By Arab News
Winning the war of ideas is as important as military confrontation in overcoming violent extremism worldwide, the secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL), Mohammed Al-Issa, told a group of leading US defense analysts in a special address.
Al-Issa, who is also chairman of the Association of Muslim Scholars, was invited by the US Defense Department’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies (NESA) to deliver a lecture to senior executives on extremist organizations and their use of targeted messages via online platforms.
The MWL leader said that the internet has become a key tool for terrorists to spread their ideologies, preying on the vulnerable while reducing their spending.
Organizations such as Daesh rely heavily on the virtual world to promote their ideas, and the use of counter-ideas is important to eradicate the extremist threat, he said.
In his lecture, Al-Issa said that it is important to understand the nature of extremism, a term that depends on context.
“In Islam, extremism often refers to adopting rigid ideas that incite violence or terrorism, or create intellectual incubators for violence or terrorism. Outside the Islamic context, specifically in the West, the term is often understood as far-right opinions,” he said.
Most Al-Qaeda and Daesh fighters are fueled by religious sentiment more than religious extremist thought since many have no interest in the knowledge Islam holds, Al-Issa said.
Al-Issa said that this extremist ideology threatened communal harmony in countries of religious, ethnic and cultural diversity and hindered cooperation between nations.
He said that there is a greater awareness in the Islamic world and many Muslim minority countries of the danger of the ideology of political Islam led by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Al-Issa said that military efforts to combat extremism, such as the campaign that involved 83 nations led by the US against Daesh, were critical, but intellectual confrontation is even more important at this time.
The fight can and must start from home, with family, school and platforms of religious and social influence playing a major role in leading people back to the path of moderation, he said.
A second, more therapeutic, approach, should focus on dismantling ideologies through scientific, intellectual and social discourse, and institutional projects, initiatives and programs that will evaluate and measure results accordingly.