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“What makes these 17-year-old kids pick up an AK-47 instead of trying to start a business?” It’s a question U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf asked on MSNBC’s “Hardball.” She was on air to give a preview of this week’s White House summit on “countering violent extremism.”

And it’s also a puzzle that has confounded the U.S. government since the Sept. 11 attacks. In order to make a long-term dent in the conflict that used to be known as the war on terror, one has to ask why people join these murderous organizations in the first place.

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