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Etidal: What it Is and Why it Matters

Saudi Arabian Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology ETIDAL has launched the first campaign "Life Without Extremism".

Saudi Arabian Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology ETIDAL has launched the first campaign "Life Without Extremism".

“Let’s strive for a #LifeWithoutExtremism & free from hatred,” reads the description. Behind this campaign is Etidal, a Center based in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh, whose mission is to combat, expose and refute extremist ideology globally.

On June 16, Etidal’s English Twitter feed featured a stunning video pinned to the top of their page. The serene, yet sobering video shows different men, women and children of different races, and reminds the viewer of core human commonalities.

Perhaps most refreshing of all is the Saudi initiative’s approach. Etidal places enormous emphasis on digital actions, knowing that the internet is the most efficiently used method of recruitment of women and men by Islamic extremists. The hub, whose full name is Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, researches extremist propaganda and publishes fact-checked information which combats their campaigns at their very core.

Etidal’s Scour of Extremist Content on the Web

The monitoring branch of the job is carried out digitally on seven continents. Certain languages, such as Arabic, that are used in recruiting extremist fighters include a considerable number of dialects. Etidal’s monitoring programs take this into consideration when collecting data, which is then read and analysed digitally to determine whether its message is extremist (this step takes 6 seconds).

Etidal in Arabic means ‘moderation’, yet the initiative’s implementation centers on Saudi Arabia’s influence, in ensuring its message is heard loud and clear. And it would seem the Kingdom’s appeal as a regional power has been heard: in response to the growing danger of religious extremism, Egyptian President el-Sisi joined the 55 Arab and Muslim states present at the Center’s launch, to stand by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

A Multilateral Phenomenon

The United States’ Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications had a similar purpose, opened in 2011 and replaced by the Global Engagement Center in 2016. Google recently announced its intention to double the independent experts hired to identify videos touting an inappropriate message, as well as investing in artificial intelligence to flag extremist content. Kent Walker, Senior Vice President at Google, said in a blog post, “the uncomfortable truth is that we, as an industry, must acknowledge that more needs to be done. Now.”

However, MENA (Middle East and North African) is the most targeted region when it comes to ISIS or ISIS-inspired attacks: it is somewhat fitting that a major initiative be launched from within the region. This momentous move took place during the Arab Islamic American Summit on May 21st in Riyadh, and US President Donald Trump was also present. The United Nations welcomed the idea of the Center, describing its establishment as well as another center in Riyadh to target terrorist funders as “important steps”.