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Political Violence in the Philippines; the Hajj Begins in Islam

Aired November 25, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, a gruesome massacre in the Philippines, the country's worst political violence in modern history, and the deadliest single attack on journalists ever.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the program.

At least 18 reporters are among 57 people who've been killed in a massacre in the Philippines. The Committee to Protect Journalists says that this year, the Philippines has become the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. The killings come amid tense elections there, and grieving relatives blame a rival clan with links to the government.

As protestors demand tough action against the killers, the government has declared a state of emergency in the southern Philippines, which is also where local Islamic militias operate.

And later in the program, as Muslims put on a display of unity at the Hajj, we'll talk to one of the world's leading experts on modern Islam.

But first, we have more on the dangers facing journalists in the Philippines and in other countries. Joining me now, Maria Ressa, a leading journalist in the Philippines and a former CNN reporter, and Mustafa Haji Abdinur, who's one of the last independent journalists still working in Somalia. He's just received an award from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Welcome, both of you, to this program.

Maria, let me ask you first: What on Earth spurred this massacre in southern Philippines?

MARIA RESSA, MANAGING EDITOR, ABS CBN: Well, certainly, it was unexpected, because it is the worst election-related violence this country has ever had in history, certainly, as you pointed out, the worst, the most violent incident of violence against journalists.

What spurred it, one man who wanted to file a certificate of candidacy, nomination papers to run for provincial governor, he was trying to -- to file the certificate of candidacy in a clan, in an area where his political rival was -- it was a stronghold of his political rival. And when -- when he was warned not to go, he thought that it would be safe to send women in his family, close friends, and they actually asked journalists to go with them, essentially as protection.

Well, that wasn't protection enough. And what we saw happen on Monday was the killing of, at this point, about 57 people in one shot, in broad daylight. It was a very brazen act that shocked the country.

AMANPOUR: Was there any -- any possibility that it had anything to do with the struggle against the Islamic militias there?

RESSA: At this instance, no, although the situation that created this did have something to do with the struggle against the Islamic militias. What we've seen in the past is that the political warlords, these -- these clans, were actually used by the government to help in the fight against the Muslim insurgency. In this instance, it's the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

And the -- the man, the family that's been pinpointed by authorities as -- as being behind the killing, the Ampatuan clan, is actually working, has worked with the government in the past to help fight the MILF.

AMANPOUR: Let me turn to Mustafa. Warlords, clans, Somalia, it's all synonymous. You're the last independent working journalist there just about. How difficult is it to work there?

MUSTAFA HAJI ABDINUR, SOMALI JOURNALIST: Well, it's very difficult, really, to practice journalism in Somalia, which is one of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world this time. And journalism in Somalia, just like sacrifice, because if you go and do journalism in Somalia, that means you are devoting for what you are doing. So it's very hard really to practice journalism.

AMANPOUR: So what's happened to you? How do you go out in the streets, for instance, and be able to gather news?

ABDINUR: It's just like taking chances. You know, it's your job and your duty to go out and to see what's happening there and to get news. So in order to make this as you need, you take, you know, a lot of precautions before you go. And if you see that it's very difficult (inaudible) to go the time and to see what's happening even, you won't, because of the insecurity.

AMANPOUR: What's happened to some of your friends, some of your colleagues?

ABDINUR: The worst incident I remember is one of my friends, Muqtar Muhammad Tarabi (ph), he has been a director of one of the local independent radio stations in Mogadishu. He has been killed in market (ph) and in the daylight.

AMANPOUR: In the famous arms market there.


ABDINUR: Yes, yes, very close to my office. I was doing something in -- in the office at the time, and eventually, I've heard gunshots. And when I was out there, I have seen body lying in blood -- in a pool of blood. And I couldn't really move, you know. I was in shock. This is one of the worst realities in -- in -- and this year alone, we lost six colleagues...



ABDINUR: Six, yes.

AMANPOUR: Maria, the CPJ has just labeled the Philippines as the single most dangerous place for journalists. What is it about the situation there that makes it so difficult to cover the news?

RESSA: I think part of it is the uncertainty of where the danger is coming from. Christiane, this isn't the first time that's happened. In 2003, right when the Iraq -- or when the conflict in Iraq was starting, the Philippines was labeled the most dangerous place for journalists, and then Iraq bypassed it in succeeding years.

Here, what you're seeing is, it's -- it's not like NATO warfare. When you're working in the streets of Mindanao or in the streets of Manila, you're facing conflicts not just from Muslim rebels, from the NPA (ph), the communist rebels, you're also dealing -- some -- at times with a government that -- that moves against journalists.

In 2006, for example, we had several journalists -- half a dozen journalists arrested in a one-day siege. Essentially, journalists were trying to cover an attempted coup.

So the danger comes at you from different sides, and I think the worst part is that, so far, in the last eight years, out of 74 journalists who have been killed, only four journalists -- only four cases have found resolution. So it's created a certain sense -- a culture of impunity.

AMANPOUR: I was going to ask you about that. Is there any pressure, is there any sense that the authorities, the judicial process is moving against or can be persuaded to move against the killers of these journalists?

RESSA: It's certainly moving very slowly. And there is pressure that's being placed on the government. Journalists are starting to come together to try to push for justice in this situation, but so far, again, justice is very slow.

But the justice system in the Philippines is only one of the problems it's had. That problem is connected to endemic corruption. So as the country is struggling for transparency and accountability -- for a government that is both transparent and accountable, journalists are doing their best to do their jobs, to hold both the public and the private sector accountable, in a safe -- as safe a manner as possible.

AMANPOUR: Mustafa, is there any sense of accountability in Somalia for those who are killing -- for those who are killing journalists there?

ABDINUR: Unfortunately not -- not. So far, we have no anybody who is speaking about the deaths of those journalists.

AMANPOUR: So what happened, in terms -- it's a failed state -- what happened in terms of covering the news? I mean, what do we not know because of the danger to journalists?

ABDINUR: There is, you know, one thing that is -- it's all about, you know, losing information. When you deal with a situation like Somalia, when -- when you need to get information from people that you know that they are going to harm you, so it's just like you need to make an information out the country...

AMANPOUR: What are you saying and what are journalists saying that get them into trouble? What is it that gets them into trouble there?

ABDINUR: It is -- you cannot place anybody with the information you are going to -- to -- to give to the rest of the world. So this is one thing. Once you cannot please the sides (ph), everybody (inaudible) to what you are doing. So the threats are coming from any side.

AMANPOUR: And, Maria -- Maria, what is it that goes untold now? What is it that -- that the world can't know and can't hear because of the threat to Philippine journalists?

RESSA: I think part of the problem is the -- the culture of fear. For example, now, in Maguindanao, if there is no sense of justice there, if somehow the -- the -- it moves too slowly, the journalists who are covering it, the story are going to be -- there will be a chilling effect of sorts.

Here's the problem that you're also seeing. The rebels essentially in Mindanao can change sides. You've got the MILF, who one day can join the Abu Sayyaf and one day can join the Jemaah Islamiyah, which is a regional group. They switch hats. But the same thing is happening on the other side. In many ways, in Maguindanao, you have the police, the Philippine national police, who by day are with the government, with local government as the police, but at night, they'll take off their hats, and then they'll join the private armies of some of these warlords.


And that's the difficulty. Who is going to maintain law and order? And as law and order breaks down in these areas, it becomes more difficult for journalists to go into these areas and really give voices to the people who are living in fear there.

AMANPOUR: Mustafa, you're going back to Somalia tomorrow. Are you scared?

ABDINUR: Well, in a way. And in other, I -- as long as I'm going to do my duty, it is, you know, a constant fear (ph), in Somalia, what's happening, a constant fear. But in addition to that, what I'm getting back with is the courage.

AMANPOUR: You're going back with courage?


AMANPOUR: But not with a big group of journalists with you, right? Most of the journalists are not in Somalia right now. Where are they covering Somalia from?

ABDINUR: Most of the journalists are in Nairobi.

AMANPOUR: In Nairobi, in Kenya?

ABDINUR: Yes, in Kenya. So -- but they are still, you know, few journalists who lived in the country, and they are making really a sacrifice.

AMANPOUR: Mustafa, thank you.

And, Maria, tell me precisely what it is that gets journalists into such terrible trouble in the Philippines. Is it -- is it organized crime? What is it that they're reporting on that nobody wants them to report on?

RESSA: Christiane, it changes. In this situation, the journalists who were killed were actually going to an event where a candidate was just filing his nomination papers for an election that will happen six months from now. That's all they were doing, and yet they died in that process.

In other instances, you've got journalists who were caught in local conflicts. You've got -- this one is a political election-related violence. You've got clan wars. You've also got the conflict between the insurgents, the Muslim Islamic Liberation Front, the Moro National Liberation Front, and the Abu Sayyaf group, which, as you know, is -- has been connected to Jemaah Islamiyah and Al Qaida.

So the conflict comes in different areas. It's a -- it's a complex situation. And as a journalist working in Mindanao, you have to be able to develop a sixth sense to avoid areas that -- that -- were law and order is so weak that you can't tell where the danger is coming from, and yet continue trying to tell the story of the people who live in those areas and are trying to go about their daily lives.

AMANPOUR: Well, of course, we wish you all the very best, both of you, Maria Ressa, Mustafa Haji Abdinur, in two of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world. And to learn more about journalists who've been killed in the Philippines, go to Web site,

And next, the Hajj starts today. Who speaks for modern Islam?




ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Hajj, a sacred annual pilgrimage of millions of Muslims from around the world to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest of Muslim meeting places.

The Hajj is both a search for and symbol of Muslim unity. Those who complete its rituals over five days are believed to be forgiven for their sins.

Yet beneath the powerful appearance of unity, deep schisms divide Islam, such as rivalry between religious sects, the Sunni and Shia, and stark differences over the role of women, terrorism, and the real meaning of Jihad.

Some Muslims prefer to focus on their common ground, like this imam from California.

IMAM ILYAS ANWAR, S. VALLEY ISLAMIC COMMUNITY: A lot of times the division that you see, it's cultural. And if you look through that, you see a lot of unity between the people.

ISHA SESAY: Yet strained relations between the Sunni majority in Saudi Arabia and the Shia majority in Iran have government officials working to keep the peace.

PRINCE HAEF BIN ABDELAZIZ, SAUDI INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): We appreciate the latest positive messages by Iranian officials, and we hope that no unwanted incidents happen during the Hajj season.

ISHA SESAY: Both Shia and Sunni pilgrims here say Muslims should not let their differences divide them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There should be more understanding and harmony among all Muslims.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There should be more dialogue between Sunnis and Shias, and they should not have their differences, as they don't have it in here during Hajj.

ISHA SESAY: Despite the differences to be found among the millions of Muslims gathered here in Mecca, according to recent reports by Harvard University, performing the Hajj actually leads to greater feelings of unity among fellow Muslims, along with more favorable attitudes to women and non- Muslims, findings which some say prove that the ancient rites and rituals of the Hajj are every bit as relevant to today's modern world.

Isha Sesay, CNN, Mecca, Saudi Arabia.


AMANPOUR: So there is a lot of wishful thinking, but who does, in fact, speak for Islam today?

Joining me, one of the world's leading authorities on Islam and an adviser to the Obama administration, he's Vali Nasr, and his new book is about the rise of the Muslim middle class.



AMANPOUR: So they've said that the Hajj is incredible, because whether you're pauper or prince, you're dressed in this white. You go to do the same thing. Everybody's talking about unit. What really will bring unity, and is it possible?

NASR: Well, unity is an ideal that Muslims have strived for, for a very long time. But in reality, they're divided into nationalities. They're divided into sects. They're divided into the classes. There are rich Muslim countries that are on a very different trajectory like Turkey, like Dubai, that are part of the global economy. And then there are parts of the Muslim world that are outside of the global economy.

And, therefore, despite the rhetoric of -- of unity, in reality, the Muslim world is a very diverse place.

AMANPOUR: All right. So you're focusing on the economy, and that is, frankly, the focus of your new book. What is it then that you've found is going to make a difference in the Muslim world?

NASR: Well, one of the striking thing about the Muslim world is that large parts of the Muslim world are outside of the global economy. They're not participating in the global supply chain. You don't find many "made in the Arab world" items at Wal-Mart, for instance.

AMANPOUR: So why not?

NASR: Well, because they're not participating in the same kind of economic relationships that Brazil -- even Turkey -- their economies haven't opened up. They never integrated into global economy, sometimes because they're very wealthy by oil, sometimes because authoritarian regimes, as in North Africa, have shielded them from integrating to the global economy.

But the Muslim world is now gradually falling behind Latin America and Asia in terms of its integration to global economy. And that's part of the reason that we're seeing trouble in the Muslim world. Where the Muslim world is least integrated in the global economy, you have the greatest degree of immoderation and extremism. And where you have most integration into global economy in Malaysia, in Indonesia, Turkey, you're seeing much better news.

AMANPOUR: So, basically, what you're saying is with the rise of the middle class, there could be a lot less extremism, a lot more moderation. So is it the middle class who you hope will speak for modern Islam?

NASR: Yes, and that they will sponsor and they will subsidize the right kind of talking about Islam.


When you go to places like Turkey or Dubai, where you have businessmen -- up-and-coming wealthy people, you see that they want to go to malls, they want to go to movie theaters, they want to eat well, stay at good hotels, they want clean mosques, and they prefer the kind of Islam that is about values, but not political action. They just don't jihad as good for their business or good for their image.

AMANPOUR: It reminds me of Thomas Friedman when he once wrote that any country with a McDonalds is a country that won't go to war and that will be at peace. It's not exactly worked that way. Do you really think that -- and what is your evidence for a rising middle class being non- extremist, non-militant, non-terrorist?

NASR: Well, we're seeing it in countries that are -- that are having now a middle class that is tied to a private sector, that is tied to a global economy. When you go to a country like Turkey, you go to the heartland of Anatolia...

AMANPOUR: But Turkey is secular, remember, officially secular. What about in a country like Iran?

NASR: Well, even in Iran, you -- you look at who supported the reform movement in Iran? It is the middle class that was the product of economic openings of the late 1990s and -- in the late 1980s and 1990s, when the oil prices was low. It is those people who, as they become richer, want to consume better, want to be part of the world, want more cultural opening, and want to also be able to sell more -- more of their -- what they produce to the region and want to be able to get foreign investment into Iran. And who opposes reform in Iran tend to be people who rely on government entitlements and have no vested interest in globalization.

AMANPOUR: Let me play this segment of the speech that President Obama gave in Cairo to the Islamic world.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism; it is an important part of promoting peace.


AMANPOUR: So he stated something which many Muslims would agree with. However, the fact of the matter is, there are segments of the Islamic population who resort to...

NASR: Right.

AMANPOUR: ... violence and extremism. What do you think, as he considers Afghanistan, the Middle East, let's say, the Palestinian territories, what do they need to focus on? Is it economic empowerment?

NASR: Well, economic opening that then creates a private sector or an economic arena within society that is vibrant, that could then -- would support wealth and wealth generation, et cetera. When you look at a country like Indonesia, you think of 2002 Bali bombings. Indonesia has -- has steadily become more moderate and is moving in the right direction.

Even though there is still terrorism in Indonesia, it's very clear that the Indonesians are moving away from terrorism. And why is that the case? Because Indonesia is becoming more and more integrated into the global economy. The people in Indonesia have a vested interest in the global economy, and they also see in that integration hope.

Now, come to the Middle East. You look at the West Bank. In the West Bank, for a period of time over the past four or five years, you had about 7 percent growth rate. And compare that to Gaza, where you didn't. And you see that in the West Bank, that translated into at least a segment of society emerged that has a vested interest in order, stability, finding a path forward that is workable and that would provide peace.

So, you know, Islam can be interpreted in violent ways, or it can be interpreted in peaceful ways, just like with Christianity or Judaism.

AMANPOUR: Let me just play you, again, a counterview to what President Obama said. This is a politician in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders. This is what he says about Islam.


GEERT WILDERS, DUTCH POLITICIAN: What is my message? My main message is that I have a problem with the Islamization of our societies. I have a problem with the Islamic ideology, the Islamic culture, because I believe that the more Islam we get in our free societies, the less freedom that we will get.


AMANPOUR: How prevailing -- I mean, he's considered, you know, fairly fringe, but he's had a following, and Islam is becoming very big in Europe. How prevalent is that kind of fear and xenophobia?

NASR: Very prevalent, because in Europe, the issue is different. Islam is actually -- in Europe, it's not just about Islam. Islam is the force that is bringing religion back to Europe. So what Wilders says is, essentially, that Islam is the one -- is the force that is de-secularizing Europe.

You know, Christianity is not doing that; Catholicism is not doing that; Judaism is not doing that. It is Islam that is bringing certain kinds of religious morals back into society. And that's a reality.

But, you know, think of Netherlands. After their reformation, Netherlands was kind of like the Taliban's Kabul. It was a very puritanical sect that was very intolerant in many ways. How did Netherlands actually change to become this libertine place? And it's the economic transformation and rise of capitalism that transformed Netherlands from the puritanical post-reformation to today.


AMANPOUR: So, in places like Egypt, which is, you know, officially secular, but that does have a rising Islamic bent, so to speak, a lot of the young people you can see are wearing the veil, are talking more and more about religion. They seem to reject imposing culture from the West, although they admire democracy, freedom of speech, all of that. So how does the West get it right, get this balance right?

NASR: Well, I think the problem is that in places like Egypt, this debate is happening in a vacuum. You know, Egypt, by and large, is not really integrating the global economy. Egypt is not like Indonesia.

I think the discussion would become completely different if Egypt was part of the global economic supply chain, if there were things that were made in Egypt that were sold in Europe, that were sold in the United States, to the same extent that Turkish or Indonesian goods are.

It's one thing for you, you know, to look at the closed societies, authoritarian, with no economic opportunity, reliant on government handouts, seeing no way forward, making these decisions about what do they think about the West, as opposed to having a positive relationship with the West, which is what the Indonesians and the Turks have.

So Indonesians are also wearing the hijab to a greater extent. But they have a very different relationship with the West, because they are seeing benefits from economic interaction with the West.

AMANPOUR: It's fascinating. And everywhere I go, young Muslims, wherever they are, say they just want an economic chance for their future.

NASR: Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: So we'll be watching this. Vali Nasr, thank you so much for joining us.

And for more on attitudes to modern Islam, go to our Web site,, where we have the results of many of the latest polls.

But that's it for now. Thanks for watching. And for all of us here, goodbye from New York.