The US and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are teaming up to to convince would-be jihadists to reconsider joining the so-called Islamic State (IS).
On Wednesday, US Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Richard Stengel, and Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargas announced the launch of the Sawab Center, a social media campaign to "amplify moderate and tolerant voices from across the region."
"What the Sawab Center will do is, it will begin to rectify the wrong impression that IS is beating us in the information war and the social media war," Stengel told the Associated Press.
IS is widely recognized for its slick social media presence, which includes well-produced videos and a glossy English-language magazine.
The Sawab Center's launch video.
The Center will employ 15-20 full-time staffers, mostly Emiratis who will churn out counter-propaganda. Though the details of the center's operations have not yet been made clear, it is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars. "Emiratis are taking the lead on the cost," Rashad Hussain, the US special envoy and coordinator for strategic counterterrorism communications, told the AP.
Matt Levitt, a counterterrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told VICE News that these counter-propaganda efforts are "no panacea" for jihadism. But, he said, it might help sway people who are flirting with "radical ideas."
"People who already die-hard jihadists aren't going to be drawn in by something like this," he said. "But people who are somewhat disenfranchised, these are people for whom this message might resonate."
Related: My Journey Inside the Islamic State
The UAE , an oil-rich confederation of seven family-ruled kingdoms, has long been an important US ally in the region. UAE is a important part of the military coalition against IS, and the country's pilots have repeatedly bombed IS positions in Syria and Iraq.
The Sawab Center's work will in many ways resemble that of the US Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, (CSCC) a US agency that tries to counter IS propaganda online. Hussain, who also heads up the CSCC, told the AP that he is working to share stories of "ex-radicals" and draw attention to Muslim victims of IS violence.
Levitt also notes that the Sawab Center will add an important non-American voice to the anti-IS messaging effort. "it won't be an American voice, it won't be a non-Muslim voice" he said. "And that's important."
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