- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2017

The Saudi Arabian government-supported Muslim World League, once seen as a promoter of the radical Wahhabism ideology, has issued a communique alongside the United Nations General Assembly denouncing “extremist ideology” and vowing to “protect societies from its effects, consequences, and repercussions.”

The “Rapprochement Communique” contains eight recommendations, including a proposal to create a coordinated plan “to oppose extremist ideology” — and is being seen as a sign that Saudi officials have embraced President Trump’s recent call for the kingdom do more to combat global extremism.

“The impact of intellectual and military terrorism and extremism is shrinking, in a clear and tangible way,” League Secretary General Mohammed al-Issa said during the two-day New York interfaith gathering that involves representatives of 65 countries.

He added that extremism “has little foothold in the Muslim world” — with the latest estimates showing the term applies globally to only one in 200,000 people.

Earlier this year, during his first overseas trip, Mr. Trump attended the opening of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in the Saudi capital of Riyadh along with Saudi King Salman and Mr. al-Issa.

There, Mr. Trump delivered a widely anticipated speech, categorized the world’s struggle against terrorism as a “battle between good and evil,” not a fight between “different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations.” He also implored Middle Eastern leaders to engage more.

“The nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them,” Mr. Trump said.

At the time, Mr. al-Issa, who also directs the Saudi Defense Ministry’s new Ideological War Center — said the kingdom had already begun initiatives to attack extremist ideologies and to discredit and dismantle extremist websites.

For the past two decades, radical ideologies have effectively leveraged the internet and more recently social media for recruiting and propaganda purposes.

The Ideological War Center, which launched earlier this year, runs counterterrorism programs across social media, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

“Al Qaeda did not collapse after the fall of the Taliban because its ideology still existed,” Mr. al-Issa said.

During the weekend conference in New York, Mr. al-Issa said strides had been made but warned that “extremism will bet on anything in order to regain its strength and attract new elements such as betting on the provocations of counter-extremism or Islamophobia.”

Islam’s tolerance was also a key theme. Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s secretary-general, said more than a billion Muslims globally live in peace and embrace moderate ideologies.

Muslim World Leagues activities include funding mosque construction and providing financial reliefs for Muslims afflicted by natural disasters. A decade ago, the group was investigated for activities related to the financing of Hamas, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups with recent years witnessing a move to greater transparency.

After leaving New York late Sunday, Mr. al-Issa was scheduled for a historic audience with Pope Francis in Rome.

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