The terror in Egypt on Friday is only the latest grim reminder that Muslims are often the first victims of Muslim fanatics.
The massacre of at least 235 people attending a Sufi mosque in Bir al-Abd on the Sinai coast is being attributed to a local affiliate of the Islamic State, known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. This slaughter was particularly venal. Gunmen waited for ambulances and first responders to come to the mosque after an initial detonation and sprayed bullets into the survivors and those dispatched to save them.
An anonymous Muslim cleric told the New York Times that he was shocked the killers would attack a mosque. Prior targets for the terrorists in the Sinai included Coptic Christian churches and a Russian airliner in 2013.
But the killing of Muslims should surprise no one. Just look at the trail of blood in Iraq. Sunni terrorists attacked the al-Aksari mosque in both 2006 and 2007 in Samarra. The site is one of the holiest in Shiite Islam and was known for its golden dome. While it was rebuilt in 2009, the attack sparked pledges of sectarian reprisals. Al Qaeda and the Islamic State perfected car bomb attacks that detonated inside crowded markets in Baghdad, killing Muslims. Shiite militias responded to these attacks by meting out random terror on the Sunni minorities in Iraq with death squads, at times abetted by the state’s interior ministry. The killing is not limited to Iraq. Civil wars in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen have increasingly pitted Islamist extremists against one another.
This is important for a few reasons. To start it puts the lie to the mantra of the Islamic State, al-Qaida and other Islamic terrorists that they are protecting the faith from the West. These groups are responsible for turning their battlefields into abattoirs. They slaughter the group they claim to protect.
But it’s also a reminder of the short-sightedness of President Donald Trump, who has at times tried to frame the war on terror as a contest between Islam and the West. It’s true that fiends like the Islamic State have targeted religious minorities in the Middle East like Christians and Yazidis, but this has not stopped them from killing so many of their own religion too. The West’s quarrel is with the extremists of political Islam, or the sect of the faith that seeks to impose Islamic law on others - not the entire religion. Indeed, our military relies on local Muslims fighting alongside it in the war on terror. It’s a strategy Trump himself has pursued in Syria and Iraq.
Many of the regimes in the Islamic world have internalized this lesson. Today Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates are no longer trying to buy off jihadis or remain neutral. They seek to confront both the Sunni and the Shiite extremists.
And while this is a good sign, it’s also not a cure-all. This gets us back to Egypt. The current leader, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has tried to crush the radicals in his own country with an iron fist since assuming power in a coup that unseated Egypt’s elected and Islamist leader, Mohammed Mursi. His crackdown on Islamists, human rights groups and moderate opposition, however, has not stopped the terror. And as long as the terror continues, Muslim civilians will suffer.
Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist. He covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI.