Gathering ministers and top officials from more than 60 countries on the third and final day of a White House summit, President Barack Obama pledged the US would be “a strong partner” in seeking to halt the march of groups like Islamic State (IS).
Governments must remain “unwavering in our fight against terrorist organizations,” Obama said, vowing to work with unstable countries such as Yemen and Somalia to help “prevent ungoverned spaces where terrorists find safe haven.”
Nations also needed to confront the “warped ideologies” espoused by groups like IS and Al-Qaeda,Obama stressed, and must tackle the economic and political grievances which “makes those communities ripe for extremist recruitment.”
But he stressed: “The notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie. And all of us, regardless of our faith, have a responsibility to reject it.”
Amid all the talk and despite US assurances that the summit was aimed at drafting an action plan for going forward, it appeared few concrete steps were to be unveiled in Washington.
Indeed Obama challenged nations to bring their ideas to the UN general assembly in September.
As a first step though, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he would convene in the coming months a meeting of global faith leaders warning that the “emergence of a new generation of transnational terrorist groups… is a grave threat to international peace and security.”
“These extremists are pursuing a deliberate strategy of ‘shock and awful’ – beheadings, burnings, and snuff films designed to polarize and provoke.”
Arabs to unite
Although there has been some criticism that the conference was hastily announced and representation was spotty, top ministers from Jordan, Denmark, Egypt, France and Belgium which have all suffered serious setbacks at the hands of either extremist groups or lone wolves were present.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh revealed Arab nations were planning to meet to “formulate a unified common Arab, Muslim stance” to what he called an “unprecedented threat.”
“The war against extremism and radical ideology is our war,” said Judeh, again condemning the murder of a captured Jordanian pilot burned alive by IS last month.
“We must defend ourselves, our faith and our values of tolerance and moderation. And anyone who supports this ideology or tries to justify it is our enemy,” he insisted.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the actions of militant groups were “an affront to Islam,” after Cairo launched air strikes on jihadist targets in Libya this week following the beheadings by IS militants of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians.
“In the end the responsibility to confront the violent ideology lies with Muslims themselves,” Shoukry said. “The key to success lies in denying the terrorists the legitimacy they seek.”
The US administration said it would step up information-sharing to thwart would-be foreign fighters, and has pledged to boost cooperation with Interpol.
Washington was also joining with the United Arab Emirates to create a new digital communications hub to work with religious and civil society and community leaders to counter extremist propaganda.
Observers say some 20,000 foreign fighters have left their homelands to join extremist groups in the past few years — an estimated 4,000 alone since 2012 from western Europe.
Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard thanked participants for the “heartwarming” outpouring of support after a weekend attack on a Copenhagen synagogue. But he sounded a note of caution.
“It is difficult for modern man and modern society to deal with merciless cruelty… by persons devoid of reason and compassion, but we must. Our response must be based on trust, not mistrust. We have to react but we should not over-react.”
Top US diplomat John Kerry acknowledged most of the work to try to stop the extremists would be done “without fanfare” quietly in classrooms, community halls and on street corners.
“Military force alone won’t achieve victory,” Kerry warned Thursday in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
“Today we are asked to wage a new war against a new enemy. The battlefield is different, and so are the weapons that we need to overcome that enemy and triumph.” – AFP