WHAT if we look at a violent extremist as a person, a human being, and a “victim”? And not as an enemy. This outlook will give us a different way of addressing the issues and problems on violent extremism.
Take the case of the Rebellion in the movie Rogue One of Starwars franchise where Cassian Andor also known by the aliases Willix, Aach, Joreth Sward, and the title Fulcrum, was a human male soldier, pilot and Intelligence officer who served in the Confederacy of Independent Systems during the Clone Wars and then the Alliance to Restore the Republic during Operation Fracture and the Galactic Civil War. Andor joined the Rebellion at the age of six, and he volunteered to join a rebel mission to steal the plans of the Death Star, a superweapon built by the Galactic Empire. (Yes. I am a Star Wars fan.)
In one of the conversations he had in the movie regarding the rebel “mission impossible” plan, he said, “But I do. I believe you. We'd like to volunteer. Some of us - well, most of us - we've all done terrible things on behalf of the Rebellion. Spies, saboteurs, assassins. Everything I did, I did for the Rebellion. And every time I walked away from something I wanted to forget, I told myself it was for a cause that I believed in. A cause that was worth it. Without that, we're lost. Everything we've done would have been for nothing. I couldn't face myself if I gave up now. None of us could.”
He did horrible things for the Rebellion. He used violence to advance the objective of the Rebellion. He believed he was doing the right thing.
One blogger by name of Nick Edinger wrote, “Instead of straightforward heroes, Rogue One depicts a Rebel Alliance that’s fractured, morally compromised, and honestly not too different from the Empire in some respects”. He is correct in saying that the movie was unusual. The heroes in this movie were portrayed not as a typical hero who is righteous and have done good things in life.
He added, “Some of the subtler nods to the originals are scenes with a similar set-up to an original trilogy counterpart, shot with different pacing and new emotional beats. The best of these is a scene where the Rebels use an octopus-alien on a prisoner to “discuss” the location of their hidden Imperial weapon. The shades of grey are welcome, in particular because it ends up showcasing a striking new look to this universe. The movie sums up the underbelly of this rebellion with a scene wherein the rebels capture the heroes and put bags over their heads… including on the head of the blind guy”. Funny as it may seen, but that is how the heroes in this movie were depicted.
I chose to study and discuss this movie for my article today because it had a message. The movie Rogue 1 may explain one angle of violent extremism and why people are inclined to support or even actively operate in advancing their political ideology through violent means. People believe that they are fighting for a legitimate cause. They are addressing grievances, and they are in search of justice.
I am not in any way justifying or glorifying any violent extremists groups, like Daesh, Isis, Al Qaida, and our local versions of them. I condemn these groups and their ideologies. They are the true enemies of Islam.
However, in our complex universe, we need to recognize and understand why these things happen and why violent extremists tend to do their objectives, follow their leaders, and sustain their violent extremism ideology. Because in understanding them, we transcend from the binary universe of “us’ and “them” or the military vs. the violent extremists. We need to expand our area of influence by having more of the concept of “we” need to work together. Because one expert on extremism said, "Conducting military operations against extremist groups without a broader political plan only deepens the chaos that allows extremism to spread."
Jean-Marie Guéhenno, a Brookings distinguished fellow, emphasized the importance of expanding local partnerships as a way to “disaggregate rather than conflate” extremist movements. This requires that governments “keep lines of communication open to anyone who wants to talk to [them].” Following this line of thought, we need to talk to all groups, not only within our own network and areas of influence.
The most effective way in P/CVE is to value human rights and human dignity. We also need to value our own local community, our neighbors, families, and friends. In our local context, almost everyone is connected by blood/kinship, social and cultural relations. We cannot disregard these connections. Therefore, at some point, if it is still possible, we need to dialogue with the violent extremists (although we cannot take for granted the possibility. Because as I mentioned earlier, some of the violent extremists are actually victims of social injustice. They may have a legitimate grievances that needs to be addressed. They may also be our neighbor, our relatives, or even some are our friends. Thus, the need to have a critical mind to analyze the problem.
Published in the SunStar Davao newspaper on November 15, 2017.
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