Containing Marawi
29 Jun 2017|

Image courtesy of Flickr user Chrisgel Ryan Cruz.

The Marawi crisis between Philippine government security forces and militants affiliated with the Islamic State—Philippine, including the Maute and Abu Sayyaf salafist-jihadist groups, started on 23 May 2017. Since the fighting began, nearly 350 people have been killed and more than 300,000 displaced. If the situation isn’t contained, external intervention will be needed to avoid the spill-over of terrorism and other violence into the South Pacific.

Much of the extremist ethos driving the desire to usurp governments is historically based. The imposition of European colonialism following World War I didn’t dim Arab optimism about the future. Many Arab thinkers (PDF) objected to colonialism because of resulting underdevelopment and lack of legitimacy. In a new dawn, Arabs saw their salvation in ideas brought from the West. Very few subscribed to the view that a return to the precepts of Islam was a solution to the lack of development of the Arab world and its subjugation to colonialism.

Many individuals believe the extremist principles proclaimed over the past 20 years derive from Osama bin Laden. In fact, analysts should understand that bin Laden wasn’t among the foremost Islamists; nor were his ideas original. Over the past two decades, Islamists have sought to explain the causes of the political, socioeconomic and identity-related crises of their societies and the Islamic world by providing solutions. Consequently, bin Laden drew many of his ideas from such Islamists as the Egyptian Muhammad Abdel Salam al-Farag (PDF), executed in 1982 for his role in the assassination of President Anwar al-Sadat. Farag wasn’t an original thinker, and more famous scholars have offered a deeper understanding of the philosophical wellsprings of violent extremism. Farag is important because he wrote a manifesto of action for violent extremism.

To counter violent extremism’s ability to usurp governments, the war against extremists involves the use of intelligence assets and military, legal and financial means, converging in a synergistic campaign. Subsequently, a number of states serve as breeding grounds for terrorist organisations. Oppositional conditions relate to a security failure supporting the perception of the existential threat to Western and global security posed by weak, fragile and failing states. This position underpins strategic responses involving military intervention aimed at pre-emptive, defensive, humanitarian and state-building objectives in perceived failed states.

The discussion focuses on the threat posed by weak, failing and fragile states to global security. Direct or indirect threats occur through civil war, spill overs of violence, poverty, environmental degradation, disease, weapons of mass destruction, terrorist networks and drug cartels, leading to strategies for military interventions. Military intervention in perceived failed states is pursued ideally through integrated strategic frameworks to protect human rights, establish stability, promote democracy and provide economic assistance to rebuild the state.

As a state drowns in societal conflicts, the opportunity for people to join extremist organisations increases significantly. Edward Azar was the first to describe violent events in the developing world as ‘protracted social conflicts’:

‘Protracted social conflicts occur when depriving communities of their basic needs on the basis of the communal identity … the deprivation is the result of a complex causal chain involving the role of the state and the pattern of international linkages (p.12).’

In many cases, a harsh response constitutes the core of state strategy in coping with communal dissent. A hard-line approach invites equally militant responses from repressed groups. Co-option could serve to mitigate collective grievances, but it’s usually perceived as being a tactical manoeuvre to fragment the opposition and divert its attention. Failure of the co-option strategy further justifies coercive repressive options, leading to an upward spiral of violent clashes.

When grievances occur, security must support the agenda of the state. Monty Marshall views security as a regional issue when a state can’t contain violence. Exploring the process of diffusion of insecurity in cultures of violence, he presents the concept of the ‘protracted conflict region’, suggesting that the spill over of the culture of violence is a function of spatial proximity and ‘affects all social relations in proximity to the violence’ (pp. 138-139). While the culture of violence directly affects confrontational states, it spreads to populations in peripheral countries (those surrounding core states) and marginal states (located beyond the peripheral states) in the region.

The ‘all-out war’ provides a dominant counter-narrative through strict Islamic Salafist fundamentalist adherence as the future path in failing societies. In the constant battle between differing views of governance, the context of the Arab world is one of turmoil as a result of the declining political legitimacy of rulers and massive socioeconomic and identity crises. If the Philippine government can’t contain the Islamic State—Philippine, the region should be prepared to respond as a preventive measure to avoid the conflict spilling to other countries throughout the South Pacific and breeding violent extremist actors further afield.