The conflict in the southern Philippine city of Marawi has ended. The troops have gone back to their barracks. The terrorist fighters were either killed or have scampered away. The end of the fighting does not, however, mean the end of the conflict. It will only mean the continuation of our struggle as a Moro people, now made more difficult by the resurgence of terror groups in the region. The difficulty is all the more felt when one hears of assumptions about how the youth is especially vulnerable to violent extremism. Young people are supposedly more impressionable, easily entertain ideas, and are raring to act on injustices, even espouse violence to attain justice. Terrorists claim that they commit acts of violence in the name of Islam. But these acts are a betrayal of our faith as Muslims. This is why our religious leaders in Mindanao have taken their rightful place at the forefront of the fight against terrorism. In the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the Regional Darul Ifta has long asserted that "Islam cannot approve criminal and terrorist practices because attacking innocent people, robbing them of their money, unjustly taking their lives ... are forbidden in Islam or in our Islamic law." Despite the efforts of religious leaders, local terror groups continue to find ways to manipulate circumstances and conflate violence with the active resistance of our people for our right to self-determination.
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The events that unfolded in Marawi were not part of a movement for the recognition of the rights of the Moro people in Mindanao. It was part of the global violence being waged by terrorists against humanity, including the Muslim community. The idea that violent extremism adheres to Islamic principles is a lie, especially when it threatens and harms the community. But peddling a lie has become easy for our local terror groups. They take advantage of the many injustices that continue to permeate the lives of the Bangsamoro people. Violent extremism and terrorism have slowly become an option for some Moro people in Mindanao who have become frustrated over a continued lack of commitment by the government to the peace process in the region. Until the government delivers on its promises to the Bangsamoro people, groups that espouse violent extremism will continue to thrive in the region. Aside from the implementation of a peace deal in Mindanao, there is also a need to address our past and to craft a more inclusive narrative that explores the root causes of conflict. Questions about nationhood and self-determination can only be answered by a historical narrative that recognizes and acknowledges the narratives of minorities in the Philippines. Despite the many efforts that are geared toward addressing discrimination and prejudice, the mere mention of Islam continues to prompt images of violence and chaos in the minds of common Filipinos. In our current educational system, the Bangsamoro is often misrepresented, if not entirely erased from the discussion. The ideas that many Filipinos have about the Bangsamoro and Mindanao are often burdened with a history of prejudice. It was not until recently that a law was passed mandating the inclusion of a better narrative of Mindanao’s history in the country's school curriculum in the hope of helping more Filipinos understand the struggles of those who live in the southern part of the country. We have already taken some of the very important and necessary steps toward addressing the injustices that have been committed against the Bangsamoro for centuries. However, with the rise of violent extremists who are sowing terror in the hearts and minds of our people, we need to reinforce our commitment toward justice and peace. We need to take bigger and bolder steps together to make it impossible for extremists to take advantage of the Muslim youth. We must take action that is true to the commitments we have long expressed in the peace process between the government and the Moro people. Our national government must take action toward affirming the Bangsamoro’s right to self-determination and not just make the same promises over and over again. Our regional government, together with our religious leaders, must take action in reiterating and affirming the values of Islam in the hearts and minds of our people. Our youth must be constantly committed in studying our history and ensuring the integrity of our communities and not be enticed by the promise of false revolutionaries. The constant threat of terrorism will not easily disappear, and it is only through collective action that we can prevent this threat from becoming our constant reality. Amir Mawallil is a Moro human rights activist from the southern Philippine region of Mindanao. He heads the Office on Bangsamoro Youth Affairs in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.