ZAMBOANGA CITY – This initiative came out of the need to seize and counter the violent extremism and terrorism (VET) narrative of Islam and to warn general public and vulnerable youth against its dangerous effects. The ideology poised by violent extremists and terrorist groups had swayed far from the teachings of Islam that have been upheld by most of the ulama in the Muslim World across centuries.
This project was initially conceived during an initial meeting last March X, 2017. It was agreed that an ulama conference-workshop on communication for peace will bring together the different local contexts of the VET as well as allow for tailored response based on its local manifestations concretized through this initial and pilot 6-month project that is heavy on creating awareness about Islam and correcting misconceptions about it among local target groups and using varied media that is suitable to the locality.
This is envisioned as an initial 6-month pilot and learning project as basis in developing a more tailored and sustainable intervention that will target vulnerable segments of the Muslim community stating FY 2018.
Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM), ISIS Lanao or colloquially “Maute group”, also calls Dawlah Islamiya is the latest violent extremist group to appear in the ARMM. Led by Abdullah Maute and his brother Omar Maute, with alleged foreign fighters, operated in 2013 to present, trying to link with global ISIS. One of the triggers in the ISIS evolution in Lanao was the claim made by ulama supporting ISIS but quietly move away from the limelight when the Butig conflict was about to explode and exploded. Butig, where they operate is an MILF stronghold, members are tied by blood and clan relations, which the Maute group exploited to their advantage.
In Maguindanao, because of fear of impunity, violent extremist groups are not openly discussed or condemn. One reasons is they have splittered into smaller groups and are mobile rather than identifiable to a particular area, although there is some familiarization in the areas they are operating in.
In Sulu, the acts of beheading, kidnap for ransom, illegal drug trade (business) and extortion are viewed as misinterpretation and distortion of the teachings of Islam. These acts are perpetuated both on foreign hostages kidnapped somewhere and brought into the locality and local targets usually from business and professional sector. Ulama expressed aghast over their distortions of the true message of Islam. They know, but corrupt its teachings anyway to justify their violent extremist actions.
In Basilan, violent extremist groups operate mostly in Tipo-tipo, Albarka, Tuburan, Sumisip, sometimes in Lamitan City.
While relatively safe from actual skirmishes, Tawi-Tawi is becoming area for recruitment and espionage. The protracted conflict in Sulu also resulted in mass migration to Tawi-Tawi seeking safety and livelihood burdening the province further. With limited opportunities even for its indigenous population, the capitol town have seen its share of kidnapping, shootout between warrring families, rape with murder and robbery. A province that is largely passive and tolerant is experiencing verbal extremism – Takfir and Tabdi’. In the eyes of the indigenous population, the unabated migration from Sulu have spurn inter-ethnic friction, political domination-marginalization, piracy and land grabbing.
Aside from migration from Sulu, Tawi-Tawi regularly host deportees (halaw) from Sabah, Malaysia. Few years ago, deportation was exacerbated by Lahad Datu seige. Kidnapping of Malaysian nationals and piracy along the borders make life difficult for Tawi-Tawi people because incidences like these forces the Malaysian government to close its border affecting the free flow of basic goods and traditional trading that is the lifeblood of the local people.
Zamboanga City is receiving end of migration from island provinces. Local ulama is in tight situation – “sala sa lamig, sala sa init” or being like a “bibingka” as they expressed it; that is government expect the local ulama to denounce these violent acts and if they don’t, they are viewed as supporters, worse, terrorists themselves. If ulama condemns, violent extremists groups view them as government sympathizers and vulnerable to vendetta from their violent groups. They suspect given its strategic location, the city maybe recruitment for vulnerable college youth, movement of logistics and passive cells of waiting to be mobilized.
The ARMM Ulama Summit Against Terrorism is the product of the ARMM Ulama Conference – Communications for Peace project which was held last May 12-14, 2017 and lead to the crafting of the Resolution Against Terrorism.