UAE’s tolerance should be emulated, US official says

Foreign policy adviser says country’s efforts at promoting peace will shape how people think about violent radicalism.

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ABU DHABI // The UAE’s efforts to fight terrorism and promote tolerance should be emulated around the world, a US official said in the capital.

“We are interested in the way that the UAE’s model of tolerance can be expanded,” Qamar-ul Huda, a senior adviser for religion and foreign policy at the US state department, said last week.

As the UAE lacked the “massive grievances and incredible frustrations” of other countries in the Middle East, it did not have as many young people who had become radicalised by extremists, said Mr Huda, who often visits the country to report on the region.

A recent state department report listed a number of countries that were producing terrorists and the UAE was not among them, “but potential issues of conflict spill over from neighbouring countries”, he said.

For instance, people could develop sympathy for grievances in hot spots where conflicts occur. They begin to think “what more can we do?”, said Mr Huda. If they were to become dissatisfied with what governments were doing to tackle the problems, “individuals do this themselves”.

Although the UAE has “a wonderful model” of tolerance, several studies “have shown that even if one’s family is wealthy or educated, there is still an attraction [to radicalisation]”, said Mr Huda.

Some youth who felt guilty about their wealth could be driven to try to end other people’s suffering. “So the notion that only poor children” could become radicalised was not true, he said.

Indeed, the State Security Court has tried a few Emirati youth on ISIL-related charges or for planning to carry out terrorist attacks in the country.

In any case, there was no major threat within the UAE, said Mr Huda.

“Of course, the youth are not angels but they look at what Sheikh Zayed has done for the country,” he said.

In the West, what drew young people to extremism was “the whole experience as a minority of acceptance or intolerance”.

“You don’t feel empowered, people are determining your own future, every day seems to build more frustration,” said Mr Huda.

UAE officials have made efforts to counter extremism through many initiatives, such as the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies.

“It is a big initiative, not only within the UAE but across the Muslim world, to really change thinking and how people are attracted to violent extremism,” said Mr Huda.

“So here is a great initiative trying to gather all those thinkers and politicians.”

The forum also launched the Muslim Council of Elders, which has been undertaking plans to promote peace, such as sending peace envoys to conflict zones.

The council also worked on issues close to home, said Kaltham Al Muhairi, a member of the council and professor at Zayed University’s Institute of Islamic World Studies.

“There are many efforts [by the UAE] aimed directly at UAE youth, such as sending awareness messages through media channels, social media and educational institutions,” she said.

“The students receive awareness messages and there are activities and programmes for the youth to participate in, so they can fill their free time with useful things.”

After the council’s last meeting, it was announced that a conference would be held in February involving youth of various faiths and nationalities to promote dialogues and solutions.

“We will be invited to attend and the council might hold a meeting on the sidelines,” said Prof Al Muhairi.

In November last year, it was announced that the first branch of Egypt’s Al Azhar University would open in Al Ain, to promote its moderate and balanced approach to Islamic science.

“This will have a great positive influence. There will be a bigger achievement in spreading correct understanding among the youth and Muslims,” said Prof Al Muhairi.

Other UAE initiatives include the Sawab Centre, a collaboration between the UAE and the United States to counter the spread of extremism online.

“This centre is very important for enlightening the youth through Twitter, it transmits daily awareness in a focused manner,” she said.

hdajani@thenational.ae