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Event Summaries
March 21, 2018

Event Summary: Terror Overseas; Understanding the GCC Counter Extremism and Counter Terrorism Trends

Henry Jackson Society

Event: HJS Report Launch – Terror Overseas; Understanding the GCC Counter Extremism and Counter Terrorism Trends.

Date: Thursday 15th March 2018

Speakers: Najah Al-Otaibi & Jane Kinnimont

Chair: The Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne

‘Counter-Extremism is very much so the flavour of the year’, the Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne opened the event with this fitting remark. From there onwards, Ms. Al-Otaibi and Mrs. Kinnimont both spoke on this ‘flavour’, and the roles it plays in the GCC. The first to speak was Ms. Al-Otaibi, who first commented on her report that she feels fills the gap in counter-extremism literature where little research focuses on the domestic level of the GCC. With that Ms. Al-Otaibi continued to remark on the key players in the GCC, and the domestic policies they have emplaced to combat counter-extremism.

Ms. Al-Otaibi began with Saudi-Arabia. Ms. Al-Otaibi noted the long history that Saudi-Arabia has fighting terrorism and conducting counter-extremism. The focus on the latter became more prevalent after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The government spent a lot of money on programs such as rehabilitation centres for terrorists. There are also faith based initiatives such as the one in 2012, where an inter-faith centre was created in Vienna in order to foster inter-faith dialogue to fight extremism. However, Saudi-Arabia has not followed through with its domestic policies. Ms. Al-Otaibi notes that such inter-faith initiatives are still banned within Saudi-Arabia itself.

Next Ms. Al-Otaibi discussed the United Arab Emirates, which has not featured a significant terrorist threat level unlike some other GCC countries; the last attack of which was in 2014. Following that however, the government has set up centres to combat extremist ideals. These focus on countering online extremism and recruitment. Further, the UAE has been revolutionary, Ms. Al-Otaibi noted, in creating a ‘Ministry of Happiness’. The driving idea behind this move is that a happy population will be less likely to be taken in by extremist teachings, or attracted towards violence. Similarly, Qatar has had little history of terrorist attacks, with its last major terrorist attack having taken place in 2005; however, it is the home of many extremist groups such as Hamas. Yet still, the Qatar Foundation is active throughout North Africa, finding jobs for people in order to protect them against the allure of extremism.

By contrast, Ms. Al-Otaibi pointed out that Bahrain has had a considerable number of terrorist attacks: over 140. Bahrain’s strategy is to focus on inter faith and culture centres to combat extremism. Ms. Al-Otaibi pointed out that what makes Bahrain unique from its fellow GCC members is that many of its counter-extremism initiatives are civil rather than purely governmental. One example is a non-governmental delegation that travelled to Jerusalem, after President Trump’s embassy announcement, in order to foster greater inter-faith dialogue.

Ms. Al-Otaibi spoke of how Kuwait had also employed a unique counter-extremism strategy. While the kingdom does not have many terrorist attacks, it does have over 100 citizens fighting for the Islamic State, showing the real threat of extremism. In response the government uses drama and theatre as a way to educate and raise awareness of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism. Lastly, Ms. Al-Otaibi talked about Oman. What makes Oman an interesting target for research is that the Omani people largely practice a moderate view of Islam. Thus Oman is one of the few states to allow churches and open practice of other religions. Unfortunately, this is the cause for many of its terrorist incidents; in response Omani scholars travel in the hopes of preaching moderate Islam and religious freedom. In other words, Oman has interestingly chosen to fight ideology with ideology.

Next to speak was Mrs. Kinnimont. Before posing her take on the subject, Mrs. Kinnimont spoke of how she thought the contrast between the states that Ms. Al-Otaibi presented, was a very useful one. Mrs. Kinnimont largely focused on Saudi-Arabia however, as she argued that some believe that the Islam practiced in Saudi-Arabia is a ‘gateway’ towards extremism as it does not allow for the practice of other faiths. Education and foreign policy may have helped grown intolerance as well in Saudi-Arabia. Mrs. Kinnimont further pointed out that Saudi-Arabia had recognised the Taliban when the terrorist group controlled much of Afghanistan; therefore, their part in the Qatar Crisis is heavily hypocritical, as they are accusing Qatar of crimes that they too have committed.

Next Mrs. Kinnimont noted how counter-terrorism is understood in broad terms in the GCC; it is often used to fight dissent in addition to what the West would consider terrorism, the most extreme example being the censorship of comedians. The United Kingdom’s approach since 9/11 by contrast, has been a shift towards counter-extremism rather than solely on counter-terrorism. Most Western nations do not agree however, that non-violent counter-extremism should be a self-standing as a policy target. Interestingly, Mrs. Kinnimont pointed out that the U.K. definition of extremism would in fact include many of the domestic policies of the GCC. At the same time however, coöperation with Gulf States on the theological aspects of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism provides crucial and useful insight. However important the ideological or theological side, Mrs. Kinnimont held that the social aspects from which terrorism and extremism is just as important. She cautioned about the trend of focusing too much on counter-extremism, as it can be used to demonise another group or country. It also might take too much attention away from violent extremism, which is the important factor for so many other countries such as the United States.