Washington and Abu Dhabi are launching a new media initiative to tackle the radical religious narratives that have helped draw a small but dangerous number of young Muslims to support violent groups like Daesh, Barack Obama announced on Thursday at a White House conference on countering extremism.
"We need to do more to help lift up voices of tolerance and peace, especially online,” the US president said. "That's why the United States is joining…with the UAE to create a new digital communications hub to work with religious and civil society and community leaders to counter terrorist propaganda.”
No further details on the initiative were immediately available.
Mr Obama was speaking on the final day of a three-day conference, attended by foreign ministers and other officials from over 60 countries, focused on formulating and coordinating strategies to address the underlying factors that lead to violent radicalisation, as well as stopping the flow of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq.
"As a result of a separate ministerial here today, many of our governments will be deepening our cooperation against foreign terrorist fighters by sharing more information and making it harder for fighters to travel to and from Syria and Iraq,” Mr Obama said.
He also made a forceful call on countries around the world to expand rights and political and economic participation, especially for young people, and for more integration and tolerance for religious minorities and immigrants, as the most important means by which alienation, and thus radicalisation, can be undermined.
The long-delayed conference was hastily convened this week after a string of attacks by Daesh and Al Qaeda sympathisers in Paris, Copenhagen and Canada, the murder by Daesh of Coptic Egyptians in Libya and the immolation of a captured Jordanian pilot. US officials say the ideological battle against Daesh and other extremists is at least as important as the coalition's military campaign against the group in Syria and Iraq.
Mr Obama made a forceful appeal to leaders and influential religious figures in the Middle East to end the use of sectarianism to further their political and regional objectives. Saudi Arabia and Iran's rivalry for regional dominance has been widely blamed for stoking sectarian violence.
While Syrian president Bashar Al Assad's "war against his own people” and the sectarian policies of Iraq's former prime minister "helped pave the way for ISIL's gains”, Mr Obama said, "across the region the terror campaigns between Sunnis and Shia will only end when major powers address their differences through dialogue, and not through proxy wars.”
In recent months, the Obama administration has played down what had been a central position of the past two US governments, that only democracy can bring stability and security to Middle Eastern countries. But in his remarks, Mr Obama returned to this theme.
"When peaceful democratic change is impossible, it feeds into the terrorist propaganda that violence is the only answer available,” he said. "So we must recognise that lasting stability and real security require democracy.”
The conference in Washington has sparked impassioned political debates about how best to address the increasingly urgent security problems caused by ISIL, and exposed how 14 years after the September 11 attacks, the international community has failed to effectively counter or even understand the complex factors that lead to radicalisation. The task is made even more difficult by the evolving nature of terrorist threats.
The conference also drew criticism from many Muslim groups in the US and elsewhere that its focus on Islamic militancy was unfair, given the many violent extremists of other ideological stripes and religions, and would further inflame growing Islamophobia in the US and Europe.
Mr Obama attempted to address these concerns in his remarks.
"We've also seen, most recently in Europe, a rise in inexcusable acts of anti-Semitism, or in some cases, anti-Muslim sentiment or anti-immigrant sentiment,” he said. "When people spew hatred towards others — because of their faith or because they're immigrants — it feeds into terrorist narratives. If entire communities feel they can never become a full part of the society in which they reside, it feeds a cycle of fear and resentment and a sense of injustice upon which extremists prey.
Source: The National