Changing minds together!
The southern Philippines has endured decades of conflict, violence, and the presence of armed groups. Poverty, poor governance and the ambiguous implementation of the peace agreements with the Moro Fronts has left this region vulnerable and still no closer to peace. This situation has also damaged the credibility of the Moro Fronts that have lent strong support to a seemingly never-ending peace process. In the meantime, more splinter armed groups have emerged, some of which have developed extreme ideologies. Young Moros are drawn to these groups in the belief that they can address their aspirations for autonomy and freedom, albeit through violent means.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is well aware of, and deeply concerned about, this trend, and has asked the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) for support in gathering the young members of their communities to see what can be done to reverse this worrying trend. Over the past year, the MILF, supported by HD, has organised Youth Fora throughout the southern Philippines, in order to reach out to as many young Filipino Muslims as possible.
The fora aim to encourage the Moro youth to be actively involved in peacebuilding initiatives and to preserve and promote the gains of the peace process. They also encourage young people to refrain from joining extremist groups. The fora have now become well-recognized platforms for promoting peace, dialogue and more moderate forms of Islam amongst youth in Mindanao.
The gatherings also offered young people with an opportunity to exchange thoughts, practical tips and suggestions based on their personal experiences, on ways to identify extremist groups’ recruitment strategies. During the last Youth Forum organised by the MILF and HD in September 2017, a young man shared his own experience of having been invited to attend a series of meetings through a friend from his local community. It turned out later that the meetings thought to indoctrinate him and his peers. The young man expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to share his story and spread the word.
The first series of youth fora organised in 2017 have already become an appreciated and recognised avenue for young people to learn from each other, share experiences, and discuss effective ways of preventing youth radicalisation. The MILF and HD intend to hold a final Youth Summit by March 2018, which will bring together the most active participants from the previous conferences to share lessons learned and report back on initiatives they have since undertaken within their respective communities.
— Annieza Mohamed