Is the world yet again on the verge of an era of extremism, terrorism, and radicalism?
It definitively seems so. This has been observed by researchers at the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (Etidal), which was established in Saudi Arabia in 2017 in the context of the Kingdom’s policies to combat violence and confront extremists and their destructive ideology. Recently, Etidal monitored an increased activity of extremist organizations on websites and online platforms, including the launching of new platforms and the merging of several websites. This requires collective awareness of the risks and objectives of such activities and their infiltration and deployment strategies.
In this context, we must acknowledge that few are aware that the Kingdom’s generous $110 million contribution to the establishment of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism center (UNCCT) in New York ten years ago has helped launch several UN efforts and initiate international counter-terrorism cooperation between 193 countries around the world.
The Kingdom’s international effort to combat extremism and terrorism would not have been possible without the wise political leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, and the rational vision established and developed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who pledged, in 2017: “We will immediately eliminate extremism. We have effectively launched a serious campaign to address its root causes and combat its manifestations. In as little as one year, we successfully eliminated an ideological project that was developed over the course of four decades.”
The Crown Prince has often repeated that “extremism is no longer accepted or manifest in the Kingdom, as it has become rejected, masked, and isolated.” Those words are treasured at home and highly appreciated abroad.
A few days ago, UNCCT Director Dr. Jehangir Khan visited the Kingdom and signed a partnership agreement with Etidal, praising its “world-leading” efforts in combating violent extremism.
Extremism has truly become the plague of the twenty-first century. Terrorism resulting from mental and intellectual instability has become a global menace and challenge, especially since it has no religion or race and stretches beyond borders, hence the futility of combating it alone. The Arab region and the Islamic world have paid dearly on the path of combating terrorism and violent extremism.
According to Dr. Mansour al-Shammari, secretary general of Etidal, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the Crown Prince are behind Etidal’s successes, for they spared no effort in supporting every international effort to combat extremist ideology and terrorism in general. Their support stems from their belief that extremism and terrorism are the number one enemy of the development and stability of any society in the world. Indeed, the success of any country’s development plans hinges on its ability to protect its resources and citizens from the dangers of this ideology.
For the past four years, Etidal has worked to expose the methods used by extremist organizations to target youth and educate the latter about the dangers of this ideology in order to quell the uncertainties that terrorist organizations exploit in their selection and recruitment processes.
Etidal is perhaps particularly distinguished by its contemporary ability to understand and follow the latest developments and changes in how violent groups deal with new means of communication, which have become a double-edged sword: a blessing if properly used, and a curse if exploited by malicious groups.
Dr. al-Shammari reported that during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Etidal observed that extremist groups and organizations have taken advantage of this humanitarian crisis to try to spread radical and near-extremist ideas, leveraging the increased use of social media during quarantine.
Indeed, Etidal researchers have analyzed the behavior of some of these groups on several platforms at the peak of the pandemic and noticed a remarkable surge in their online activity promoting media content that fuels panic and undermines confidence in the international community’s ability to properly deal with the crisis. Such content was also observed to embrace extremist ideologies against states and state institutions.
The partnership agreement recently signed between Etidal and UNCCT reflects the conscious awareness of the importance of cooperation and partnership between nations and peoples within the universal framework of combating extremism and spreading peace.
In his third and most recent visit, Dr. Jehangir Khan praised Etidal’s pioneering and world-leading work and expressed his delight to sign the agreement.
This internationally acclaimed Saudi achievement is the fruit of several plans, strategies, and initiatives that were developed and implemented with remarkable social engagement, all of which identified fears of an existing and imminent wave of extremism and terrorism.
Etidal is a regionally and internationally acclaimed Saudi progressive step.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi Arabian news outlet Asharq al-Awsat.