Promoting the concept of tolerance is a task of global relevance. However deeply rooted in society, the notion of tolerance faces threat from within and abroad. Thanks to the pervading influence of the media, ideas, both good and evil, spread more rapidly than ever on television and newer mediums of social media.
This is particularly true of issues related to religious tolerance, a fundamental part of the UAE’s philosophy since its establishment. Preserving tolerance is relevant to ourselves and beyond, as we work to embed this pillar in our society and to counter those seeking to undermine it. Only through raising awareness within schools, families, workplaces and society at large can we effectively counter those who disseminate the ideas and practices of violent extremism.
Countering violent extremism is a global task, but each society has its own challenges and its own way of doing this.
As we all seek to tackle the menace, we can learn from working together and sharing the lessons gained from experience, as I was reminded during discussions I held in London last month.
During my visit, I met with Baroness Williams, the minister responsible for countering violent extremism and hate crime, and a group of parliamentarians who have taken an interest in the UAE and the principles of religious freedom.
All, of course, displayed interest in the Pillars of Tolerance that form the framework of the UAE's National Tolerance Programme, which lies within the context of our 2015 law making discrimination on the basis of religion, sect, race, colour or national origin illegal.
Another focus of attention was the close link between the Ministry of State for Tolerance and the Ministry of Youth, as well as the recently created UAE Youth Circle, which has initiatives that take into account the fact that youth are the most impressionable group in society and thus potentially the most vulnerable to radicalisation.
Our tolerance agenda is, of course, part of an overall Government policy providing youth with access to the best possible education, listening to their aspirations and empowering them through initiatives, such as coming up with a strategy to promote innovation in all fields. Such steps help quell feelings of alienation, which can be exploited by those promoting extremism.
In London, I found great interest in the UAE’s action plan for dealing with the issue of radicalisation, which includes training imams to ensure that they accurately understand the nature of Islam and introducing guidelines for Friday sermons. On such issues, the UAE is willing to share its experiences with the UK and with any other country that may find them of value.
While the task of countering violent extremism in the UAE does not fall directly within the mandate of the Ministry of State for Tolerance, there is, of course, an intrinsic link.
I was, therefore, interested to hear of the British government’s plans to establish a new commission for countering violent extremism. The new body will commence work early next year and its role will include raising awareness on the importance of tolerance and promoting the fundamental values that underpin peaceful exchange in society.
The UK has suffered extremist attacks in Manchester and London in recent months. How the perpetrators became radicalised is yet to be fully understood, but it is clear that the British government has enhanced its commitment to counter violent extremism at home and abroad and to address the factors that allow it to flourish.
In the UAE, we recognise the shared nature of these issues. We look forward to working closely with our friends, both in the UK and elsewhere, in the existential struggle between tolerance and intolerance and between moderation and extremism, which is a defining characteristic of modern global society.
Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi is the UAE Minister of State for Tolerance