Ask anyone about how to end terrorism and you will get answers almost instantly.
Many would say a better socioeconomic climate which provides more opportunities can help curb terrorism. Others would say a better educational system is essential because it lessens the vulnerability of those who might be recruited by extremists. There are those who would say a stronger offensive by state forces is crucial, and law enforcement operations in places known to be hideouts of terror groups must be relentless.
These answers all make sense and these are the very same answers we’ve always heard not only from our peers, but from government itself. And yet the threat of terrorism continues to persist in our shores, with the youth among the most vulnerable sectors.
What many fail to mention in the discussion of terrorism and its roots, however, is justice. Economics, education, and enforcement all have something to do not only with keeping peace and order in our communities, but with ensuring justice for all. Without justice, we risk a future where our narratives lack recognition – let alone resolution – leaving the youth with a future plagued with more questions than answers.
And these unanswered questions mean vulnerability.
One of the many questions that haunt a young person these days is the question of purpose. Too often, many among the youth are left thinking about what they are meant to do in life, constantly searching for their life’s calling. Sometimes, even if they do think they have figured out their calling, there are few opportunities for them to pursue it.
In the past few months, as the head of the regional government’s youth agency, I’ve had the chance to talk to some of our youth leaders here in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). In all my conversations with them, I was reminded of how the things we know affect those who actually experience them.
Both the regional and national government have been working towards providing better and more relevant social services to the youth in recent years. Programs hoping to provide more accessible education, opportunities for employment, and livelihood programs have been rolled out with promising results.
Of course, all this is part of a broader campaign for just peace and sustainable development in the region. The Bangsamoro peace process is now in the implementation phase, as a new basic law for the proposed Bangsamoro region is being drafted.
And yet, despite all these efforts, the question of justice for our people still lingers.
The question of justice is too easily linked to the question of purpose, with the youth bearing the weight of the history of injustices against our people. While many Filipinos may think that these acts of injustice against our people have abated, the Bangsamoro youth are quick to realize that injustice has only taken other, more insidious forms.
In matters of economy, our youth often face discrimination and prejudice. The mere mention of Mindanao prompt questions regarding violence and chaos, and all the more when one is a Muslim. In matters of education, our youth often confront misrepresentation and erasure. Whatever understanding Filipinos have of Mindanao and Muslims are tainted with bias and judgment, both of which present obstacles to mutual recognition and respect. In matters of law enforcement, a number of our youth have fallen victim to illegal detention or arrest. For Mindanaon youth, especially those who are from the Bangsamoro, the mere spelling or sound of their name can lead to suspicion, never mind that they have no prior records of illegal activity.
I’m afraid that these injustices do make it easier for terrorism to take root in our region, with radicals trying to recruit new members among the youth, echoing the promise of fighting for a cause – a life of purpose. However, this promise is nothing but a lie.
Together with the Bangsamoro youth, we must stand against these injustices in the same way we stand against terrorism in our country. As long as these injustices remain, the threat of terror will not end. We can only put an end to terrorism if we consciously make an effort to correct the injustices so many Filipinos fail to ignore, and we can only succeed if we continuously and constantly engage in meaningful discussion and collective action.
It is easy to condemn terror. The real challenge lies in changing the conditions in which terror thrives.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.