Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 November 2019

UAE outlines wide-ranging strategy against extremism

Omar Ghobash, Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy, spells out country's vision at UN conference in Hungary

Omar Ghobash, the UAE Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy, speaks at a UN counter-terrorism conference in Budapest, Hungary on November 9, 2019. UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation
Omar Ghobash, the UAE Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy, speaks at a UN counter-terrorism conference in Budapest, Hungary on November 9, 2019. UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation

The UAE’s approach to countering extremism is much broader than taking military action and tackling online propaganda, a senior Emirati official said on Friday.

Omar Ghobash, Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy, told a UN counter-terrorism conference in Hungary that there was a need for a more wide-ranging strategy to prevent young people from being radicalised.

“We believe the Arab and Muslim worlds are able to rise to a much higher level. We need to tackle issues in the multiple systems that operate in and across our societies. This includes reforming our educational, economic, political, medical and social systems,” he said.

He spoke of policies to engage with youth and promote religious tolerance as part of the UAE’s effort to meet this challenge and to put its principles into practice.

Mr Ghobash said the creation of the Ministry of Youth, youth councils and a federal authority for youth “all run by young people for young people” was in recognition that half of the UAE’s population was under the age of 30.

“These are some of the mechanisms in place to channel information and concerns in both directions” – from young to old and vice versa, he said.

“The systems created work with the young irrespective of nationality, in recognition of all being members of the UAE community."

Similarly, regarding religious moderation and tolerance, he said: “In the UAE a decision was made to stand up and make sure extremists know that we will stand by our principles. A ministry of tolerance was created in order to entrench institutionally the concept of tolerance and acceptance of the other that has been a core part of the Emirati approach since the 50s, when outsiders began to settle in our traditional communities.”

The decision to build the Abrahamic House – which will have a mosque, church and synagogue side by side – is “possibly the most important statement we have made as Emiratis”, Mr Ghobash said.

“This is an important blow against those who define their vision of Islam as anti-Semitic and anti-Christian.”

The design for the complex on Saadiyat Island was unveiled recently in New York, with construction to begin next year and be completed by 2022.

Mr Ghobash also addressed the issue of mental health, which he said was “virtually untouched in the Arab and Muslim worlds”.

“Troubled youngsters would be advised to pray more, and take a pill – usually highly addictive. The UAE, and the region as a whole, is chipping away at the taboo of mental health and is actively working on moving towards open recognition of biochemical and behavioural origins and solutions,” he said. “A broader approach using and teaching life skills is on the horizon. Young men and women - as well as older ones - need to have the tools to deal with frustration and disappointment.

“Not all problems need to be reduced to a religious explanation, that in turn calls for an extremist position.”

Regarding the promotion of “moderate Islam” to counter extremist narrative, Mr Ghobash said a better approach was to “identify problems by their core essence”.

“What is an economic problem should be handled on its own terms. What is a biochemical problem needs to be treated accordingly. And what is a moral or ethical problem needs both a religious treatment, but also a philosophical treatment so that we are all aware of what is being decided,” he said.

These issues, and others, are what young Emiratis today are engaged in addressing, he said.

Updated: November 8, 2019 05:52 PM

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