Armed Conflict, Religious Extremism, and the Normalization of Violence: The Abu Sayyaf in Perspective

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:40
Location: Hörsaal 48 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Diana Therese VELOSO, De La Salle University, Philippines
This paper examines how the Islamic faith has been used to justify the use of violence on the part of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), an extremist group operating primarily in the southern Philippines. The researcher makes the case that the armed struggle of the Abu Sayyaf has not occurred in a vacuum and is not solely motivated by the desire for profit; rather, the conflict is rooted in the historical use of religion for violent means, deep-seated tensions between the Philippine government and Muslim citizens, and the Muslim separatist movement in the country. This paper provides a historical perspective on the clashes between the Philippine government and Muslims and the emergence of the Abu Sayyaf as a breakaway faction of prior separatist movements in the country. Aside from undertaking content analysis of local and international articles about the Abu Sayyaf and its activities, the researcher utilizes interviews with academics, non-government organizations, and civilians affected by acts of violence perpetrated by the ASG. The researcher’s theoretical framework is based on Juergensmeyer’s cultural perspective on religious extremism, which underscores the distinctive world views and moral justifications of religious militant activists, and the communities and networks behind acts of violence, rather than the “terrorists” who commit them. Juergensmeyer’s framework is used as a point of reference in analyzing the relationship between Islamic causes and the militancy of the Abu Sayyaf, and in assessing how the conditions that produce religious violence apply to the Abu Sayyaf. In looking beyond the stereotype of the Abu Sayyaf as a group of armed bandits sowing terror for its own sake, and in illuminating the ideas, communities of support, and social and political contexts underlying the group’s activities, this paper aims to promote a new understanding of religious extremism in the Philippine context.