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US, UAE launch online messaging, engagement center to counter ISIL

By By John Redfield, Central Command Public Affairs

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July 9, 2015 — ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, July 9, 2015 -- Days after President Obama met at the Pentagon with his national security team to discuss the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the U.S. and United Arab Emirates launched a multinational online messaging and engagement program here that will support efforts against ISIL.

The Sawab Center will use direct online engagement to counter terrorist propaganda rapidly and effectively, including messages used to recruit foreign fighters, fundraise for illicit activities and intimidate and terrorize local populations, according to a statement from the State Department. “The Sawab Center will increase the intensity of online debate by presenting moderate and tolerant voices from across the region and amplifying inclusive and constructive narratives,” the statement said.

In a joint commentary by UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Anwar Gargash and U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel, they said, “it’s vital that (extremists’) propaganda not remain unchallenged. (We are) serving a notice of rejection to others who try to twist the Internet into a tool for incitement to hatred and violence.”

In remarks after his meeting Monday at the Pentagon, President Obama said, “Ideologies are not defeated with guns; they’re defeated by better ideas -- a more attractive and more compelling vision.

“So the United States will continue to do our part, by working with partners to counter ISIL’s hateful propaganda, especially online. We’ll constantly reaffirm through words and deeds that we will never be at war with Islam. We’re fighting terrorists who distort Islam and whose victims are mostly Muslims. But around the world, we’re also going to insist on partnering with Muslim communities as they seek security, prosperity and the dignity that they deserve. And we're going to expect those communities to step up in terms of pushing back as hard as they can, in conjunction with other people of goodwill, against these hateful ideologies in order to discredit them more effectively, particularly when it comes to what we’re teaching young people.”

The Sawab Center will create and share its content, including text, graphics, video clips and animations, according to the commentary from Gargash and Stengel, and “will support the efforts of governments, religious leaders and scholars, educators, corporate leaders, public figures and individuals to stand up with pride and dignity.”

According to the State Department statement, the center will welcome other partners from the 63-country global coalition against ISIL, thus expanding the network of those willing to speak out against the terrorist group.

The center will also monitor and analyze ISIL’s communications, “respond to ISIL’s social media lies and distortion, and most importantly, leverage and amplify the voices of those who are repulsed by their terrorist activities,” Gargash and Stengel said in their commentary.

“In Arabic, ‘Sawab’ means ‘that which is right,’ as in the ‘right path.’ It is clear that ISIL is the wrong path. We may differ about some of the many complex issues and choices our societies face, but all of us agree that ISIL’s brutal methods and intolerant ideology have no place in modern societies and deviate from the teachings of all religious traditions.”