A Muslim, Usman was a leader in a community with an expanding body of educated people who operate confidently with non Muslim neighbors. Over snacks in the local elementary schools Usman and others warmly welcomed our group of three peacemakers and regional facilitators who accompanied us. He and his colleagues helped us understand the history and current problems of peace and war. There was an undertone during our visit that suggested to me a residue of deep anxiety that new violence was possible.
As I left from the late January visit to Pikit I felt stretched between joyful waves and smiles from the 20 adults and children who had gathered to welcome us from the surrounding villages and dark hunches that violence may return to this cluster of hamlets. My worries were confirmed last week when I received news of Usman’s death. Usman was a candidate for election from a Muslim – Christian list of candidates for the Philippines national legislature. Usman will never serve in the Philippine legislature but his memory can inspire us all to sharpen our eyes and ears to identify and condemn coordinated assassination strategies when they appear.
Assassination pogroms have been instruments in the hands of many governments and underground groups for generations. Philippine military culture has long enjoyed close ties with the United States government through military and intelligence organizations who refined the art of modern political assassination campaigns in Viet Nam where more than 40,000 persons were killed in the long forgotten Phoenix program. That program was carried out in the year leading up to the end of Viet Nam war which ended in defeat in 1975. Despite legislation prohibiting such behavior in the US and elsewhere arms length initiatives such as the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines persist in our modern cultures of national security. We can honor our deepest commitments to faith, hope and love by seizing the life and death of a single person like Usman Ali to recommit ourselves to ending assassination by using the free space that is available to us to demystify it and condemn it.