MAKATI CITY (MindaNews /18 October) – Early morning after my short presentation at the ‘terror’ in Marawi forum held last June 30 in Ateneo de Davao University (see “Is ‘terror’ Marawi’s single story?”), I received an unexpected email from one of the forum’s organizers. Part of the message thus reads:
“Upon hearing your presentation, constructivist and postmodern lessons and lectures from my ‘Theories in IR’ class came back to me in waves – and I cannot agree more that indeed, the ‘terror’ in Marawi is a result of a ‘construction’ designed to shape opinions and views. Thank you for reminding me that… to focus only on one aspect of an incident/case/situation is folly… Your insights have awoken a more sensitive Atenean in me.”
More surprising to me, however, was the foresight in this question of one of the young participants during the Q&A session: “After the Marawi Crisis, in what way should the government ‘reinvent’ itself in order to defeat violent extremism?”
Literally “to produce something new that is based on something that already exists” (Cambridge Dictionary), or “the act or an instance of replacing a product with an entirely new version” (Collins Dictionary), ‘reinvention’ was originally solely used in the field of science and technology. Later on, the concept of ‘personal reinvention’ has found its niche in psychology, particularly in the subfield of personal growth and personality development. Soon after, we also began to see the notion of ‘self-reinvention’ in political anthropology and sociology. In digital media studies, our age is also sometimes dubbed the ‘Age of Reinvention’.
In Islamic philosophy, there is a classic theory of transubstantial motion (al-harakat al-jawhariyyah) by Mulla Sadra (c. 1571-1640), who considers substantial motion to be a gradual existential transformation occurring in the very inner structure of things, and therefore, a thing or substance which is currently in a certain ontological state is undergoing a continuous and gradual inner transformation until it reaches a new ontological state.
Going back to the question, two points must be borne in mind in any attempt to answer it. First, violent extremism is both a social ill and a symptom of other social ills. As a social ill, violent extremism’s ideology as well as its pull factors (what attract a potential recruit) must be truly uprooted. As a symptom of other social ills such as endemic corruption, social injustices, economic deprivations, and moral decadence, among others, violent extremism must be vigorously addressed alongside those other social ills.
Second, winning the battle in Marawi does not necessarily mean winning the war on violent extremism. The former is basically a military fight while the latter is a wide-ranging combat. The victor in the former’s arena is not necessarily triumphant in the latter’s zone. The end of the siege is not a safety guarantee for another city not to be under siege in the near future. Neither the deaths of Isnilon and Omar could preclude the rise of Isnilons and Omars in the days to come.
In view of these two points, the government is supposed to ‘reinvent’ itself in the best possible way in at least six areas, namely: (1) Marawi rehabilitation, (2) violent extremism’s nature, (3) violent extremists’ definition of ‘enemy,’ (4) regional cooperation, (5) military doctrine and strategy, and (6) comprehensive framework on PVE-CVE.
(1) Marawi rehabilitation
In the Marawi rehabilitation program, the government is supposed to faithfully observe the 30 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement laid down by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), particularly Section V on durable solutions (principles 28-30 related to return, resettlement and reintegration); otherwise, the reported new armed group describing itself as ‘Maranao Victims Movement’ (MVM) will eventually turn into a full-blown armed organization (see “New armed group born in Marawi, Lanao Sur”).
(2) Violent extremism’s nature
The government’s concerned agencies are supposed to understand that violent extremism is an interfaith as well as intrafaith issue. For instance, the ISIS upholds a takfiri ideology which declares other Muslims as non-Muslims and apostates. It is a threat not only to non-Muslims but also to Muslims; in fact, most number of their victims around the world, and in Marawi, for instance, are Muslims. In its official English magazines Dabiq and Rumiyah, Muslim personalities and entities are vehemently castigated. Hence, what we have here is a war of all against a common enemy.
(3) Definition of ‘enemy’
Upholding a particular ideology, these violent extremists have an extended definition of ‘enemy’ or ‘combatants’. As such, civilians are prone to become victims of bombings and kidnappings that may happen in the aftermath of the Marawi Crisis.
(4) Regional cooperation
As the current chairmanship holder of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the government is supposed to forge serious regional cooperation in dealing with non-traditional security threats such as transnational non-state actors. The identification of a certain Malaysian university professor, Dr. Mahmud Ahmad, as the next leader of the remaining ISIS fighters in Marawi – some eight foreigners and 20 locals – certainly shows the urgency for such cooperation.
(5) Military doctrine and strategy
There is really an urgent need for the government to review and revise its national military doctrine and strategy in order to competently deal with non-traditional security threats. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s many inaccurate ultimatums on the end of war in the course of almost five months since the siege obviously show his and his top generals’ lack of real ‘appreciation’ of the intricate nature of urban warfare in the information age.
(6) Comprehensive PVE-CVE framework
Most important of all, the government is supposed to come up with a comprehensive framework on both preventing and countering violent extremism (PVE-CVE). An ASEAN-wide forum on preventing violent extremism (PVE), for instance, simply misses the point that ‘prevention’ implies that the thing to be avoided or prevented is not yet around. In the case of violent extremism, however, it is already here in our backyard; nay, it has already burned down a whole city. Hence, it requires fire-fighting, not fire-prevention. Nevertheless, in areas where there is no burning yet, fire-prevention is in order.
Moreover, any comprehensive framework to be developed must contain two essential elements that must go hand in hand, viz. all-inclusive development, and tolerance and respect for diversity. It is very difficult to teach tolerance and respect for diversity to a person who is hungry, economically disenfranchised, or politically and historically wronged. In the same manner, for someone to be financially well off is not a guarantee for his being tolerant and honoring diversity. One may be rich and at the same time, intolerant of others. In fact, an affluent that subscribes to an ideology of hate, bigotry and violent extremism is far more damaging than a pauper who subscribes to the same.
To wrap up, what is even more fundamental than this ‘self-reinvention’ by the government is the personal reinvention of each of us along this line.
[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 [email protected], or http://www.mlimba.com and http://www.muslimandmoney.com.]