‘Muslim type’ NBI sketch is against the law
I am a Muslim woman, five feet and six inches tall, fair-skinned, Chinese-eyed.
Without a hijab (veil), I am often mistaken for a Korean or Chinese tourist. Now that I cover, I am mistaken for a Malaysian or other Muslim tourist. It is undeniably flattering to be mistaken for a foreigner when I am judged and discriminated against for being Muslim.
Odd gazes, uninformed statements and borderline rude questions are bearable. But what can be more offensive than seeing Muslims in general labeled as rogue terrorists, or seeing crime suspects casually described as Muslims?
Last weekend, concerned Muslims and non-Muslims alike denounced the initial artist’s sketch of the suspect in the Labuan bus terminal bombing in Zamboanga City on Sept. 18. The sketch, reportedly from the National Bureau of Investigation, prominently described the suspect as “Muslim type.” TV Patrol Chavacano (TVPC) posted it on Facebook despite the “confidential” marking. The caption read: “This was released by police operatives in a meeting held a day after the incident.”
The drawing shows a man with a flat nose and a round face wearing a hoodie. It can be of any Filipino or Southeast Asian.
Reacting to the criticism, TVPC posted: “Notice to our followers: We appreciate the exchange of opinion and ideas on this page. We posted the artist’s sketch of the suspect in the latest bombing as part of our responsibility to inform. Why it was released to Media despite marking it as ‘Confidential’ is beyond our control. But TVPC, like most if not all who read the description attached, believe the tag ‘Muslim Type’ is unnecessary, inappropriate, racist and discriminatory. TVPC will be bringing the outrage to the attention of the NBI who produced the sketch. Gracias!”
The statement is politically correct. Unlike other Muslim stereotyping in the media, the sketch came from a government agency that is supposed to uphold the social contract to keep peace and order, not create rifts among Filipinos.
The NBI and its Western Mindanao Regional Office will surely be reprimanded and respond that the incident is not representative of the bureau. True or false?
However, this logic holds true for us Muslims: Groups committing heinous crimes “for the sake of Islam” do not represent the majority of Filipino Muslims living normal, productive and God-fearing lives just like our non-Muslim fellow Filipinos.
Racial profiling is detrimental to nation-building. Discrimination based on ethnicity and religion done by a Filipino to his or her fellow Filipino is treachery.
The Anti-Ethnic or Racial Profiling and Discrimination Act, which prohibits profiling and discrimination against persons on account of ethnic or racial origin and/or religion, became law four years ago.
And it has been almost four decades since Presidential Decree No. 966 was enacted, making it a crime to violate the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The law states that it “shall not permit public authorities or public institutions, national or local, to promote or incite racial discrimination… The penalties provided … shall be imposed in the maximum if the offender be a Government officer or employee.”
These simple laws must be disseminated to government agencies and implemented at all levels, from top executives to the rank-and-file. The sketch done by a subordinate would not have been released if it was carefully screened by supervisors in the NBI.
Even without knowledge of these laws, it is common sense that the racial profiling reflected in the sketch contravenes propriety and respect for Muslims. It is unfair, unreasonable and biased. The NBI, being our guardian, should not allow such a thing to happen.
Racial profiling will persist if no effective action is taken by the government along with the citizenry. NBI officials and employees, and the police and military in general, should have a mindset of peace-building, religious tolerance, appreciation for diversity and progressive outlook. Their training divisions must invest in training in these principles.
Moreover, as stated in the anti-ethnic profiling law, it is the duty of the Commission on Human Rights, in coordination with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, to prevent or deter the commission of acts of discrimination and to lay down the procedures for the resolution, settlement, or prosecution of acts of discrimination. These government agencies should conduct awareness programs with other agencies for proper implementation of the laws against profiling and discrimination.
At times like this, I cannot help but wish for more Muslim lawmakers, especially in the Senate, who would push to provide more teeth to laws against racial profiling. Notably, it is overwhelming when it is non-Muslims who censure racial profiling.
On Sept. 25, over a billion Muslims worldwide will celebrate Eid’l Adha (or the feast of the sacrifice), in remembrance of how the Prophet Abraham’s obedience to Almighty God was tested when he was called upon to sacrifice his son (eventually, a lamb was provided in the boy’s place).
May Eid’l Adha, a national holiday, remind all Filipinos, whether Muslim or not, that we are of the same lineage. Muslims and Christians trace the roots of our monotheistic belief to the Prophet Abraham. We are not enemies.
Nesreen Cadar Abdulrauf is a peace journalism advocate and a mass communication graduate (cum laude) of the University of the Philippines Cebu. She was editor in chief of the Islamic magazine Ummah.