Philippine president visits site of farmers’ killing as activists demand action

Duterte on Tuesday visited the site where nine farmers were killed while occupying part of a sugar plantation. (Reuters)
Updated 23 October 2018
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Philippine president visits site of farmers’ killing as activists demand action

  • Nine farmers were killed while occupying part of a sugar plantation in the city of Sagay in central Philippines
  • The killings are the latest in the country that is the deadliest in Asia for land and environmental activists, according to Global Witness

BANGKOK: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday visited the site where nine farmers were killed while occupying part of a sugar plantation, according to campaigners who have criticized the government for failing to protect land rights activists.
Two minors were among those killed on Saturday night in Negro Occidental province’s Sagay City, according to the Philippines National Police, which said it was investigating reports that gunmen opened fire on the farmers.
The National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) said the farmers had been staging “bungkalan,” or collective cultivation of idle farmland that they had occupied.
“Bungkalan reflects the failure of the government’s land reform program and the landlords’ refusal to distribute land to the tillers,” the NFSW said in a statement.
The land was earmarked for redistribution under the government’s agrarian reform program, but the plantation owner had used a private security force to intimidate the farmers, according to NFSW.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement that Duterte was “deeply perturbed” by the killings, and had ordered “a thorough and impartial investigation.”
Mike Concepcion, a campaigner with the rights group Bayan Negros in Sagay City, said Duterte visited the spot where the farmers were murdered, and was scheduled to meet with their families in City Hall where the coffins have been placed.
While the president’s visit is “unprecedented,” it does not negate the fact that the government has failed to implement agrarian reform, and protect farmers and activists, said Christina Palabay of the rights group Karapatan.
“We have demanded a genuine agrarian reform program to ensure redistribution of agricultural land and adequate support for farmers,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We are conducting our own fact-finding mission, but we are not confident that these perpetrators will be brought to justice,” she said.
Land reform has long been a contentious issue in the Philippines, where a lasting legacy of Spanish colonial rule is a concentration of ownership — including of farmland — among a wealthy few.
The agrarian reform program, known as CARP, was enacted in 1988, with an aim to reduce inequality and alleviate poverty. Its deadline has been extended several times.
Of a total area of 5.4 million hectares under CARP’s scope, the government has distributed 4.8 million hectares as of December 2017, according to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
But activists say officials accepted thousands of fraudulent claims, and that allocated land remains with private owners and corporations who refuse to honor titles issued by DAR.
The killings are the latest in the country that is the deadliest in Asia for land and environmental activists, according to UK-based advocacy group Global Witness.
Hundreds of farmers have also been arrested, and at least 172 killed since Duterte took office in 2016, according to peasants’ group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).
“The climate of the country is not favorable for farmers and for land and environmental defenders,” said Palabay.
“We are in grave danger.”


Tony Blair: UK Muslim activist groups promote ‘extremist world view’ 

Updated 18 January 2019
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Tony Blair: UK Muslim activist groups promote ‘extremist world view’ 

  • Organizations stir up resentment by portraying Muslims in Britain as victims and alienated, report finds
  • Divisive ideas about the place of Muslims in the West are "threatening social cohesion"

LONDON: Former British prime minister Tony Blair has accused some Muslim organizations in Britain of spreading views that often mirror those of extremists. 

While they are non-violent, such groups stir up resentment by portraying Muslims in Britain as victims, alienated from British society and in constant conflict with the non-Muslim world. 

Most disturbingly, they “promote a worldview that significantly overlaps with that of a proscribed Islamist extremist organisation, Al-Muhajiroun” - a banned group which does espouse violence.

The allegations appear in a report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change - the think tank Blair founded after leaving office - and names four groups: CAGE, Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK and Islamic Human Rights Commission.

The report identifies six “key themes” shared by all four groups: Victimization, opposition between “good” and “bad” Muslims, opposition between Islam and the West, a delegitimization of the government, making Islam central to national politics and justification of violence.

“There is a range of views on these six themes, with differing degrees of severity from mainstream to extreme,” the report says. Of the four, Hizb ut-Tahrir comes close to sharing Al-Muhajiroun’s stance on violence. 

Banned since 2000, Al-Muhajiroun notoriously dubbed those  behind the Sept. 11 attacks “the Magnificent 19” and several of the group’s adherents have perpetrated other atrocities. 

The report warns that such a “corrosive narrative” promoting divisiveness between Muslims and non-Muslims can only embolden the far right and calls on the UK government to establish “a working definition of extremism” by identifying the key ideas that would “flag up” potential danger.

“Divisive ideas about the place of Muslims in the West are threatening social cohesion in Britain today,” said the former prime minister, who went on to serve as a special Middle East envoy. 

Tony Blair said divisive ideas about the place of Muslims in the West are threatening social cohesion. (AFP)

“Countering and recognizing this is an essential part of fighting extremism because - let us be clear - there is nothing incompatible between being British and being Muslim. But too many people, Muslims and non-Muslims, actively push messages that suggest otherwise.”

 The result, he said, was a “skewed discourse” in which fringe views dominate because moderate voices are afraid to speak out. Blair also accused  UK politicians of giving up on the discussion.

“Many Muslims in the UK hear more from divisive groups about how there is a security state set up to oppress them than they hear from our national leaders about how communities and policymakers can work together to build a thriving, inclusive Britain,” he said.

“Often when people think of this challenge, they focus entirely on violent, jihadi groups. Yet, as this report shows, many of the central ideas that British Muslims are hearing today from some activist groups are worryingly similar to the ideology of violent extremist groups.”

The Home Office (interior ministry) of the UK government describes Hizb ut-Tahrir as a “radical, but to date non-violent Islamist group” that “holds anti-semitic, anti-western and homophobic views.” Almost all the articles on the Hizb ut-Tahrir website portray Muslims as oppressed and bullied. Some articles are clearly anti-Saudi in tone and content.

CAGE was founded as an advocacy service to raise awareness of the plight of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay during and after the War on Terror. Its outreach director, Moazzam Beg was himself held in Guantanamo Bay for two years before being released without charge. However critics have labelled CAGE “apologists for terrorism,” a “terrorism advocacy group,” propagators of a “myth of Muslim persecution” and “a front for Taliban enthusiasts and Al-Qaeda devotees that fraudulently presents itself as a human rights group.”

The British-born Daesh extremist Mohammed Emwazi, nicknamed Jihadi John, who was filmed beheading hostages had been in contact with CAGE while in the UK, complaining that he was being harassed by British intelligence agencies.

Responding to the Blair Institute report, CAGE called it “an academically flawed attempt to remould Islamic belief and silence Muslim voices that challenge repressive state policies,” and dismissed the former prime minister as “commonly known for being funded by despots.”

CAGE research director Asim Qureshi said: “It’s unsurprising, considering Tony Blair’s penchant for misinformation that his organization would use seriously flawed methodology in order to draw false conclusions.”

Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has held consultative status with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs since 2007. However it has also been described as “a radical Islamist organisation that uses the language of human rights to promote an extremist agenda including the adoption of sharia law” and “neo-Khomeinist.” 

The Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK encourages tactical voting in elections to dislodge members of parliament who support policies which it considers not be in Muslims’ interest. In 2005, the MPACUK targeted Lorna Fitzsimmons, a Labour MP for Rochdale, a town in north-west England with a large Muslim population, printing leaflets that claimed she had done nothing to help the Palestinian cause because she was Jewish. She is not and the group later apologized.

Former home secretary Jack Straw, whose parliamentary seat in Blackburn also has a large Muslim population, called the group “egregious” after it campaigned for Muslims to oust him. 

Azmina Siddique, policy adviser at the Tony Blair Institute, said: “The groups studied in this report don’t represent what most British Muslims think…This isn’t about violent extremism but about sowing division. This ‘us versus them’ rhetoric is becomingly increasingly visible across our society, including from the far right. Policymakers and civil society must start to challenge rhetoric that falls into this grey space between activism and extremism so that we can tackle the increasingly toxic climate that is feeding into extremism.”

Arab News asked the three other UK groups to comment on the report but none of them responded.