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French Men Attracted To 'Anti-System Utopia' In Drive To Join ISIS


France should also do a lot more to prevent people from radicalizing and becoming militants in the first place. That's the opinion of Myriam Benraad. She's an ISIS researcher based in Paris. And we reached her earlier on Skype. She says the French government isn't doing enough to counter propaganda by groups like ISIS.

MYRIAM BENRAAD: In France, I think there's a real malaise. There's a crisis of our political and social model for a number of reasons which I cannot enumerate fully during this interview. But we need to re-enchant our model, whether we're speaking about the social contract that we're supposed to embody, the openness and the tolerance and all of these things that have been really helped, I believe, in the last decade.

MCEVERS: You know, when you think about French authorities and their clear desire to stop the next attack, it sounds to me like there may not be a way to sort of pinpoint that one person who they know has these certain characteristics - you know, who is likely to do something like this - but instead should do more of a blanket approach. Is that a fair assessment of what you're saying?

BENRAAD: Yeah, more or less because - for very clear reasons. The French authorities - and I'm not condemning them. Let's be very clear. The real problem is during the last two years, the efforts have indeed been focused on trying to identify, I would say, a prototype potential terrorist. It's not been working.

That is why I'm coming to the conclusion that we actually need to work much more upstream than downstream, which means working on the message - what do we do to prevent people from adhering to this message and preventing them from acting? From, you know, basically killing dozens of people in Nice or elsewhere. And on that side, I don't think that the complaint waged against jihadism at this stage in France is serious. I'll give you very clearly the illustration on this.

I talked about the defectors. I think the ones who should be put at the center stage for breaking the myth that the Islamic State is trying to project are the defectors. They need to talk. They need to take more space in the public debate. They need to tell people on TV, on the radio, whatever, that what they found in Syria and Iraq was not the myth - the utopia that was promised them. This is already more or less being done in the U.S.

MCEVERS: So battle propaganda with propaganda.

BENRAAD: Not propaganda because we are not trying to sell propaganda. It's not like trying to invent a myth around what we are. At this stage, the campaign against jihadism, the so-called Stop Jihadism, which is the official campaign in France, is basically featuring parents. Parents crying on TV or in videos because their children went to Syria. That cannot work. I mean, you know, I have a lot of sympathy for these people, of course, as you can imagine.

But this is not what is going to prevent that. So we need to change. We need to now be more humble and to basically do some sort of stocktaking of what has been done and rethink where we can, again, be more effective in terms of prevention because I think this is really what matters now. How do we prevent the Nice catastrophe to happen again?

MCEVERS: Myriam Benraad is a research fellow at the Institute for Research and Studies on the Arab and Muslim World and the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. Thank you so much for your time today.

BENRAAD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.