In a largely globalised world shaped by a myriad of different and constantly changing opinions fed to us by mass media’s various manifestations, it still comes as a surprise to me how certain indubitably significant events and places could possibly be overlooked. I went to the Indonesian provinces of North Sumatra and Aceh a little over two years ago and bore witness to the effects of both past and on-going conflict between civilians, armed militant groups and the government, and it baffled me how something as globally attention-worthy as that could possibly have escaped me for the last 23 years of my life. The only time Aceh was ever in my face on a news item was after it was levelled by a devastating tsunami back in 2004, but that was it. In part, I could probably be blamed for not digging into the world of global concerns enough, but, in my defence, not enough people and media are talking about it. And while I didn’t have any qualms about learning of the stampede that happened in a temple in India or Iraq’s first free parliamentary elections since 1958, it just struck me painfully how a struggling place that could have used a little more attention from the world was only afforded it when the worst possible thing happened and yet again deprived of it when the world thought it was over.
I recently visited the southern terrestrial lump of the Philippines called Mindanao to visit the United Religions Initiative’s (URI) cooperation circles (CC) there and to witness a culmination activity for the International Peace Advocacy Month of September. Mindanao is another place that has so much global attention-worthy on-goings yet is constantly overlooked unless another American or European disappears there. I’m over giving analogies like “Aceh is to Indonesia as Mindanao is to the Philippines.” The two may have certain parallels but one can only derive so much information by relying on them. Besides, they both lack attention on the international stage, anyway.
Now, admittedly, one can’t grasp what’s going on in an area unless they go there and listen to locals' stories and immerse in local life, but wouldn’t it at least be helpful if more people were to give the place a little more attention? I admit that I, too, was largely ignorant about Mindanao. I live in the Philippines and yet I know very little more than my foreign friends who only ever hear or read the word “Mindanao” on their governments’ list of places to avoid. It’s sad but true. And I think this lack of understanding is the reason why it’s so easy to make assumptions about the place. There’s a saying that goes, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” and it’s true. This little knowledge is what causes presidents to declare all-out wars, armed independence fighters to be branded as terrorists, and certain people to be collectively perceived as inherently violent simply because they profess a particular faith that is different from that of the country’s majority. It’s sad, really.