by Ishak Mastura

What is really at stake in the Mindanao peace process?  In my last post I told you about the possibility of a “Brave New War” in Mindanao.  Now I want to tell you why the Moro revolutionary fronts are moving to center-stage and a dynamic interaction with the international community is taking place with them as it affects other “war theaters” in the Islamic world.  Based on what CSIS calls “research on research” in my own quest for the link between ethno-nationalist insurgency and transnational violent extremism, here is a preliminary distillation of my research and my own thoughts on the matter.

  1. Ethnic nationalism (such as the Moro narrative of lost sovereignty of the Sulu and Maguindanao Sultanates) is an enduring force in the world and as stated in the article “Us and Them, the Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism” by Jerry Muller (Foreign Affairs, March/April 2008), Americans (and Filipinos for that matter) generally belittle the role of ethnic nationalism in politics but in fact, it corresponds to some enduring propensities of the human spirit, it is galvanized by modernization and in one form or another, it will drive global politics for generations to come. Once ethnic nationalism has captured the imagination of groups in a multiethnic society, ethnic disaggregation or partition is often the least bad answer.
  2. Ethnic conflict stems from deep historical roots. Thus, they ultimately require “political solutions” since the use of military force can never achieve a lasting solution (Stofft, Gen. W. and Guertner, G., Ethnic Conflict: Implications for the Army of the Future, U.S. Army War College, March 14, 1994). At best, military force can only accomplish temporary containment of violence and contribute to an environment that permits the establishment of political conditions or institutions that lead to a more lasting solution (ibid).
  3. There is a need to address the root causes of ethnic conflict based on ethno-nationalist grievances, (i.e. advance a political solution), particularly in Muslim insurgencies, before the hierarchical revolutionary organizations fighting for self-determination can evolve into Fourth Generation War groups, which will mean no political compromise can take place. For example, in Southern Thailand, this has happened after the disintegration of the Patani United Liberation Organization and there is now no particular group with which the government can enter into peace negotiations.
  4. In relation to no. 2, there is an imperative to engage (in peace negotiations or peace-building or other mechanisms for conflict resolution) the non-state actor and ethno-nationalist liberation movement in Muslim insurgencies to arrive at a political compromise before “Chechenization” [1]happens, which can take place at the same time as the evolution of the nationalist armed struggle into Fourth Generation War groups as further Islamist radicalization leads to a more networked structure characteristic of Fourth Generation War groups (Stepanova, E. Terrorism in Assymetrical Conflict: Ideological and Structural Aspects, SIPRI, 2008).
  5. Even before or once the ideology of transnational violent extremism is transplanted or grafted to an ethno-nationalist struggle (i.e. the process of “Chechenization” takes place) such as the Moro insurgency in Mindanao where the Jemaah Islamiyah has made inroads, there are few workable alternatives to using (ethnic) “nationalism” in order to erode the strength of Islamist supranationalism at a national level (ibid). Stepanova states: “The nationalization of transnational violent Islamism can at least make the latter more pragmatic, thus, easier to deal with. Radical nationalism in its different forms seems to be the only ideology that is radical enough for this purpose, especially in the context of an ongoing or recently ended armed confrontation. This role can be effectively played by both the more narrow ethno-separatist movements (such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front) and the broader nationalist resistance movements (such as in Iraq and Palestine). In sum, “nationalism”, especially cross-confessional or multi-ethnic nationalism (such as the Bangsamoro or Moro Nation ideology of the multi-ethnic Moros of Mindanao) is no less a powerful ideology in a local or national context as supranational quasi religious extremism. It can be employed as a way to weaken some of the most dangerous characteristics and erode some of the main comparative advantages of violent Islamism with a global outreach.”
  6. “All possible efforts must be made to turn relatively decentralized terrorist networks into more formal, more streamlined and more hierarchized hybrids. This goal can best be achieved by encouraging the politicization and political transformation of major armed groups that employ terrorist means and the general demilitarization of politics, especially in post-conflict areas. That implies stimulating the armed groups to becoming increasingly politicized and involved in non-militant activities. They should be encouraged to form distinctive and fully fledged political wings (rather than merely civilian ‘front organization’ for fund-raising and propaganda purposes). These political wings could then gradually develop a stake in increasing their legitimization, and so develop into or join political parties and eventually be incorporated into the political process.” (Stepanova, 2008).
  7. The recommendation for policymakers and others to be “proactive” about ethnopolitical conflicts and to view the effect of “delegitimation” of ethno-nationalist struggles as escalating into “catastrophic terrorism” (with the Islamist variety as its most dangerous manifestation) is not new advice; indeed, it even predates 9/11. Ehud Sprinzak (1991), for instance, argued nearly 15 years ago that: terrorism does not exist in isolation and that as a form of human behavior it is integrally linked to the normal world. Rebel terrorism … is a direct behavioral extension of non-terroristic opposition politics. It is the most dramatic part of a longer political process of delegitimation undergone by an opposition movement vis-a-vis the regime. Only a small splinter fraction of the opposition movement reaches terrorism, which is the highest peak of the process, and it usually does not stay terroristic too long. The full story of terrorism is therefore not simply the climax of the radicalization process, in which terrorist practice is resorted to by a small group, but the process of delegitimation in its entirety (emphasis in original) (p. 50). In other words: The main policy implication of this conclusion is that effective anti-terrorist policy may be initiated long before the actual appearance of terrorism. If terrorism is the highest stage of a long process of delegitimation, then the prudent policy-maker does not have to wait until all the conditions for the emergence of terrorism are present. We may act much earlier to either stop the radicalization that produces terrorism or be prepared for its upsurge (emphasis added) (ibid., pp. 67-68).”

[1] There (Chechnya), the national liberation struggle of a securalized Muslim population, inspired by a rich historical legacy of quests for self-determination, was taken over from within by Islamist-Jihadists – transforming the liberation struggle into a regional anti-Russian terrorist jihad (Bodansky, Y.Chechen Jihad, Al-Qaeda’s Training Ground and the Next Wave of Terror, HarperCollins, New York, 2007).