Thanks to a few twists of fate, I’ve got a short (read: heavily redacted) piece on Marawi published by the Australian National University’s East Asia Forum. It comes in several weeks later than I’d like, but at any rate, I’m posting here an earlier unedited and less circumspect version, written roughly two, three weeks ago.
Marawi was a victory for Islamist extremism in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. The next choices taken by the Philippine government will determine the extent of its spread.
It has been more than sixty days since the outbreak of violence in the Islamic City of Marawi, just over 500 miles south of Manila, and kilometre zero of the island-region of Mindanao. What started in the morning of May 23 has led to over 314,000 persons displaced. More than half of the lakeside city is in ruins; approximately 100 civilians and hostages are still trapped in the crossfire. Aerial bombardments and house-to-house fighting continue. As the first widespread incident of urban violence in the Philippines—its partial precursors being Zamboanga in 2013, Ipil in 1995 and the razing of Jolo in 1974—the impact of the Marawi siege is unprecedented, not least in its implications to the rise of violent extremism in the region.
While the reported death of Abu Bakr Baghdadi and the jihadi group’s losses at Mosul and Raqqa signal a transformation of Daesh presence in the Middle East, Marawi by all accounts was a victory for islamist terrorism in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. From a ragtag group of ‘black flag wannabes’ that could barely stage a bomb attack on the US Embassy in Manila in 2016, the Maute group now has enough street cred to attract international interest and support. They have achieved what others have failed to do: signal to the disgruntled and marginalised that violent extremism, particularly through urban warfare, is a viable path forward.