Studying the Muslim Community Post 9/11

The Muslim world has indeed changed after the 9/11 bombing in New York. We may want to ask ourselves, why did it happen? But for me, for me I am more interested to ask, what happened next? To answer this question, I encountered an article by Tony Gaskew, which is entitled, “.  “Are You with the F.B.I.? Fieldwork Challenges in A Post 9/11 Muslim-American Community.” Tony Gaskew is as an ethnographer and criminologist who conducted sixteen months of field research in a Muslim American community in central Florida. The objective of his research is to study the impact of the USA PATRIOT Act, and highlights the unique challenges and obstacles faced by researchers in conducting participant observations or community immersion within Muslim communities in the United States in the aftermath of 9/11.

Maguindanao community in Davao City taken last year's Eidl Adaha

Maguindanao community in Davao City taken last year’s Eidl Adaha

In the article, Tony Gaskew said that, “as was true of many of my law enforcement co-workers, what I knew of Islam was primarily from word-of-mouth, counter terrorism training, and the media. None of these are unbiased or credible sources of information on Islam. I had never gone to a library and conducted research on Islam, read the Qur’an, or even visited a mosque, yet I was making opinions based on my fear and anger. This lack of knowledge and understanding towards Islam ate away at me, creating more of an impact than I ever could have imagined. To fill this intellectual void, on January 2002 I enrolled at Nova Southeastern University to complete my doctoral studies, with the goal of focusing my research agenda on understanding Islam and the events of September 11, 2001. I felt compelled to examine the complexities of Islam from my own perspective as a law enforcement agent.”

With that in mind, I saw some similarities in our local setting. How does our government intelligence system work with regard to the moro problem? Are the people in our police and Armed Forces aware of the importance of applied anthropology and how to do it in their line of work? With the emergence of several theories and the post modernism, the study of Tony Gaskew used more internal participation within the subject community. Thus, he did spend more community immersion to further understand the socio dynamics of the people and the complexities of relationships.

Migration of Muslim groups to cities started since the early 1960s.

Migration of Muslim groups to cities started since the early 1960s.

In the article, Tony also mentioned about “gatekeepers” or people who can actually give him the right contacts to get substantive data. The gatekeepers are important actors or key players in the Muslim communities. In our areas, they may be a local datu, a religious leader, or a field commander of the MNLF or MILF. The socio-political landscape that a gatekeeper works on the community shows the complexities of the relationships of the people. Thus, this shows also the culture and the political discourse that a gatekeeper has to handle. Most of the time, a gatekeeper is someone that the community either respects or fears.

The methodology that he used was participatory observation and he did a number of key informant interviews. His tasks, however, was not that simple. He had conflict within his own identity because he wears a lot of different “hats”, whether he is a criminalogist, a researcher, a professor, or a law enforcer.

But the goo thing in his work is that he was honest right from the start. He mentioned the need to be totally honest with his key respondents. He needed to divulge all information about himself. It was not easy because the Muslims in the area were suspicious of his intent and motive. He was also not allowed to use recorder or even a camera. These gadgets may only worsen the doubts and fear of his subject.

After reading the article, it made me realized that need to have more research and studies on Islam and the Muslims in our areas. At the offset, many Filipinos are still ignorant or lack knowledge about Islam.

In a 2005 Pulse Asia survey which showed that 55% of respondents think that Muslims “are more prone to run amok”, 47% think that Muslims are terrorists or extremists, but majority of the respondents do not have actual engagement with Muslims. The study concluded that “a considerable percentage of Filipinos (33% to 39%) are biased against Muslims.” This is just a tip of the ice berg. If we try to look at the conflict in Mindanao, aside from the CPP NPA NDF, we have the moro rebels that are fighting our government. There is already a peace accord signed last 1996 between our government and the Moro National Liberation Front. Recently, there is another peace agreement on process. This is between our government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Almost four decades have passed, the Philippine government tried its best to resolve the conflict in Mindanao by simply having the mindset that the Mindanao Conflict means that it covers “the socio-economic and political struggle of Muslim leaders among themselves and against intruders into their homeland (starting with the Spaniards about 1600, followed by the Americans 300 years later, and now, with the Manila government and the dominant Christian” settlers from Luzon and Visayas). (  Patricio Diaz, Understanding Mindanao Conflict, 2003.)

Also, the issue that the government is confronting is likely an issue of the Muslims being a Moro and not a Filipino, hence, an issue of political identity or political interest which benefits only the few who have articulated this through arm struggle of the MNLF and the MILF. (Lidasan, 2012)

However, we need to widen our analysis to understand that that the complexities of these identities have in their internal struggle which may be classified into a political (moro) or cultural identity (which may be a Maranao, Tausug, or Maguindanaon) – each having its own importance in their own ways. (Lidasan, 2012)

The government has been dealing with the Moro Problem. This problem forms only a part of the equation of the entirety in ever coming near a solution in Mindanao and for the Muslim Filipinos. It does not address the grievances of Muslim Filipinos in their own struggle to right to self determination – taken in the context of the Moro identity and their struggle against their own corrupt/irresponsible leaders.

Gone are the days when the way of determining as to who wins the battle and the war by counting the number of body bags each day after fire fight. Today, no one wins a war by doing it this way. History of the world shows us that for every soldier or a rebel dies, we expect another two or three more will come and join the group. Thus, it is unending cycle of violence. Violence begets violence.

When can we apply the old principle of Sun Tzu? He has two principles that I admire most. These are:

  • “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
  • “To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

These make more sense when we apply anthropology in our work. But somehow, looking at history of our dealings with the moro rebels, an “all out war” did not work. An “all out peace with justice” may also not work when we do not understand the real causes of the problem. It is like using a “hammer” to kill a fly. It causes more damage from one generation to the other.

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One thought on “Studying the Muslim Community Post 9/11

  1. Pingback: Question 95 – About Oneness, economics and foreign policy | Onenessguy's Weblog

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