Note from Farish Noor - Article on Anti-Muslim prejudice in
The 11 September tragedy was a catastrophe for the world, I feel.
What is worse, the event is now being exploited by anti-Muslim
groups and governments the world over as part of their renewed
campaign against Muslim minority groups fighting for political
recognition and political rights.
The anti-Muslim prejudice in the Philippines has reached an epidemic
level, affecting even professionals and politicians. Here is an
article I'd like you to read and use if possible.
Demonising Islam in the Philippines:
The Longest Crusade Lingers On
By Farish A. Noor
The 11 September tragedy has had long-term and far-flung
consequences. For many countries in the world with sizeable Muslim
minorities, it has opened up old wounds after decades of internal
civil conflict, and served as a justification for clamping down on
local Muslim resistance movements. The highly emotional tone of
these conflicts have not, however, helped to address the real
underlying issues that are at the root of the problem itself. What
is worse, the fear of Islamic militancy has been exploited by some
as a convenient way to whip up anti-Muslim sentiment, disguised as
part of the now-global 'War on Terror'.
"Oh how foolish is humanity, not to recognise evil in its face!
History is strewn with a whole ocean of bodies cut down by the
fundamentalist sword. From the inception of Islam 1400 years ago
until the present, Muslim fundamentalists have wielded their
theology of coercion and violence against other religions. This is
not the first time that anyone has attributed the evil that
fundamentalists do to the Qur'an, Islam's sacred scripture."
Such were the words of Dr. Jose Ducadao of the Vincente Sotto
Memorial Medical Centre in Cebu city, Philippines. The article he
wrote was entitled 'A Theology of Evil and the Koran' and it
appeared in the Philippine Star newspaper (19 September 2001). The
editors of the paper noted that they 'considered it fit to print' on
the grounds that it was based on 'relevant rational comments'.
That the 11 September tragedy could be turned around to suit the
agenda of Islamophobic and bigoted Christian fundamentalists in the
Philippines is hardly a surprise. After all, Islamophobia has been
part and parcel of Filipino society for decades if not centuries,
and millions of ordinary Filipinos still cannot come to terms that
they were once a Muslim nation that were forcibly converted to
Christianity at the point of a sword. (Contrary to the rantings of
Dr. Dacudao, there is ample historical evidence -even in the
Philippines- to show that Islam's spread to the Southeast Asian
archipelago was a peaceful one. The same, sadly, cannot be said of
Christianity's arrival which came thanks to Portuguese and Spanish
conquistadores who hacked their way across Southeast Asia as part of
a 'holy war' against the infidel Moors. Ironically, till today the
Muslims in the Philippines are still referred to as 'Moros', a term
which dates back to the Crusades of the past.)
Anti-Muslim prejudice therefore runs deep in Filipino history. What
is more, this hatred is compounded by a sense of guilt and
complicity by Filipino Christians themselves who know that their own
history is a less than perfect one. The journals of Antonio
Pigafetta, who accompanied the European explorer Magellan on his
trip to the Philippines, is full of passages which describe in
excruciating detail the massacre of entire Muslim societies who did
not convert to the new religion brought by the explorer-conquerors.
(Manila itself was the seat of a Muslim Sultanate, ruled by Sultan
What is more Pigafetta actually describes these massacres in glowing
terms, very much like that other explorer-conqueror Alfonso
d'Alburqueque the younger (son of the Portuguese admiral Alfonso
d'Alburqueque who conquered Malacca in 1511 and who then set out to
kill every single Muslim man, woman and child in the defeated city.)
Filipinos today naturally find it difficult to reconcile their own
Muslim past and blood-soaked history with the image of Christianity
as a religion of peace and love that they have been taught at
The historical discrepancies do not stop there. Filipinos still
cannot come to terms with the fact that the real Filipino resistance
to colonial rule did not begin with a handful of creolised Mestizo
elites in the north, but rather the Muslim rebellions that began in
the South during the Spanish era. The fact remains that the Muslims
of Southern Philippines were fighting against Spanish colonial rule
for four centuries, long before the political awakening among the
converted Filipinos in Luzon even began.
Today, the facts of history have been erased. So has any rational
analysis into the roots of Muslim anger in the South. The 11
September tragedy has had long-term and far-flung consequences
affecting the countries of the West as well as the East. For many
countries in the world with sizeable Muslim minorities, it has
opened up old wounds after decades of internal civil conflict, and
served as a justification for clamping down on local Muslim
resistance movements. The highly emotional tone of these conflicts
have not, however, helped to address the real underlying issues that
are at the root of the problem itself. What is worse, the fear of
Islamic militancy has been exploited by some as a convenient way to
whip up anti-Muslim sentiment, disguised as part of the now-global
'War on Terror'.
It did not take long for those with anti-Muslim prejudice and fears
to crawl out of the woodwork: People like Dr. Dacudao continue to
heap their prejudice and fears on the Southern Muslims; deriding
their beliefs, values, culture and religion and demonising them as
intolerant fanatics and extremists.
But few Filipino leaders have addressed the real causes of rebellion
among the Muslims of the South themselves. The chronic
under-development of the region, the centralisation of power into
the hands of an elite oligarchy based in Manila, the abuse of power
by the armed forces and security services, the constant attempt to
marginalise the culture, languages and religion of the Southerners-
have all contributed to the souring of relations between Mindanao
and the capital, Manila.
During the Marcos era, the armed forces were used to suppress the
rebellions in the South with such ferocity that the "ocean of
bodies" that Dr. Dacudao speaks of happened to be Muslim bodies,
littered in burnt-out villages or mass graves in the jungle. Rather
than talk about the 'extremism' of the Muslims he could have done
better by getting over his own myopia by looking at the extremism of
successive governments- from Marcos to Aquino to Ramos, Erap and
Aroyyo- who have used the army to quell a popular rebellion that
was, after all, based on the demand for universal justice,
democracy, development and equal representation. Instead, every
single one of the Presidents of the Philippines has used the Moro
issue as a punching bag to show just how tough and committed they
were, and far they would go to win votes.
The 11 September event has therefore been exploited to the hilt by
anti-Muslim bigots and extremists in the North to curry favour with
the West (most notably their ex-colonial master, the United States
of America) and to justify further repression against the
separatists in the South. Already President Aroyyo has made numerous
trips to the capitals of the United States, Singapore, Indonesia and
Malaysia to win support for her 'war against terror' in her own
backyard. The likelihood is that the powers-that-be in Washington
will not be all that concerned about how much terror she herself
will unleash to solve her domestic problems.
But violence begets violence, and the likelihood is that Aroyyo's
campaign against the Moro separatists will fail as all the previous
campaigns before hers. Manila still cannot get its act together and
cannot understand that what the people of Mindanao really want is
clean government, equitable growth, freedom of speech and a right to
express their religious and cultural identity- just like all the
other communities in the country. Bombing them will not weaken their
resolve, but only make it stronger.
And as for the so-called threat of 'religious extremism' among
Filipino Muslims, President Aroyyo should look closer to home and
tackle the growing extremism among the Christian fundamentalists in
her own backyard. These are the fanatics who have made
Christian-Muslim dialogue and co-existence next to impossible.
Anyone who doubts this should read and reflect upon the closing
words of Dr. Jose Dacudao, which could have easily been the words of
any bloodthirsty crusader from the past:
"Even the most peaceful Muslim communities can produce
fundamentalist warriors. That is why the Qur'an is a curse on
humanity. It cannot be erased anymore. The threat that its evil
verses pose on us is permanent."
Even the most fanatical crusaders in the past could accept that
Islam and Christianity had common roots and should learn to co-exist
with one another. Such understanding seems totally lost among the
zealots of the Philippines these days.