MARGINALIA: A media narrative’s textual interplay on Marawi incident

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MAKATI CITY (MindaNews /24 May) – Early this month I presented a paper about the media discourse on violent extremism in Mindanao at the Philippine Political Science Association (PPSA) international conference in Cebu City.

Adopting postmodernist Jacques Derrida’s semiotic analysis he dubbed ‘grammatology’ as the conceptual framework, I applied his twin tools of ‘deconstruction’ and ‘double reading’ to examine the textual interplay at work with three relevant terms: (1) Maute Group, (2) ISIS vs. IS, and (3) Islamic vs. un-Islamic. (See related column, “Islamic, un-Islamic, or Islamist?” (January 19, 2017))      

As the Marawi encounter was unfolding yesterday afternoon, I can’t help but read through the same Derridean lens one of the earliest news reports on the incident by Cotabato City-based John Unson of The Philippine Star newspaper (“Troops, Maute group clash in Marawi City,” May 23, 2017). Three lines of the report particularly caught my attention:

Line 1: “The Maute group… espouses hatred to non-Muslims.”

The fact is that the said group, along with others that have allegedly subscribed to the ISIS ideology, is not only an interfaith, but more seriously, an intra-faith issue among Muslims.

A cursory examination of the textual sources they have been using, including “Durarus-Saniyyah fi Ajwibati’n-Najdiyyah” (a compilation of discourses, letters, and religious verdicts issued by Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab), will reveal that ‘takfir’ – declaring other Muslims not subscribing to their interpretation to be ‘kafir’ (unbelievers) – is an integral part of their creed.

Statistics also show that Muslims have been the overwhelming majority of victims of terrorism in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

Line 2: “Army intelligence sources said members of the Maute group had infiltrated a gathering of hundreds of Tablighs in the barangay…”

A regular gathering of the Tabligh-i Jama‘ah is called “Ijtima‘” which is the Arabic word for “assembly,” “gathering” or “convention”. As a nationwide event, this gathering usually attracts thousands or tens of thousands of attendees, as residents near the Markaz Mosque in Marawi City would confirm.

I hope Mr. Unson would have the opportunity to check the method of his ‘army intelligence sources’ in estimating the number of people in a gathering – to differentiate hundreds from thousands, tens of thousands from a million.

Line 3: “The Tablighs are missionaries engage[d] in da‘awah (preaching) activities that many moderate Islamic theologians do not agree with.”

This statement could give a wrong impression to an unsuspecting reader and make the following premises and conclusion: “The Tablighs are not ‘moderate’ and therefore they are ‘extremists’ and since they are ‘extremists’, they must be violent extremists!”

Founded in the Indian sub-continent more than a century ago and introduced in the Philippines in mid-1980s, Tabligh-i Jama‘ah is a non-political non-violent religious movement of tens of thousands of Muslims throughout the country.

If to be ‘political’ is a sign of ‘moderation,’ then the Tabligh members are ‘extremists’ for being non-political; otherwise, they are not.

Moreover, if ‘missionary’ is meant to refer to someone who is sent by an institution to propagate a faith as his mission, then members of the Tabligh-i Jama‘ah could not be called ‘missionaries’ because there is no such institution that is sending them to a mission; rather, each member is supposed to provide for his or her travel expenses.

In sum, as Derrida would remind us, textual is the way in which the social world is constructed, and the media people have a pivotal role in this ‘construction’ of – either a bridge or a wall.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, is a writer, educator, blogger, chess trainer, and translator (from Persian into English and Filipino) with tens of written and translation works to his credit on such subjects as international politics, history, political philosophy, intra-faith and interfaith relations, cultural heritage, Islamic finance, jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (‘ilm al-kalam), Qur’anic sciences and exegesis (tafsir), hadith, ethics, and mysticism. He can be reached at mlimba@diplomats.com, or http://www.mlimba.com and http://www.muslimandmoney.com.]

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