God’s Peace

THERE will be no lasting peace in the heart of individuals or in social customs until death is outlawed, the well-respected existentialist Albert Camus wrote. The assertion despite its philosophical slant is not as absurd or impertinent as it may seem at first glance. In law to start with, the near-universal advocacy against and abolition of capital punishment is in a real sense an outlawing of death. This humanistic social principle that became more prominent in practice after World War II – that life is supremely sacred – ultimately makes diverse peace less utopian, more achievable to its duly-enlightened and -empowered believers.

This promise rings real and true not only to indefatigable social reformers but more immediately to simple folks whenever they experience a deep and abiding faith in the goodness and mercy of God. Thus, during the ongoing observance of the Holy Month of Ramadan, our Muslim brothers and sisters in Zamboanga, Sulu and elsewhere in Mindanao are waging a successful jihad against spiritual death through their intense fasting, prayer and works of charity. We in Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ) and the Inter-Religious Solidarity Movement for Peace (IRMSP) join them in mind and heart in this tremendous and crucial effort at personal as well as communal – an “ummah” – salvation.

Every act of fasting – from food and other forms of physical and worldly enjoyment or luxury– is a paradoxical triumph over self and, therefore, over death, too. According to the Hadith, Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) had once asked: “Who among you is the strongest?” His companions replied: “The one who destroys his enemy.” And the Prophet replied: “No, the strongest is the one who masters his anger.”

As in Christian doctrines, this conquest of self and of spiritual death is not won through frail human effort at all, but always only by the grace and mercy of God, of Allah. The chasm between Creator and creature is bridged by fasting as well as prayer, or in other words, by dialogue first that leads to reconciliation between them two.

This process of spiritual dialogue and reconciliation is, in fact, a superb working model for the seekers and makers of peace – And who is not supposed to be, especially for us war-weary Mindanaoans? The same sincerity in prayer and communion with God, the same supreme effort in self-sacrifice and charity and all other virtues that necessarily govern genuine dialogue with the Father are required to achieve our – and God’s – lasting peace.

In this sense, all faith believers are protagonists of both earthly and eternal peace only when they practice genuine dialogue with God and with fellow humans. It is facile and tempting to accuse warmongering generals and desperate election commissioners, or double-seeing terrorists and bamboozled rebels, or constipated polluters and speed maniacs, or yellow-fevered senators and land-grabbing oligarchs and their like of being enemies of peace. But if doing so closes the door to dialogue, then that is obviously not the way to banish death and win God’s peace.

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“Peaced Off”

Mercifully, the OIC’s diplomacies immediately descalated the war in Mindanao, paved the way for experiments in Moro self-governance, and slowly yet inevitably led to the major peace breakthrough that is the 1996 Jakarta accord with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). That “Mindanao Peace II”, if it may be called thus, further internationalized the Bangsamoro question when it opened the whole of southern Philippines – and not just the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao – to peace-building development assistance by several countries and multilateral organizations like the United Nations.

Sec. Dureza’s peace process story has since continued to unravel with an even thicker plot and greater suspense in the ongoing attempt to forge “Mindanao Peace III”, with the MILF this time. The OIC is still in the act, but Jakarta is no longer in it. Instead, Kuala Lumpur is mediating, and Kuala Lumpur is. . . well, Kuala Lumpur. In this dragging sequel, there are other actors making “papel”, too, like the Jemaah Islamiya, Abu Sayyaf, al-Qaida, United States military, and those eager-beaver donor countries. The present scenario makes the Jakarta negotiations look like a walk in the park.

But only in hindsight, because Jakarta was not a walk in the park. The tough negotiators in both the Philippine and MNLF panels made it look that way because real success always looks effortless. In truth, they worked relentlessly and hard day and night, month after tiresome month, to reach difficult and seemingly impossible agreements, while Jakarta held a stopwatch over their heads. The final accord astounded even the negotiators themselves.

In comparison, it is the current Kuala Lumpur talk that is turning out to be a very, very leisurely walk in the park, and how. It thus takes long, reckless chances with our aspiration for a more comprehensive and durable peace. A crisis and threat like the current Basilan flare-up could set us back by a few chapters, or decades, from sooner happily living ever after.

So why not take a few cues now from the good, old Jakarta negotiation experience to speed up Sec. Dureza’s willy-nilly peace process? For as long as the government is talking only to the MILF and not the al-Qaida hiding behind it, there can be nothing that is not negotiable. As they say, real men talk about logistics. Amateurs instead talk about strategies – endlessly, and that’s how peace becomes elusive. (“Our Peace” is an occasional editorial of Peace Advocates Zamboanga)

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