Americans are more afraid now than they were after 9/11.
Do you think that the election here means that that idea failed, that Americans don’t understand that idea and it won in France but lost here?
DOBBINS: I’m sorry—
AMOS: And the idea being is if you—if you elect someone who is an Islamophobic, you know, leader, you give the jihadis what they want.
KEPEL: A Muslim banner, I guess.
AMOS: A Muslim banner, yes.
DOBBINS: Well, I don’t think the election here really turned on terrorism or Islam issue. It was probably a factor. How it played is hard to tell. Clearly domestic economic issues and globalism versus nationalism were the more dominant issues.
And to that extent, the nationalist argument prevailed. And what you’re suggesting, that essentially transference of all your problems to external factors, whether it’s Chinese, you know, traders or Muslim terrorists, was a factor. But I don’t think—I don’t think—I think it—for obvious reasons, the terrorist attacks in France are more recent—are a more recent memory, it was a more acute problem there.
HAYKEL: You know, my sense is, you know, we will always have lone-wolf attacks and that that’s something we just, you know, have to come to accept and also not blow out of proportion in terms of, you know, their importance. I mean, if we overreact, then you are giving the terrorists exactly what they want.
And the terrorists are involved. If you look at ISIS or even al-Qaida’s ideology, they are involved in a civilizational struggle. That’s how they present themselves, you know, Islam against the rest. And certainly anything that goes towards that way of framing the problem helps them.
Now, having said that, ISIS is being defeated and will be defeated very shortly, I hope, in terms of its capability of controlling territory and claiming that it’s a state. Once that happens, I think the sheen of, you know, this is some caliphate that’s conquering and living up to the ideals of early Islam and all that—all of that will go away. No one likes a loser, you know. No one wants to be associated with losers, and they will soon become, you know, losers.
And we can see this from the number of people who were recruited who are now desperately trying to get out. Some of them presumably are still committed to the ideology, but I imagine quite a few of them are no longer—I mean, have been disabused of the illusion that this is, you know, utopia on earth.
AMOS: Lost their “Islam for Dummies” book. This brings us to—which they all took when they went—many of them took when they went.
This brings us to Ambassador Dobbins’ study, which gives us some notions of what happens after. And one of the ideas that you promote is you can defeat ISIS in Mosul and in Raqqa, but if you don’t put in good governance in those places, they come back and all the work that Gilles has been talking about has to be redone again.
What do you think has to happen? What’s the bottom line that has to happen in both Raqqa and Mosul to not just defeat ISIS in those places but to make sure they don’t come back?
DOBBINS: Well, ISIS actually is implanted and controls population and territory in half a dozen states, of which Iraq and Syria are the most serious, but also to a smaller extent in Nigeria, in Egypt, in Afghanistan, and in Libya. And it’s no accident that the places where it’s become implanted are the worst-governed states in the Muslim world.
And so while the U.S., working through local partners, has been successful in reducing the size and population under Islamic State control and while the caliphate as a physical entity will soon be history, the problem that gave rise to the Islamic State and previously gave rise to al-Qaida, which hasn’t gone away either, isn’t going to go away.
So the question is, once you’ve taken Mosul, once you’ve taken Raqqa, once you’ve successfully eradicated the footholds in these other places, who’s going to secure those populations? Who’s going to administer those populations? And unless you have local partners who can—who can secure and administer those populations, you’re going to—the problem is going to reoccur, either an Islamic State will return or something similar and maybe even worse, just as the Islamic State grew out of al-Qaida.
So state-building, creating indigenous capacity to govern, to secure and administer territory and population, is an essential follow-on, if you will, to the conventional military victories that are about to take place in Mosul and probably in Raqqa.
And the answers who’s going to govern and who’s going to secure it is easier in Iraq than it is in Syria, where the—where the situation is much more complex and where we don’t have a government through whom, with whom we can operate and whom we can support.
AMOS: Bernie, we’ve heard—nobody likes a loser. I agree. Nobody does. And when they were winning, you know, there were a lot of young people who wanted to go. But is this idea a cycle? Because we don’t really do nation-building very well. Al-Qaida comes back as ISIS. Is there an end to this, or is this just an idea that lives and in the right circumstances springs up again?
HAYKEL: I mean, I think, as Gilles’ book points out, the—you know, the ideology of jihadism as an answer to political problems, to social problems, also to disenfranchisement is going to remain until something else comes up. And this is largely a Sunni problem and largely a Sunni Arab problem, although it does have these similar manifestations in Europe and certainly in France.
But it’s hard to imagine, you know, what’s going to come next with jihadism or to predict because, you know, they tried—the first generation tried, you know, let’s take over this state, the local state, the near enemy, as Gilles pointed out. Then the second generation was, oh, let’s go after the far enemy, the United States, and that’s going to create the mobilization and radicalization of the Muslim world. That didn’t happen. Then they tried the third model, which is, well, let’s create our own state, you know, a caliphate. And that’s—looks like it’s not working either.
So, you know, what’s going to come next? And maybe Gilles can say something about that.
KEPEL: Well, actually, you know, we—with my students, we’re doing a lot of field work in jails, you know, talking to people who—jihadists who came back from Syria or Iraq or who were arrested going there. And they’re quite eager to talk actually, because they’re in a situation where they are not very well because, you know, in Islamic parlance used to say that there is—in the time of the prophet, there was what they called “marhallad istadaf” (ph) and “marhallad tenkeen” (ph). “Istadaf” (ph) is “weakness.” And like, when the Muslims were a weak community, they fled Mecca to Medina because they couldn’t confront their enemies. And when they were strong, “tenkeen” (ph), they would come back and conquer Mecca, right?
And so they thought that, you know, building the state was a sort of conquest of Mecca. They were strong. They were—they seized Mosul and Raqqa and everything. Now with the attacks, the military pressure; and the fact that they can’t go out, they can’t get in, as Bernie reminded us—when you monitor their exchanges or their emails or whatever, their conversations on their websites, and when you talk with them in jail, they don’t have the same enthusiasm. They think that, you know, this is a phase of weakness that they’re getting into now, that now they have to deepen their faith, they have to go back to the scriptures, and it’s going to take long, it’s not going to be for tomorrow, right.
They’re in a phase where they’re, if I may say so, slightly depressed. And the fact that they could not, you know, influence the political agenda in a country like France, where they had invested so much effort over the last years, was I think as great a disappointment—a disappointment to them as it became to Marine Le Pen finally.
AMOS: So they wanted her to win.
KEPEL: Of course, yeah.
AMOS: Yeah, of course.
KEPEL: And because, you know, this is explicit in their exchanges. When we talk to the guys in the—in the jails, they say, no, we think she—that would be great if she won, because, you know, this is the way we’re going to mobilize our coreligionists. And this is what Macron told her, of course, which is, I think, something that—which was very detrimental to her way of thinking and to her standing in the debate, the final presidential debates.
And so this is—this is new. And now the question is what could we expect for afterwards, because as Ambassador Dobbins and Professor Haykel mentioned, the—you know, it’s not because you bombed Mosul or Raqqa or you drone people that the solution is, you know—is found. And you have to find—you have to administrate those new territories, and you have to find solutions for disenfranchisement in Europe and so on and so forth.
So on this European issue, I think—I—my gut feeling is that Macron has the right ideas. Now, will he be able to implement them in such a small span of time—this is another issue, but we—he’s going to be president on Sunday, so in the meanwhile, there’s nothing to say. We’ll see what he does.
But as far as the Middle East is concerned—and this is interrelated, you know. This is Middle East and Europe and also—and America. There we have—we have problems. I agree with Ambassador Dobbins that things look clearer in Iraq because you have great masses of population you have, which correspond to territories which are becoming coherent, so cohesive. You have Kurdish territory, which is expanding to some extent. You have Shia territory, Baghdad which is mixed. And then you have Sunni territory. Whereas in Syria it’s a sort of leopard skin, if I may say so.
But the problem is that in Iraq, if you do not find a means for Sunnis to fight against the ISIS culture, this is going to be very difficult. And you know, the Mosul attack, the siege of Mosul, is going very slowly because the local Sunnis do not trust the Shia army and not to mention the Kurdish army.
And therefore, this is—this is not going to happen. And to a large extent, ISIS in Iraq was also perceived by a number of Sunnis as the last means they had to resist Shia dominance, even though they, you know, remember that—Mr. Bremer, who was a graduate from my school, Sciences Po, but as a foreign student, you know, decided that he had to—so we don’t consider one of those—decided to disenfranchise all Sunnis and, you know, people who were—who were all Baathists, many other Sunnis. And so he—they were totally alienated from the rebuilding of Iraq, which I think in my view was the sort of quintessential mistake, which—and it made it extremely difficult to find a compromise. There was this Sahwa movement with Mr.—General Petraeus and General Allen, but this is extremely difficult to implement again, you know.
And also there’s a generation change in Iraq. You know, in the—in the days of—I had this chat with General Allen one day in Paris—in the good-old days, if I may say so, you know, you accessed the Sunni elders and, you know, they would deliver. But nowadays, the young Sunnis all have cell phones, and they don’t—they don’t obey the elders the way they did.
So it’s something which is completely different. And there again, the father figure recedes in favor of the peer culture and all the Facebook friends culture. You know, so you’re confronted with a number of difficulties, which are not totally unlike what we—what we see in nowadays affected values.
HAYKEL: Can I just add one thing?
AMOS: Yes. Yes, please.
HAYKEL: You know, the situation is dynamic. It’s not a static sort of situation. And both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are working on Sunni populations. And President Trump is going to be in Saudi Arabia next week, and it’ll be—it’ll be the first country that he visits. And at—when he is in Saudi Arabia, there will be a series of major announcements about Sunni Islam, about the role of Iran in the region.
And my suspicion is that as the United States becomes more closely allied with—again with Saudi Arabia and against Iran, plus the activity of the Saudis and of the Emiratis on producing moderate forms of Islam, you might actually be able to begin working on the Sunnis of Iraq, where the Saudis have now reached out. Syria remains a big problem, but my sense is that there is going to be major movement by the major Sunni states of the Arab world in conjunction with the United States to try to find an antidote to this—to this form of jihadism, which will take the form, I hope, of the kinds of social and political change that the ambassador mentioned.
AMOS: Ambassador, is that the kind of counter-messaging that’s important? Then—and we will open it up—sorry, but I just want to get that one question in.
DOBBINS: Yes, I mean—I mean, I don’t—I’m not sure that posing this as a Sunni-versus-Shia conflict and siding unequivocally with the Saudis and with Sunnis against Shia necessarily is the best antidote. I think it opens other problems in the region, including in particular in Iraq, where most of the population is not Sunni.
But certainly trying to take advantage of what social—what social reform movement there is in Saudi Arabia and working with the Sunni so-called moderate states more closely is part of this solution.
AMOS: I’m going to open it up to questions now. Please wait for the microphone. Say your whole name. Make sure it is really a question.
And I will start right here.
Q: I’m Ron Tiersky from Amherst College.
I’d like to push back a little bit on the American case and now in Europe. If we think in terms of numbers and we take away the Orlando incident, which seems operationally to have been the work of, you know, one person, what are we left with? We’re left with San Bernardino. The—could we say that the terrorist threat in the United States has really been minimal in its successes and that it’s declining?
Gilles Kepel, if we talk about terrorism, we talk about terrorism in Europe, is it perhaps more accurate to talk about terrorism in a few countries in Europe, in particular France, to some extent Belgium, to some extent Britain? But the great majority of European countries seem to have escaped serious terrorist attacks. And how—you know, how does that fit with this idea that terrorism is a huge problem all over Europe—or in Europe?
DOBBINS: Let me—let me address the American case and then—I mean, it’s true that since 9/11, the incidence of terrorism in the United States is lower than it was before 9/11, that in the ‘80s you had more frequent terrorist incidents against Americans. So we’re not at a historic high point in terms of terrorism in the United States.
It’s also true that you’re much more likely to be killed—shot by a close relative than you are by a Muslim terrorist, I mean, by many times. I think more people die in their bathtubs each year than die as the result of Muslim terrorism in the United States. So that’s all true.
Nevertheless, as Deb pointed out, the—that doesn’t translate into the common perceptions, where terrorism continues to rank very high in terms of American concerns. This may be unrealistic. It is—I mean, it is—shows a real incapacity to assess and rank-order threats, but nevertheless it’s an important phenomenon.
So, yes, I would agree with you—statistically you’re right, politically you’re wrong, unfortunately.
AMOS: Bernie and Gilles.
KEPEL: As far as Europe is concerned, definitely France was the country which was hit the most. And we have no time to get into detail, but I suggest that you give a glance at the book. And the—nowadays, you know, among the things—because of the expertise that was gained by French police and because of the sort of jihad fatigue in France, over the last six months, Germany became the new target. And they had the Breitscheidplatz attack in Berlin in December, which was a sequel to the Nice attack on Bastille Day 2016. You had the white truck in Nice and a black truck in Berlin, which are the colors of the Islamic State, to make it very clear to everyone who was behind that. And you had the attacks in Wurzburg and Ansbach.
And so—and the Germans are very, very worried about that. And the books are translated into German. I spend my time there, and I know, you know, there is an enormous amount of worry because Muslims in Germany, being overwhelmingly Turks, were organized, you know, had strong groups, people who spoke for them, who delivered.
But now with the million-plus refugees from the Middle East who are not Turkish, they are—who are not Turks—they are—they come from Syria, from Iraq, from Afghanistan, so on, so forth, even though the German state and society are putting an enormous amount of effort, you know, to socialize them, to teach them German and so on and so forth, nevertheless, a number of them have become easy prey for the terrorist groups and the jihadist groups.
And you know, there’s an enormous amount of concern. So you say some countries, right, but when you put France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain to some extent, and—now there is an enormous amount of concern in Italy—now this is a phenomenon which is—it may not spread to—that much in Poland, for instance, but you know, the core countries of Europe are hit by the phenomenon.
And this is taken very serious by the security institutions of all those countries, the problem being that, you know, CT and intelligence are the last bulwark of the national state sovereignty. And there is not much exchange in this level between different states. Then we have this huge problem with November—the November 13 attacks because they all came from Belgium, but French police have no authority on Belgian territory and vice-versa. Of course the nation was not up to par, whereas the jihadists, you know, moved freely—used the open-borders policy, as people would say in this country, to move between the two countries—and therefore, to be more efficient than the—than the—(inaudible)—authorities.
HAYKEL: It’s probably time for the French to create a Five Eyes of the French—Francophone-speaking countries.
KEPEL: Well, I’m glad that the Germans are Francophones now—(laughter)—but I’m not sure that they would agree with that.
AMOS: This man here, and then in the back.
Q: Hello. My name is Khalid Azim (sp).
You know, in America we have the concept of e pluribus unum, where we can maintain our individual identities—ethnic, religious, otherwise—and still be very much American. And this is a question directed to Gilles. In France, you know, is there a contradiction, you know, for an average Muslim in France, living in France, not involved in any type of extremist activity—is there a contradiction vis-à-vis the secular state? Is there ability in France for the average citizen to maintain his or her identity and still be French?
KEPEL: Well, yes, there are, I don’t know, 6 million of them who definitely build their identity, whichever it is, and are French, from Cabinet ministers to entrepreneurs to workers and what have you. You know, this is what we call laissez faire, which is our e pluribus unum. You know, France and America, by different tokens maybe, we’re both countries of immigration rather than emigration, you know? When people from Britain, from Spain, Italy, whatever, or Germany emigrated to Australia, this country and the next, the French would not really emigrate. On the contrary, they were on the receiving end of immigration.
And there’s a very significant amount of the French population which is of foreign descent, like myself. And the—so the feeling was that, you know, whatever the color of your skin, your religion and everything, what was important was that you would go to school, be imbued with French values, and with that you’re French. And your religion is your concern. It’s not in the public sphere. It’s in the private sphere. And there is no—for instance, there is no census—a national census. And France does not allow you—because it’s paid with taxpayer money—to ask you whether you’re a Muslim, whether you’re a Jew, whether you’re a Christian, something like that, this is not allowed.
And then I believe that, you know, with two things, i.e. the rise of this Islamists, with S-T, and the identity in the Middle East and North Africa, and the consequences on Europe and on immigration in Europe, people who emigrated from those countries on the one hand; and, two, the social and economic disenfranchisement, where people would not think of themselves in the future because they thought they had no future, right, because work and education could not make someone different—You cannot become what you were, right?—so, therefore, you would look back and consider that this was your ascribed identity as a white Frenchman or as a Muslim, that you had to negotiate within the whole system. And this has changed, the parameters, and this is why the school issue was so important, you know, for the French.
But there is now this sort of hegemony on Islamic discourse not only in France but everywhere by Muslim Brothers and Salafists, you know? And the issue, as I think was mentioned earlier on by the ambassador, also was that the voices of moderation are difficult to be heard. And what Professor Haykel mentioned with Saudi Arabia, where I was last week, actually, definitely there is a will for reform there even within some of the para circles because they feel that if they go on—
KEPEL: —subsidizing—thank you—subsidizing the Salafi movement everywhere, this is going to backlash against them also. To what extent can they build, you know, legitimate state structures in Saudi Arabia, in the other petrol monarchies without the backing of the Salafi ideology, which says that you have to abide by whatever the ruler says, this is a big question. This is the catch-22 of their policy, right? But as far as the general (theorem ?), I guess that, you know, most people from Muslim descent in France are integrated socially into society. And this is not an issue—you know, everybody in France, we tend to believe that it’s of—we eat together and we sleep together. This is the secret of a country. But now it is becoming more difficult because the Salafism says that you cannot eat together unless have halal diet, and otherwise you don’t get together and you don’t sleep together because, you know, children have to be Muslims and women are not considered—either are not Muslim, as Christian or Jews, but as infidels and they have to convert first. So this has created barriers within society, and those barriers are also perceived by a number of people in the general population who translate this uneasiness and this fear into votes for the extreme right. And this is this two-fold dynamics that—you know, that we have to break this fracture, as we say. And this is, I believe, one of the first challenges of the new president.
AMOS: Yeah, in the back.
Q: Thank you, Deb. Craig Charney of Charney Research.
All of you voiced the hope that there’d be greater integration of Muslims, both into the society or origin through sort of a democratization or liberalization, and in the developed countries. But hope is not a policy. What I am wondering is, are there realistic prospects of this given the fact that it would upset various power holders, ranging from the Saudi monarchy to the Egyptian government to voices of the right in France if this were to happen, or is in fact—or are you really telling us, well, let’s hope for the best, but we really are just waiting until we see jihadism 4.0?
HAYKEL: I mean, if—maybe—I don’t know, I’m not sure I understood your question correctly. I mean, I think in the United States Muslims are fully integrated. I don’t think there’s an issue here at all. You know, you might—
Q: I was thinking Europe and the Middle East.
HAYKEL: Yeah. Well, in the Middle East the issue is largely how do you enfranchise Sunnis who feel disenfranchised, and who live under authoritarian and brutal governments that—you know, that rule without transparency and without accountability?
HAYKEL: And so that—you know, each country has to be taken one at a time. In Iraq, the United States empowered the Shiites, and that is a—you know, that, you know, just shattered that society. And the Shiites engaging in a zero-sum, winner-take-all game have, you know, disenfranchised the Sunnis. They have to be brought back in or else Iraq will never settle. And, you know, I can go country by country, if you want.
I think in Europe—Gilles is the expert and will tell you what needs doing and what doesn’t need doing. But having said that, I don’t think the phenomenon of jihadism, which is, after all, the promise that Islam, in their conception of it, offers the solutions to all of the problems of humanity—I think that promise, that ideal that they posit, has yet to be shattered. And for it to be shattered will take time, and it takes failure, unfortunately—a failure to implement that vision for that to—for that phase to pass.
AMOS: Could I ask Ambassador Dobbins to speak to in a way tangentially what you’re talking about, and this notion that you say in your paper that, you know, it’s no accident that these movements take place in the six to eight places that have no governance? We’ve been talking about this since 2003. That was the reason for the invasion, and we haven’t gotten it right yet on governance. What makes you think that we will going forward?
DOBBINS: Well, I mean, I think we—I think—I think we briefly got it right in Iraq from 2007 to 2009. So al-Qaida in Iraq was defeated. You had a functioning government. The U.S. had a defining but still significant presence. I think the decision to pull American forces out of Iraq in 2011 compounded the—compounded the error that was made in 2003 of going there in the first place. And what Gilles and others have indicated occurred, that is, the Shia majority overplayed its hand, reneged on many of the promises that had been made to the Sunnis, which led them to abandon al-Qaida and allowed a reanimation of the—of the insurgency. And of course, you had the civil war going on in Syria next door, which—so, you know, I mean, I think you can find—I think, you know, the American efforts in both Bosnia and Kosovo were relatively successful. Both of them are Muslim countries, by the way.
And the problem is that we learn these lessons and then we forget them. One administration simply won’t pick up where the other administration leaves off. You start back to the bottom of the learning curve, and we may or may not experience that again with the current administration we see. So I wouldn’t give up on this, but I certainly agree that it’s not an easy task. And it’s not a—it’s not one—it’s not a task that can be completed successfully quickly. So it does take a degree of perseverance.
I think the approach that has been followed so far under Obama and now under Trump of working by, with and through local partners, rather than substituting American forces in large numbers for those partners, is the right approach. And so the question will be whether we can follow through and work by, with and through those local partners in the stabilization and reconstruction phases of these conflicts and not just in the actual conventional fighting.
AMOS: Ron Allen.
Q: Ron Allen.
And I—just to follow up, my question was sort of along those lines—Syria: You said, Professor—Mr. Ambassador, that whatever comes next after Raqqa. What do you think has to come next to create a situation where there is not another failed state, where terrorism doesn’t find footing? And do you see the—you just said that the approach of the current administration following the previous one seems to be right by using local forces. What do you see as the steps that have to happen for the Syrian situation to be resolved, and are you optimistic now that those steps are going to happen?
DOBBINS: I think in the short to medium term a cessation of the actual fighting, some kind of prolonged ceasefire along current lines, a recognition that Syria will remain, as a practical matter, not legally, not juridically but as a practical matter divided for an extended period, is probably the only way forward. I don’t think the regime is strong enough to reconquer the entire country. I don’t think the opposition is strong enough to overthrow the regime. I think the approach that the Russians, the Iranians, the Turks are pursuing actually has some merit, and I would hope that the United States would join in an effort to essentially create a series of islands of relative security and assume responsibility—that is, the external partners assuming responsibility for holding their local proxies to those undertakings so that those ceasefires, those cessation of hostilities holds. I think there has to be a prolonged process among the Syrians themselves on reimagining a Syrian state. I think that’s not going to occur quickly, and therefore this interim period of Syria effectively decentralized, federalized, divided into opposition, neutral and regime-held areas is the best that we can do, and we need to try to stabilize that for the next year or two while we work on a longer-term solution.
Q: Jeff Laurenti.
Fifteen years ago, 16 years ago we made a major military investment in Afghanistan on the argument that Afghanistan is important in the war on terror. And episodically, over the past three decades, we’ve made a fitful investment diplomatically in an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. Have both—also on grounds that it somehow fuels Sunni or Muslim agitation and extremism. Are both of these now fairly irrelevant to the current concern about terrorist organizations? Have who controls Afghanistan, whether there’s an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement now become irrelevant?
DOBBINS: Well, I’m not sure I’d equate the two. I mean, the Islamic State is embedded in Afghanistan, although it’s not the most dangerous of the extremist groups there. And al-Qaida still operates out of Afghanistan. They’re both effectively suppressed, that is, they’re not capable of mounting a 9/11-type attack, or indeed, any attacks at great distance. Their efforts are largely localized, and that’s as a result of the efforts of the Afghan government empowered and supported by the United States. I don’t see an alternative to continuing that relationship, frankly.
On the Israeli-Palestinian issue, I think it’s a contributing factor to the tensions in the region. I think it’s been superseded by other more immediate factors, including the Iranian-Saudi dispute, and that are even more inflammatory and destabilizing. But I think resolving it would certainly, I think, contribute to stabilizing the region.
AMOS: Gilles, how much do young French jihadis say that Israel, Palestine, you know, who runs Jerusalem, that it keeps them up at night?
KEPEL: Well, it’s on the backburner. I mean, there was a lot of violence against Jews, of course, and this was along the lines of the books, you know, the—written by Musab al-Suri and posted on the internet that, you know, you have to kill apostates, we have to kill Jews so that it widens the appeal to people who are not necessarily ultra-religious but who hate Zionism, or whatever. But nevertheless, nowadays I believe that as of now, the Shia-Sunni divide is keeping people busy. I was in Tunisia at once at outcome of, you know, a Friday sermon after the people got out of the mosque, and there were people with beards and robes and—you know, who were trying to raise funds, and on the banners, I mean, there were people soaked in blood. I thought those are photographs of, you know, the Gaza Strip being bombed by the Israeli army. Not at all. They were photographs of Syrians who were bombed by what they call the Shia, which was—they meant Hafez al-Assad.
AMOS: Assad, sure.
KEPEL: And, you know, no one has ever heard about Shias in Tunisia. But it was—this was—I would like to go back to your question for a second, if I may. I see time is up. I believe we also have to put that in the wider picture. I mean, one of the reasons why—since the 14th of February 1945 why America was so interested in the region and had, you know, sort of sent troops was that this was the place where the oil was to a large extent. And now the oil situation, the whole geopolitics of oil has changed tremendously. It’s all an issue of fracking, if I may so, among other things. And it’s not a five-letter—four-letter word. And, you know, the prospect that oil prices are going to rise indefinitely, which was the case, you know, in the Middle East over the last quarter of a century or something, is now off.
And the Saudi budget cannot be fixed. There are tremendous pressures. The Iranians are also under this pressure. And, you know, one reason, I mean seen from Europe or America or the U.S. is less interested in sending troops and so on and so forth is that the oil—the Middle East or the Gulf—the Persian Gulf area as the exporter of one-quarter of the oil which is consumed in the world, this is going to go down. And the prices are not really going to go up tendentially. I mean, there may be ups and downs because of crises, and therefore, you know, the whole region is going to find a new place in the world map through immigration, through things like that. And the magnitude of the threat may rise, but the oil issue is very important. And as Professor Haykel mentioned, when President Trump goes to Saudi Arabia next week, it’s going to be interesting to see how this issue is dealt with, you know, in the open or behind the scenes by the new American president and the sort of the—what we call—they call in Riyadh when I was there the McKinsey elites who are trying to take over. (Laughter.)
AMOS: If anyone asked, we stopped on time. We now have actually run out of time. We’re a little over. But I thank you very much, and I hope you will applaud this wonderful panel. (Applause.)