War On Terror

But only Muslim terrorists need fear the wrath of Bush

by Eric Margolis
Contributing Foreign Editor – Toronto Sun

January 20, 2002

The long-awaited second act of U.S. President George Bush's worldwide "war against terrorism" opened last week with the official announcement that 650 U.S. troops would conduct "military exercises" in the southern Philippines against the Muslim rebel movement, Abu Sayyaf.

In fact, this column has learned U.S. troops have secretly been conducting operations with the Philippine military against Abu Sayyaf since last fall. Again, the U.S. is getting embroiled in a complex region about which very little is known.

This is the second time in just over 100 years U.S. troops are in action against the Moros, or Muslims of the southern Philippines. After the U.S. ousted Spain from the Philippines in 1901, and it became an American colony, the Moro sultanates of Mindanao and Sulu resisted fiercely, as they had fought the Spanish occupiers for 350 years.

When the U.S. finally conquered the southern Philippines, the colonial government moved large numbers of Christian settlers into the southern Philippines in order to undermine Moro nationalism.

But the region, and its six million Muslims, remain apart and distinct from the rest of the 71 million Christian Filipinos.

In the 1960s and '70s, Christian settlers, backed by Manila, began pushing into the economically backward, long-neglected south, driving out Muslims in a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Civil war erupted; Muslim farmers fought back.

During the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippine Army and gangs of paramilitary thugs killed an estimated 50,000 Muslims from 1969-71 – without a peep of protest from Marcos' American sponsors.

Two years later, the Moro National Liberation Front was formed in response to Marcos' imposition of martial law. The MNLF, which was financed by Libya, called for an independent Muslim state – Bangsomoro. Three years of heavy fighting between the MNLF and the U.S.-armed Manila regime left over 100,000 Muslims dead; 250,000 were driven from their homes. The world again ignored this massacre.

In the mid-1970s, Libya brokered a peace between Manila, the MNLF, and a breakaway group, the MILF. The MNLF leader, Nur Misuari, joined the government, and rebel forces were integrated into the national army. The Muslim regions of the southern Philippines were granted autonomy.

But in 1996, a breakaway separatist faction, Abu Sayyaf, rejected the peace accords with Manila and waged a guerrilla war from the jungles of the southern islands. Originally a militant Islamic group battling for independence, in recent years, Abu Sayyaf has turned increasingly to banditry. It is holding two U.S. missionaries captive – shades of the Taliban.

Abu Sayyaf is a criminal, not terrorist, problem. But president Gloria Arroyo went to Washington and claimed Abu Sayyaf and other Muslim groups were "linked to Osama bin Laden." This pushed Washington's hot button and immediately got Manila $100 million in U.S. aid and military assistance.

Bin Laden's al-Qaida did have some supporters in the Philippines and occasionally used safe houses in Manila. But to claim Abu Sayyaf or Nur Misuari's MNLF were close allies of bin Laden is a stretch. Misuari did resume fighting before Christmas, but this was due to murky factional disputes within his organization, provoked by Manila's attempts to undermine his authority. He fled to Malaysia and was promptly arrested.

The troubles in the southern Philippines are not what the West terms terrorism, as President Arroyo claimed, but the result of centuries of land disputes, the denial of equal rights to the Bangsomoro Muslims and tribal disputes.

But in Washington's new world view, any Muslims seeking independence – whether in Kashmir, Chechnya, Palestine, or Mindanao – are ipso facto terrorists. However, in East Timor the U.S. and its allies aided the Christian majority in seceding from Muslim Indonesia and winning independence. In short, a clear double standard.

The $100 million-plus Washington is giving Manila to fight "terrorism" would be far better spent on education and economic improvement in the impoverished south. Instead, U.S. aid will be stolen by government and military officials, or spent chasing a small number of Abu Sayyaf bandits through the jungles of Basilan Island.

Interestingly, the U.S. is ignoring the long-running insurgency in the north by HUK communist guerrillas, who are every bit as nasty as Abu Sayyaf. It seems terrorism, in Bush's terms, applies only to Muslims.


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