KISSA AND DAWAT: Palestine in the Moro Psyche

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 20 May) – We are witnessing another round of violence in the Holy Land and for Muslims around the world seeing their fellows suffering that much in the blessed month of Ramadhan, specifically in the last 10 days of it, when Muslims aspire to benefit from the blessings of “Laylatul Qadr” (Night of Power), the holiest of holy, is simply too much, not to be able to express their angst and sentiments.

Ramadhan is done for the Hijrah Year 1442. The Eidul Fitr (Feast of the Breaking of the Fast) on May 13 has been celebrated. It was also a national holiday in the Philippines based Republic Act No. 9177 sponsored by Senator Loren Legarda. However, the Palestinians are stuck in their predicament since the partition of their homeland. On social media, Moros from different shades and backgrounds are unanimous in their pro-Palestinian stance. They are also vocal in their antagonism about Israeli occupation and aggression.

Perhaps many fellow Filipinos wonder why the Moros are so vocal about a political issue in the Holy Land, but not as much vocal when it comes to national and local issues, such as the West Philippine Sea or the recent storming of Datu Paglas (Maguindanao) by the BIFF.

What’s with the Moros and Palestine? To begin with, Moros and the majority of Palestinians share the same Islamic faith. We were taught in our theology how the Islamic ummah (community) is important and therefore Muslims must strive to be united. There is a verse (103) in Chapter 3 (Family of Imran) in the Holy Qur’an oft-repeated by our ulama (religious ulama) to stress the importance of Muslim unity, “And hold firmly to the rope1 of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favor of Allah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favor, brothers…” (Saheeh International translation). This Muslim unity is explained by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in this manner, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” In short, the deaths of innocent Palestinians, the destruction of their homes, the pain of losing loved ones, being disrupted and disturbed in their religious obligations, and the uncertainty of their lives under aggressive Israeli occupation, all of these, are emphatically felt by the Moros because they are parts of one Islamic body.

Moros are bewildered why the Philippines, despite it being the only Christian country in Asia (at that time), abandon their co-religionists among the Palestinians. The partition clearly disadvantaged Palestinian Christians where a majority of them are now in the diaspora. Whose interest did it serve when it voted for the partition of Palestine, thus hold the distinction as the only Asian country to do so. In 2009, Palestinian Catholic leaders like Archbishop and Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah joined the launch of Kairos document “A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope, and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering” calling on fellow Christians to help fight the Israeli occupation. Is this call falling on deaf ears in the Philippines?

Moros also wonder what’s behind their perceived inability of Arab nations to confront Israeli occupation and aggression. Moros are aware of the unequivocal and tacit American support and in their eyes, the US will never be a fair arbiter or lead in enforcing international consensus on Palestine. Especially in the Tausug psyche, “duwa dilâ” (literally, two tongues; figuratively, doublespeak, dishonesty) is the term commonly used to describe the US stance. They find it hard to understand why and how the small state of Israel can “control” the US foreign policy in the Middle East. Moro exposure overseas and access to global information come back with the perennial conspiracy theory about the Jews controlling the world, Western conspiracy against Muslims and Islam, and the power of Israeli and Evangelical lobby groups in the US.

Putting aside the religious affinity, Moros are enthralled by the modern-day saga of “Goliath and David.” Israel (supported by the West) is Goliath and Palestine is David. Just as the positive ending of the original story, Moros are hopeful for the same. This narrative resonates with Moros’ secessionist movement. Close to home, Goliath is the Philippine Government or metaphorically, the “Imperial Manila” and Moros see themselves in David. To them, no Goliath strength can hinder the morality and legality of the Moro cause even if they are up against the military and police machinery of Imperial Manila. Perhaps this is why it resonates with the Irish and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) support to Palestine as it echoes their fight against British imperialism or the African National Congress (ANC) under Mandela and its fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Having been part of the Philippine polity for more than a century now and recognizing the power of broadcast media and movies, and the preponderance of underdog stories resonate with the Moros, too. The underdog like Carding in Probinsyano captures the “David” in every Moro. Moros who are into basketball may find proverbial David as the underdog in the celebrated Ginebra team of the 1990s. Moviegoers may find David in Rebecca, Sharon Cuneta’s character in the 1984 movies “Bukas luluhod ang mga tala.” As such, this Goliath and David story impress on the Moros several things – the fight between good and evil, to be patient and perseverant in the face of aggression, never giving up, and the worth of fighting for a just cause. Thus, they see hope in the current debacle in the Holy Land. It will take some time, but in the end, fighting for a just cause wins.

Moros’ very vocal expression on this issue doesn’t mean they have no opinion on issues closer to home. They do. But what makes them very vocal about an overseas issue is the relative safety it affords them. They feel safe in expressing their opinion and the degree of unison is high as well. This is not the case of local issues when those involved are occupying the same space as they do. If I express an opinion against military action, will I not be tagged by intelligence as in favor of groups they are after? If I express an opinion against an armed group in the locality, will I not be censured and worse, hunted? When Moros’ safety is guaranteed many of them are more nuanced in expressing their views than a number of writers, journalists, and columnists who write about us from a distance and in the comfort of their city homes.

Social media have provided the Moros a unique platform. Not only to express their personal opinions or ideas but also to gauge other opinions and ideas out there. They are able to compare and see the merits of their opinions with ordinary folks and influencers. They can coalesce and follow like-minded individuals. They can use other arguments to weigh in their opinions. Of course, when it comes to local issues, those who are well-connected are able to express opposing views comfortably compared with ordinary Moros. This also gave way to pseudo accounts in order to express one’s strong views, i.e., criticisms, without being personally identified.

The Palestinian cause will remain in the Moro psyche. It will continue to enthrall and cause them angsts. The continuing Israeli occupation and aggression will continue to feed into conspiracy theories. Violence will continue to be justified because the United States, the world’s moral police, is unable to express sympathy even to children mortality among Palestinian civilians. The modern-day Goliath and David saga will persist and in our country fed and influenced by our movies and television dramas. It will continue to root for underdogs like Carding and Rebecca. But just like the political experiments here in the southern Philippines, Moros can also be practical and realistic. Perhaps if the two-state solution will be honestly pursued, then Moros can join the global community in supporting this pursuit, just as the world supported the establishment of an enhanced autonomy now called the Bangsamoro.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Noor Saada is a Tausug of mixed ancestry – born in Jolo, Sulu, grew up in Tawi-tawi, studied in Zamboanga and worked in Davao, Makati and Cotabato. He is a development worker and peace advocate, former Assistant Regional Secretary of the Department of Education in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, currently working as an independent consultant and is a member of an insider-mediation group that aims to promote intra-Moro dialogue.)