Muslim ID: yay or nay?

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Is the Muslim ID discriminatory, or necessary during an extraordinary time?

A proposal to create identification cards for some 26,000 Filipino Muslims in Central Luzon has been put forward as a counter-terrorism measure, after a dialogue between 200 Muslim community and religious leaders and the police and military in the area.

Such a system is being implemented in Paniqui, Tarlac, by the Paniqui United Muslims Association, with the support of the Muslim community there. The cards are to be worn in public at all times.

The idea was bashed by Senators Bam Aquino and Sherwin Gatchalian as being “discriminatory.” This opinion was echoed by Human Rights Watch, an American-founded NGO. The group called the Muslim ID “a form of collective punishment” upon Filipino Muslims, who are being blamed for their inability to prevent the Maute-group led conflict now occurring in Marawi City.

There are two sides to this issue.

Side A: why did the Muslims in Paniqui adopt this system? Perhaps in an effort to police their own ranks, and to identify themselves as being law-abiding citizens. The refusal to wear such an ID would presume an uncooperative attitude and a hidden agenda.

Religion is not so much the criterion here as culture. The term “Muslim” in the Philippines not only refers to the religion but also to a culture—a set of norms, values, attitudes, and other social attributes.

Because of the entwining of religion and culture, there is a tendency also to see Filipino Muslims as a group that might lean towards certain political biases. And obviously, any Islamist terrorists would, because of familiarity and shared culture, tend to approach that group for assistance to further their agenda. This could have been one line of reasoning that justified the ID system in Paniqui.

However, the flaw in this idea is, how would you be able to tell who are the non-ID wearing Muslims from other folk if they are not wearing an ID? Would their fellows report them to the authorities? And what’s to stop a wolf from pretending to be a sheep? But it seems that the system is working for them at the moment because it was the basis for the proposal to expand it.

Side B: the very idea of singling out a certain group for whatever reason is discriminatory, more so the use of an identifier that sets them apart from other people in society. The most infamous example of this is the yellow star that Jews were made to wear on their clothing during the Nazi era. Imposing such a system would set a dangerous precedent that could lead to witch-hunts and other forms of abuse.

Although the Muslim leaders in Paniqui and those who attended the Central Luzon dialogue agreed, or at the least did not object to, the Muslim ID proposal —police spokesperson Supt. Fe Grenas even said that it was the Muslim leaders themselves who recommended it—Human Rights Watch pointed out that this does not make it right.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines, the group most heavily involved in resolving the Marawi conflict, is against the Muslim ID card proposal because it discriminates on religious grounds.

AFP spokeman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the “identification of individuals should not be aimed at certain sectors of society but must be applicable to everyone.” He also stressed that this is not a religious war, and to label the Marawi conflict as such is a terrorist tactic.

The military does endorse the government’s national ID system. However, that plan is not a priority of government.

The Muslim ID system in Paniqui is a knee-jerk reaction to events, a stop-gap measure until a better solution is found. To expand it is like putting Band-Aids on a wound that needs stitches.

It is not the identification of Muslims that will halt the Marawi crisis. It is not the wearing of ID cards in public that will distinguish a terrorist from an honest and upright citizen. It is not the singling out of one group from the greater population that will defeat Islamist terror organizations.

A Muslim ID system will only serve to widen the divide between Muslims and other groups in Philippine society, and further hurt a sector that is already suffering.

Dr. Ortuoste is a California-based writer. FB: Jenny Ortuoste, Twitter: @jennyortuoste, IG: @jensdecember, @artuoste

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