Of all the many differences between the UAE and extremist groups like ISIL, the most fundamental is on the issue of tolerance. Sheikh Zayed, the founding father of the UAE, established the country on the principle of being accepting of other faiths and philosophies, unlike the divisive agenda of ISIL, where followers of anything other than their twisted misinterpretation of Islam are declared to be apostates.
Anything that enshrines and bolsters that core principle of tolerance – as the wide-ranging decree signed yesterday by the President, Sheikh Khalifa, does – must be welcomed. Any form of discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, creed, doctrine, race, colour or ethnic origin is outlawed. In particular, it criminalises any act that stokes religious hatred or insults religion, with a specific provision banning anyone calling other religious group or individual infidels, or unbelievers. All forms of expression, ranging from speech to brochures to websites, are covered.
This decree gives the full force of the law to protect the principles that have made the UAE a bastion of peace, stability and coexistence in a turbulent region. This law is much more than simply a means of punishing those who put that at risk but also stands as a declaration of a defining principle of this country.
Contrast that to the agenda of extremist groups, of which ISIL is the most prominent. Its recent attacks on Shia mosques in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were specifically designed to turn communities within a country against each other. Such divisiveness makes it easier for groups like ISIL to rule but at a terrible cost to the community as a whole.
These kinds of hate crimes are not just anathema to the UAE’s approach but have been identified by Youssef Al Otaiba, our ambassador to the US, as posing an existential threat. When the UAE joined the international coalition to fight ISIL in Syria and Iraq last year, he described this country as “a model of tolerance and moderation in a region of extremes … establishing itself as a haven in a very tough neighbourhood. It is a way of life and a set of values we will fight to protect”.
This law will help in that fight to uphold and preserve the core values of the UAE, to the benefit of all who live here and to the detriment of those who twist the message of Islam and seek to sow discord for their own ends.