I must confess, I had no idea that Islamic State militants have taken over a city in the southern Philippines even though I have friends who live about a two-hour drive from there. I’d visited the island of Mindanao in 1991; a lush and beautiful place that has a history of various rebel groups trying to seize control from the central government.
I’d never heard of the city of Marawi, which isn’t far from where I was in Cotabato City. It is now the scene of a Muslim uprising.
Not much has been written about this conflict in American media until Thursday, which is when the Los Angeles Times ran this amazing story of a local Muslim clan chief who sheltered dozens of Christians in his home. It starts here:
When the first artillery fire rang out one afternoon in May, Norodin Lucman thought of the four workers repairing a cellphone tower on his sprawling property. He sent one of his daughters to tell the men to come in.
Plumes of smoke spiraled up from the city below. But Marawi, home to 200,000 people, had survived armed conflict before, and Lucman assumed this one would end in a few days and his guests would go home.
Soon, though, more people began arriving at his door. Militants were torching homes and schools, freeing prisoners, taking hostages and waving Islamic State flags.
The militants had stopped another group of cell tower workers and demanded that they recite the Shahada, a Muslim proclamation of faith. Marawi is predominantly Muslim. But the men were Christians from nearby cities. They failed the test.
When one tried to escape on his motorbike, the militants shot him dead. Amid the chaos, the nine others managed to flee to Lucman’s house.
The story goes on to tell how the national government sent in troops to quell this uprising while ISIS volunteers were pouring in from around the world to try to establish a foothold in Mindanao. Marawi now lies in ruins. Meanwhile,
Soon, Lucman’s house was swarming with people -- Christians and Muslims, old and young, relatives and strangers. They crammed into two massive living rooms and the kitchen and napped on his beds.
Several relatives who lived in houses on the property left for the neighboring city of Iligan.
They begged Lucman to come along. But somebody needed to protect his 72 guests.
More than half were Christians. Lucman imagined it was only a matter of time before the Islamic militants knocked on his door.
“I’ll die first before you do,” he told the Christians. “If I die, you all die.”
The rest of the story is truly worth a read. It’s like a Muslim Schindler’s List; the story of one person putting himself at risk to save the lives of many others who are of a different religion.
The British media has been on this story more so than American media, including a story that ran in the Independent two months ago. That story also mentioned Lucman. Another Independent story talked of Muslim residents loaning hijabs to Christians to help them escape.
The Guardian has also been covering the mini-war and listing instances where Muslims protected Christians and Christians helped house refugee Muslims.
Reuters took the angle of the roots of the problem being how the Filipino government not developing the poorer and heavily Muslim south compared to the rest of the island nation. What's troubling are reports that the Philippines is the new Syria: ripe for ISIS takeover. The world's largest Islamic nation (Indonesia) is only a boat ride away from Mindanao.
Seeing as how the USA occupied the Philippines for decades, I'm not sure why American media has mostly ignored the conflict. The New York Times, which recently published this piece points out that the military only recently allowed journalists into the city. The Los Angeles Times piece has great storytelling and dialogue retold in such a way that it moves the narrative along quickly.
Fortunately, this story ends well for Lucman.
Lucman now lives with one of his sons in the nearby city of Cagayan de Oro, but spends most of his time with other family members in Iligan, not far from a makeshift camp of more than 1,000 people displaced by the violence.
He still visits secure parts of Marawi each day to advise government forces on how to end the battle.
“There are many cases of Muslim employers who died because they were protecting their Christian employees,” Lucman said. “It’s so sad. Because after my breakthrough, some people tried to do it themselves, and they failed.”
I hope more media here pick up the slack. I've spent the last hour corresponding via Facebook with my friend who lives not far from Marawi. She says the situation is still awful as the rest of Mindanao is hoping ISIS doesn't have them in their sights as well.