Saudi Arabia, UAE ‘lead way in fighting terror ideology’

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Saudi security forces and forensic personnel inspect the site of a suicide bombing that targeted the Shiite Al-Anoud mosque in the coastal city of Dammam on May 29, 2015. Daesh terrorist claimed responsibility. (AFP file photo)
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1983 - US Embassy, Beirut, Lebanon
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2000 - USS Cole bombing, Aden, Yemen
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1994 - Air France hijack, Marseille, France
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1987- Hamas, Gaza City
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1984 - Hezbollah parade, Beirut, Lebanon
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2004 - Osama bin Laden
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1981 - Anwar Sadat’s funeral, Cairo, Egypt
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1997 - Attack on tourists in Luxor, Egypt
Updated 13 September 2018
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Saudi Arabia, UAE ‘lead way in fighting terror ideology’

  • Former British prime minister Tony Blair has called for a new approach to combating violent extremism — but the methods he proposes have been used in Saudi Arabia and the UAE for years
  • Organizations such as the Saudi-based Ideological Warfare Center and Hedayah and the Sawab Center in the UAE are classic examples of the “prevention is better than cure” methods

DUBAI: Governments around the world need a coherent, global strategy to uproot the ideology of violent extremism, former British prime minister Tony Blair says. In Saudi Arabia and the UAE, they already knew that — and have been acting on it for years.

Organizations such as the Saudi-based Ideological Warfare Center and Muslim World League, and Hedayah and the Sawab Center in the UAE, are classic examples of the “prevention is better than cure” methods that Blair calls for on Thursday in a report by his Institute for Global Change.

“Extremism is a global challenge prevalent now in both developing and developed states, so the discourse has to be beyond fragile states only,” said Hassan Abbas, professor of international security studies at the National Defense University in Washington. “Enabling civil society workers to promote coexistence is a much-needed agenda item as it will lead to local capacity-building as well as acknowledgement of good work already being done — rather than misguided attempts to reinvent the wheel.”

The Ideological Warfare Center, founded by the Saudi Ministry of Defense, “has been concentrating on educating people and raising awareness about extremism and fundamentalism through cutting-edge visual tools,” said Dr Majid Rafizadeh, Iranian-American pol- itical scientist, president of the International American Council and board member of the Harvard International Review. “The UAE and Saudi Arabia have been leading states in using soft power, security, setting up public and private institutions that raise awareness about extremist ideologies, initiating dialogues between different societies, as well as taking regional and global initiatives to uproot terrorism and extremist ideologies.” 

Such a complex approach is challenging because of the difficulty of coordination between various inter-governmental and intra-governmental organizations, he said. “Nevertheless, in the long term, this is the most effective strategy to uproot extremist ideology and terrorism.”

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Understanding extremist ideologies crucial to fight against terror 

Dr. Anne Speckhard, director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, said such efforts are crucial to prevent violent extremism. “Saudi Arabia has for years been counter-messaging and working on ways to disengage and deradicalize imprisoned violent extremists,” said Dr Speckhard, who has more than 20 years’ experience interviewing 600 terrorists, their family members, hostages and close associates. “When countries work together on these points, we can all win. If governments fail, terrorists win.”

However, criticism of the Blair approach came from Dr. Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences. “It puts the blame on Arab Muslim countries for extremist ideologies in our region,” he said. “What it neglects is the important historical facts that Al-Qaeda was born from the reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Daesh is a result of a US invasion of Iraq.” 

Terrorism was rooted in foreign invasions of Muslim countries, he said. “The reasons are political, not ideological or religious. The argument from the West is apologetic on one hand, but also shifting the blame where it shouldn’t be.”

He said the Gulf had already done more than Blair recommended. “Saudi Arabia and the UAE are strict when it comes to financing, and regulation is tight. There is zero tolerance for extremism, we have done the most we can do.”

For Dr. Richard Burchill, director of research and engagement at Trends Research and Advisory in Abu Dhabi, overcoming extremist ideologies requires a focus on education at all levels of individual development, to build and support critical thinking skills, tolerance and empathy. “As acts of violent extremism decline, we should not assume the situation is improving,” he said. “It is imperative to address the ideologies that support extremist positions, both violent and non-violent. Extremist ideologies damage societies by creating differences and discrimination, fostering feelings of distrust and grievance. Security policies are important for addressing extremism, but also important is addressing the ideas behind the extremists.”

Critics say that the Blair approach contains little new thinking. “Since 9/11, scholars and policy wonks have been thinking along the lines of prevention before cure,” said Dr Albadr Al-Shateri, politics professor at the National Defence College in Abu Dhabi. 

“There is a greater chance with the Arab Gulf states, who have a genuine interest in combating extremism and terrorism. The UAE spearheads the region in this field as it plays host to organizations such as Hedayah and the Sawab Center. It is also the sponsor of the Muslim Council of Elders and the Forum for Promoting peace in Muslim Society.”

Encouraging civic society movements that are intent on promoting co-existence would be key, and a new strategy could lend support to such organizations and reinvigorate them to prevent counter-extremism fatigue, he said.

“How to generate financial and political resources in hard economic times will remain a challenge. The lack of political progress on the Palestinian problem will be another challenge, especially since Western powers are inept at restraining Israeli excesses.”

 

 


Misk forum connects global youth

High-tech passes allow participants to connect and swap contact details at the touch of a button.
Updated 16 November 2018
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Misk forum connects global youth

  • It was the old-fashioned, face-to-face connections that many delegates said they valued the most
  • More than 3,500 delegates received insights from more than 50 speakers from around the world

Young leaders, entrepreneurs, students and inventors mingled in innovative ways at the Misk Global Forum, with name tags that sent delegates’ connections to an app at the press of a flashing button. 

But at the end of the day it was the old-fashioned, face-to-face connections that many delegates said they valued the most.

“I’m seeing people from all over the world gathered here in Riyadh, which has become the center of opportunities,” said Jomana Khoj, a 26-year-old animator from Makkah, before the forum wrapped up on Thursday. 

“Thanks, Misk, for helping us, the youth, gather here and connect with other youth from around the world.”

The forum included “Skills Garages,” workshop spaces with whiteboard tables that could be written on during group brainstorms, with sessions on “The Art of Persuasion” and “Landing Your Dream Tech Job.”

Top left: Paintings displayed in a 360-degree fashion. Bottom left: Participants had a chance to learn about every aspect of the Misk Foundation’s work. Right: Young people exploring their skills, potential and passions during workshops.

The workshop spaces served as a hub for visitors from North America, Africa, Asia and Europe, with many attendees commending the amount of innovation the forum provided. 

“I feel this year’s content is well chosen,” said Faisal Al-Sudairy, a 24-year-old participant. “We really need to prepare ourselves for the future, especially in this fast-changing era, and to know more about what skills we should acquire.”

The workshops catered to developing youths’ skills for the future economy. More than 3,500 delegates received insights from more than 50 speakers from around the world. 

It was the third annual forum organized by the Misk Foundation, a philanthropic organization founded in 2011 by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  

In the main hall, called the “Skills Factory,” Thursday’s opening session included a speech by Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al-Falasi, the UAE’s minister of state for higher education and advanced skills.

“Misk Majlis,” another designated area, provided a relaxed and informal setting that focused on helping delegates build their personal brands. Traditional floor cushions and couches represented traditional Arab social gatherings. 

In the majlis, Misk Innovation held a talk to publicize its new brand and partnership with the Silicon Valley venture capital firm 500 Startups. 

The accelerator program for tech startups in the Middle East and North Africa will last 16 weeks starting from Jan. 27, 2019. Applications close on Dec. 15.

The Misk Art area introduced visitors to works by many renowned Saudi artists, such as Taha Sabban and Safia bin Zager. 

The vibrant hall displayed a large image of a sophisticated woman from Hijaz wearing the traditional Hijazi headdress and sitting on a beautiful ornamental wooden chair well known in the Saudi region. The image provided a transcendence between the past and present.

The Misk Art Institute had a unique section at the forum that was divided into two rooms. One was to showcase paintings and drawings of four pioneering Saudi artists. 

The other room had huge LED screens that gave people a 360-degree experience. The screens displayed paintings in an interactive way and synchronized with tailored music.

The halls were lined with inspirational quotes and the faces of well-known figures. It should come as no surprise that the most popular one was of Misk’s founder, with delegates taking selfies alongside the crown prince’s smiling face.