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JournalistI’m CNN Sr. International Correspondent Clarissa Ward. I got a rare, unfiltered look at the life and mind of an ISIS soldier. AMA!

Mar 31st 2017 by ClarissaWard • 5 Questions • 77 Points

My short bio: I spent time profiling and getting to know an ISIS soldier for a CNN Documentary "ISIS: Behind the Mask," airing Friday at 10pm ET on CNN. 28-year-old Younnes Delefortie looks like many young Belgians, but this former alter boy joined ISIS in Syria and is now back on the streets of Belgium. Ask me anything about my encounter with Delefortie, his radicalization, journey to Syria and back, or anything in general about ISIS.

Read more about it here: http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2017/03/europe/isis-behind-the-mask/index.html

My Proof: https://twitter.com/clarissaward/status/847824061786882048

Q:

Do you see a chance for outside intervention to override the cultural influences responsible for violent Islamic terrorism, or will it need to be Muslims cleaning house from within?

A:

This is such an important question. The confluence of geopolitical, social, cultural, ideological, military and economic factors that have come together to allow for the rise of ISIS, is extremely complex. The ways and means to combat groups like ISIS will need to come both from within the Muslim world and from outside. For example, propping up corrupt regimes that brutalize their own people is clearly going to result in the proliferation of extremist groups. We know that ISIS was born in a US prison camp (Camp Bucca) in Iraq. So external factors are important. Also, the military fight against ISIS needs the support of the US led coalition, for sure. But what happens once areas have been cleared of ISIS? How do you hold them? That's where issues like good governance come into play and countries like Iraq need to take the lead on that. Finally, you have the ideological/ theological factor. Certainly, this needs to come from within the Islamic world.


Q:

Hi Clarissa, I'm a big fan of your work and how you approach issues.

In the minds of impressionable young Muslims, what are some of the misconceptions and falsehoods that they are fed about either the West or their own station in life that eventually lead them to join groups like ISIS? They seem to prey on the most vulnerable.

Is there anything that we can do to remedy those false thoughts without being condescending to them, either before they join or even afterward?

A:

Thank you so much! I think a lot of young Muslims see what has happened in Iraq (the US invasion), they see what's happening in Syria (the massacre of civilians at the hands of the regime of Bashar al Assad and the failure of the international community to stop it) and they feel that they are the victim of some kind of a war against Muslims. They hear the rhetoric coming from ISIS and from populist elements in the West, that there is some kind of a clash of civilisations, that Muslims and non- Muslims cannot co exist peacefully, and they feel they are stuck in the middle. It's a toxic vicious cycle. The rise of Islamophobia plays directly into the hands of ISIS.


Q:

Why can't western states combat the ISIS propaganda in a similar way Indonesia is? Cause, if I remember correctly, there is a statistic saying the percentage of Indonesians joining ISIS is smaller than the west due to their largest Islamic association

A:

Firstly, I would say that Indonesia is lucky in that it is far away from Syria and Iraq, so the logistics of getting to ISIS territory are complicated and expensive which may provide a deterrent. Beyond that, I do think that Indonesia has a problem with young Islamic radicals as well. The issue of radicalisation in the West is tied to a bunch of social issues as well: marginalisation of immigrant communities, social isolation etc. So there are other issues at play.


Q:

What can the US do to thwart the effectiveness of ISIS?

A:

There are many things that the US can do. Firstly, it can try to blunt ISIS military capabilities and eliminate some of the most effective leaders in the group, which they have been doing with some success. Beyond that, they can work with forces on the ground in the region who are fighting against ISIS. But you can't eliminate ISIS only with a military track. There needs to be active and creative efforts in the social sphere too.


Q:

What are the similarities or differences between an organization like ISIS and someone like Dylann Roof?

A:

Violent extremism is violent extremism, no matter what the ideology behind it. Once an ideology becomes more important to an individual than the lives of others, you enter dangerous territory. And it can be extremely difficult to deradicalize people once they cross the rubicon and are prepared to hurt others to implement their own belief system.