There can be no doubt that rise of the extremist Islamist group ISIL poses a serious threat to the region, and there can be no doubt that the leadership in this country is addressing that challenge in an appropriate manner. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah, told the United National General Assembly at the weekend that the country was committed to combating “violent extremism and affiliated beliefs and terrorist acts”. To this end, the UAE has joined a coalition of countries, including the US and four Arab neighbours, in conducting air attacks on ISIL strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
But, as Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, pointed out in an opinion article published in The National yesterday, force alone will not rid us of fanaticism. He said: “The world must unite behind a holistic drive to discredit the ideology that gives the extremists their power, and to restore hope and dignity to those whom they would recruit.”
He added that lasting peace would be achieved through three channels: winning the intellectual battle by countering the extremists’ malignant ideas with enlightened thinking, upgrading weak governance across the region by establishing stable institutions, and promoting initiatives to eliminate poverty, improve education and health, and create economic opportunities for all people.
The UAE has so often led the way in the Gulf and the wider region. In just under 43 years, this union of emirates has leveraged its natural resources and intellectual capital to provide opportunities not just for its own citizens, but for people from around the region and the world. Many have shared in, and helped create, a level of prosperity and stability that is the envy of the world. A philosophy of moderation and tolerance has created a country where people of 200 nationalities, and of different faiths, live and work alongside each other.
But we should not take any of this for granted. The UAE is a beacon of stability in an unstable region, but it is not immune to the influence of those who would pervert religion and radicalise others for selfish gain. The template for action outlined by Sheikh Mohammed rightly goes beyond the immediate goal of defeating ISIL. It involves eliminating the root causes of extremism and providing people across the region real opportunities that the ideologically bankrupt extremists cannot match.