Monday, March 2, 2015

maria ressa

it seemed like 10 years had passed before i finally finished this book. not because it wasn't great but because i'm generally slow when it comes to books. but over this weekend, i finally finished it and immensely enjoyed the ride as the book was packed with long names, dates, real-life kidnapping crisis and detailed, almost nerdy tale of social theories.

maria ressa used the kidnapping of ces drilon and her team in 2008 to start mapping out how terrorism that was born out of afghanistan's war with the former soviet union gradually came to philippine soil. linkages between radical islamists reached southeast asia and from there, a series of terrorist activities was launched or planned in the philippines, including 9/11 in new york city and bali bombings. ressa traced key personalities, explained their connections and described in details how they are associated with each other. the roots of this social virus (jihadi virus) was carefully pinned down through ressa's study of personalities. one key learning i got from reading this book was how the good and universal teaching of jihad was twisted to fire up religion-driven emotions. jihad means "to strive or to do one's best in carrying out god's commands". according to the book, jihad comes in a lot of forms such as verbal (offer advice) or hand jihad (community service for the less fortunate). jihadi is the armed version of jihad, aimed at establishing an "all encompassing islamic state that creates a political, cultural and religious system aligned with a certain strict interpretation of koran" through violence.      

at times, it brought me back to my UP days when i had to digest communication theories and try to use or simplify these in order to create and submit a paper. commres papers had to be grounded on a communication theory, move it to conceptual level and finally tie it with an operational stage. ressa touched on social communication theories and used these to introduce and explain how the jihadi virus spread on a religion-based community.

ressa's historical account became even more interesting when she started tackling how the rise of the internet re-shaped jihadi struggle. the rise of user-driven internet (or web 2.0 in idc terms) gave the jihadi virus a new platform where it can propagate at a much faster rate, either through indoctrination, recruitment and financial backing. of course, we'd predicted web 2.0 about 8 years ago so i can very much relate to this development.

the account on drilon's kidnapping make up for a very good docu-drama script for a tv movie. it reminded me of recount by hbo and ressa's writing allowed for a reader like me to clearly imagine the 10 days the crisis team had to go through. of course, it was a firsthand account and i wonder how different it would be had ces drilon wrote it herself.

but more than that, the kidnapping of ces, jimmy and angel proved how corruption is deeply rooted in pinoy society. this, together with collusion between law enforcement agencies, local government units, rebel and terrorist groups, make for a wide ranging problem in peace and order, most especially in muslim mindanao. the recent mamasapano incident comes to mind and through this book, readers will gain very good insights on why previous attempts on peace accords do not really put an end to the problems brought on by separatist groups. certain groups actually collude with terrorists by either providing safe refuge for internationally-wanted terrorists like marwan or recruiting moderate but economically challenged muslims to become legmen or baits. in return, these international terrorists bring in much-needed infusion of money providing "jobs" for the members of the local community. this is the very reason why there are reports that government forces could not enter certain barangays since local communities "protect" their "guests". groups such as mnlf, milf, abu sayyaf and biff also have their own territories and may actually be in cahoots with each other through blood or marital linkages.

i've always maintained that peace accords in muslim mindanao would only work if the government initiates inter-group interaction for all groups (led by their elders) to be united as one. this should be done even before striking any deal with any of the groups. the problem will continue as long as there are certain sectors that would not be included and because of this, the southern philippines will continue to be a harbour for international terrorists. at the same time, education should be a first priority in order to instil self-worth to young men and women.  

i don't know whether members of the congress even considered inviting maria ressa in one of their hearings. but they would gain better understanding of the jihadi virus through her insights. after all, more than the aim of tracing the roots of terrorism, 10 days, 10 years: from bin laden to facebook was a weighty treatise on social communication and how radical social viruses spread from an individual to another.

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