Pope, UAE build bridges to take on ideology of hate and terror

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (left) meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Story highlights

  • Pope Francis has reached out to faith leaders of all religions to reject extremism
  • UAE: Ideology and actions of extremists do not represent the core ethos of Islam
  • Ultimate goal is to restore the Middle East to a path of hope, progress and lasting prosperity

His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan is Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation for the United Arab Emirates. The views expressed are solely those of the author.

(CNN)When His Holiness Pope Francis received His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the armed forces of the United Arab Emirates, it was the highest-level official delegation from the Gulf state ever to visit the Vatican, and comes at a time when constructive dialogue between people of all faiths is of paramount importance.

It is critical to take every opportunity to show a united front against all forms of intolerance. Pope Francis has reached out to faith leaders of all religions to reject extremism wherever it occurs. The UAE is proud to stand with him.  We believe that the ideology and actions of extremists do not represent the core ethos of Islam and must be loudly denounced on that basis. Above all this is a battle for hearts and minds.
    In their sophisticated use of digital and social media to glorify murder and destruction, groups such as Daesh -- to use the Arabic term for ISIS -- continue to lure young people from all over the world into their ranks.
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    We must use every tool available to us to defeat their nihilist ideology of hatred. In this endeavor, the UAE has acted in collaboration with friends, who share our values.
    That's why, in partnership with the United States, the UAE established the Sawab Center in Abu Dhabi, an organization specifically tasked with countering violence and extremism on digital platforms and through social media campaigns.
    The center has already made some significant inroads in targeting young people with messages that counter Daesh propaganda and reveal its true criminal nature and intent. One of its most recent campaigns -- #deludedfollowers -- effectively exposed the cynical tactics and psychological manipulations that Daesh employs, such as the portrayal of its campaign of terror as a holy cause.

    Countering extremism 

    While confronting extremists in the digital arena is an essential component of the broader fight, there are other methods that we must use to target at risk groups. Our experience in this goes back to 2011, when the UAE hosted the foundation of the first international center for countering extremism, known as Hedayah.
    Supported by the 30 member states that make up the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), Hedayah is devoted to researching the root causes of terrorism and formulating effective community-based programs focused on young and low-income groups. For instance, Hedayah has recently worked with Nigerian teachers to construct curricula emphasizing critical thinking that guides young people away from Boko Haram.
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    Promoting enlightened religious discourse is also critical if we are to de-legitimize those trying to hijack religion with their distorted ideology. To this end the Muslim Council of Elders, an international organization based in Abu Dhabi, amplifies the true tolerant teachings of Islam and creates understanding between faiths.
    The Muslim Council comprises some of the Islamic world's most venerated thinkers. It is led by Sheikh Dr. Ahmed Al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, one of Islam's oldest and most respected institutions, and His Excellency Professor Abdullah bin Bayyah, President of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, a gathering convened in Abu Dhabi to foster inter and intra-faith dialogue.

    Stable Middle East

    The Pope has expressed his hope for a stable Middle East that respects the rights of all faiths equally, a view we support in word and in deed.
    The UAE's opposition to extremist groups that exemplify intolerance spans more than two decades, from our participation in international coalitions against the likes of the Taliban, al Qaeda and Daesh in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria and Iraq.
    Our belief in a future defined by human advancement characterizes our approach to development assistance around the world, but is best expressed in the society we have created inside the UAE.
    Within a region rife with sectarian fueled conflict, the UAE is a peaceful home to a multiplicity of diverse nationalities and ethnicity, living side by side in a culture of unity, religious tolerance, inclusivity and economic opportunity.
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    Pope Francis is correct when he says that socio-economic marginalization provides fertile ground for the growth of extremism. He argues that a comprehensive approach is needed to address the root causes, from the ideological to the economic. By building bridges to Islam, he is setting a powerful example that the UAE acknowledges with gratitude and is eager to match.
    Our region faces a critical challenge to protect the prospects of diversity and mutual coexistence from the forces that threaten them.
    The region's immediate need is for peace and stability, but our ultimate goal, together with friends and allies, is to restore the Middle East to a path of hope, progress and lasting prosperity for all. 
    The views expressed here are the author's own.