x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Gulf states have own solutions to a shared threat

A decade after the Twin Towers disaster, the world is learning how to cope with the threat of such attacks. While every country has its own approach, the UAE's model has certainly shown its value.

Ten years on from the fall of the Twin Towers, the world is beginning to understand how to respond to the menace of major terrorism. And the approach developed in the UAE and elsewhere in the Gulf, while specific to this region, has shown its value.

Attacks on civilians in the name of political change are an old problem. But a brand of terrorism that spans the globe and falsely claims to represent Islam is a new and virulent plague. When a few men with box cutters can kill thousands, the challenge for governments and societies is more urgent than ever. This weekend's security alerts in New York and Washington DC seem to confirm that Al Qaeda, despite its many setbacks, is not a spent force.

Alongside US anxieties, Middle East countries face at least an equal risk; Al Qaeda's victims since 2001 have mainly been innocent Muslims and Arabs. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula now appears to be the strongest branch of the franchise. And reactions in the United States, ranging from prudence to paranoia, have made life more difficult for Muslims there and around the world.

At a security conference in Manama last December, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister of the UAE, summed up by saying the biggest threat facing the GCC is extremism, which "feeds on a lack of hope and opportunity". There is a domestic threat, but so too are there the ingredients of a solution.

Over the decade since the attacks, strengthening hope and opportunity has been the cornerstone of the UAE's policy. The UAE has consistently encouraged economic development, education, interfaith dialogue and a sense of religious tolerance.

Meanwhile Saudi Arabia has arguably conducted the most successful anti-terrorism programme, combining policing with rehabilitation and counselling of militants by Muslim clerics who are opposed to violence. Another element of Saudi policy has been to encourage an interfaith dialogue at an international level.

To be sure, there is no panacea to an extremist ideology that is bent on destruction and so ruthless in exploiting the weaknesses of its followers. Somewhere in the world, there will always be an anger or desperation that can be moulded into a killer. That is why a "war" against terror will never be won.

Al Qaeda's ideas and its murderous tactics are so morally bankrupt that honest debate is enough to defeat them. This is not a battlefield manoeuvre. Person by person, country by country, the simple truth prevails when it is not delivered at the point of a gun.