Fighting ISIL’s hate with words of hope
Jordan’s Queen Rania is one of the few figures in the Arab world who commands a strong following among both English- and Arabic-speakers, with more than 3.4m followers on Twitter. She is also known for her advocacy work in education, community empowerment and cross-cultural dialogue, as well as being Unicef’s eminent advocate for children. Thus when she speaks, as she did on Tuesday at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit, it is worth paying close attention to her words.
Though expressed gently, her message was damning. The silence of the moderate majority on social media in the face of a barrage from extremists such as ISIL made them – us – complicit. “If we don’t decide what our legacy will be, the extremists will do it for us.” A vacuum of opinion from moderate Arabs will rapidly be filled by radicals, thugs and the ignorant.
That points to a role for individuals who, simply by getting involved in social media, can change perceptions. This isn’t about saying “not in my name”, but simply partaking in the discussions on social media. The particular Arab perspective is missing. If people ask, in the face of the brutality of ISIL, “what can they do?”, the answer, according to Queen Rania, is simple: “get involved”.
There is also, however, an important role for institutions. There is currently a gap between individuals and institutions over moderate forces and that gap needs to be closed.
Media institutions have a role to play, amplifying the voices of the moderates and reporting on all that is happening in the region – both good and bad.
That, we can admit, is a difficult proposition: this newspaper, like all media, thrives on bad news. The shock of beheadings will, simply because of the outrage they generate, replace most other news (which is precisely ISIL’s intent).
More than anything else, however, the most powerful way to combat extremism is to lead by example. Countries such as Jordan and the UAE have created moderate, outward-looking societies that have welcomed outsiders and given their citizens a chance to blossom. In the end, it is the example of these societies that will do the most to push back the extremists, so long as we tell our stories well and spread them widely.
Published: November 19, 2014 04:00 AM