Social media has been a crucial recruitment tool for terror groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono yesterday urged people to make full use of the Internet to challenge their radical and divisive views.
The Internet could be "a ruthless agent for the viral spread of prejudice and advocacy of violence", he said. "At the very least, therefore, advocates of a reasonable dialogue between cultures and faiths should make optimal use of the Internet, particularly social media."
Dr Yudhoyono was speaking in Bali at a forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations, which was started in 2005 to bridge the gap between the Western and Muslim worlds that had been exploited by extremists and to work for greater inter-cultural dialogue. The two-day forum involves representatives from more than 100 countries and seeks to strengthen cooperation in the areas of youth, media, migration and education to combat ignorance and extremism.
A week earlier, the President had urged international leaders to review how they combat extremism, even as he condemned ISIS' actions and said they were embarrassing and humiliating to Muslims.
In a meeting with Organisation of the Islamic Conference secretary-general Iyad Ameen Madani on Thursday, both men underlined how Muslim-majority countries could work together to explain the true teachings of Islam, and how groups like ISIS and Boko Haram had deviated from those teachings.
Yesterday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon noted that the Quran clearly stated there could be no compulsion in religion, and this was why he was especially outraged by reports from Iraq of the brutal killing of civilians by ISIS. "Whole communities that had lived for generations in northern Iraq are being forced to flee or face death just for their religious beliefs. We cannot allow communities to be threatened... because of who they are, because of what they believe," he said.
But Mr Ban noted that dangerous, divisive leaders were found not only in conflict zones and said that they had to be challenged.
"In Europe, North America and elsewhere, we see cynical political exploitation of religious differences and rising Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of hate speech," he added.
UN High Representative for the alliance Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser said UN bodies were also working to promote digital video games and apps as avenues for cross-cultural dialogue and conflict resolution.
Dr Yudhoyono said the alliance could do more to build trust and promote reconciliation among countries and people, and educate the next generation to be open-minded and to respect others.
He also felt all views had to be engaged, even radical ones. "If moderates talked only with the moderates, there would be no change," he said.
"The voices of the moderates should be strengthened, but it is equally important that the grievances of those who have been alienated and who feel left out should be given a hearing."
This article was first published on August 30, 2014.
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