Battling Islamophobia While Defeating the ISIS
Image credit: Pixabay
Islamophobia, an ugly hateful word. Coined to take account of the rising bigotry of the public which unfortunately has grown considerably and rapidly in recent years. Its definition in all entirety is still being debated on but, as experts debate on the inclusions on the definition of Islamophobia, the damage has already been done. According to the dictionary, Islamophobia is defined simply as the intense dislike or fear of Islam, especially as a political force; hostility or prejudice towards Muslims. It's a form of xenophobia or racism (mostly associated with fear) that is an apparent violation of human rights and threatens social cohesion for multiculturalism. I believe this is a topic of utmost sociological and political importance because where we are headed, it seems as if we did not learn from the past. What had happened to the Jews, may as well be happening now to the Muslims. And we have to stop. Now.
First of all, I'm Catholic. I don't have a problem with other religions or people practicing their religion. That's a basic human right. Most people, I believe, are usually born into their religion. My parents are both Catholic thus, I was baptized Catholic. If they were Muslim, then maybe I would have been raised into Islam. Secondly, I do have a problem with terrorists in all aspects. I condemn terrorism. I remember an answer that a friend of mine said when she joined a beauty pageant. Her question was regarding the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers and she boldly answered, "Terrorists have forfeited their right to live." Yes, understandably not a usual accepted beauty pageant answer and human rights advocates would surely argue with that statement but, it made people think. This 2017 alone, while people are still mourning after a loss from a previous attack, another attack happens. It's becoming rampant. And when an attack happens, people are quick to point the finger to the ISIS who claim responsibility for the attack eventually even if they weren't truly responsible, just to spread fear.
The Philippines recently liberated the city of Marawi from the Maute-ISIS group after almost 5 months of constant battling. This siege had sparked fears ISIS might gain foothold and authority in the region of Southeast Asia but the group underestimated the capability of the Philippine military as well as its leadership. I believe this is one of President Duterte's greatest victories even if, his drug war is still being questioned. To wage war against the terrorist group and win is a great achievement for any president and shouldn't be considered as any less. During the Seige of Marawi City, two top leaders of the pro-ISIS militants were killed in the clashes, Isnilon Totoni Hapilon(emir of Islamic State (ISIS) in Southeast Asia) and Omarkhayam Romato Maute (Leader of the Maute group). Their deaths are likened to the eradication of a plague. The battle is far from over, as the Philippines is on red alert for any retaliation on the part of the ISIS. On a positive note, after a defeat in the Philippines and military defeats in Iraq and Syria; it just shows that these so-called jihadists will go down, one way or the other despite any and all their efforts to terrorize the public.
That being said, the casualty of all these terrorist attacks most importantly that instigated from September 11 is that of the public views and opinions of Islam. Many believe that Islam is a religion that promotes terrorism and violent extremism. The word Islam means voluntary submission or surrender to the will of God and is derived from the root word salam which means peace. Some of my friends who have worked in the Middle East have told me that Islam is a beautiful and peaceful religion and unfortunately is misunderstood. One friend took the time to elaborate and differentiate. She told me that those who are called jihadists are radicals who have interpreted the religious teachings of Islam differently to suit their need for violence as a social response to the world. She stressed that these Islamists using aggressive interpretations have defined jihad as "sacrificing one's life for the sake of Islam/God/a just cause or fighting against the opponents of Islam." She explained that it was far cry from the jihad that refers to the "inner struggle towards the path to God". The main goal of true jihad is to attain a harmony between Islam (submission), iman (faith), and Ihsan (righteous living). For any person in any faith or religion, isn't that what we also strive for? To be closer to God, basically to do " good" in any endeavor, and to live a righteous life? In all honesty, I struggle with that every day.
As was said, those belonging to the pro-Islamic State militant groups use jihad as a propagandistic device which when needed be, resorts to armed struggling to achieve their goals. These perceptions arise from fundamentalist teaching without inter- or intrafaith support. It seems like it is a form of brainwashing. These groups comprising of educated "senior" officers recruit youth often out-of-school, those that may have a vendetta (had lost a loved one during clash/bombing/airstrike), poor, discriminated, marginalized or suffering. Here, these youths are taught fundamentalist Islam, providing aggressive interpretations of the teachings of Islam directed towards radicalization. In addition to this, they are taught that all suffering/evil is caused by non-Muslims and to eradicate this evil, they must pick up arms and fight. That true jihad will be achieved if one sacrifices his life for the sake of Islam and fights against all enemies of Islam. The seniors have now used the term jihad to their advantage and violent extremism is created.
According to a video (Basagan ng Trip) I watched that tackles on the subject whether Islam is violent and Islamophobia, it ends with "the majority is to blame". Which majority? Us? Me? What have I done to anger these pro-Islamic militants? Is it because I'm Catholic? Is it because I live in Mindanao? We have to take into account that these extremist groups are a few compared to the large numbers of Muslims who are devout in their faith and I don't see them taking up arms or creating mayhem. If the true nature of their attacks is because of grievances, then let's tackle them.
1. ...because they are poor/suffering.
In the Philippine setting, it is true that the Muslim-dominant provinces are the poorest but, it is not entirely the national government's fault nor the law-abiding, taxpaying majority. If you remember the Ampatuans of Maguindanao who held prominent local government positions in the ARMM, they were immensely corrupt and stole most of the national government's funding. The patriarch and 2 of his sons were also implicated in the murder of 30 journalists for the Maguindanao Massacre. Corruption and bad governance is an awful combination and shows in the poverty-stricken areas of Muslim-dominant areas.
Drugs are also a problem. It has been reported that there may be shabu laboratories in the area of Muslim Mindanao. Recently, the mayor of Ozamiz City was killed during a police operation at his home and illegal drugs were recovered.
2. ...because they are discriminated.
First of all, no one can make you inferior without your consent. Again, I always think this to be a problem of self-esteem. You are you. White, brown, yellow, black or if you are a smurf, blue. Taoist, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim. Gay or straight. Discrimination happens to everyone. It'is up to you to take it with a grain of salt.
The University of Santo Tomas known as the Royal Pontifical Catholic University of the Philipines accept Muslims and the females are allowed to wear hijabs.
3. ...because they are marginalized.
I believe marginalization comes from the concept of how the Philippines is predominantly Catholic (only a 5-10% of the population is Muslim, the majority living in Mindanao) and the main concern of many Muslims is integration and assimilation while preserving their faith. This is the main clause which drives Muslim militants. Their issue is purely autonomy/ independence and accommodation (Christians moving into their homeland) and with this struggle originates violent extremism and terrorism. In other words, they want Mindanao for themselves. For Maute, his father was a senior officer of the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front). When his father's group when into peace talks with the government, he went off to the BIFF(Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters). When the leader of the BIFF had a stroke, he took over and changed the name of the group to MAUTE. He pledged allegiance to the ISIS for funding. Now if they had won the Marawi siege, he would have been the leader of a new autonomy.
For those who have greater power, it is our duty to have a better and wider understanding. The fault of the few cannot be directed towards the whole. This is why Islamophobia has to stop. For the extremist groups, theirs is of propaganda, while the rest have a profound adherence to their faith. We have to extend our hands in comradery for interfaith relations lest we stunt the process of development of a multicultural society and of pluralism. Stop abhorrent identity politics, right-wing politics, racism- there's only one race, the HUMAN RACE.
* For Muslims in the Philippines, there is a national agency called the National Commission on Filipino Muslims that may help you.
** Credit to Sources:
Basagan ng Trip by Leloy Claudio, Is Islam Violent? www.youtube.com
Muslim Of Philippines: Struggling for Dignity, Freedom, and Equality by Muqtedar Khan,www.huffingtonpost.com