What happened to us in Marawi City appears to be part of a worldwide phenomenon of one sector of Islamic extremism seeking to gain ascendancy, not only over other religious faiths but also over other Muslims who do not share their radical views and means.
Last Sunday, defense ministers and other high officials of 41 countries met in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in the first meeting of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition. Plans for a ”Pan-Islamic Unified Front” against violent extremism had been announced as early as 2015, but recent events may have pushed the nations in the coalition to now move more decisively.
Egypt today is reeling from an attack on a mosque in the Sinai that killed 305 people during prayer time last Friday. Previous attacks have been on Christian nations in Europe and on Christian churches in the Middle East. The attack last Friday was on a Muslim mosque identified with the mystical Sufi branch of Sunni Islam, which the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has branded heretic.
The attack on a fellow Muslim institution must have moved the Saudi-led coalition to now move more decisively against the ISIS. The meeting in Riyadh brought together the Muslim or Muslim-majority nations of Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Uganda, Somalia, Mauritania, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen, and Pakistan.
It appointed retired Pakistan general Raheel Sharif as commander-in-chief, who said it will now ”mobilize and coordinate the use of resources to facilitate the exchange of information and help member countries build their own counter-terrorism capacity” in a coordinated movement against the terrorist ISIS.
The ISIS today is fighting on many fronts. It continues to fight the Syrian and Iraqi governments, in a campaign to establish a worldwide caliphate. It sought to establish a regional center in the Philippines with Isnilon Hapilon as “emir” of the region. Fortunately, the Philippines, with the aid of several nations, including the United States, China, and Russia, was able to root out the Maute-ISIS group from Marawi City after five months of fighting.
But the ISIS threat worldwide remains. It will now be countered more systematically by the coalition of Muslim nations formed in Riyadh last Sunday. We may have succeeded in stopping it in Marawi but the threat and the danger remains and we must be ever on the alert.