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Sisyphus’ Lament

The cheapest way to fight terrorism

/ 05:07 AM November 13, 2017

AMSTERDAM — Four of the “2017 JCI Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World” are Muslim. Many of our stories relate to the self-styled Islamic State. As world leaders gather in Manila, we must be conscious that our country can still avoid the horrors wrought by Daesh in Syria and Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Speaking in pairs at last week’s JCI (Junior Chamber International or the Jaycees) world congress in Amsterdam, I sat beside Imrana Alhaji Buba, 25. His soft-spoken, short and slightly-built appearance belies his founding Nigeria’s Youth Coalition against Terrorism while a political science freshman.


And that he lost two relatives to a Boko Haram bombing when he was 15, his best friend was kidnapped for ransom, and his neighbor and his father were murdered. And that he was the first youth leader from Nigeria’s poorer Muslim north recognized by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace.

Imran’s powerful story echoes those of Philippine Muslim TOYM (The Outstanding Young Men) awardees. He introduces himself as coming from near Chibok, where 276 girls were abducted. He affirms that Boko Haram are bandits. They attacked Muslims, too, after moderate Muslims denounced them.


He organized fora for youths to channel frustrations with poverty and corruption, preventing legitimate grievances from coalescing with extremism. And like my friends in Lanao del Sur, Imran was initially anonymous on social media, conscious of possible reprisals.

Massa Aboujeib smiled and joked I must think her Syria is a catastrophe. But normal life goes on in Damascus, she stressed. A graphic designer and art professor, she
pioneered art therapy to help heal Syrian children fleeing the fighting.

Ahmet Kuzubasli from Turkey was an engineer in a multinational defense company. He developed ColiSense, a radar which detects water contamination. He spoke of his dreams for investment in his country’s entrepreneurs. Then he casually mentioned that his technology is also used to warn of Daesh biological attacks.

They remind me that law is as important for what it symbolizes as what it prescribes. For example, the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) would have made it a
national policy to appoint at least one Muslim Supreme Court justice, one Muslim commissioner in each constitutional commission, and one Muslim Cabinet secretary.

The symbolism struck me when our Supreme Court ruled on martial law in Mindanao without a Muslim justice. The BBL itself lies stillborn.

Symbols are important against extremism, as JCI’s recognition of Imran, Massa, Ahmet and Turkish scientist Dr. Engin
Durgin underscores. When Congress deliberated on extending martial law, it was crucial for young Maranaw who saw Marawi in ruins to see a Maranaw TOYM such as Samira Gutoc Tomawis address Congress on behalf of evacuees.

One hopes JCI Philippines and the TOYM empower more young Muslim Filipinos to speak for my generation, as they will be needed after Marawi.


The new JCI world president, Dagupan City Vice Mayor Marc Brian Lim, ran on the slogan “Change begins with me.” Many of us, unfortunately, have yet to internalize this as the cheapest yet longest-term solution.

Despite all the Inquirer stories of Muslim Filipinos risking their lives against terrorists, Marawi’s tragedy remains emotionally distant to many of us. Some have yet to consciously regard our Muslim brethren as equal partners in our national journey.

Last month, Ambassador Macabangkit Lanto wrote a powerful commentary denouncing the Maute group as un-Islamic. A letter by Ishmael Warner claimed this “apparent condemnation of Maute jihadists is temporary and tactical” because “Muslims lie when it is in their interest to do so.”

It is insanity to publicly malign an eminent Maranaw voice of moderation while Mindanao is under martial law. Warner may well be the Maute group’s top recruiter. But such bigotry sadly remains our reality, beyond bullets and bombs.

One hopes it will not take a Chibok or an Aleppo in the Philippines to change our attitudes, and ensure extremism and radicalization end with Marawi.

React:, Twitter @oscarfbtan,

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TAGS: 2017 JCI Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World, Jaycees, Oscar Franklin Tan, Sisyphus’ Lament
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