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Violence in Mindanao headed for yet another nosedive

ZAMBOANGA (SE): “Why Marawi?” is a question that despite the widespread discussion on the siege which has been going on in the predominately Muslim city in Lanao del Sur on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao has remained an allusive one.
However, an Islamic-Christian community group based in Zamboanga, the Silsilah (an Arabic word meaning link) Dialogue Movement, says that it is a question that can no longer be ignored.
“The siege in Marawi is a new and sad experience that we cannot ignore anymore. The first question that we have to ask is why the Maute group chose to start from Marawi?” the movement says in a reflection published on July 10.
It describes Marawi as the only majority Islamic city in the country, giving the Islamic faith a kind of visible and established presence in Mindanao, something that took a long time to a achieve.
The Silsilah movement, which was established in 1984 by Father Sebastiano D’Ambra with the express charter of promoting dialogue and better relations between Christians and Muslims, describes the current crisis as the biggest challenge to its mission that it has ever faced.
It points out that so much water has flowed under the bridge since the movement was founded that the siege has all the appearances of a blast from the past rather than an expression of the positive relations that have existed in the city of Marawi for the past several years.
Silsilah says that what is mystifying is that it is not an attack by Muslims on Christians, as the bulk of the people who have lost their homes and been forced to flee are Muslim, and it is also not clear exactly what brand of Islam the Maute want to see established.
Two other difficult questions to grapple with are who is paying to sustain the siege and why are the Muslims themselves so afraid to react.
It points out that the very process of dialogue that has proven so successful in building positive relations in the city over many years is being distrusted by many Christians in Mindanao, who are now placing their trust in building up more powerful armaments and tighter security, as martial law is giving the military more power.
It adds that this is nothing new, as it has been the knee jerk reaction to all forms of tension and crisis for decades. Historically, when conflict with the Moro National Liberation Front broke out in the 1970s, Christians organised groups called Ilaga to attack the Muslims and the Muslims organised the Baracudas to attack the Christians.
“The result was more hatred and prejudice among many Muslims and Christians. The conflict continued in Mindanao in many stages to the point that in the year 2000, the president, Joseph Estrada, declared total war in Mindanao,” Silsilah says in its reflection.
But it was just one more disaster piled upon the disasters of the past and only resulted in more division and bitterness between the two groups.
This was a long drawn out simmering anger which exploded again in 2013 with the siege of Zamboanga which was touted as a conflict of religion.
Silsilah says that this myth was finally dispelled thanks to the Muslim and Christian leaders who campaigned hard to place it in its proper political context.
But in placing their faith in armaments and military power, the Christian community is not any different from the Maute in expressing a belief that all ambitions and dreams can be achieved by the power of the gun.
But Silsilah maintains that this is not the way to go. It reflects, “Regrettably, there are those who see only the negative aspects of this conflict or, more dangerously, who are planning on revenge and creating more violence.”
But Silsilah has a different dream; a path pinned on a dialogue based on a love that goes beyond the limit of tolerance.
“A new form of Martabat that is the opposite of the traditional cultural aspect of revenge, a new beginning built on reconciliation and love. We know that this can be considered a utopia, but this is what Silsilah wishes to do. Tell all: Stop using radicalism with violence and embrace a radicalism with love to have radical changes in our society.”
Silsilah strongly believes that the way of violence has been well tried and tested and every time found wanting, so it is necessary to dream a new dream and it is suggesting the future lies in a peace bred of relationship and understanding.
So it is beginning with an invitation.
“The Muslim people are invited to recall the holy Qur’an, which says that there are occasions when it is possible to react in a form of struggle (Jihad) with violence, but the Qur’an adds ‘... but if you forgive it is better’,” it points out.
It then calls on Christians to recall the many words in the gospel, especially the message of Jesus, “to love all, also our enemies.”
But the answer to the million dollar question, “Why Marawi?” remains ellusive, but one thing the Maute understands clearly is that for violence and evil to conquer, division between Christians and Muslims is not enough, as internal divisions in both camps are needed to destroy the power of goodness.
“But the reality is that there are external groups and centres of power interested to divide us. First to put Muslims against Christians and now to divide Muslims among themselves. Indeed, all of us are victims,” the reflection from Silsilah concludes.

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