On January 23, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke about Islamic extremism at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “The rise of violent extremism is a challenge to the nation state and the global rule of law," he said. "And the forces that contribute to it and the dangers that flow from it compel us to prepare and plan, to unite." The following is an excerpt from his remarks.

“It is a moment of turmoil, a moment of upheaval – the world in transition.  I, nevertheless, remain very optimistic about the possibilities.  And I’ll share a few thoughts about that today.  But we have to understand what we’re facing. 

Six weeks ago, a 14-year-old Nigerian girl was discovered in a crowded marketplace in Kano.  She had explosives strapped to her body.  But unlike a pair of companions, she had refused to pull the tab, saving herself and others.  Two weeks later, a teenage boy approached a Shiite mosque in Baghdad.  And unbuttoning his jacket, he told the guards, “I’m wearing a suicide vest, but I don’t want to blow myself up.”  Last November, a young man defected from al-Shabaab because he was no longer wanting any part of it – as he put it, “a bunch of heavily-armed sociopathic militants.”  He said they promised him money, a bungalow, and paradise.  And instead, he said, “I had no life, no family, no future.”

Well, ladies and gentlemen, those three examples represent just about the basic – most basic choice there is: between death and life, between destroying and building.  And it ought to be an easy choice.  And yet in Nigeria last month, a Boko Haram video showed thugs shooting defenseless people on the ground, with the narrator saying, “From now on, killing, slaughtering, destruction, and bombings will be our religious duty.”

On December 16th in Peshawar, Pakistan, authorities intercepted a radio message between a gunman and his boss.  Quote: “We have killed all the children in the auditorium.  What do we do next?”  The answer:  “Wait for the army to arrive.  Kill them, then blow yourself up.” 

A few weeks earlier, before pulling out of a town in Somalia, al-Shabaab buried a young woman up to her neck, and then they smashed her head with rocks. 

In Syria and Iraq, Daesh sells little girls into slavery.

And it seems like every day I’m asked by people, “What makes someone decide to do some of these things?  Why does someone decide to join a group like Daesh?  Why would anyone leave their home and loved ones to fight for such a collection of monsters?”

Well, the fact is there are a lot of explanations.  Some say it’s because of long-held cultural grievances – a sense that a person’s creed or clan is under attack or has been disrespected or treated unjustly.  Many point to the inclination to see the world in black and white terms and believe that they alone possess the truth.  Others are lured by basic, material considerations – the promise of regular meals, a paycheck, the chance to plunder and loot.  And then there are the mundane and personal choices:  to escape boredom, go where the action is; be lured by a false sense of success; perhaps trade anonymity for notoriety, at least for a few hours, on the internet.  In many cases, it’s almost certainly a combination of these inputs.

But one thing is clear:  If we’re going to successfully combat violent extremism, we better understand all of the factors, because we can’t change minds without knowing what’s in them.

And we have to do so mindful of the fact that understanding and acceptance are not the same.

When I was in Pakistan last week and I had intended to go out to the school to pay tribute to those kids and their families but we were unable to fly because of the weather, Pakistani officials instead showed me time-stamped photos of the sequence of the military school’s assembly hall before and after the December 16th assault.  And at first, I looked and I saw this picture of an auditorium with school kids all dressed in their smart uniforms, sitting there attentive, their faces filled with the joy of listening and watching.  And minutes later, the scene changed horribly from a learning center into a killing chamber.  There was blood everywhere, broken eyeglasses, scattered textbooks, torn jackets, small lifeless bodies piled on each other, sprawled across a chair on the floor.  And on that day, the school’s principal, having already been escorted to safety, returned to try and save her students.  And when she was challenged by the assassins, she pointed to the children saying: “I am their mother.”  Her last words.

So let me be clear:  There are no grounds of history, religion, ideology, grievance, psychology, politics, economic disadvantage, or personal ambition that will ever justify the murder of children, the kidnapping and the rape of teenage girls, or the slaughter of unarmed civilians, whether for ideology or for some false religious assertion – none.  And no matter the input – (applause).  (Inaudible).  (Laughter.)  No matter the input, this kind of atrocity can really never be rationalized; these kinds of actions can never be excused; and they have to be opposed with every fiber of our being.  They have to be stopped.

And while obviously there are many international priorities that demand our attention, I never imagined the number of simultaneous crises that we might possibly be able to face, which we are, by the way, I believe, managing far more effectively – Ukraine, other things – than people are prone to automatically see.  But we can’t shy away from this reality that terror networks in some places are operating with near impunity, and imminent danger in others, and a potential threat everywhere.  And a few of these networks, such as Daesh and Boko Haram, are attempting to govern land.  That’s a first-time event in this transition to these terror groups.  And they’re looking to expand.  And greatly adding to the risk of the so-called – are the so-called lone wolves and copy cats.  And it seems that terrorists are now competing with each other for recruits and perpetrating evermore macabre crimes. 

Now need I remind you the 20th century was defined by the civilized world’s struggle to develop the rule of law as an alternative to chaos, disorder, and dictatorship.  And today we are witnessing nothing more than a form of criminal anarchy, a nihilism which illegitimately claims an ideological and religious foundation.  Against this enemy, we are increasingly organizing and fighting back, but in doing so we have to also keep our heads.  Obviously, the biggest error that we could make would be to blame Muslims collectively for crimes not committed by Muslims alone – crimes that the overwhelming majority of Muslims oppose, crimes that their faith utterly rejects, and that Muslim leaders themselves have the greatest ability to address. 

Religions don’t require adherence to raze villages and blow up people.  It’s individuals with a distorted and an even ignorant interpretation of religion who do that, abetted by networks of individuals who have a different agenda and who incite and finance those actions.  And we will certainly not defeat our foes by vilifying potential partners or by suppressing the very freedoms that terrorists try to destroy.  Unless we direct our energies in the right direction, we may very well fuel the very fires that we want to put out. 

So what should we do?  Well, the first step is to make clear that the civilized world will not cower in the face of this violence.  Violent extremism has claimed lives in every corner of the globe, and Muslim lives most of all.  We are each threatened, regardless of faith, ethnicity, homeland, or tribe, and so it is imperative that we each – all of us – respond.  There’s no room for sectarian division; there’s no room for anti-Semitism or Islamophobia; and no way forward except to demonstrate to the terrorists that every time they try to divide us, they strengthen our resolve.  Like the million souls that last week spoke with a single voice in the streets of Paris, we must act as one. 

And the place to begin is quite simply by defeating Daesh.  Why?  Because they are better armed, better trained, better funded, and have been more able to hold onto territory than any other terrorist group in history; because they directly threaten the peace and stability not of one group in Iraq, but of every single country in the region; and because they have further overtly threatened to take their threat around the globe and are working to do so.  This is a threat to the entire structure that we have worked so hard to put in place since the end of World War II.  It’s a threat to nation-states.  It is a threat to rule of law.  And freeing Iraq from its ruthless occupiers is the critical, crucial first turning point.

Now just four months ago, Daesh was trumpeting plans for seizing Baghdad.  To many, they seemed unstoppable.  You remember those days only a few days ago?  Some media reports frantically predicting that Iraq might fall and Daesh was about the drag the entire Middle East back into the Dark Ages.  But then two things happened, and not by accident.  In Iraq, a new government was assembled that is intent on reform.  Iraqis themselves came together, determined to move to a different future, determined to earn the confidence of all of their citizens.  And you just heard from Prime Minister Abadi who we met with yesterday in London.

And second, we forged together – all of us – an international coalition, 60-plus members strong now, with a mandate to disrupt, degrade, and ultimately defeat Daesh.  President Obama and the United States are proud to say we’re deeply involved in leading both of those developments, but we acted in partnership every step of the way with our Arab friends, European allies, and others from across the globe.

And since September, our coalition has pursued a carefully crafted, comprehensive strategy to weaken Daesh on multiple fronts.  We have launched some 2,000 air strikes, disrupted Daesh’s command structure, undermined its propaganda, squeezed its financing, damaged its supply networks, dispersed personnel, forced them to change tactics. 

Today in much of Iraq, Daesh’s momentum has dissipated.  And with coalition support, Iraqi forces have retaken Mosul and Haditha dams.  They have retaken territory near the city of Tikrit.  And in Syria, Daesh has seen its command facilities attacked, its oil infrastructure damaged, and its siege of Kobani blocked.  No large Daesh unit can move forward aggressively without worrying what will come down from the skies now.

And progress also continues in the political arena.  Yesterday at this coalition meeting we held in Paris, Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi described the steps that his team is taking – I know he described some of them to you today – to bring the country together.  Reform efforts have been launched in the judicial and other sectors.  After years of delay, Baghdad and the Kurdish region have finally reached an accord on oil.  The Iraqi Army is becoming more inclusive and professional.  Iraq is strengthening ties to its neighbors, who are reciprocating with open arms and helping hands – yet another warning sign for Daesh.

But yes, we need to be cautious – and we are.  Even while the changes are taking place in Iraq – and those changes are unmistakable – they are not yet irreversible.  And there is much yet to be done.  And even though we have slowed Daesh’s momentum and pushed it back in some areas, we’re not satisfied yet with the pace of our progress.  And General John Allen and his team are visiting regularly.  We’re starting training in a matter of days at three additional sites and we are already training in Iraq itself and it is making a difference.  But to succeed, the Iraqi Government must enhance and expedite its outreach to Sunni communities, the coalition must remain united, and the world must see Daesh for what it is, not for what it claims to be. 

Daesh pretends to be presiding over a paradise for Muslims, the self-declared new caliphate.  But in fact, the areas under its control are languishing.  In many places, there are shortages of clean water and insufficient supplies of food and medicine.  In Mosul, militants have seen their pay slashed by 75 percent.  Fighters trying to defect have been executed.  Children are forced to witness and even participate in the torture of prisoners.  Teenagers have been crucified.  All of which emphasizes the degree to which Daesh is guilty of shamelessly deceptive advertising: the advertising about its path to paradise, like that promised by al-Qaida, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and similar groups, is in fact a road to nowhere.

But our challenge, the one I want to talk about today, is in fact bigger than just Daesh.  And I want to talk about it with this audience because all of you are opinion leaders and all of you need to help make choices in order to do what we need to do to turn the corner.  In the weeks to come, we have to not only continue moving ahead with urgency to eliminate Daesh as a threat to international security, but we also have to strengthen Somalia, intensify our effort to defend violence in Nigeria, which I will go to in a couple of days, and strike at the tentacles of al-Qaida in Yemen, the Maghreb, and wherever else they appear.  There is nowhere that you can leave as an ungoverned space with this crowd, and believe me, there is nothing to negotiate.  These are the front line battles I’ve just listed, and they require that we not waver in our solidarity or our courage.

Eliminating the terrorists who confront us today actually only solves part of the problem.  We have to do more to avoid an endless cycle of violent extremism, a resupplying on a constant basis.  We have to transform the very environment from which these movements emerge.  And that’s why we are committed to enlarging our strategy in ways that respond effectively to the underlying causes, as well as the visible symptoms of violent extremism.  That’s why we’re developing an approach that extends far beyond the short term, and which cannot be limited to the Middle East or to any other region.”

“In short, we have to do a better job of creating alternatives to violent extremism – alternatives that are as credible, as visible, as empowering, and broadly available as we can make them.  Start with the basic issue of governance – obviously not the most exciting topic, and no one’s going to spend millions of dollars to make a movie about the delivery of social services or tax policy or judicial reform, and the effectiveness of a parliament.  But exciting or not, we have learned the hard way that ungoverned or barely governed spaces on the world map are an open door to chaos and to disorder that breeds terrorism.  

Chaos in Afghanistan created an opening for the Taliban which, in turn, provided a home to al-Qaida.  In Somalia, anarchy provided a vacuum that al-Shabaab tried to fill.  In Nigeria, Boko Haram has taken advantage of the government’s inability to secure its territory and provide for its people.  In Syria, Daesh wouldn’t exist if a so-called president wasn’t respected – was respected instead of reviled; if he wasn’t attracting terrorists for the purpose of his removal.  In the Central African Republic, the government was too weak to prevent horrible violence between Christian and Muslim gangs.  In Libya, Ansar al-Sharia is both a product of the government’s demise and a cause of it.  And in Yemen, governance has been challenged by an al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist organization that has launched attacks inside and outside of the country, by a secessionist movement in the south, and most recently by a rebel group in the north that has now spread across the country and challenged the sovereignty of the entire state.”

“It has now been more than 20 years since the first World Trade Center bombing and more than 13 since 9/11.  In the time since, we have seen acts of terrorism from Madrid to Mogadishu, Bali to Boston, London to Mumbai, Algeria to Jerusalem, and many, many points in between. 

And we have responded with determination and guts.  Thousands of military personnel and police from dozens of countries have paid the ultimate sacrifice already in this confrontation.  Intelligence and security officials work around the clock in order to keep us safe.

In the battle of ideas, President Obama, the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah of Jordan, Pope Francis, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Ayatollah Sistani, many others have tried to point the way.  Working with international partners we have already taken some important steps, yes.  We’ve created a Global Counterterrorism Forum and established a Fund on Community Engagement to develop local solutions.  In Abu Dhabi, thanks to the Emiratis, there is an International Center for Excellence in Countering Violent Extremism, and it is engaged in training and dialogue and research.  There are many other initiatives.  But we have yet to fully implement all of the tools available to us to win this battle.

And at the beginning of my remarks, I mentioned two 14 year olds – a Syrian boy and a Nigerian girl – two children who, when faced with the starkest choice imaginable, bravely and thankfully chose life.

It’s pretty simple:  We face choices of our own every day.  We can continue along the road that we have been traveling or shift gears onto a path that will demand more from us militarily, politically, economically, and socially.  We can sit back and we can assure ourselves that somehow it may not touch us – you, wherever you are – that the threat of violent extremism is somehow hopefully containable – you can think that, if you want – or we can go forward with a truly comprehensive and long-term strategy to destroy its very roots.  And in the doing so, make far better for far more people in far more places than we are prepared to today.

So in making this choice, we might reflect on the claim that some have made in recent years, especially due to events in the Middle East, that the entire international system is somehow unraveling.  My own view, my friends, is very different.  In the course of my travels, I don’t see an unraveling; I see just the opposite.”

“The rise of violent extremism is a challenge to the nation state and the global rule of law.  And the forces that contribute to it and the dangers that flow from it compel us to prepare and plan, to unite, and to insist that our collective future will be uncompromised by the primitive and paranoid ideas of terrorists, but instead it will be built by the universal values of decency and civility, and knowledge and reason and law.

That is what we stand for.  That is where we stand.  And with the images of Paris and Peshawar fresh in our hearts, no one should doubt that we are going to stand together.”