OPINION: Aleppo and Butig in my mind

Amir Mawallil

Posted at Dec 22 2016 12:19 AM

Aleppo did not fall in a day. It did not happen in a week or in a month. Aleppo has been bleeding for four years, crying out for help in a world that partly heard but largely refused to care.

Everyone knew this was going to happen. We all stood idly on the wayside, watching as the ancient city of Aleppo crumbled to what it is now -- a rubble of broken spirits, shattered lives, lost city, and a memory of happiness and great dreams.

The Battle of Aleppo started in the middle of July, 2012 and since then the U.N. has estimated that there have been more than 400,000 casualties. It is almost impossible to fathom because this is the 21st century, not the Middle Ages. 

How could the entire world remain silent while almost half a million people are killed, injured, or displaced? In the time of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, how could we not have noticed an entire city, born millennia ago, disappear in four years?

Initially, I thought, perhaps, we never noticed because Syria is almost 8,500 kilometers away from the Philippines. How could a conflict on the other side of the globe possibly affect us?

However, closer to home, the Rohingyan crisis in Myanmar, just 2,700 kilometers away, has also escaped our attention. The Rohingyan Muslims of Myanmar has often been called the most persecuted minority on Earth. Since 2012, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas have fled Myanmar to escape the mass annihilation happening there. Until now, no one has been prosecuted for the killing spree against Rohingyas.

And what is more startling is that even on our very own backyard, just a few weeks ago, the Maute terrorist group once again occupied the town of Butig, Lanao Del Sur, an hour away from Manila by plane. 

Military forces flushed out members of the Maute group from the town of Butig, however, the town and its people are living in constant danger. The Maute group has not spared any part of the town, no area is sacred. Even schools and mosques were damaged.

The Abu Sayyaf group has also victimized multiple predominantly Muslim towns in Mindanao this year alone. The string of kidnappings and the barbaric beheadings of their victims exposed the darkness of the human heart. Unspeakable. Evil.

When news first broke of the Paris shooting and bomb blast last year, which left 130 people dead and hundreds more wounded, I saw a lot of my Facebook friends changed their profile photo to the French flag. Paris is 10,737 kilometers away. 

After, the Orlando shooting, there was an outpour of #PrayforOrlando on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Orlando is 14,640 kilometers away.

How could atrocities that are half the world away affect Filipinos more than victims of terrorism and ethnic cleansing happening closer to home? Where was #PrayforAleppo or #PrayforIraq or #PrayforYemen or #PrayforButig or #PrayforMindanao?

Clearly, it is so easy for us to imagine that Muslim people are the culprits of the world’s biggest bloodbaths but we find it so difficult to see that it is also Muslim men, women, and children who are the biggest victims of these same crimes. 

When a terrorist group, claiming to be Islamist, unleashes an attack, people would automatically conclude that the victims are non-Muslims.

Believing that ISIS is simply creating a war against the West is a presumption that’s easier to swallow than thinking that the majority of its victims are Muslims themselves.

Even for Filipino based terrorist groups, we think they are waging a war against the government and Christians, forgetting that it is the Muslim communities in Sulu, Lanao, and other cities in Mindanao that face these threats on daily basis. 

Aleppo and Butig, are principally Muslim towns. Any atrocities happening in Aleppo or Butig will not shake the global conscience as an attack on Paris, or Orlando, or Brussels would.

The world has been operating on the assumption that Islam is a violent religion that it becomes so effortless to be indifferent to Muslim victims of terrorism.

Recently, my social media feed has been filled with cries for help from Aleppo, of heart breaking videos of mothers losing their infant children, of young women asking to be killed before they are raped, of fathers begging for food before their entire family die of starvation. 

The world has finally noticed, unfortunately, when it is, arguably, too late.

In the words of the late Elie Wiesel, there is so much to be done, there is so much that can be done. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.

Action is the only remedy to indifference, the most insidious danger of all.

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