Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Siocon 2003

A linnet who had lost her way
Sang on a blackened bough in Hell,
Till all the ghosts remembered well
The trees, the wind, the golden day.
-- James Elroy Flecker

Philippine Commentary has called for action against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), whose men burned and looted the town of Siocon, Zamboanga del Sur, Philippines in a pre-dawn attack on May 4, 2003, killing over two dozen people, while in the midst of "peace negotiations" with the Philippine Government. It is tempting to think of  the MILF operatives as illiterate yokels who attacked by mistake, as Alex Magno of the Philippine Star does. Doubtless many of them are.

But at the highest levels, the MILF are well-connected international combatants playing a dangerous game. It is instructive to examine the biography of it's leader. Hashim Salamat, aka Salamat Hashim. This biography was published in the Call of Islam and reprinted at the Federation of American Scientists.

Salamat Hashim was born on 7th July, 1942 in the Municipality of Pagalungan, Maguindano. He comes from a religious family of seven. Salamat's first teacher was his mother. It was through her tutorship and guidance that at the age of six he could read the Holy Qur'an and memorised many of its verses. At the age of six he started formal education, finishing his elementary education in 1954 with honours and his secondary education in 1958 also with honours. From internal textual evidence, this biogrpahy of Hashim Salamat was written by a person probably educated in Europe or the Middle East, with it's tradition of British English. Anglicisms such as "honours" and "memorised" abound.
In 1958, Salamat joined the pilgrims from the Philippines for Hajj. He took this opportunity to stay behind and study in Makkah under the care of Sheikh Zawawi. He attended regularly the halaqat held at the Masjid al Haram and enrolled at the Madrasat as-Sulatiyah ad-Diniyah. Salamat would have been 16 in 1958 and to have sojourned in Mecca and to have studied at a halaqat indicates that he was either wired or extraordinarily enterprising. Some sources suggest Salamat came from an upper class Maguindanaon family.


Halaqat =The basic format of mosque education was the study circle,  is defined as `a gathering of people seated in a circle,’ or, `gathering of students around a teacher.

In 1959, he went to Cairo, which at that time was the centre of political activism in the Middle East. There, he enrolled at Al-Azhar University. He graduated from al-Azhar's Ma'had al-Buhuth al-Islamiyyah as-Sanawiyyah in 1963, then enrolling at al-Azhar's college of Theology for a bachelor's degree program majoring in Aqeedah and Philosophy and graduated in 1967. Pursuing his scholastic inclination further, he took up his postgraduate courses in the same university and finished his master's degree in 1969. He completed the academic requirements for a doctoral degree, but was unable to write his dissertation because he had to return to the Philippines by then to organise the Moro revolutionary movement.

Salamat was an active student leader. His active participation to different student activities exposed him to various revolutionary trends, both Islamic and Secular, which Cairo was known for at that period. This exposure brought him awareness of the colonial oppression his Muslim brothers and sisters were suffering back home, an awareness which gradually transformed him from a scholar to an Islamic revolutionary.

Among the student organisations he took part in are the Philippine Muslim Student Association and the Organisation of Asian Students in Cairo. He was elected President of the former and Secretary-General of the latter.

While in Cairo, he clandestinely organised a core group among the Bangsamoro Muslim students who planned the Bangsamoro revolution in the early sixties. To finance their early activities, each member contributed half of his meager allowance to a common fund.

It is interesting to note that amongst the revolutionary Muslim thinkers who influenced Salamat, two Muslim personalities made a lasting impression on him: Syed Qutb and Syed Abul A'la Maududi. It was, however, Syed Qutb's writings which shaped his Islamic outlook and political beliefs. The impact that Syed Qutb and Maududi made on him was what inspired him to plant the seeds of Islamic revolution in the Bangsamoro homeland.

Known but to a few, Salamat was the one responsible for covertly arranging the military training of the first batch of cadres (Batch 90) that was to become the military core group of the Moro National Liberation Front. Working with a prominent political leader, he laid the groundwork for the organisation of the Bangsamoro armed struggle.


At the time Salamat was in Egypt, it was convulsed by the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood, a clandestine organization. Many of its members had started terrorist activity in World War 2.

The Al-Azhar University is a Sunni Muslim institution, which describes itself as concerned "with the religious syllabus, which pays special attention to the Quranic sciences and traditions of the prophet, on the one hand, while on the other, university teaches all the modern scientific fields of science ." It is the Islamic university.

Syed Qutb was a name to conjure with in Egyptian political circles. He emphasized that Islam was a "complete way of life" and opposed the secularization of Egptian life under Nasser, for which he was imprisoned.

Maulana Syed Abul A’la Maududi, was born in south India. He founded the Jamaat-e-Islami, which has a large number of adherents in the Indian subcontinent. The Pakistani and subcontinental connection may have it's roots here.

It was called Batch 90 after the original cadre of 90, who under Nur Misuari, trained under Malaysian Army officers in Pulao Pangkor Island in Sabah, Malaysia.


It is fairly obvious that Hashim Salamat is no yokel. He spent over 10 years in Egypt in a setting which would have enabled him to meet many of the movers and shakers of the terrorist world. He had contacts on the subcontinent and into the Arabian peninsula -- in 1999, he is said to have admitted to receiving “significant funding” from Osama bin Laden. "As many as several hundred MILF members from Mindanao are believed to have trained at al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan, and to have established ties with al-Qaida commanders."

Nor is he short of regional connections. Batch 90 trained in Malaysia presumably under the guidance of intelligence officers who should now be very senior personages in Kuala Lumpur. From there, right across the causeway, to the Lion City. A number of the Jemaah Islamiah members arrested in Singapore in 2000 admitted to having trained at MILF camps, while one of the al-Qaida “consultants” who advised the Singapore cell had formerly worked as an explosives expert for the MILF." Jemaah Islamiah has been tied to the Bali attack on hundreds of Australian backpackers, this time in Indonesia.

It is extremely difficult for an outsider to understand that, in some respects, the Islamic world represents an alternative universe, which is complete and wholly encompassing. In Hashim Salamat and his senior leader's view, the realm of the faithful is doomed to struggle against the world of the infidel or kuffar, until the infidel is subjugated. It is the inbred observers in Manila bars and their collegiala interlocutors, not Hashim Salamat, who have seen too little of the world to sense the shadow which now looms outside their gates.

To expect a man like Hashim Salamat to chuck it all in in exchange for a pathetic sinecure in the Philippine Government, after being buttered up by a plate of halal pancit bihon is probably too much to ask. But it is precisely what the "peace lobby" in the Philippine expects. Philippine Commentary is right. The time is fast approaching when Filipinos may have to make a choice between killing and war.

"Do not suppose that this is the end. It is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first taste of a bitter cup that will be proffered to us year by year ... " -- Winston Churchill, 1938