Thursday, January 17, 2008

On the Edge of the Crescent

I recently read a short article on Southeast Asian Muslims and the prejudice and injustice they continue to face simply because they are Muslim, which have made me realize how little I know about that region and community. And of course every now and then we hear something about the Muslim 'insurgents' in the Phillipenes which I never know what to make of.

Then this PBS report came my way. I still have many unanswered questions but I think the report (slideshow + interview) is a great introduction.

What makes it more interesting is that it was prepared by a young, fresh-out-of-college photographer...who says fresh grads can't change the world?

Check out slideshow here, and full interview here...excerpts below:

Mimi Chakarova: Tell me how you started this project in 2001. Why the southern Philippines?
Ryan Anson: My path to Mindanao was fairly meandering. I went to the Philippines straight out of college, in the year 2000. My parents had been living there since ’98, and after making a few trips during the holidays, I thought it would be a pretty cool place to start freelancing from. It was during that time that the war with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front began. It started in April 2000, and I was actually finishing my last semester of school. My mother was mailing me newspaper articles about the southern Philippines, and I was reading about war and displacement, Muslims and Christians -- I didn’t know what all of it meant. I hadn’t really been exposed to conflict before. I’d lived in several other countries, had traveled and photographed in different environments but not in a place where there was war. So, I went to Manila and made a trip down [south], actually with my father, and visited a rebel camp. This was a year prior to the wars, and I met some former insurgents who had been fighting the government for 30 years.

What were you hoping to document?
I was very much interested in the secessionist struggle that the Muslims in the Philippines had been waging for 30 years. They are a viable community, made up of 5 million people, and have pretty much gotten the shaft by the government since independence in the 1940s. But their oppression dates back earlier, to the Spanish times centuries ago. I wanted to understand why they are struggling and using arms, what they want…. Photography enabled me to explore these questions.

What do you think is the driving force behind the conflict?
There are many engines driving the conflict. Filipino Muslims and Thai Muslims don’t feel like they’re Thai and Filipino, which is sort of the irony. People in Manila or Bangkok say, “the Muslims in the south are part of our country; they are our brothers.” But [the Muslims] don’t feel part of the nation, and the government hasn’t done much to make them feel included. They follow a different religion – they believe in Islam. The majority of Thais are Buddhist; the majority of Filipinos are Catholic. The Thai monarchy and the Spanish colonial powers in the Philippines used arms to prevent Muslims from practicing their faith and that went on for centuries. So there is a fair amount of anger and a number of legitimate grievances that both Muslims in southern Thailand and the Philippines have. Both areas are intensely poor; they’ve been neglected by the central government…development funds go to the capital regions or other provinces. Somehow [the funds] do not end up in Muslim parts of the respective countries.

Continue here

(Hijab tip:
Sabeen Shaiq)

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