Extremists have to be fought on multiple fronts

UAE ambassador articulates why military action alone cannot rid the world of the cancer of extremism.

Iraq's new prime minister Haider Al Abadi will benefit from the coalition being formed to fight ISIL. UAE's ambassador says ISIL is just one problem the region faces. Photo: Hadi Mizban / Reuters
Powered by automated translation

When ISIL took control of large swathes of northern Iraq, it altered the mostly hands-off approach to the Syrian conflict that had previously been adopted by the West. Countries in the region and beyond understood they had a direct interest in extinguishing the threat ISIL posed, with its poisonous misinterpretation of Islam.

As Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador to the United States, spelt out in an opinion article in The Wall Street Journal this week, ISIL might be getting the headlines but it is just one of a range of Islamist extremist groups that he described as “the most destabilising and dangerous global force since fascism”. And just as extremism arrives in more than one form, so too will an intelligent and nuanced response.

Mr Al Otaiba said the UAE will contribute to any "coordinated international response" against ISIL. Indeed, this country has previously been involved in counterterrorism and peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Somalia. But he acknowledged that military force alone will not succeed because bombs do not work against the philosophy fuelling extremist groups – whether it is ISIL or Al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria.

He said these extremist groups had to be identified, a plan formulated for direct action against them and also the support networks that provide them with cash, equipment and recruits or spread their ideologies. But also important is addressing the lack of hope that leads some young people to find appeal in extremist doctrines.

Mr Al Otaiba's final "and perhaps most important" point was about providing another view of Islam more in keeping with it being a religion of peace rather than the warped and hateful ideology being propagated by ISIL and others. Abu Dhabi is already working on this, having helped establish the Muslim Council of Elders this year to provide that moderate voice.

For the UAE, this is not some abstract threat. As Mr Al Otaiba put it, no country has more at stake in eliminating the cancer of Islamist extremism than the UAE and other moderate, forward-looking Gulf states. As he said, this country is “a haven in a very tough neighbourhood” that cherishes its values of tolerance and moderation. And that way of life cannot be threatened.