Tuesday, November 16, 2004

chapter 4, part 3

It is a breathtaking sight, the Golden Mosque of Quiapo, whose golden dome towers over Globo de Oro street, serving as the heart of the Muslim district in the heart of Manila, the capital of this archipelago conquered by the Spaniards centuries ago in the name of Christendom.

The mosque can accommodate up to 3, 000 worshippers, and the Muslim district of Quiapo can lay claim to being one of the most densely populated areas in the whole metropolis, where roughly 80, 000 followers of the Prophet live in an area that barely covers 1.5 hectares. Surrounded by a sea of Christians in one of the most uncompromising bastions of Roman Catholic power, they are the invisible people, careful not to attract undue attention, which can only bode ill for them when many inhabitants of the metropolis fear or hate them, for no other reason than the faith they profess and the actions of extremists in other parts of the country and in other places throughout the world.

They are tolerated, as the Chinese of the Parian once were and of Binondo up to today, for the services that they render, yet mostly with suspicion, condescension or neglect that is far from benign. They have been demonized for centuries, the Tsino and the Moro, used to put fear in the hearts of unruly Christian children, ridiculed for being different, reviled because it is easier to hate what you do not know.

In 1976, the wife of the Maharlika had overseen the construction of this massive structure, whose opening was to coincide with the strongman of Libya, whom the now Immortal Widow had charmed into agreeing to broker peace between the government of her husband and the Muslim rebels in war-torn Mindanao. Surely, she must have thought, such a grand gesture would win the favor of this great chief. And so the workers labored to make her vision a reality, not resting until the Golden Mosque was built. How great her consternation must have been, when the strongman in the end decided to cancel his visit.

Cast aside by its mistress, now rendered useless as an object of vanity, the Muslims of Quiapo had embraced this gift, accepting as a fact the creation of the biggest house of the faithful in all of Manila, though knowing that the intent of the gift-giver might have been different. What is written, is written, the faithful told themselves.

When the two towers in the land of America were destroyed in 2001 and thousands died as a result of the terrorist attacks carried out by extremists in the name of Islam, life became even harder for the followers of the Prophet in Quiapo. Now, more than ever, they were convenient targets. Almost daily, they complained of harassment from the police, who arrested left and right Muslims suspected of being members of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf or having ties to terrorist cells. Over the years, the youth had grown to resent the suspicion, and while only a small minority were advocating militant action, it was easy for authorities to once more gloss over differences. Some terrorists were Muslims, therefore all Muslims were terrorists, so the logic of the law seemingly went.

The police, however, claimed that they were only preserving peace and order and protecting the citizenry of Manila from possible terrorist attacks. They complained that their colleagues were losing their lives and that they were the victims if violence and abuse, yet they were being branded as the villains.

It is a conflict between Christians and Muslims that has been raging for centuries, that has written the history of this archipelago in blood. It was in 1578 that the servants of the King of Spain first attempted to conquer the Muslims of Mindanao and Sulu, led by Governor-General Francisco de Sande, who had succeeded Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, he who had defeated Rajah Sulayman to conquer the Muslim kingdom of Maynilad in Luzon, in whose place the conquistador founded the Catholic city of Manila.

Determined to similarly bring the worship of the Christian god to the Muslims of Mindanao and Sulu, De Sande first sailed to the Muslim kingdom of Borneo with a fleet of forty ships, manned by several hundred soldiers and over a thousand Visayan allies. The Spaniards proved successful in this first encounter with the Moros of the South, and history tells us that the Spanish expedition succeeded in capturing the city of Brunei and destroying several pirate ships. Though they conquered, however, they could not convert, and the Moros successfully placed a cordon around the invaders that, faced with sickness and starvation, the Spanish forces were forced to withdraw.

To a captain named Esteban Rodriguez de Figueroa did Governador-General De Sande entrust the sacred duty of forcing the Moros of Sulu to submit to the sword of the Spanish king and embrace the Cross of Christianity. And so Figueroa attacked in 1578 Jolo, the capital of Sulu and considered the hereditary seat of Mohammedan rulers in these lands. The brave Figueroa was said to have found most of the inhabitants of the city away, as they had set sail on pirate raids, and in possible disappointment over being deprived of the great battle that he might have imagined burned the rows of nipa huts.

While the Spanish city of Manila greeted the expedition of De Sande with the Te deums and praises befitting a conquering hero, the Moros were in no mood to allow the governador-general to celebrate. Seething with rage over the sack of their capital and these series of attacks on their settlements, the Muslims harried the Spaniards time and again with pirate raids to punish the invaders and prevent them from ever contemplating another expedition against the Mohammedans.

Confident in their belief of the superiority of their race and their faith, as well as their images as the conquistadores who had destroyed the empires of the Inca and the Aztec in the New World, the Spaniards refused to accept that they could not conquer Sulu and Mindanao. After all, had they not also conquered the islands of Luzon and Visayas, laying waste to the kingdoms of the Tagalogs and the Visayans? Would not the Moro too fall before the might of the Empire?

And so over the centuries, the governador-generals of imperial Manila launched attack after attack against the Moros, killing, destroying and capturing, yet always being forced to retreat to their strongholds in Visayas and Luzon. Finally, when the Spaniards gave way to a new conqueror from the New World, they sold their holdings in this part of the world for the sum of forty million Mexican pesos. Yet even as they surrendered to the Americans in the mock battle of Manila, when in truth the revolutionaries of the Katipunan had already proclaimed their independence, the wily Spaniards still managed to deceive the Americans, selling them not only the lands of the Indio in Luzon and Visayas, but also making them believe that they owned Sulu and Mindanao and had also turned these over to the Yankees. Thus were the cowboys of America in for a rude awakening as they began the Benevolent Assimilation of Sulu and Mindanao, just as they had throughout the other islands of this archipelago, only to find that the Moros unfairly had other ideas about who owned the lands the new colonizers had supposedly bought.

It is a history of injustice that many Muslims in these islands know by heart, and it is a war that even now Manila wages against the South, centuries after the first failed attempt. The Muslims of Quiapo want peace, an escape from the endless war that has destroyed their beloved homeland of Mindanao, a chance at a better life here in the lands of their traditional enemy.

Yet even here they cannot find peace. Instead, tonight the Muslims of Quiapo prepare for the coming of war.

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Blogger Roberto Iza Valdes said...

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