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Philippines insurgency

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A month ago, hardly anybody outside the Philippines had ever heard of Marawi. Now it’s the latest front in the war against Islamic State.
More evidence, if you needed it, that the terrorism associated with Islamic State will go on long after Mosul and Raqqa have been liberated and “Caliph Ibrahim” (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) has been killed or captured.

“We have actually preempted the establishment of a wilayat (a province of Islamic State),” said Ernesto Abella, the spokesperson of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, which is definitely overstating the case.

The response of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was slow and clumsy, and government policy has been lax and inattentive.
It’s not even clear that the attempt by the Maute group of Islamist fighters to take over Marawi, an unimportant city of 200,000 people in the centre of Mindanao island in the southern Philippines, was actually a bid to create a “wilayat” of Islamic State.
It is necessary to control some territory to declare a wilayat, so they had a motive, but this fight started almost accidentally.
The fighting broke out in the city after a failed attempt to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, a leading figure in another, bigger Islamist group called Abu Sayyaf that has also pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

Fighters from that outfit and others joined the Maute group that predominates in the Marawi area in a general uprising on 23 May — and the AFP’s reaction was so hesitant that between 400 and 500 fighters were able to take over the city.  The insurgents weren’t numerous enough to hold the whole city once the army got its act together, but for the past month they have controlled between ten and twenty percent of it.  The government claims to have killed 280 militants for the loss of 69 AFP soldiers and 29 civilians and promises that it will be over soon, but it has been a profoundly unimpressive performance.

Equally unimpressive has been the performance of the government led by “Rody” Duterte. Like every government before it, it has paid little attention to monitoring the seas around the Philippines, so it is easy for foreign militants to slip into the country.
It has been far worse than any previous government in its disregard for the law: Duterte’s “dirty war” against drugs has involved thousands of extra-judicial killings. It has been a major distraction (and a huge crime, of course), and it has effectively de-professionalised the police. Death squads do not do effective police work.

Above all, Duterte has failed to push for ratification of the 2014 peace agreement with the largest Muslim separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.  The MILF is Islamic but not extreme Islamist, and the agreement granted it considerable autonomy in the area of central Mindanao under its control.  However, the legislation to implement the deal stalled in Congress in 2015, and has never been put back on the agenda.
With nothing to show for its attempt to reach a peaceful compromise with the government, the MILF leadership has been unable to stop its more hard-line members from defecting to other, more radical groups that reject the agreement.

Most of those groups are associated with Islamic State or at least share its ideology, so the situation in Mindanao is worse than it was when the peace deal was signed. The siege of Marawi will be over in another week or so: the AFP claims there are only 100 fighters left in the city (although it isn’t very efficient at sealing off the city and stopping other from arriving).

The larger problem of radicalisation among discontented and disadvantaged Muslims in Mindanao will continue, and may well grow.
The only thing that would stop it is good governance, and that is not on offer under Duterte.
It’s an accident of history that this problem even exists. Islam was being spread east across the islands of Indonesia and the Philippines by Malay traders, and there were already several Muslim rulers in the Philippines when the Spanish arrived in 1570.
But few of the common people had converted to Islam yet except in Mindanao, and under Spanish rule the rest of the Philippines was converted to Catholicism instead.
No cause for complaint there: history is full of accidents like that.
But it is true that  successive Filipino governments encouraged the emigration of Christians to Mindanao, and that Muslims have now fallen to 20 percent of the population even in Mindanao. (Nationwide, only 5 percent of the population is Muslim.)
The demand for a “Muslim homeland” in the Muslim-majority parts of Mindanao has been strong for decades, and a sensible Filipino government would have made the necessary compromises long ago.

That’s not going to happen under Duterte, but the worst that can happen is an ugly local problem that need not concern the rest of the world.
That is more than can be said for next-door Indonesia, which is 90 percent Muslim and has two-and-a-half times the population of the Philippines.
As General Gatot Nurmantyo, Indonesia’s military chief, said last week, there are Islamic State-affiliated sleeper cells “in almost every (Indonesian) province.”

l Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

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Insight

The Joker Returns: Conclusion

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Last week I was talking about how jokes, or humour generally, can help get one through the most desperate situations (although it’s like taking a paracetamol for a headache; a much, much stronger resort is faith). I used the example of how Polish Jews, trapped and dying in the Warsaw ghetto, used humour to get them through day by day.

A similar, though less nightmarish, situation obtains in today’s Nigeria. Conditions there are less hellish than those of the Warsaw ghetto, but still pretty awful. There are massive redundancies, so millions of people are jobless. Inflation is at about 30% and the cost of living is sky-rocketing, with the most basic foodstuffs often unavailable. There is the breakdown of basic social services.

And endemic violence, with widespread armed robbery (to travel by road from one city to another you take your life in your hands) and the frequent kidnapping for ransom of schoolchildren and teachers. In a recent issue of the Punch newspaper (Lagos) Taiwo Obindo, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Jos, writes of the effects of economic hardship and insecurity on his people’s mental health.

He concludes: “We should see the funny side of things. We can use humour to handle some things. Don’t take things to heart; laugh it off.”

Professor Obindo doesn’t, regrettably, give examples of the humour he prescribes, but I remember two from a period when things were less grim. Power-cuts happened all the time — a big problem if you’re trying to work at night and can’t afford a generator.

And so the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was universally referred to as Never Expect Power Always. And second, for inter-city travel there was a company called Luxurious Buses. Believe me, the average Lesotho kombi is a great deal more luxurious (I can’t remember ever having to sit on the floor of one of those).

And because of the dreadful state of Nigerian roads and the frequent fatal crashes, Luxurious Buses were referred to as Luxurious Hearses.

Lesotho’s newspaper thepost, for which I slave away tirelessly, doesn’t use humour very much. But there is Muckraker. I’ve always wondered whether Muckraker is the pen-name of a single person or a group who alternate writing the column.

Whatever, I’d love to have a drink with him / her/ them and chew things over. I like the ironic pen-name of the author(s). Traditionally speaking, a muckraker is a gossip, someone who scrabbles around for titbits (usually sexual) on the personal life of a celebrity — not exactly a noble thing to do.

But thepost’s Muckraker exposes big problems, deep demerits, conducted by those who should know and do better — problems that the powerful would like to be swept under the carpet, and the intention of Muckraker’s exposure is corrective.

And I always join in the closing exasperated “Ichuuuu!” (as I do this rather loudly, my housemates probably think I’m going bonkers).

Finally I want to mention television satire. The Brits are renowned for this, an achievement dating back to the early 1960s and the weekly satirical programme “TW3” (That Was The Week That Was). More recently we have had “Mock the Week”, though, despite its popularity, the BBC has cancelled this.

The cancellation wasn’t for political reasons. For decades the UK has been encumbered with a foul Conservative government, though this year’s election may be won by Labour (not such very good news, as the Labour leadership is only pseudo-socialist). “Mock the Week” was pretty even-handed in deriding politicians; the BBC’s problem was, I imagine, with the programme’s frequent obscenity.

As an example of their political jokes, I quote a discussion on the less than inspiring leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer. One member of the panel said: “Labour may well have a huge lead in the polls at present, but the day before election day Starmer will destroy it by doing something like accidentally infecting David Attenborough with chicken-pox.”

And a favourite, basically non-political interchange on “Mock the Week” had to do with our former monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Whatever one thinks about the British monarchy as an institution, the Queen was much loved, but the following interchange between two panellists (A and B) was fun:

A: Is the Queen’s nickname really Lilibet?
B: Yes, it is.
A: I thought her nickname was Her Majesty.
B: That’s her gang name.

OK, dear readers, that’s enough humour from me for a while. Next week I’m turning dead serious — and more than a little controversial — responding to a recent Insight piece by Mokhosi Mohapi titled “A reversal of our traditions and culture.” To be forewarned is to be prepared.

Chris Dunton

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Insight

Reading, writing and the art of reflection

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There is a close thread that runs through what you reflect on, what you read and what sticks in your mind. It’s almost a cyclic process with regards to how all these processes unfold. Today, in this installment we focus on the thread between reading, reflection and writing.

This appears a bit cumbersome to explain. But let’s simplify it. Let’s begin with a beautiful poem which encompasses what we have so far spoken about. Here we are! The poem is penned by “Tachibama Akemi.” It goes:

It is a pleasure
When, rising in the morning,
I go outside and
Find that a flower has blossomed
That was not there yesterday.

Seemingly, the poem is simple. But, on close analysis, it reflects very deep reflection and thoughtfulness.

The persona, in an existential fashion, reflects all about the purpose and meaning of life and his place in the overall matrix of life.

The persona carefully reflects on nature. This is what makes all this poem rustic and romantic.

The persona thinks deeply about the blossoming flowers and how the process of the growth of flowers appears almost inadvertently.

It is a poem about change, healing, the lapse of time and the changes or vissiccitudes in the life of a person are reflected creatively through imagery and poetry. We all go through that, isn’t it? We all react and respond to love, truth and beauty.

So far everything appears very interesting. Let’s just put to the fore some good and appealing thoughts. Let’s enlarge on reading, writing and reflection.

Kindly keep in mind that thoughts must be captured, told, expressed and shared through the magical power of the written word.

As a person, obviously through keeping entries in a journal, there is no doubt that you have toyed about thoughts and ideas and experiences you wish you could put across.

Here is an example you can peek from Anthony. Anthony likes writing. He tells us that in his spare time he likes exploring a lot. And, more often than not he tells us,

“I stop, and think, and then when I find something, I just keep on writing.”

So crisp, but how beautiful. Notice something interesting here; you need to stop, to take life effortlessly and ponderously, as it were; observe, be attentive to your environment; formulate thought patterns and then write.

To some extent, this article builds on our previous experiences when we spoke at length about the reading process.

But how can you do it? It’s not pretty much different. I can help you from my previous life as a teacher of English Languge.

The most important skill you must cultivate is that of listening, close listening. Look at how people and events mingle.

What makes both of you happy; enjoy it. I am sure you still keep that journal in which you enter very beautiful entries. Reflect about Maseru, the so-called affluent city. So majestic!

How can you picture it in writing!

I am glad you learnt to reflect deep and write. Thank you very much. Kindly learn and perfect the craft of observing, reflecting and writing. Learn that connection. Let’s meet for another class.

Vuso Mhlanga

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Insight

The Joker Returns: Part One

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Don’t be put off by the title, esteemed readers; what follows has nothing to do with the Batman films. As you will be happily (or unhappily) aware, I am a big fan of jokes. There’s a common understanding that a joke is ruined if you have to explain it, and this is true, but some jokes do need a bit of background explanation. Anyway. I like jokes and I like thinking about how they work.

Many of my favourite jokes have to do with language and the way we use it. For example: “I just bought myself a thesaurus. I similar it very much.”

Other jokes have to do with human behaviour and here it is important, out of respect for others, to avoid jokes that perpetuate stereotypical ideas about gender, race, nationality, and so on. I’m afraid the following joke does depend upon a stereotype (I’ll come back to that), but here goes, after a bit of background information.

In Lesotho you have an insect called a praying mantis — stick-like, bright green, and with great bulging eyes. They are rather lovable, despite the off-putting fact that the female practices insect cannibalism; after mating, she consumes the male. So, now you’ve had your zoological primer, here goes.

Two praying mantises are getting up close and personal. The female says to the male: “before we have sex and I bite your head off, could you help me put up some shelves?”

Apologies to female readers, because, as I said, that joke perpetuates a gender stereotype, namely, that women are good with a vacuum cleaner or a dustpan and brush, but hopeless with a hammer and nails.

There are many jokes that are, as it were, much more serious than that. As I rattled on about in a couple of earlier columns, many of these are satirical — jokes that are designed to point a finger at human folly or even wickedness. In another column, titled “Should we laugh?”, I explored the question “is there any subject that should be kept out of the range of humour?”

Well, apparently not, if we take on board the following account of the Warsaw ghetto.

Historical preface first.

The Warsaw ghetto represents one of the worst atrocities in modern history. In November 1940 the genocidal Nazis rounded up all the Jews in Poland’s capital and herded them into a small sector of the city, which they euphemistically, cynically, dubbed the “Jewish Residential District in Warsaw.”

Here nearly half a million Jews were in effect imprisoned, barely subsisting on tiny food rations. An estimated quarter of a million were sent off to the death camps. An uprising against the Nazi captors was brutally crushed. Around 100 000 died of starvation or disease.

Not much to laugh about there, you might say. But then consider the following, which I’ve taken from the New York Review of Books of February 29th this year:

“In the Warsaw Ghetto in October 1941 Mary Berg, then a teenager, wrote in her diary about the improbable persistence of laughter in that hellish place: ‘Every day at the Art Café on Leszno Street one can hear songs and satire on the police, the ambulance service, the rickshaws, and even the Gestapo, [on the latter] in a veiled fashion. The typhoid epidemic itself is the subject of jokes. It is laughter through tears, but it is laughter. This is not our only weapon in the ghetto — our people laugh at death and at the Nazi decrees. Humour is the only thing the Nazis cannot understand.’”

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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