Countering extremism should remain a top priority
COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine are pivotal moments in international geopolitics. The pandemic’s mid and long-term economic impact will be significant. COVID-19 shockwaves have already cost developing countries years of socioeconomic progress, led to a surge in national debt around the world and further damaged international trade flows. In the near future, many nations will grapple with maintaining their financial support for basic socioeconomic needs, including education and healthcare. Meanwhile, existing economic disparities between communities and states are also likely to increase. In fact, the pandemic and the current disruption in food supply chains are expected to force another quarter of a billion people into extreme poverty by the end of 2022, according to Oxfam International.
These complex global and local challenges are expected to test societies’ resilience in a manner not seen in decades, particularly in developing countries. Growing social inequalities and slow economic growth will likely exacerbate people’s frustration and distrust. Yet, despite these difficult challenges, the international community, through multilateral institutions, redoubled its efforts to mobilize greater support for countries suffering from food shortages and financial pressure, especially those affected by conflicts and socioeconomic fragility.
Nevertheless, at the Sawab Center, we believe that these efforts should, now more than ever, include longer-term plans and strategies to effectively address religious extremism’s roots and potential future forms. Indeed, the international community has significantly reduced terrorist organizations’ capabilities to plan and conduct attacks in a number of countries in the last few years. Thousands of lives were saved from the oppression and atrocities of terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere. However, in a post-pandemic world, terrorism will likely continue to mutate and further exploit the growing pessimism and alienation in societies trapped between fragility, incompetent governance and extremism.
International community needs to effectively address religious extremism’s roots and potential future forms.
Meanwhile, terrorism is only the last stage in a long path of ideological incitement in areas where religious extremism is allowed to grow and spread. Today, in many places around the globe, extremist groups continue to exploit social fractures to spread violent ideologies, bolster their organizational capabilities and ultimately expand to new geographies. These groups have turned social media platforms into breeding grounds to spread their narrative, brainwash disenfranchised youths and shape hateful beliefs and behaviors. On these platforms, extremists also use conspiracy theories to feed on people’s fear of an uncertain future.
To defeat terrorism, the long-term, underlying drivers that enable extremism to grow and spread in the first place should be addressed through several tools, including impactful research. Sawab’s mission is to deliver novel, significant and rigorous research on why and how political, economic, societal, security and technological conditions fuel extremism, while understanding that the local trends behind extremism vary widely from one region to another. Extremist groups thrive and gain a foothold in areas where socioeconomic vulnerability, violence and conflicts are rampant. Terrorist organizations also tend to recruit from stable and often prosperous Western countries where individuals enjoy sophisticated socioeconomic rights but are highly exposed to radical ideologies through social media or socialization.
In a world of complex challenges, Sawab will use its research as a catalyst for societal and economic engagement against religious extremism. Using its highly skilled team and select strategic partners, Sawab will contribute to creating a better future where religious extremism is no longer a threat to societies, states’ strategic interests and shared human values.
• Sara Al-Marzooqi is director of the Sawab Center.