As a result of its speed, anonymity, and global reach, the Internet has become a powerful tool for Islamist extremists to raise funds, recruit new members, and spread their ideology. Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Christopher Boucek highlighted an innovative Saudi model for governments looking to short-circuit Islamic extremism on the web.
The Saudi Solution:
- In response to the proliferation of websites distributing jihadist literature and propaganda, Saudi Arabia has quietly supported initiatives to combat Internet radicalization.
- One of the most developed and successful programs is the Sakinah Campaign, which in addition to collecting, cataloguing, and analyzing extremist material found online, allows Islamic scholars to interact online with individuals looking for religious knowledge.
- The program aims to steer such individuals away from extremist sources and so-called deviant interpretations of Islam, thereby reducing the chances that they will become radicalized.
- While supported by the Saudi regime, the Sakinah Campaign is an independent, non-governmental organization. Its independence helps contribute to its relative legitimacy and results in more people being willing to engage in online dialogue.
U.S. Policy Recommendations:
- The United States should quietly partner with NGOs and other governments to help establish national versions of the Sakinah Campaign throughout the Muslim world. Such campaigns would benefit significantly from American financial support and technical know-how.
- At the same time, the United States should be careful to avoid any visible role. As the Saudi case has demonstrated, the legitimacy of such counter-radicalization programs hinges on their perceived independence from government—and particularly Western government—influence.