Philippine separatist leaders’ embrace hints at thaw in ties

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces at their camp. (Shutterstock)
Updated 02 October 2019

Philippine separatist leaders’ embrace hints at thaw in ties

  • Philippines top Muslim separatist leaders, who have been at odds for decades, on Monday shook hands and embraced each other

MANILA: In another historic moment in the Philippines’ quest to bring lasting peace to Mindanao, the country’s top Muslim separatist leaders, who have been at odds for decades, on Monday shook hands and embraced each other.

The warm exchange between Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chair Nur Misuari and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Murad Ibrahim, who is now interim chair of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, came as the two Muslim revolutionary leaders crossed paths at the culmination of the National Peace Month celebrations.

The event, broadcast live on social media, was hosted by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, which was also celebrating its 26th anniversary. Also present were other former revolutionary leaders, active and retired military officials, members of the diplomatic corps, and peace advocates.

Minutes before the end of the event, special guests, including Misuari and Murad, were called to the stage for a group photo. When the two took to the stage, the surprising moment followed. Murad extended his hand to Misuari and they then shook hands and embraced each other, sparking hopes of possible reconciliation.

Misuari and Murad have not been under one roof in decades. The two Moro leaders distanced themselves from each other after the MILF broke away from the MNLF in 1977.

Aside from Murad, Misuari also exchanged warm greetings with former MNLF secretary general Muslimin Sema.

“The meeting was indeed historic. What we are seeing here is a reflection of the collective desire of all revolutionary leaders and the government to attain lasting peace in the country,” said Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr.

“In line with the peace commitment of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, we at the OPAPP will continue to do our best to bridge people, promote understanding and unity all in the name of peace,” he added.

“It’s a wonderful night that gave us the sign that it is now the time for our deep wounds from all conflicts to heal,” Galvez continued.

Misuari lauded Duterte’s strong political will and unwavering commitment to resolve the decades-long armed conflict in Mindanao.

“I look forward to the success of our peace process… The president knows how to totally achieve peace. I do believe this is a very opportune time for all of us to join hands to concretize what the president wants to happen very soon (in the peace process),” Misuari said.

It can be recalled that Malacanang announced last August the creation of a coordinating committee with the MNLF, as instructed by the president. While it is not clear “whether the committee will be used to thresh out a new agreement with the MNLF on a new territory for them,” Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said, “the committee would be a venue to seek the cooperation of the MNLF to achieve immediate peace in Sulu.”

Meanwhile, Murad extended a message of peace to the other Moro fronts in Mindanao — a gesture of goodwill that could invaluably contribute to achieving sustainable peace in the island region.

“We are open, our arms are open, we are inviting all groups. We also believe that the real success of the peace process is the collective effort of everybody. We cannot afford to isolate anybody. We need everybody,” Murad said, referring to the ongoing implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which paved the way for the establishment of the BARMM.

Murad likewise said they still recognize Misuari as their leader, as he pointed out it was the MNLF chair who was the first to “unite the entire Bangsamoro.”

Murad also expressed his desire to mend the differences between him and Misuari so they can work together for a united Bangsamoro.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, who was instrumental in the passage and ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, recognized the OPAPP’s key role in pushing forward the Bangsamoro peace process.

“OPAPP has been an invaluable instrument for peace in the nation. In particular, OPAPP has served and continues to serve a vital purpose in our journey toward genuine and lasting peace in Mindanao,” noted Zubiri, who was the event’s guest of honor.


Protests in US put racial discrimination in Canada under scrutiny

Updated 52 min 10 sec ago

Protests in US put racial discrimination in Canada under scrutiny

  • Discrimination against Canadian blacks and Arabs ranges from higher unemployment to hate crimes
  • Trudeau’s reputation as a diversity champion was punctured last year by multiple images of him in black makeup

DUBAI: The protests across the US over the death of George Floyd while in police custody have prompted its northern neighbor with a nicer image to acknowledge discrimination within its own borders. Only time will tell, though, whether Canada’s next step will be honest self-searching and concrete action to defend its reputation — especially among Arabs and Muslims — as a fair and tolerant society.

So far, what Canada has mainly shown is that a history of moral posturing greatly diminishes a politician’s ability to provide credible leadership on the problem of anti-black racism. Otherwise, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would not have reacted the way he did during a news conference in Ottawa when asked to comment on US President Donald Trump’s call to use military action as violence and looting eclipsed protests over Floyd’s death.

The former drama teacher paused for 21 seconds, opening his mouth a few times to speak. The pregnant pause caused many to wonder whether Trudeau was making a deliberate point with his silence, fearful of taking on Trump, or he was literally at a loss for words, perhaps recalling his own blackface scandals.

On Friday, Trudeau made a dramatic appearance at a protest in Ottawa (pictured above), where he joined the crowd in kneeling for eight minutes and 46 seconds — which is how long a Minneapolis police officer held down Floyd with his knee on his neck before he died — clapped to chants of “Black lives matter” and collected a T-shirt emblazoned with the same slogan on the front.

Such gestures are perhaps only to be expected of a white politician whose carefully crafted image as a champion of inclusivity and diversity was punctured last year by the appearance of multiple images of him in black makeup, laughing, making faces and sticking his tongue out.

The tradition of brownface and blackface — white people painting their faces darker — was common in North America until it came to be viewed by the turn of the 21st century as a racist caricature. However, systemic inequalities that plague Canada’s black and indigenous communities have proved far more resistant to change.

Last weekend in Toronto, protesters held a rally over the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a black woman who fell to her death last week while police were in her apartment, an incident that is being probed by the province’s Special Investigations Unit.

People who were identified as family and friends of Regis Korchinski-Paquet (no names provided) lead protesters as they march to highlight the deaths in the U.S. of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and of Toronto's Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who died after falling from an apartment building while police officers were present, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 30, 2020. (Reuters)

A CBC News investigation of fatal encounters with police found that black people made up 36.5 percent of the deaths involving Toronto police from 2000-2017, while accounting for only 8.3 percent of the city’s population.

Canada is also no stranger to prejudice against Arabs and Muslims. Most recently, some cities’ decision to suspend their noise bylaws during Ramadan to permit mosques to broadcast the sunset call to prayer sparked a backlash, drawing some racist rants on Twitter. 

In 2017, university student Alexandre Bissonnette shot and killed six Muslims in a Quebec City mosque, in what Trudeau called “a despicable act of terror.”

In 2017, university student Alexandre Bissonnette shot and killed six Muslims in a Quebec City mosque. (Facebook)
Montreal mayor Denis Coderre (L-R), Quebec City mayor Regis Labeaume, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pay their respects during a funeral ceremony for three of the victims of the deadly shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, in Montreal, Quebec on February 2, 2017. (AFP/File Photo)

That year there was a spike in hate crimes reported by police, a 10-year high of 2,073 criminal incidents, according to Statistics Canada.

While the most recent stats show a slight decrease in 2018 to 1,798 incidents, the number was still the second highest of that period.

Of those hate crimes, 44 percent were motivated by race while 36 percent were based on religion.

Then there is a less visible form of systemic discrimination, such as the issue of unemployment among Arabs, Canada’s fastest-growing immigrant population.

ISNA Canada building. (Supplied)

“A lot of people here think that Canada isn’t racist,” Faith Olanipekun, an organizer of a Canadian protest in support of Black Lives Matter, told the CBC, the national public broadcaster, this week.

“So it’s important for us to come out, voice our concerns and let people know that we are suffering in Canada just as much as people in the US are suffering.”

A report last year by the Canadian Arab Institute, a non-partisan research and policy group, showed that based on its analysis of the country’s last census in 2016, the unemployment rate among Arabs was 13.5 percent, higher than the total visible minority population at 9.2 percent.

“That’s more than double the national average, so this is based on 2016 data, very important to note, because with COVID-19 it means it’s going to get much worse,” Shireen Salti, the institute’s interim executive director, told Arab News. 

“We know there are employment barriers. We’re looking into why … Is there discrimination in the labor market, on university campuses etc.? There are some preliminary results from our research that show this, and we want to dive deeper to better understand.”

IN NUMBERS

ARAB CANADIANS

- 947,820 people in Canada reported having Arab ethnic origin.

- 90% reside in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta provinces.

- Highest numbers: Lebanese, Moroccan, Egyptian.

- Over 60% are first generation.

- Over 60% have post-secondary education.

Source: Canadian Arab Institute, based on country’s last census in 2016.

Despite being a highly educated community, she said figures show Arabs’ average annual income is about $33,000, below the national average of $47,000.

“There’s a lot of work that we still need to do to ensure the integration of Arabs in Canada,” said Salti, who was born in Palestine and moved to Canada with her family in 2009.

“There’s a lot of government support in place for newcomers and immigrants, but we need to move beyond that and better understand how to cater to various communities with various inequities.”

While standing in solidarity with black Americans, Salti said the US situation has opened up a window for Canadians to talk about all forms of discrimination.

A man walks past Vancouver's Chinese Cultural Centre, which was targeted with vandalism during the Covid-19 pandemic, prompting police to erect mobile surveillance cameras, on May 21, 2020 in Vancouver, British Columbia. (AFP)

“It’s important to take a moment to pause and listen to the important messages that are being shared right now,” she added.

“We need to be anti-racist in a society where we have multiple communities, and diverse communities, and multiculturalism is literally at the heart of what we do here in Canada.”

Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father, who was Canada’s prime minister for more than 15 years, had the vision to make the country the first in the world to adopt an official policy of multiculturalism in 1971, later enshrined in law.

This allowed its citizens to preserve their own cultural heritage while being protected from discrimination.

In this file photo Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill to attend a sitting of the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic, May 20, 2020 in Ottawa, Canada. (AFP/File Photo)

Justin has had a harder time convincing people that he walks his talk as Canada’s woke leader. He got points for introducing the first gender-balanced Cabinet in the country’s history in 2015, which was also ethnically diverse.

He offered apologies to Canada’s aboriginals for their abuse dating back more than a century, and he welcomed Syrian refugees at the airport with open arms.

Then, while running for re-election last year, two “blackface” photos and a video raised troubling questions about the character of a politician who rose to high office on a platform of social justice, gender equality and indigenous and minority rights.

At the June 2 news conference in Ottawa, Trudeau said he had "spoken many times about how deeply I regret my actions hurt many, many people," before going on to state: “There’s systemic discrimination in Canada, which means our systems treat Canadians of color, Canadians who are racialized, differently than they do others.”

Protesters march to highlight the deaths in the U.S. of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and of Toronto's Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who died after falling from an apartment building while police officers were present, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 30, 2020. (Reuters)

Not everyone was impressed. Jagmeet Singh, the outspoken leader of Canada’s NDP Party, said Trudeau’s government could immediately take actions that “go beyond the pretty words of a prime minister who says that he cares.”

Trudeau’s own cabinet minister, Ahmed Hussen, a Somali Canadian, was more specific: He lamented that black Canadians were disproportionately followed in stores by shop owners fearing theft, while black drivers had every reason to be anxious when they are pulled over by a police officer.

Racism is “a lived reality for black Canadians,” Hussen said, as he urged other Canadians to “step up” and “raise your voices and ensure that real inclusion accompanies the diversity of our country.”

The mood in Canada’s black, indigenous and immigrant communities was perhaps summed up best by Salti, of the Canadian Arab Institute, thus: “Now more than ever, we hope that all our political leaders and elected officials will do more than simply pay lip service, and instead act and invest in strategies that promote an inclusive, integrated and fully respectful society for all Canadians.”