Saudi Sakinah campaign draws world’s interest

Young Saudi men released from the US Guantanamo Bay detention-centre as well as prisons in Iraq and Saudi Arabia leave after a religious class at an interior ministry rehabilitation centre, 80 kms north of the capital Riyadh, in this Nov. 3, 2007.

Young Saudi men released from the US Guantanamo Bay detention-centre as well as prisons in Iraq and Saudi Arabia leave after a religious class at an interior ministry rehabilitation centre, 80 kms north of the capital Riyadh, in this Nov. 3, 2007.


Several countries are interested in how the Kingdom is combating extremism on the Internet, according to an American study conducted recently.

Published by CTC Sentinel, a monthly of Combating Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy at West Point, it said Internet’s role in spreading extremism and violence led to worldwide interest in the efforts of the Kingdom’s Sakinah campaign.

The study by Christopher Boucek, an American expert, found that the campaign was playing a decisive role in helping those looking for information on Islam, and alternative views on various extremist ideologies.

Boucek discovered that Saudi Arabia’s security campaigns have forced extremist groups to avoid using the Internet for communications. Instead they are now meeting in person, or taking to other means like hard discs and flash drives to pass on information.

“While some sources have cited the Internet’s role in recruitment, it is believed that few hardcore jihadists are recruited online. Much of the face-to-face recruitment is now allegedly conducted in coffee shops and clubs, avoiding conspicuous locations such as mosques,” he said.

The Sakinah campaign, run under the auspices of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, is a non-governmental and independent program where qualified scholars are hired to enter online chat rooms to hold discussions with users on Islam and the dangers of takfiri ideas, he said.

“Once online, after initially chatting with an individual, a Sakinah worker will usually suggest that they move into a private chat room. Although some individuals have no problems dialoguing in public, others prefer to initially engage in private.”

“These online conversations take place in both real time and in the form of a series of back-and-forth posts. In the latter case, typically the person with whom they are chatting will post a question, and then the Sakinah worker will respond,” Boucek said.

“These chats can take place over the span of a few hours, but they have also been known to continue for months. The transcript of the dialogue is then posted online for others to read, multiplying the program’s reach,” Boucek stated.

The study said the success of the campaign has prompted UK, US, Algeria, Kuwait and UAE to consider establishing similar programs.

“One of the program’s greatest assets is its ability to interact with people not just residing in the Kingdom; Sakinah workers, for example, interact with an increasing number of non-Saudis. Since word of the campaign has spread, it has been approached by several other countries asking for assistance in creating similar programs to combat Internet radicalization,” the study stated.

The study pointed out that part of the Kingdom’s successes can be attributed to the harsh penalties for those involved in cybercrime, even for offenses not linked to terrorism.

The study said that Saudi Arabia was strengthening the “war of ideologies” by codifying the process of issuing religious fatwas through the website administered by the Presidency for Scholastic Research and Religious Edicts. This has curbed the spread of illegal and radical fatwas.


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