Poverty, not Islamic State, has radicalised Muslim Filipinos
Really? The stupid is hardwired in this one. Another scribbler from The Times wants to sell you the old canard that poverty causes jihad. There is no cure….
Philippine troops on the outskirts of Marawi.
Places of violence and horror tumble suddenly on to the consciousness of the world, so nobody should worry that they had never heard of an obscure city in the southern Philippines named Marawi. Until six weeks ago, few foreign experts knew much about this town of 200,000 people on the island of Mindanao either.
Marawi sits on a beautiful lake. It is noted for the quality of its hand-made brassware. The Aga Khan endowed a museum there; The Rough Guide to The Philippines describes it as “generally peaceful”. But then, in late May, this picturesque place went overnight from insignificance to the most toxic international notoriety.
A band of local Islamist militants, rumoured to include fighters from the Middle East, rampaged through the town, killing Christians, seizing public buildings and hoisting above them the black flag of Islamic State. The effect on the local population has been drastic — unknown numbers of civilians killed and 400,000 people displaced across the region, as The Philippines security forces fight an urban battle against snipers, rockets and IEDs.
The occupation of Marawi has also set off a wider frisson of alarm about its potential to become the latest base of international terrorism. As the co-called Islamic State loses its grip on Mosul in Iraq and comes under pressure in Raqqa in Syria, so, the fearful reasoning goes, it will naturally seek out new opportunities in other unquiet places of the world — and Mindanao is at the top of the list.
“What’s happening in Mindanao is no longer a rebellion of Filipino citizens,” said the Philippines’ solicitor-general, Jose Calida. “It has transmogrified into invasion by foreign terrorists who heeded the clarion call of the IS to go to The Philippines if they find difficulty going to Iraq or Syria.”
There you have it. Its jihad. Why would this dolt from the Times have you believe its something else?
The right-thinking world, the conclusion is, must tool up and unite to prevent this from happening. But to treat the struggle against international jihadism as a game of whack-a-mole, against a singular enemy that can be bashed down wherever it pops up, is to misunderstand the problems of regions such as the southern Philippines — and, indeed, those of the Middle East.
The Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, which continue to cling on to parts of Marawi, are described as “ISIS affiliates”. The Islamic State’s official media has acknowledged them as its representatives — but evidence of meaningful direct help, in the form of significant supplies of money, weapons or personnel, is scant. Islamic State is a T-shirt, a flashy international brand adopted by the participants in a local conflict that will only be susceptible to a local solution.
“…Evidence of direct help, significant supplies of money, weapons and personnel” has been coming from just about all of the 56 Islamic nations around the world that finance the jihad.
The island of Mindanao, and the Sulu Sea to its east, is a region as remote from the lives of affluent Westerners as can be imagined — but it is the exploitative ambitions of outsiders which have shaped its miserable politics. For centuries it was ruled by independent sultanates, with sophisticated systems of administration and trading treaties with Europe and the US. Waves of powerful colonisers — Spanish, American, Japanese — came to The Philippines, but never achieved more than partial dominion over Mindanao.
Sophisticated? Treaties? Are we rewriting history again?
Foreign powers were succeeded in time by what local people refer to as “Imperial Manila”: the modern Philippines state, dominated by the interests of the northern, Roman Catholic majority, by whom many Muslims feel themselves to be discriminated against. This is the most significant thing about Mindanao — not its mosques or its brasswork, but the fact that it is the poorest area in a poor country. Of the 81 provinces in The Philippines, Lanao del Sur, of which Marawi is capital, is the poorest of them all.
Ah, rich Catholics, and poor discriminated Muslims who are oppressed, where did I hear that rubbish before?
The struggle for the “Moro nation” — an independent Muslim homeland in Mindanao and Sulu — has been pursued by various armed groups with varying degrees of idealistic fervour and cynical opportunism. The Maute group is a clan gang, which has enriched itself through drug-dealing; Abu Sayyaf has used the pretext of jihad to extort millions of dollars in ransom for local and foreign hostages. They have flourished, not because of their religious devotion or nationalist ambitions, but because they can buy the loyalty of desperate people who have been abandoned by more benevolent authority.
Gibberish. They thrive because of fear. And Islam.
“Of course, the people here are vulnerable to people with power, with money and ideas,” a local leader told me in Marawi the other week. “If I was a poor man, if I did not have the good fortune of an education, I would want to join the jihad too.”
For decades government after government has vowed to “crush” the unrest by force of arms, often with the help of US troops. All have failed. The recent “affiliation” of Filipino jihadis to Islamic State is a public relations gift to the government — because it allows it to present itself not as the neglectful author of poverty and injustice, but as the passive victim of an implacable, external evil.
Do I hear ‘its our fault, we have to give them … blah blah…?’
The disasters that have befallen Marawi and Raqqa are not an identical contagion, which can be treated by zapping it with the hypodermic of military force and international “solidarity”. They are unique and complex crises, which have arisen from centuries of neglect and oppression.
No. These disasters are manmade. Homemade, if you prefer. Entirely rooted in Islam.
Islamic State, al-Qa’ida and the Islamist insurgencies of the southern Philippines are symptoms, not a cause. You no more solve the problem with an army than you can treat a dose of smallpox by scraping the spots off with a razor blade.
In order to eradicate the problem, you get rid of the mosques and of the hate preachers. That’s the first move. A lot of other things can be done to get rid of Islam, but there has to be an iron will to do it. Who is up to it?
In other news:
An Abu Sayyaf-linked group beheads two Vietnamese hostages.