IN DAVAO City, young Muslim men and women have joined several series of conversations to discuss the issues and concerns of the Ummah in Mindanao. These discussions focus on the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) on tolerance, justice and respect to human dignity.
The youth today recognizes that the drivers of joining violent extremist groups have different factors. These factors may involve perceived oppression, marginalization, and lack of concrete government engagement.
Based on our studies, some of these vulnerable youth join the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) or ISIS-inspired Maute Group as a way to pursue their twisted ideas of jihad as a political ideology. Another reason is to address historical injustices, to have a sense of belongingness. There are some who joined these groups because of monetary consideration, and there are others who joined because of fear.
In the past several years, our government’s responses to extremist groups are mainly focused on military force. This approach merely addresses the symptoms of the problem, rather than addressing the root causes. As a result, these problems further aggravate tensions and trigger more youth to support these violent extremist groups.
The Al Qalam Institute of the Ateneo de Davao University, in partnership with the Salaam Movement, is continuously conducting our own series of Bitiala (conversation) with the youth in Mindanao. Our objective is to empower young people to prevent and counter violent extremism.
Fatima Star Lamalan, Salaam Movement project coordinator said, “The Bitiala Series, although already conducted a good number of times with diverse audiences and participants, provides a platform, this time, for Muslim Students Association members from Davao-based colleges and universities, for conversations and ways of making the youth realize that they are a part of the solution to this long-standing problem, especially in Mindanao.”
During the most recent session of the Bitiala Series, issues that were more Davao-specific have been thoroughly discussed and reviewed. Having been attended by more or less 15 AdDU MSA members and 7 outside-AdDU MSA members and officers, the session was open-ended and was conducted without a definite format. This helps to make the participants be more open about their views, opinions, and sentiments, thus building a more comfortable environment for discussion.
Below are some of the responses from the participants in the Bitiala series: “Living alone during my college days in Davao used to be a wild thought for me, but when I came to know about Salam – the brothers and sisters I found through it – I found a family, and it made adjusting to this new world a lot easier. It made me find a balance between my worldly affairs and my faith, and for that, I will always be grateful. It saddens me to come to realize that no matter how secured we think we are, there still are these forces to prevent from influencing us, which makes us all the more responsible of protecting not just ourselves, but our new-found home.” - Former Inter-School Muslim Organization President from University of Mindanao
“In our case in Davao City as member of youth-led organizations, I think it is best to really act on the things that we can do to the best of our capacity – our being “young” should not hold us from being productive individuals who, in the near future, will be the “capable ones” which we always think we are not. Truth is, the youth is such a state when we are more empowered, when our ideas can either make or break our future. Investing on the youth even in ways as subtle as this Bitiala session, is already of great help to the prevention – good thing that here in Davao, we don’t have to counter it yet – negative radicalization.” – Grade 12 SHS Student of the Ateneo de Davao University and President of Salam AdDU SHS Unit.
Our nation must come up with a meaningful response at all levels to prevent and counter violent extremism. The youth will always find ways to define their identity and sense of belongingness. They will keep on challenging the status quo and they will demand new ideas and a more effective system of governance. As of now, our Bitiala series provides space for our youth to voice out their concerns. It gives them a platform to be our partners in designing and implementing relevant policies, programs and activities to address violent extremism.