For a year now, the terrorist group ISIL, or Daesh as it is known throughout the Middle East, has seized attention through its rapid growth and expansion. To fuel this growth, ISIL has maliciously twisted and corrupted the peaceful teachings of Islam, using sensationalist brutality to appeal to the most vulnerable members of our societies.
Their campaign, however, is doomed to fail. In the face of violent extremism, responsible people around the world have begun moving from affront and outrage to a determined response. We are taking another step in that response.
ISIL has thrived through its ability to manipulate and exploit the internet and social media. These globally transformative tools have provided our generation with more information and ways to communicate than any previous generation in history, but terrorists and their online supporters are exploiting these opportunities to spread propaganda, recruit new fighters and raise money.
ISIL isn’t the first extremist group to channel the power of mass communication. But its ability to speak to and mobilise a global audience, through its use of graphic violence to shock some and attract others, has been unprecedented.
Together with our partners, our governments are employing a multifaceted strategy to counter ISIL’s hateful vision. Better monitoring and reporting and closer cooperation with internet and media companies are important.
But this is not enough. Extremists will always find new ways to peddle their wares in the marketplace of ideas. It’s vital that their propaganda not remain unchallenged.
This week, our governments jointly launched the Sawab Centre in Abu Dhabi, serving a notice of rejection to others who try to twist the internet into a tool for incitement to hatred and violence.
The result of months of discussions between allies working to defeat ISIL, the Sawab Centre will be staffed by experts from the US and the UAE, who will engage online with people in the region and around the world.
It will support the efforts of governments, religious leaders and scholars, educators, corporate leaders, public figures and individuals to stand up with pride and dignity.
Starting this week, the Centre will open a new online community that will provide the people of the region and the world an opportunity to launch and share our own content – text, graphics, video clips and animations – that puncture ISIL’s grotesque propaganda.
The Centre will monitor and analyse ISIL’s communications, respond to ISIL’s social media lies and distortion, and most importantly, leverage and amplify the voices of those who are repulsed by their terrorist activities.
In Arabic, “Sawab” means “that which is right”, as in the “right path”. It is clear that ISIL is the wrong path. We may differ about some of the many complex issues and choices our societies face, but all of us agree that ISIL’s brutal methods and intolerant ideology have no place in modern societies and deviate from the teachings of all religious traditions.
ISIL may be capable of dramatic acts of violence but people across the globe and in the Middle East overwhelmingly reject its vision.
We want to harness that rejection of ISIL and strengthen popular support for a different path, by giving a platform to those billions that are too often sidelined by ISIL’s headline grabbing violence.
As responsible government officials, as members of our communities and as parents, we are launching the Sawab Centre to provide a forum for adherents of peace, prosperity and a brighter future.
All of us share a responsibility to raise our voices online and in our communities in opposition to ISIL and in support of the right path.
Dr Anwar Gargash is the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs
Richard Stengel is US under secretary of state
The Sawab Centre’s Twitter handle is @SawabCenter #DefeatDaesh #NotoDaesh