Friday, June 06, 2003

The Road to Hell

There's an excellent review at Philippine Commentary of Gracia Burnham's experiences at the hands of the Abu Sayaf. Dean Bocobo says that "It will make you weep". For some, it will have another effect. One of the saddest sights in Isabela, Basilan was the spectacle of people going around with tin cups, trying to raise the equivalent of $300 or $400 to ransom a roadman or public schoolteacher who had been taken hostage by the Islamists. I recall the time I was a guest of a Muslim chieftain in Tawi-tawi. How he opened the gunwales of our outrigger as soon as we were out of sight of land, and brought out guns as a precaution against pirates. Pirates who would cut you, dump you in the ocean and watch the sharks eat you while they stole the two stroke engine. Or the time I came to Jolo to find the entire town torched, as a result of a little misunderstanding between the vice-governor of the island and the mayor of the town.

But my reaction to those commonplaces is as nothing to that provoked by the drivel spouted by peaceniks you find in metropolitan Manila, who will boldly deny that any enmity exists between the Islamists and the non-Muslim Filipinos; nothing that can't be solved by a little conversation; a fact that they learned while quaffing drinks at the Club Dredd or had read in a book by Renato Constantino. It does not make me weep. It makes angry and afraid.

They have no idea what a powder keg Mindanao has become. I had a conversation on a ferry with a woman in her mid-20s who recounted how her little brother, who had just finished elementary school, was kidnapped one afternoon by a band of Islamists. She believed, although I had my doubts, that he had been taken to a secret indoctrination camp in the middle of Basilan where children were forcibly converted to Islam; to be turned on their families to test their loyalty. The conversation took me back 10 years, to a time around a campfire in Zamboanga del Sur, where two men I knew confided, in sotto voce, how they saw the massacre of a whole busload of Muslims, in retaliation for an attack by the Islamists on their own town, when they had slit open the bellies of pregnant women during the rampage.

For  if the Republic of the Philippines will not protect innocent Muslims and Christians against Islamist or bandits simply to ease the sensibilities of the Manila peaceniks, then they will soon turn blindly on each other. No one is surprised to learn from Gracia Burnham that "Muslims don't care if they burn a Christian chapel". Anyway, the newspapers are full of stories about attacks on Catholic Cathedrals, religious processions grenaded, priests and nuns kidnapped for ransom or worse. But what of the day when mosques are burned, imams killed, maddrassas torched. What of the day when man bites dog? Whose responsibility will that be? Would the kumbaya crowd know? Would they care?

Hannah Arendt once spoke of the "banality of evil"; she neglected to mention their stupidity.