If last weeks announcement by ISIS of the establishment of a caliphate didnt get your attention, it should.
ISIS stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. This is the group responsible for the recent turn of events in Iraq where towns and cities have rapidly fallen to rebel extremists, who along the way appear responsible for mass executions and kidnappings. These are not people you want in control.
Last Sunday, ISIS declared the establishment of a caliphate, a form of government that dates back to the seventh century but which has not been seen since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s. In Muslim law, the head of the caliphate must be a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. Conveniently, ISIS leadership has identified that person as its current leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
Why is this significant? This is an attempt to unify Muslims across national borders, which would bring together the many insurgent groups that are fighting in splintered fashion now. The challenge has been put out by ISIS for all Muslims to pledge allegiance to the caliphate or become an enemy of the Muslim state.
The many good and peace-loving Muslims those who make up the vast majority of their faith will dismiss this call for unification by ISIS. But among extremist insurgent groups, who knows? The early response is mixed. Within al Qaida, from which ISIS evolved, some leaders apparently are looking favorably on the caliphate while others are rejecting it.
If the ISIS strategy works, it has the potential of moving the fight against terrorism onto a completely different playing field. No longer would resistance be confined within a nation or a few neighboring countries. It becomes an international, borderless effort. It could be likened to the shift from traditional warfare to guerilla warfare.
Any effective response would require unprecedented collaboration and cooperation by dozens of nations. It would require strategic thinking that puts the common good ahead of individual countries wishes and customs.
World leaders do not have a good track record along these lines. Heres a recent example. In the wake of the Malaysian jet gone missing earlier this year, it was discovered that some passengers were traveling with stolen passports. There are databases countries can check to determine if a traveler is using a stolen passport. But few countries check the databases. Greater participation would be a simple step that would greatly increase the safety of travelers and average citizens.
If we cant mount a unified effort around something this simple, getting an international coalition to pull together a quick or complex response to ISIS is dubious.
But we need to sit up and take notice. The announcement of the caliphate and its concept of a borderless nation run by ruthless extremists is a threat. The international community needs to pull together immediately to fight it. If we dont, the situation will likely become much graver.