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On extremism and terrorism

Al-Sharq al-Awsat, London, May 25

A few weeks ago, in the presence of US President Donald Trump, Saudi Arabia launched a global center to combat extremism. The center has already been mocked and disregarded by many pundits and security experts, but they might be too rash to judge it. What the recent Manchester attack in the UK emphasized is that the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda are two very different beasts. Al-Qaeda used technology to spread its message and recruit fighters, but soon retracted from social networks for the fear of being monitored and tracked. The Islamic State, on the other hand, does the opposite: it makes sophisticated use of the internet in order to spread its ideology around the world, and often succeeds in remaining one step ahead of security and intelligence apparatuses that are trying to foil its operations. According to several reports I have already read, the Manchester attacker never visited Syria, let alone received training by ISIL. He was simply recruited online and given orders to carry out on the eve of the attack. This technological threat is becoming ever more grave, and many governments around the world are trying to wrap their heads around creative solutions to this difficult problem. In this context, the new Saudi center is the most cutting-edge development we have seen to date in this field. It is essentially functions as a massive sensor that monitors global Internet traffic in real-time and flags dangerous material. Using advanced algorithms, it can distinguish between different dialects of Arabic, as well as recognize religious texts automatically. While it cannot foil attacks that are currently unfolding, it can easily address radicalization on social networks. It can identify and isolate websites, users, and accounts that spread messages of hate and inspire young people around the world to pick up arms. People may criticize the decision to establish the center, portray it as a “show” for President Trump, or undermine its efficacy. Either way, our track record proves that the fight against radicalization is more important, and far more effective, than the fight against terrorism. It saves more lives and prevents more attacks. This it the only thing that truly matters in the end. – Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed

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