Terrorists are made, not born
So are despotic and authoritarian leaders, dictators, criminals, rebels, and, on the flip side, philanthropists, humanitarian leaders, saints, and ordinary people like most of us. Except perhaps for the mythical Lam-ang of Ilocano folklore, no one was born shouting or claiming who they are or who they will become as adults.
This is not to exonerate or absolve those responsible for odious and despicable acts, or of heinous crimes they have committed in the name of “violent extremism” or “terrorism.” I condemn their acts and, by all means, they should face strong sanctions allowed by law. Those they have victimized as well as the survivors should be granted the full range of benefits in a rationalized and truly just indemnification package, and to see that the force of the law is carried out. A Latin saying reminds us that there are serious consequences to transgressing the law: “Dura lex, sed lex.” The law is hard, but it is the law.
They are human beings nonetheless, like you and me.
As human beings like all of us, the “terrorists” and “violent extremists” among us belong to groups that bind them to families, friends, peer groups, and a host of other social networks to which they are loyal, or bound by ties of blood, marriage, friendship, spiritual and other entanglements. Like all of us, they do not live in a vacuum: They are affected by current problems plaguing all of us in the country, such as increasing levels of abject poverty, political and economic marginalization, massive corruption in government, and illegal economics.
But while most Filipinos toil hard for their money, many politicians, businesspersons, and corporate agents wallow in affluence and opulence. While ordinary Filipinos work tirelessly to eke out a modest living to feed themselves and their loved ones, some privileged young women wear luxurious gowns and carry bags that are more than 20 times the cost of the shacks of the poor. While the scions of politicians are shod in “sandals” worth hundreds of dollars, an impoverished child doesn’t even have a pair of slippers.
If we want to address problems related to the actions of “terrorists,” we need to understand why and how they became such. We need to know what pathways they took to make them who they are now: terrifying, zealous about imposing their flawed religious interpretations on others, and violently intolerant of those who do not subscribe to their “terroristic” principles.
But in the din of the contrasting and confusing literature and sound bytes on “terrorism,” “violent extremism,” and “radicalization,” we common folk become hostage to the gory images flashed on our television screens, and all these reduce us to paranoia. We become immobilized, fearful that we will soon become victims of terrorists or violent extremists. This is exactly what terrorists want to see: They want to elicit a certain kind of stupor and fear from their victims. Being unable to analyze this phenomenon that has caused us much fear is already a victory for them: It is easy to kill an immobilized enemy!
Our general ignorance of and indifference to this complicated phenomenon has also made us simplistic in our views about it. We succumb to the popular idea espoused on both broadcast and print media that terrorists and violent extremists are Muslims bent on establishing an “Islamic state.” And this is the danger that we need to avoid: to profile all people belonging to a certain way of life, like Islam, as “potential terrorists” or “violent extremists.” Such profiling will only serve to harden the already formidable religious barriers that have divided us as a country.
At this time of severe challenges to our state of affairs as a country with peoples of diverse ethnolinguistic, sociocultural, political and religious backgrounds, such simplistic profiling and dichotomizing will lead to more confusion and less dialogue. And when people are no longer engaged in meaningful dialogue with each other, guns tend to do the talking. Using guns and the might of the all-powerful state will not lay to rest problems related to “terrorism” and “violent extremism.” It will just multiply the horrors of civilians caught in the crossfire between the “terrorists” and the equally terrorizing forces of state military agents.
We don’t need to remind ourselves of the horrors of the just concluded Marawi “war” to stress this sad reality. Unfortunately, it is a reality that the government continues to evade, by glossing over it through talk of “rebuilding” and “rehabilitating” Marawi and “making it better” than it used to be. Ironically, the residents who suffered enormously from this war were not consulted actively and widely for their decisions on how to restore their homeland. But this is another story that deserves a separate discussion.
No one in his or her right mind would like to be part of a nation in perpetual war with its own people. Except perhaps for the drug-crazed among us, or those whose cognitive processes have been distorted due to excessive intakes of certain pain-relieving drugs.
Rufa Cagoco-Guiam is a retired professor of sociology of the Mindanao State University–General Santos City. She is now a freelance consultant for various social development projects in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
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