OPINION: Narrating terrorism

Amir Mawallil

Posted at Jun 12 2017 09:37 PM

The language of terror is the compounding imagination of people in distress. The perpetrators, the victims, together with the spectators, are all locked in an agreement to make sense of visual and aural violence, the destruction and death during and after the event. There are no bystanders in terrorism; everyone is a participant, some forcibly engaged by the violence as spectators. However, one can either be a passive or an active reader of terrorism.
We as ordinary citizens cannot control the perpetrators—the terrorists—and their movement; we have a little to contribute to totally eradicate them unless we directly support government efforts to suppress them or eliminate them in our communities. For victims, they were randomly selected and their misfortune will beg for us to help them cope with the tragedy. 

We have to admit to ourselves that spectators like us are the target end-goals of terrorists and their project. They need an audience to send their message across, and they need fear to obfuscate rationality so they can easily encode in us and in our consciousness their intended message, may it be political, economic, or religious dogmatism in nature. 
The Maute group's attempted takeover of Marawi City and the corresponding government response to their terrorism challenged us as spectators to examine our positions, our belief systems, and the extent of our efforts to read the carnage and violence as we stayed glued to television screens and social media walls. We are either being asked to yield to the demands of the perpetrator terrorists to unquestioningly accept the meanings that they may wish to implant, or resist by being critically engaged and refusing to be just a passive reader and instead participate in drawing meanings to the event. 
Several weeks ago, I was browsing on social media as a break from my daily fasting this Ramadan. One recurring pattern among social media users was this ardent imposition of some Mindanaoan social media users from various non-Muslim cities and municipalities in Mindanao of the "Mindanao-ness" of the imposition of martial law in Marawi City. The argument highlighted that Filipinos from Luzon and other parts of the country were not entitled to their own opinion because—as the argument said—they are not from here. 
I could have been a willing defender of the argument of my fellow Mindanaoans that only people from Mindanao are privileged to speak in behalf of the people in Marawi City. I found it to be a sinister approach on making Filipinos from other parts of the country become passive readers of this carnage in Marawi City and assign a victim role to the residents of the city as the rest of Mindanao, especially those who were safe in privileged situations, took the role of spokespersons. I had to disagree. 
Filipinos from the rest of the country—those in Luzon, Manila, and other parts of the Philippines cannot be just a spectator in terrorism, especially now, in this situation wherein Muslim communities are in a vulnerable position. We have to make them an active participant in critically deciphering the meaning of all this. We cannot allow the Maute group and their cohorts impose on our countrymen what they are supposed to see, think, and understand while a major city in the country is destroyed slowly by violence and terrorism.

What a Mindanaoan can do is expand the space for more critical engagement so people across the country can find a common ground to agree to disagree on how to make something of the many meanings that can be understood from the terrorist attack in Marawi. 

The Maute group wants to separate us, hijack our discourse while it is shattered by divisions, and impose their terrorist agenda on our collective consciousness. 
Mindanao, the place and the imagined community, carries several voices, narratives, and histories. To assign a single narrative, voice, and community as the spokesperson to homogenize this place and imagined community is a trap that we are trying to escape collectively since the time of Marcos. To homogenize is to silence other voices and to some degree, to revise Mindanao’s multi-layered history. To argue that you are from Mindanao objectifies the narratives of the Bangsamoro struggle and the struggle of the lumad, and limits them as they try to acquire more expanded spaces for their own claim in the grand narrative of Mindanao. Let the people of Marawi City speak for themselves, for their struggles—and let them speak to the nation as their voices are not muted as the center of power in Mindanao and in the capital in Luzon thought them to be. 
The Maute group fears neither Moro nor Muslims. Meranaos will always protect Marawi City as this place served as their fortress for several centuries of resistance against colonizers. I have many Meranao friends who will protect their family’s name and maratabat by being good members of their respective communities. Meranaos are communal as people; like any other ethnic groups in the archipelago, there is always the primacy of the community’s interests over the individual. The destruction of Marawi City is the last thing a Meranao can do to tarnish their family’s name, the beloved city, and his or her maratabat. 
This month, all the pious Muslims in the world are celebrating Ramadan. This is a holy month for us Muslims. Holy is an understatement as we are doing our fasting and prayers on a daily basis and we refrain from committing sins even in our most private thoughts. This is a month of cleansing, of updating our iman (faith) in the language of young Muslims. 
To destroy an Islamic city and displace several thousands of Muslims, and then desecrate places of worship in this holy month is an unimaginable act to be carried by a pious Muslim. If we will not engage the entire nation into a critical engagement in reading Maute’s terrorism in Marawi City, they might read this differently, to the disadvantage of Muslim Moros in Mindanao.
You cannot hijack other people’s narratives of suffering and resistance and present it to the nation without their consent.
The language of terror will aim for a divided nation, and we will not let them win. Our fragmentation as people between Moros and Filipinos and within these groups is an opportunity for them to realize their goals. We must not let this happen. Remember that what is terrifying, of course, at the end of the day whether they win or we decided to lose, is that they will remain as outsiders in our communities, in our cultures, and religions. They are from elsewhere. 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.