Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been in Washington along with fellow defense ministers of all the United States’ key allies. They have held crucial meetings to consider the fight against terror. Their target is ISIS.
The terrorists are cornered in Iraq and Syria. But a key discussion in Washington has been as how also to corner the perverse ideology of terror. How do ISIS recruiters manage to turn the minds of young men from decent families? How can they inspire self-destructive nihilism in their supporters? How can their blasphemies find root in healthy, well-ordered Muslim communities?
The Kingdom has experienced the agony of the concerted Al-Qaeda terrorist campaign. It has also known the joy of victory. The Al-Qaeda menace was destroyed. That achievement owed much to the outstanding performance of the security forces. A vigilant public also played a crucial role. But often overlooked was the wise program of forgiveness and rehabilitation. This offered those ensnared in the terrorist trap a route back into society. If their contrition was genuine, their punishment was minimal. This far-sighted program also gave the security forces an intelligence bonanza. The information provided by these escapees from Al-Qaeda’s grip was invaluable. It helped the security forces roll up the networks and kill or capture their die-hard leaders.
For the last two years, US-led coalition air forces have mounted a devastating air campaign against ISIS. Saudi Arabia played its part in this campaign. There has been an average of 20 airstrikes every single day. This awesome firepower has degraded ISIS. Moving men and materiel within their territory has become increasingly hazardous.
Repeatedly, signals intelligence has led to the targeting of terror leaders with precision-guided weaponry.
But the defense ministers in Washington recognized that brute force alone will not destroy ISIS. Terror has bred in the ruins of Iraq and Syria. As ISIS is driven out of more and more territory, funds are needed to help shattered communities restart their lives. A figure of $2 billion was mentioned in Washington. This is likely to be a mere down payment. The destruction brought about by ISIS has been enormous.
But experience has shown, money alone does not defeat the hidden men of violence. The National Cohesion Program announced here in the Kingdom is a pioneering initiative that will be watched carefully around the world. It is an important measure that confronts extremism head-on. In carefully organized meeting all over the country, everyone will be encouraged to understand the ISIS menace and the falseness of its siren calls.
The full extent of its deviant ideology will be laid bare. Its claims to legitimacy will be exposed. The manner in which it traduces the values of moderation and tolerance that underpin Islam will be set out clearly. Thought leaders, including teachers, intellectuals, and journalists will be shown how they can help counter the terrorist message.
Just as important, the Cohesion program will explain the techniques that ISIS uses to recruit and brainwash its supporters. This is not the no-brainer it might seem. The terrorists are masters at exploiting piety and good intentions. This is of course particularly true of young people. The admirable idealism of youth is clearly vulnerable to the weasel words of ISIS scouts.
The National Cohesion Program can be seen as an extension of the physical fight against terrorists in the Kingdom. Public vigilance continues to be of great help to the security forces. It helped destroy Al-Qaeda’s operations in Saudi Arabia. It is helping now defeat ISIS.
The Cohesion initiative is taking that vigilance a step further. It is equipping everyone in the country with the tools to identify and combat the warped ISIS ideology. With a few psychopathic anti-social exceptions, terrorists are not born. They are made by a process of trickery and lies. The deviant ISIS message needs to be understood so that it can be countered effectively.
And there is another key benefit in the Cohesion Program. The Kingdom is once again under threat. The meetings will bring communities together to confront the danger. They will create an even stronger sense of national consciousness. Everyone who lives in Saudi Arabia has a role to play here. They are already alert for terrorist activity.
Now that watchfulness can be extended to the behavior of friends and family. Troubled young people will know that they have somewhere to turn. If an ISIS recruiter begins to work on them, they will recognize the tricks and alert the authorities.