Combating Terrorism in the Gulf Region (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait)
The modern world faces more intensive and diverse terrorist threats, thus influencing higher rates of global incidents of violent crimes and fear. Violent extremism has grown into a global problem that all cultures and nations have to address to protect their citizens and improve world peace. The problem is also more complicated owing to the effects of globalization in the modern society. This is since advancements in technology and higher quality and intensity in interactions across cultures across the world have provided terrorist groups with more efficient tools and ways of recruiting and influencing members of vulnerable communities with their philosophies and concepts. This paper presents a discussion on some of the approaches that the international community could utilize to combat terrorism in the Gulf region, particularly in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
The focus of this discussion on the region is essential considering that the Gulf is the principal source of religious extremists and groups whose activities have undermined world peace in recent years. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and the Gulf region, generally, are highly susceptible to the problems of radicalization and extremist ideologies that breed terrorist groups. In the recent past, groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS have developed in the region, leading to terrorist activities with devastating effects around the world. Events such as the 9/11 attack on the U.S. and those on other cities such as London, Paris, and Belgium have resulted in enormous losses of life, property, and public security. Despite the difficulty of defining the activities or organizations that constitute “terrorism” at the international level, it is clear that the region and the international community need to address the problem to make the world safer and prevent losses of property and life. In the following paragraphs, the author argues that the most effective and sustainable approach for Gulf countries to combat terrorism is to cooperate with the international community to address social, economic, political, cultural, and other conditions that are conducive to violent extremism and build or support government capacities that can reinforce the rule of law and promote socio-economic development.
Policies, Strategies, and Measures to Combat Terrorism in the Gulf, focusing on Kuwait, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia
The European Commission observes that the main variety of violent threats originating from the Gulf region is ideological in nature, rather than state-related or insurgent violence. This is an important starting point in efforts to combat terrorism in the region because it allows the international community to mobilize and allocate its resources in a specific direction. The Commission notes that violent extremist ideologies have gained an enormous level of traction in the Gulf and the broader Arab region. In the view of the Commission, the principal factor that has promoted the vulnerability of this region to extremist ideologies that breed terrorism relates to chronic humanitarian needs that cause or exacerbate migration from homes, economic decline, poverty, growing social inequality, fragility of governments, and insecurity. In such environments, it has been easy for violent extremist ideologies to become popular as growing numbers of disenfranchised citizens find the ideologies appealing. These ideologies have also gained significant support among disenfranchised ethnic or social groups in other societies outside the region, including European societies. The European Commission notes that while violent extremism has grown into a global problem that is observable across cultures with different characteristics, the extremism in the gulf region is unique in terms of its high prevalence and implications for global security.
Radicalization works through exploitation of the economic, political, and social challenges and injustices that a particular group in a society faces. By pointing to such injustices and challenges and exploiting or targeting the real or perceived grievances of the members of these groups, radical extremist groups such as ISIS can influence the appeal of their philosophies and recruit followers. Often, the extremist groups promote the belief that the grievances of “marginalized” or “oppressed” social groups in the society are the result of a corrupt system of ideology or politics, implying that the government or society pursues deliberate policies that target or victimize the social groups. Based on this outlook, the extremist groups seek to incite the members of these “oppressed” groups to fight against the “oppressors” to secure their rights. To become persuasive, the groups utilize arguments based on facts in the lives or experiences of the target groups, employing an incomplete and selective approach in portraying the facts to distort the reality and influence the target groups or individuals.
This assessment is vital for the Gulf countries in the effort to combat terrorism and terrorist ideologies in their communities through sustainable solutions. In this regard, the countries need to mobilize their tools and resources to address the underlying causes of the vulnerability of their communities to extremist ideologies that breed terrorism. The European Commission’s position is that the most effective and sustainable approach in dealing with the problem of terrorism is to focus on social, economic, political, cultural, and other conditions that are conducive to violent extremism and build or support government capacities that can reinforce the rule of law and promote socio-economic development. This viewpoint features the assumption that the lack of socio-economic opportunities, social injustice, and the consistent fragility of states in the Gulf region are the principal underlying factors that promote the vulnerability of communities in the region to radical extremist ideologies that breed terrorism. Some of the policies and activities that meet this criterion are long-term preventive engagements in trade, short-term political stabilization, development and infrastructure-oriented services or funding, targeted recovery and humanitarian relief measures, and use of the media to educate the public on the threats of radical extremist ideologies.
In 2005, the EU adopted a Counter-Terrorism Strategy aimed at reducing terrorism globally and promoting respect for human rights. One of the four pillars of the strategy focused on preventing the population from turning to terrorism through tackling the factors that lead to recruitment into the extremist groups and radicalization. This pillar recognized the need for proactive policies aimed at addressing the enabling environment for violent extremism. Under this pillar, the EU identified various areas of priority for action at the national and international level to address the vulnerability of particular communities to radicalization. These areas included the promotion of equal opportunities among different sections and groups (social groups, ethnic groups, racial groups, etc.) of the population, community-level efforts, capacity-building efforts, and counter-narrative effort. Based on recommendations of the Commission, cooperation among relevant stakeholders at all levels of the society (internationally, nationally, regionally, and locally) is vital to support vulnerable countries (especially in the Gulf region) and communities to counter the recruitment of individuals into extremist groups and build the resilience of vulnerable communities to radicalization.
The European Commission recognizes the relationship between development and security. This concept holds that security cannot prevail without development and vice versa. Political, social, and economic circumstances that undermine development at the international, national, regional, and local levels are important influences of the vulnerability of communities to radicalization. Fragile states, socio-political or socio-economic grievances, and weak governance offer uninhibited spaces for the operations of violent extremist groups and fertile grounds for the recruitment of local communities into extremist groups. Armed conflicts are also important influences of the vulnerability of communities to radicalization because they offer compelling images and narratives for radical extremist groups to utilize in influencing the beliefs and perceptions of local communities in particular ways. This means that effective and competent government and the preservation of political, economic, and social stability are essential in efforts to combat terrorism in the UAE, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. By preserving political, economic, and social stability and efficient government, these countries can undermine the appeal of radical extremist philosophies, and hence prevent the growth and prevalence of terrorist groups. The international community should commit investments in assisting Gulf countries whose communities are vulnerable to extremist ideologies to assist in development projects at the local community level. Such commitment would alleviate the political, economic, and social conditions that influence the vulnerability of local communities to the philosophical influences of radical groups, thus rendering these groups less powerful.
Nevertheless, in a globalized world where advanced and fast-changing technologies have revolutionized the processes of transport and communications by rendering international borders irrelevant in contact across cultures and national communities, the governments of Kuwait, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia cannot achieve the objective of preventing the radicalization of their citizens alone. The international community has to cooperate and enforce strong international frameworks to coordinate efforts aimed at addressing the networks and mechanisms of international terrorism. Part of this cooperation involves respect for human rights and international law to prevent countries with partisan interests, including Western countries, from supporting regimes, factions, or countries in the Gulf that have undemocratic values. In the past, Western governments have offered military, economic, and political support to factions or regimes that have evolved into terrorist groups. In outlining its position on terrorism and the actions that are necessary to combat the vice at an international level, the Norwegian government identifies the need for an integrated and long-term approach featuring a balance between combative and preventive measures. A stronger international framework is vital to ensure that all countries in the world, including the neighbors of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait that are vulnerable to the activities of violent extremist groups such as ISIS, endorse and adhere to international efforts and mechanisms against terrorism.
Since the United Nations is the most broad-based international organization with a strong mandate from members across the world, the organization ought to have a strengthened role to coordinate and integrate the international community’s efforts in the long term. The development of a more comprehensive UN convention against terrorism, based on a strong definition of the vice, would facilitate the development of a clear strategy for the united participation of all countries in efforts against terrorism. Actions such as arms embargos, travel restrictions, freezing of assets, and sanctions against countries that fail to observe the regulations would be effective in limiting the resources of terrorist organizations in the Gulf to reach, radicalize, and recruit individuals from vulnerable communities, including in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
These proposals to address the vulnerability of particular communities in the Gulf to the ideologies of extremist groups ought to complement the efforts of Gulf countries and the international community to promote increased dialogue and understanding across different communities, social groups, and religions. Ethnicity, race, religion, language group, social group, and other cultural factors constitute the principal factors that underlie the identities of individuals and groups in the society. This means that perceptions of differences among members of the society based on these factors are likely to be references of mobilization based on identity in the philosophies of radical extremist groups. Intercultural and interreligious dialogue, interactions, and understanding represent vital ways of promoting tolerance among ethnic, racial, religious, social, language, and other groups in the society. This focus is especially vital in Gulf countries where radical ideologies are prevalent. In recent years, several events have demonstrated the need for inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue to combat the appeal of radical extremist philosophies and their promotion of terrorism. Following the publishing of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in France in 2015, there was widespread hostility towards the publication in the Arab or Islamic world. The strong discontent among Muslims was evident in the subsequent attack on the publication’s offices in the country, which led to the deaths of several executives. The cause of the conflict was essentially the lack of understanding and tolerance between the Western and Islamic cultures based on differences in their cultural and religious values.
Governments and societies in Gulf countries can alleviate such misunderstandings and conflicts based on religious or cultural values through promotion of dialogues, interactions, and understanding among members. These opportunities would allow the members of each side to understand the differences between their cultures. They would allow the members of different cultures, religions, social groups, social classes, ethnicities, races, language groups etc. to understand the values of one another, and hence promote tolerance of each other’s attitudes, norms, rituals, beliefs, and cultures. In the Gulf countries whose communities are vulnerable to the philosophies of extremist groups, dialogues and interactions between members of different cultures would promote understanding and tolerance, and hence promote harmony and minimize the appeal of extremist ideologies based on cultural identity.
Education in schools and in public, including mass media campaigns, represents an important and practical approach for Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, and other countries in the Gulf to promote dialogues, interactions, and understanding among members of different cultures in their societies. School education and the mass media are some of the most powerful mediums in this effort because of their potential to reach all areas of the society, including the rural areas. The school system is effective and highly practical in the effort to promote dialogue and understanding of other cultures because most of the population receives formal education in the institutions. Targeted public education and mass media initiatives could enable the governments in Gulf countries to reach vulnerable communities and sensitize them about the risks of extremist propaganda from the radical groups, and hence counter their philosophies effectively. The mass media is powerful in mobilizing the opinions and perceptions of the public and fortifying the society’s resistance against the ideologies of extremist groups. Governments in the region could exploit this power to transmit warnings and counter-information about the extremist groups and their activities. This strategy should involve use of the medium as a forum to promote in-depth and quality discussions of the agendas of extremist groups and the social, economic, and political implications of their activities. This approach would be effective in countering the propaganda and efforts of radical groups to reach and influence members of vulnerable communities in the Gulf countries.
The Gulf is a particularly vulnerable region to the extremist philosophies of radical groups that breed global terrorism. In an increasingly globalized world with evolving technologies that have allowed communications and social contact across international borders and cultures, Kuwait, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other countries in the Gulf cannot address the threats of extremist philosophies and terrorism on their own. Efforts to combat the threat need to involve international cooperation to be effective. As the discussion above demonstrates, the most effective and sustainable approach for Gulf countries to combat terrorism is to cooperate with the international community to address social, economic, political, cultural, and other conditions that are conducive to violent extremism and build or support government capacities that can reinforce the rule of law and promote socio-economic development. To combat terrorism in the Gulf and achieve a sustainable solution, the countries need to cooperate effectively with the international community to counter terrorism and violent extremism and promote social, political, and economic solutions to minimize the appeal of extremist ideologies among their vulnerable communities. Education of the public through the mass media and in institutions (schools, public forums, etc.) is also vital to sensitize citizens about the risks of extremist philosophies and counter the philosophies.
Mokrosch, Reinhold. “How tolerant do Religions need to be to serve Peace? Considerations of Tolerance and Satire after the attacks in Paris and Copenhagen in January and February 2015”. In IFSH, Yearbook 2015, 2016, pp. 297-307.
Peresin, Anita. “Mass Media and Terrorism”. Media Research Journal vol. 13, no. 1, 2007, pp. 5-22.
The European Commission (EC). Strengthening Resilience to Violence and Extremism. The European Commission Report, 2016.
The Norwegian Government. Foreign Policy Strategy for combating International Terrorism. Norwegian Government Foreign Policy Document, 2006.
 The European Commission (EC). Strengthening Resilience to Violence and Extremism. The European Commission Report, 2016, p.1-2
 The European Commission (EC). Strengthening Resilience to Violence and Extremism. The European Commission Report, 2016, p.2-3
 Ibid, p. 2
 Ibid, p. 2
 The European Commission (EC). Strengthening Resilience to Violence and Extremism. The European Commission Report, 2016, p.3
 Ibid, p. 3
 Ibid, p. 3
 Ibid, p. 3
 The European Commission (EC). Strengthening Resilience to Violence and Extremism. The European Commission Report, 2016, p. 3
 Ibid, p. 3
 The European Commission (EC). Strengthening Resilience to Violence and Extremism. The European Commission Report, 2016. P. 11
 Ibid, p. 11
 Ibid, p. 11
 Ibid, p. 11
 The European Commission (EC). Strengthening Resilience to Violence and Extremism. The European Commission Report, 2016, p.11
 Ibid, p. 11
 Ibid, p.11
 The Norwegian Government. Foreign Policy Strategy for combating International Terrorism. Norwegian Government Foreign Policy Document, 2006, p.9
 Ibid, p.10
 Ibid, p.10
 The Norwegian Government. Foreign Policy Strategy for combating International Terrorism. Norwegian Government Foreign Policy Document, 2006, p. 14
 Ibid, p. 14
 Mokrosch, Reinhold. “How tolerant do Religions need to be to serve Peace? Considerations of Tolerance and Satire after the attacks in Paris and Copenhagen in January and February 2015”. In IFSH, Yearbook 2015, 2016, p. 300-301
 The Norwegian Government. Foreign Policy Strategy for combating International Terrorism. Norwegian Government Foreign Policy Document, 2006, p.14
 Peresin, Anita. “Mass Media and Terrorism”. Media Research Journal vol. 13, no. 1, 2007, p. 13-14
 Ibid, p. 13
 Peresin, Anita. “Mass Media and Terrorism”. Media Research Journal vol. 13, no. 1, 2007, p. 13-14