The Global Coalition to Overpower ISIL demolished the group from its areas of territorial authority in the Middle East, but since then, ISIL’s “online Caliphate” has grown. Too often, ISIL and other extremists falsify religion and political grievances to conform to their ends, contributing to the destabilisation of weak states and rendering untold suffering.
The ideology that attracted thousands of fighters to conflict zones continues to provoke violence on a global scale, but for every victorious attack, law enforcement intercepts many more. To defeat ISIL ideology, compelling descriptions of tolerance, peaceful acceptance, and economic prosperity counter extremists’ exploitation of religion and politics must be offered.
The United States and the UAE established the Sawab Center in 2015 to reveal the emptiness of ISIL’s vicious propaganda and promote the Global Coalition’s work. Sawab messages daily on FB, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube in Arabic, English, and French. The Center echoes both countries’ robust partnership in the fight against violent extremism, and the demand for it has never been more significant. These feelings of peace and tolerance represent the bulk but can be drowned out in intersections of the internet or media where extremist portrayals succeed.
The vertical growth in the jihadist movement in sub-Saharan Africa is a particular problem. Violent extremist parties like Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa Province generate grievous harm to the extensive majority of people dedicated to peace and tolerance. According to the UN, in just over a decade, these groups have shot dead 36,000 people and expelled two million from their homes.
These jihadist attacks in Africa pull from and find their echoes in ISIL propaganda. Each week, ISIL’s propaganda leaflet “An-Naba’a” praises the bloody toll of ISWAP’s operations in a frantic attempt to stay relevant and encourage violent attacks throughout the world.
To help strengthen local voices against jihadist activity in sub-Saharan Africa, the Sawab Center established a five-day messaging drive on March 7 with the hashtag #AfricaAgainstExtremism. The campaign emphasised inspirational stories of the struggle against extremism, including excerpts from documentaries and films showing the battle against extremism. It highlighted African youth’s positive role in determining their countries’ future.
Sawab’s Africa campaign and its statements of tolerance and peaceful co-existence reflect sincerely held values shared by the US and the UAE that counter the jihadist agenda. ISIL reduced Mosul to ruins, but the UAE has been at the vanguard of promoting reconstruction and cultural protection there, from the Al-Nuri Mosque to the Al-Tahira and Al-Saa’a churches. The Pope’s visit to Iraq was made on his visit to UAE in 2019, where he marked the Document on Human Fraternity with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar and former president of Al-Azhar University, the Sunni world’s most prestigious centre for theological study. The Abrahamic Family House, now under building in Abu Dhabi, will co-uncover a church, synagogue, and mosque on the same plot of land.
Online messaging is just one component of the toolkit for opposing violent extremism, but it remains vital to examine the online spaces that extremists are trying to manipulate. Through international partnerships, integrated operations, information sharing, and educational movements, the UAE, the United States, and other like-minded partners are countering terrorist propaganda, stopping youth from becoming radicalised and providing communities with the tools to combat extremism.
This multilateral and multi-dimensional approach has been central to curbing extremist movements and stopping actions of terrorism that destabilise societies and endanger the security and welfare of our people. The effort to generate global solidarity and consensus against ISIL’s hateful agenda continues.