Tuesday, March 15, 2005

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I'm can't reply to comments due to the extremely slow performance of Blogger, but the posting works a little better.

Baron Bodissey said...

The tactics the terrorists used -- the assault into the teargas, the fire and smoke, the locking up of the other prisoners -- were they something learned at jihad school, at the al-Qaeda camps, maybe? Or were they ad-hoc?

I don't know whether any of this is standard Jihadi doctrine. My guess is they're ad hoc. Philippine prisons are some of the weirdest places on earth. Greg Sheridan has an article in National Interest, the Jihad Archipelago, in which he makes these revealing remarks about the Philippines, the Abu Sayyaf and its principal ally, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The Philippines is the strangest nation in Southeast Asia and the one with the strongest  Islamic extremist movement. It is predominantly Catholic (though with strong mystical influences) and more American than anywhere else in the region. Hispanic in political culture, it is schizophrenic at many levels of national identity.

The MILF is a very strange beast ... State Department officials would like to list it as a terrorist  organization but don't because that would torpedo the peace process, such as  it is. ... MILF-controlled areas of the south provide both the training camps and  the vital rest and recreation hinterland for the region's Islamist  terrorists, especially JI operatives from Indonesia ... there is no doubt that they have  provided, and continue to provide, training camps for JI terrorists. This  allows JI to constantly replenish its stocks through new training programs ...

At the  same time, corrupt members of the Philippines armed forces have aided the  MILF. ...  The papers described in shocking detail the involvement of the Philippines  navy in dozens of incidents of seaborne smuggling of military and other  supplies to the MILF.  A smaller Islamist terrorist outfit, the Abu Sayyaf group, is ... much more overtly linked to Al-Qaeda, and among its leaders  are veterans of the Afghan war against the Soviet Union. The broader picture in the southern Philippines is of the failure of the  state. Substantial Philippines military operations, backed at times by  hundreds of U.S. troops in a so-called "advisory" role, have made little  progress against either Abu Sayyaf or the MILF. Until its military becomes  more effective, and numerous other arms of the state can deliver the  services and order they are supposed to, the prospect is for more of the  same. In many ways it is the most disturbing piece in the Southeast Asian  jigsaw.

All of which you would have guessed from reading bits and pieces of the Belmont Club but Greg Sheridan puts it together in a respectable and scholarly way. Philippines prisons are places where inmates devote nearly limitless ingenuity to devising mind-boggling schemes. It's a place where inmates implant plastic pellets in their Johnsons using razor blades, merthiolate and ignorance; it's a place where inmates have passed messages to each other using cockroaches tethered to thread; it's a place where people play a game of 'attract the fly' by betting on which coin a fly will choose to light upon in the toilets. It's a place where your life depends on your shiv and the guys you've chosen as your friends. Poetry has been written and forgotten within its walls. It is a place of closely held ritual, where by tradition all prisoners beat their cups against the bars when a man is led to the electric chair. It is as alien to the Philippine ruling elite as the surface of Mars.

I can imagine the Abu Sayyaf assaulting the police raiders in the teargas clouds, running with that peculiar comedic gait characteristic of people sprinting in flip-flops, lighting up the mattresses with a spluttering match possessed with the indomitable spirit of Bahala Na (I don't give a damn) and the cops shooting them down in the same part. One day, after the action has died down in the Middle East, popular culture may turn its attention to the Second Front against terror in Southeast Asia. Instead of the desert the images will be of small boats flitting among islets under a whitening moon and of strange chases in stinking cities between grotesques that would do justice to the Army of Darkness. Kipling would have been the writer of choice to capture the atmosphere, only he is seventy years dead.