x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Abu Dhabi research centre a 'proactive' attempt to counter terrorism

Centre that aims to serve as the premiere international venue for training, collaboration and research to stop violent extremism has been welcomed by international experts.

DUBAI // Local and international experts have welcomed plans to open a counter-extremism research centre in the capital.

The International Centre of Excellence on Countering Violent Extremism, scheduled to open in October, has three main objectives - to conduct discussions and initiate cooperation between member states, to research the subject, and to train experts in countering the threat.

Faris Al Mazroui, Assistant Foreign Minister for Security and Military Affairs, told a gathering of the Global Counter Terrorism Forum (GCTF) last week that the building that will house the centre was complete and ready for occupation.

Up until now, the fight against terrorism has taken a "hit-first-and-ask-questions-later" approach, said Dr Theodore Karasik, the director of research at Dubai's Inegma consultancy. "That has now changed as governments are trying to find less expensive and more effective ways to counter that."

In a presentation to the US Department of State, the UAE outlined its proposed mission for the centre, which is "to serve as the premiere international venue for training, dialogue, collaboration and research to counter violent extremism in all its forms and manifestations".

To get to the heart of extremism, Dr Karasik said, one needed to understand its root cause. "Such a centre is unique because it is dedicated to the subject of extremism," he said.

Mr Al Mazroui said last week that the centre would study all types of ideological extremism and not just religious extremism.

"It is a very wise choice to stipulate the concentration on ideological violence and not only religious violence," said Eelco Kessels, the programme manager of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in The Hague, the Netherlands.

"If you look at Europe in the last 10 years, public and political discourse has concentrated very much on the threat of religiously inspired terrorism. In reality, the vast majority of terrorist incidents in Europe can be linked not to Islamists, but to separatist groups such as the Basque Liberation Movement, ETA, and the Irish Republican Army."

Dr Mohammed bin Huwaidin, an associate professor of political science at UAE University, said the UAE's willingness to host the centre was very much in line with its foreign policy.

"In the GCC and the Arab world, we are very late to react to new phenomena and the initiation of such a centre is a positive and proactive move to curb this issue," he said. "It is part of the UAE's foreign policy in the region to counter extremism and fanaticism."

However, Mr Kessels warned that to be successful, "the centre must strike a balance between a substantial level of operational independence, while making the best use of the political support of the 30 GCTF member states".

"Bringing local knowledge and experiences in different fields together is a powerful force multiplier. You do not want to reinvent the wheel, the answer may already be out there - be it in the past, in another country, or in a different field," he added.

amustafa@thenational.ae