International Relations

A Prison Called PVE


Mansoor L. Limba on March 20, 2017

MAKATI CITY (20 March) – In August last year, I flew to Davao City – not primarily to witness and join the week-long celebration of Kadayawan Festival – but to attend two events related to history as an academic field of discipline.

Last week I flew there again – not primarily to join the Dabawenyos in their four-day Araw ng Dabaw (Davao City Founding Day) holidays – but to sit as a panel to a dissertation defense on halal practices in Region 11, to witness the launching of a book on human rights, and finally, to attend, as a representative of the academic sector, a three-day workshop on PVE.

PVE. Yes, it’s Preventing Violent Extremism.

While the topic was already more than enough to send shivers down one’s spine, the insignia “PVE. Reimagine. Redefine. Rethink.” of the UNDP-funded workshop dubbed “Redefining Radicalization: Streamlining PVE/CVE Efforts of Institutions” was even quite intriguing, to say the least.

It naturally elicits such questions as “What is the dominant ‘imagination’ about PVE? What is the conventional definition of violent extremism? What is the common thinking about radicalization? What is the problem with such an imagination, definition and thinking so much so that it demands re-imagination, redefinition and rethinking?”

Dissecting dichotomies   

As early as the first workshop on the definitions and conceptual assumptions of radicalization and violent extremism, three words could easily be identified as implicit culprits, viz. radicalization, violence, and extremism. Are they supposed to be culprits all the time? Guided by this question, the first open forum would border on intellectual jousting coupled with occasional jokes on Moro piracy vis-à-vis foreign intrusion.

If understood to mean “the process of instituting a fundamental and comprehensive change,” is radicalization always bad? Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein were certified radicals who have brought scientific revolutions.

Is violence or the use of physical force always condemnable? Wars of national liberation – prior to, during and after the two world wars – were all violent in nature. George Washington was undoubtedly violent. So was Andres Bonifacio.

Is extremism always blameworthy? In the business world in which mediocrity – or to be average – is a heinous crime punishable by death, extreme ideas and innovative minds are natural recipes for survival and eventual success.

Even in the second workshop that attempted to identify the ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ instances of radicalization, there was no sufficient time to appreciate the many grays in between these opposing poles (positive and negative). A knife in motion can either be ‘moral’ or ‘immoral’ while a knife in inertia is ‘amoral’. In other words, a knife used to commit a crime is ‘bad’ while a knife used in the kitchen to prepare foods for hungry stomachs is ‘good’ whereas a sleeping knife is neither good nor bad, in absolute sense.

In short, whenever there are artificial constructs, which are arranged hierarchically such that in the case of opposites in language one term is always privileged over the other, the anomaly of such dichotomies must be dissected.

How about PVE via ‘TVE’?

Meanwhile, from the first session down to the presentations of the three foreign experts on the second day, what can be observed was that the issue of PVE has been mostly treated and discussed through social science lenses – economic, sociological, psychological, anthropological.

On the other hand, what is given less attention is the fact that the main identity and meta-signifier of many violent extremist groups is religious in nature with very strong theological underpinnings.

In the case of ISIS, its main identity is rooted in the notion of ‘Islamic State’ and the revival of the caliphate (khilafah) which is an important theme in Islamic political thought and political jurisprudence.

There is no denying that social injustices, poverty, and psychological factors are significant drivers of violent extremism, but the fact is that these elements are dealt with by these groups within the framework of Islamic metaphors and symbols.

Is it enough to issue a religious edict against terrorism ( in Arabic language ( without translating it into any of the languages understandable to the local youth – such as English and Filipino?

Is it enough to argue that there is nothing Islamic in those groups (, by citing a few Qur’anic verses here and there?

If you do so, they could instantly throw you with tens of Qur’anic verses, a double or triple number of narrations from the corpus of hadith (Prophetic traditions), and everything including the kitchen sink from the works of such Muslim figures as Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn al-Jawzi, and Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab.

As such, in order for any PVE program to be considered comprehensive, there is a logical need to understand the ‘theology of violent extremism’ (TVE) – the same language these groups astutely use to convey their message and gain recruits.

On hindsight, unless these two points, among others, are addressed, PVE will remain a conceptual prison that necessitates Derridean ‘deconstruction’ and ‘double reading’ – and thereafter, re-imagination, redefinition and rethinking.


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Is the Philippine IR Discipline Ready to be Disciplined?


Mansoor L. Limba on March 13, 2017

MAKATI CITY (MindaNews /13 March) – Through a last-minute intervention by a mighty Pen, I was able to attend the 2017 founding Philippine International Studies Association (PhISO) International Conference on International Studies held at Far Eastern University (FEU), Manila.

With the theme “Disciplining the Discipline: The History, Theory and Practice of International Relations in the Philippines,” the three-day conference became a pioneering venue for presentation of papers at various panels such as “Critical Perspectives in Security and International Relations,” “Great Powers and Institutions in Global Politics,” “Non-state Actors and Transnational Relations,” “Challenges to the Concept of the State in East Asia: History, Rivalry, and Migration,” “Revisiting the Role of Non-state Actors in International Relations,” “The International Politics of Middle Eastern Societies,” and “Maritime Security among State and Non-state Actors in East Asia.”

Simultaneous with the conference presentation of papers was the holding of a workshop with the theme “Exploring Global South Contributions in International Relations” in collaboration with Global South Caucus on International Studies (GSCIS) by the International Studies Association (ISA). Aimed at serving as a critical academic platform “for thinking and doing IR differently and beyond the Global North’s IR perspectives,” the workshop advances “cosmologies of diverse ways of contemplating the ‘international’ as a form of study, discipline, and reality,” PhISO website would inform us.

Inspired by postmodernist Richard Ashley’s critique of ‘anarchy problematique’ in existing IR literature, my workshop paper examined the Qur’anic concept of ‘mustad‘afin’ (the downtrodden) as expounded by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s founder and reflected in the Iranian constitution vis-à-vis the Westphalian notion of nation-state sovereignty.

The paper presentations in both the conference hall and the workshop room were delectably peppered by two roundtables – “The Philippines and the International” and “Pedagogy, Curriculum, and Syllabus Development of International and Global Studies” – as well as three keynote speeches given by UP Diliman IR/IS professors, Dr. Clarita Carlos, Dr. Herman Joseph Kraft, and Prof. Frances Antoinette Cruz during the Opening Ceremony, Welcome Dinner, and Closing Ceremony, respectively.

Outside the walls of the conference hall and the workshop room, I would spend my light moments chatting with other participants or members of the secretariat beside the registration and information table, sipping hot coffee at the snacks room, or flipping through selected books at the book exhibit participated in by SAGE Publications, University of the Philippines Press, Ateneo de Manila University Press, De La Salle University Publishing House, University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, Far Eastern University Publications, Ateneo de Davao University Publishing Office, and Vibal Publishing.

For me, the center of attraction in the book exhibit was the booth of Liberland. Proclaimed for the first time on April 13, 2015 by a Czech right-libertarian politician and activist, the seven-square-kilometer Free Republic of Liberland, as I learned then for the first time, is a ‘sovereign’ state located between Croatia and Serbia on the west bank of the Danube river – though receiving no recognition yet from any member of the United Nations!

The ground-breaking conference, successful as it was, all started with a single person – the PhISO founder who is a young Mindanawan. As revealed by Prof. Carlos in her keynote speech, whenever she would meet him abroad many years back, her former student would never digress from talking about a national international studies association in the country. For me, more impressive than founding PhISO itself is his conspicuous magnanimity in not styling himself the founding president. He just settled with the vice presidency on publication, a position he is much competent in given his external publication experience and linkages.

On my way back to Makati City while reflecting on the points shared by the PhISO President in her closing ceremony’s keynote speech, I can’t help but ask myself, “Is the Philippine International Relations/International Studies discipline ready to be disciplined?”

The veteran gatekeepers of the discipline and vanguards of Philippine diplomacy and foreign service may say, “We have been disciplining it these decades through our works!”

The young IR/IS students from various universities and colleges, who constituted the bulk of conference participants, may counter, “Is there really the Philippine IR discipline, in the first place, to be disciplined?”


[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, is a writer, educator, blogger, chess trainer, and translator (from Persian into English and Filipino) with tens of written and translation works to his credit on such subjects as international politics, history, political philosophy, intra-faith and interfaith relations, cultural heritage, Islamic finance, jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (‘ilm al-kalam), Qur’anic sciences and exegesis (tafsir), hadith, ethics, and mysticism. He can be reached at, or and]

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Islamic, Un-Islamic, or Islamist?


Mansoor L. Limba on January 19, 2017

MAKATI CITY (MindaNews /19 January) – At the sideline of a peace-building symposium-workshop at the height of the national electoral campaign period last year, the casual conversation between two long-time friends, a Muslim NGO worker and a Mindanao-based non-Muslim journalist, turned into a heated argument over an ‘accurate’ descriptive word for such groups as the Abu Sayyaf Group and others.

The NGO worker protested against the journalist’s use of the term ‘Islamic extremism’ to describe such groups or their activities. “They cannot be ‘Islamic’ because what they are doing are clearly against the teachings of Islam!” he would complain.

“But they are using Islamic symbols, metaphors and justifications!” the journalist would reason out.

As I was attentively listening to both arguments, I can’t help but call to mind postmodernism’s recurring themes, particularly Jacques Derrida’s ‘grammatology’ or semiotic analysis given in his various writings.

Derrida’s Grammatology

According to Derrida, who was a preeminent postmodernist figure, textual is the way in which the social world is constructed. For him the world is constituted like a text such that interpreting the world reflects what he calls “the textual interplay at work,” or the concepts and structures of language.

In order to expose these textual interplays, Derrida advances two ways, viz. deconstruction and double reading (Derrida, Of Grammatology, 1976). Anchored in the idea that seemingly stable and natural concepts and relations within language are in fact artificial constructs, arranged hierarchically such that in the case of opposites in language one term is always privileged over the other, deconstruction is a means of showing how all theories and discourses rely on artificial stabilities produced by the use of seemingly objective and natural oppositions in language; for example, light/darkness, knowledge/ignorance, white/black, friend/enemy.

In a bid to demonstrate how these stabilizations operate, Derrida subjects the text to double reading, the first being a repetition of the dominant reading to show how it achieves its outward coherence and the second being the demonstration of the internal tensions within a text that result from the use of ostensibly natural stabilizations. His aim is not to come to a ‘correct’ or even ‘one’ reading of a text, but to show how there is always more than one reading of any text.

Applying both deconstruction and double reading, one would venture to ask, “If used to modify something praiseworthy, which term is privileged over the other – ‘Islamic’ or ‘un-Islamic’? How about if it is used to describe something blameworthy?” “In between ‘Islamic’ and ‘un-Islamic’ at both ends of a spectrum, is there any possibility of a third modifier? In other words, is there a possible gray in between white and black?”


The argument goes, “They are ‘Islamic’ groups in the sense that their members are Muslims, or at least, they claim to be such; they use Islamic symbols and metaphors such as the black flag with religious inscription in Arabic, and the utterance of ‘Allahu akbar’ (‘Allah is the greatest’) in their propaganda materials; they justify their acts as part of ‘jihad’.”

Backed up by this kind of reasoning, the label ‘Islamic’ inevitably gives the impression that the term being described is ideally representative of, or in line with, Islam and that there is a unanimous view of Muslims or the majority of them in this regard. But the truth of the matter is that it is not so. In fact, many Muslims, if not most of them, take offense with the media hype ‘Islamic terrorism’ or ‘Islamic extremism’.

As an expected drawback, such a label provides such groups an axe to grind about the allegation that “there is indeed a foreign (Western) conspiracy to demonize Islam and the Muslims,” thereby aptly dragging the ‘victimized’ typical Muslims into the warm embrace of those groups.

‘Maute Group’

The appellation ‘Maute Group’ also works the same way. What is the origin of the appellation? Do the leadership and members of the group explicitly identify themselves as such?

A background study of the group shows that since 2013 it has been identifying itself as ‘Dawlah Islamiyah’ (‘Islamic State’) [in Lanao] while its precursor was Khilafah Islamiyah Mindanao-Black Flag Movement (KIM-BFM).

Then, who originates the ‘Maute Group’ appellation? If Google search were the basis, the media that oftentimes erroneously describes ‘Khilafah Islamiyah Mindanao’ as ‘Khalifah’ (Caliph) (instead of ‘Khilafah’ (Caliphate)) is also the one that cogently coins the appellation, obviously for convenience’s sake.

What’s the justification? “Well, the founders of the group are two Maute brothers, Abdullah and Omar, and a good number of its members are the founders’ relatives,” one might put forth.

Granted that tens, say fifty, members of the group bear the family name ‘Maute’, is this hasty generalization justifiable? Is it reasonable to implicitly implicate in the popular court of public opinion the hundreds, if not thousands, of members of the clan to the group and its notoriety?

Is this not playing the very game of the players one refuses to play with?

No wonder, for individuals for whom drowning in the deep blue sea of stereotyping and guilt by association is imminent, befriending the ‘devil’ of violent extremism is by far ‘a lesser evil’.


The binary opposite of this ‘Islamic’ appellation is the simplistic dismissal and dissociation of such groups with Islam:

“The ISIS is un-Islamic. The activities of such-and-such groups are against the teachings and principles of Islam. Those who commit such acts are not Muslims, even if they call themselves ‘Muslims’. Terrorism is ‘haram’. No Muslim is a terrorist!”

The fact is that with all their doctrinal sophistication and communication astuteness, these groups use Islamic symbols and theological bases in such a way that awfully appeal to the innate idealism and heroism of young Muslims.

As you condemn terrorism, they would instantly present you with a plethora of Qur’anic passages, citations from the Prophetic tradition (hadith), and/or selective historical accounts in order to doctrinally justify their violent acts. Worse still, they might even declare that it is you who actually went outside the pale of Islam and is condemned to death for being a ‘murtad’ (apostate)!

No doubt, a regional Muslim authority’s issuance of a religious edict (fatwa) against terrorism in 2015 can be considered a laudable bold step ( Yet, the fact that the said fatwa is written in Arabic ( and that no official English and Filipino translations of it have been so far posted in the same website two years since its issuance is something regrettable, as it dismally fails to reach a wider audience – the overwhelming majority of local Muslims, the youth in particular, who are not Arabic literate.

In this age of information overload and unprecedented speed wherein religious sermons delivered on top of the wooden ‘mimbar’ (pulpit) of the mosque are replaced (or supplemented) by Facebook posts and Tweets in the cyberspace, the ‘khatib’ (preacher) needs more than a loud speaker.

The Middle Ground

After doing Derridian ‘deconstruction’ and ‘double reading’ of the terms ‘Islamic’ and ‘un-Islamic’ to describe certain groups, is ‘a third reading’ possible? Can we come up with a middle ground? Can we find a neutral platform?

As I was passively listening to the arguments of the journalist (who uses the appellation ‘Islamic’ to those groups) and the NGO worker (who, in contrast, prefers the label ‘un-Islamic’ to describe the same), I was imagining myself telling them both, “In my personal opinion, both of you have valid points in your arguments. Apart from ‘Islamic’ and ‘un-Islamic’, ‘Islamist’ is a due candidate to describe those groups – more accurately. The modifier ‘Islamist’ suggests that those groups adopt Islam – implicitly or explicitly – as their overarching ideology (‘ism’) but whether this adoption is religiously correct or not on the basis of the textual sources of Islam is a different story.”

In other words, the universe is not a monopoly of binary equations. The world is not always a case of “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Zero-sum is not always the game in town.

In the Derridian jargon, there is always a multiple reading of a text.


[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, is a writer, educator, blogger, chess trainer, and translator (from Persian into English and Filipino) with tens of written and translation works to his credit on such subjects as international politics, history, political philosophy, intra-faith and interfaith relations, cultural heritage, Islamic finance, jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (‘ilm al-kalam), Qur’anic sciences and exegesis (tafsir), hadith, ethics, and mysticism. He can be reached at, or and]

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Forthcoming Publication: LIGHT MOMENTS IN VIENNA


The book features selected anecdotes of my personal experience while undergoing KAICIID fellowship training in interreligious and intercultural dialogue in Vienna, Austria.

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Navigating Human Rights in IR Methodological Landscape (part 2 of 2)



MINDAVIEWS > MARGINALIA: Navigating human rights in IR methodological landscape (2)

Mansoor L. Limba on December 11, 2016

(Last of two parts)

MAKATI CITY (MindaNews /11 December) – Why are the theory of universal human rights and the everyday practice of human wrongs heaven and earth apart? Are human rights abuses a product of the mere failure of governments to observe universal human rights principles both in letter and spirit? Or, perhaps, is it due to the fact that the very search for moral universals is itself a foundationally fallacious business?

To answer these questions through an exploration of the methodological basis of the claims to universal human rights is the principal burden of this section, nay this column as a whole.

Historically, the idea of rights has embodied, inter alia, two fundamental claims. First, that there is a claim to some substance by an identifiable subject who has entitlements (object of right); and secondly, that the identifiable subject who has entitlements cites some particular ground in support of his or her claim (foundation of the right). In the context of human rights literature, the object of right is the ‘human’ rights as claimed by the human being while the foundation of the right is the human being’s ‘humanness’. Methodologically, the first element (object of right) is pertaining to the ontology of the subject while the second one (foundation of the right) is related to the epistemology of the same.

In this light, four human rights theories according to this ontology-epistemology categorization will be examined below, viz. (1) liberal natural rights theory, (2) traditional communitarianism, (3) communitarian pragmatism, and (4) cosmopolitan pragmatism.

Liberal natural rights theory

According to the liberal natural rights theory, the idea of human rights is that all human beings have rights by virtue of their common humanity. Individuals have certain kinds of rights as members of particular communities, but human rights belong to humanity and do not depend for their existence on the legal and moral practices of different communities. Thus, even if individuals were denied rights by the laws of a particular state, they still can make a claim to rights by virtue of their membership to common humanity. (J. Donnelly, Human Rights Working Papers Number 12, p. 2)

One attempt to provide a defense of common morality historically has been made by the natural law tradition. At its core, natural law maintains that there is a unity among all peoples of the world irrespective of cultural difference. Later society-of-states theorists recognized the intrusion of the ‘law of nations’ into the idea of a cosmic moral law, but nevertheless hold on to the idea that natural law provides an underlying moral foundation. While classical thinking on natural law placed duties at the center of its moral deliberations, the challenge for contemporary advocates is to show how natural law can support a theory of universal human rights. (“Human Rights,” Encyclopedia Britannica 2002 Standard Electronic Edition)

Claims to know what is right are founded on “those basic precepts of common morality [which] are accessible to human reason; they can be known by anyone capable of thought and action.” (Joseph Boyle, Traditions of International Ethics, p. 129) Thus, the faculty of reason which is assumed to be transcultural enables individuals to deduce the correct moral code by which to live their lives. As Tim Dunne and Nicholas Wheeler point out, this is an appealing idea but the fundamental weakness of ‘practical reason’ is that it cannot easily explain why moral practices vary within and between cultures. (Dunne and Wheeler, Human Rights in Global Politics, p. 5) The kernel of this natural rights position is that all individuals have certain basic rights because they share the same essential human nature.

Liberal natural human rights thinking has underpinned the development of the international legal regime in human rights. For evidence of the widespread acceptance of the discourse on ‘natural rights’, we need look no further than the United Nations charter which seeks “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights”. Similarly, the Preamble to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that the ‘recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” (Antonio Cassese, Human Rights in a Changing World, p. 189)

Be that as it may, the fundamental problem with defending the human rights regime in terms of natural rights thinking is the failure of its advocates to provide a convincing theory of human nature which would ground notions of human dignity. (See Donnelly, “The Universal Declaration Model of Human Rights: A Liberal Defense.”)

In an attempt to defend the liberal theory, Ken Booth identifies ‘three tyrannies’ that oppress the theory and practice of human rights: ‘presentism’, ‘culturalism’ and ‘positivism’. ‘Presentism’, according to him, views the social world as natural and immutable, whereas social anthropology propounds that humanity is constantly evolving and that appeals to human nature as the ‘clinching argument’ are always overturned by changing social relations. ‘Culturalism’ accordingly is the belief that cultures can be black-boxed ala billiard ball.  ‘Positivism’ is the tendency to claim objectivity in the social world. (Booth, Human Rights in Global Politics, pp. 31-70)

Contrary to the cultural relativists and postmodernists who espouse toleration of diversity, Booth addresses the question, “How much diversity should be tolerated?” In retort to the question of what are the foundations for human rights, he asserts that it is wrong to torture, starve, humiliate, and hurt others. For him, human rights are not a matter of opinion, cultural prejudice or one society’s narrative vis-à-vis another; instead, they are a reply to these ‘universal social facts’. (Ibid.)

Like Booth, Donnelly identifies an important relationship between the ideas of human rights and human dignity. He shows how the idea of human rights emerged as a specific historical response to the challenges of modernity. Instead of resolving the meta-ethical foundations of human rights, Donnelly highlights the import of the ‘remarkable international normative consensus on the list of rights’ found in the human rights covenants and treaties. As a whole, the main problem confronting the contemporary human rights regime is the contradiction between the human rights commitments of states and their actual practices. (Donnelly, Human Rights in Global Politics, pp. 71-102)

Traditional communitarianism

Traditional communitarianism holds the following core assumptions: (1) the liberal view of the individual as a bearer of rights discards or belittles the formative role of the community in constituting individuality; (2) the problem with the liberal position on human rights is that it assumes that rights-bearing individuals exist prior to societies whereas in reality it is societies that confer rights on individuals. (Chris Brown, The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations, p. 472) As such, different kinds of societies will produce different kinds of individuals, sometimes conferring rights, sometimes finding other ways of giving meaning to people’s lives. Anyhow, the rights of the individuals do not necessarily override the rights of the community.

Corollary to these assumptions is the tenet that there are many different ways in which human beings may lead dignified and fulfilling lives. The idea that dignity only comes with the possession of rights is peculiarly Western, with no claim to universal status. (Ibid.)

In other words, for the traditional communitarians, the existence of the standard is itself the problem. According to them, rights are a consequence of the civilized practices of liberal polities and not the cause of these. Any attempt by international society to close the compliance gap, therefore, is a ‘near-to-impossible task’. The communitarian perspective holds that human beings have rights by virtue of their community and not some abstract notion of ‘common humanity’. This is the argument that has traditionally been mobilized by cultural relativists. (Brown, “Universal Human Rights: A Critique,” in Human Rights in Global Politics)

The central claim is that morality is culturally bound, and values can only be grounded in tradition. The idea, then, of individuals possessing inalienable rights which they claim against the state is unthinkable in many societies where the individual is embedded in a complex network of communal duties and familial responsibilities. According to Molly Cochram, cultural relativism can be viewed as a form of moral discourse which ‘founds and enables the ethical discourse in which social judgments are possible’. (Cochran, “Cosmopolitanism and Communitarianism in a Post-Cold War World,” in Boundaries in Question, p. 48)

According to Tim Dunne and Nicholas Wheeler, cultural relativists are often accused of being unable to judge between competing values. While ‘some kind of lowest common denominator’ might be present in diverse cultures, such a moral standard lacks a ‘critical cutting edge’ because it is reducible to these cultural practices. Nevertheless, certain human wrongs like genocide and mass murder will be caught by this moral minimalism. Although this ‘general moral standard’ provides a means to judge and criticize egregious regimes like Hitler’s Germany, Pol Pot’s Cambodia and Amin’s Uganda, it is unable to deal with more routine human rights abuses. (Dunne and Wheeler, “Introduction: Human Rights and the Fifty Years’ Crisis,” p. 8)

Communitarian pragmatism

Communitarian pragmatism involves recognizing that human rights are based on a particular culture and defending them in these terms rather than by reference to some universal cross-cultural code. The particular culture is what Richard Rorty called ‘human rights culture’. (Rorty, “Human Rights, Rationality and Sentimentality,” in On Human Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures) This theory rejects the idea that it is possible to demonstrate that human rights exist; instead, it involves proselytizing on behalf of the sort of culture in which it exists. The fundamental point is that human life is safer, pleasanter and more dignified when rights are acknowledged than when they are not. (Brown, “Human Rights,” p. 481)

By transcending the debate between relativists and universalists, communitarian pragmatism argues that the problem with both positions is their dependence upon epistemological foundationalism: the problem with universal critiques of relativism is that they assume that there is some non-relativist position upon which to stand. (Brown, “Universal Human Rights: A Critique”)

For a pragmatist like Rorty, the idea that reason or science can access ‘justified true belief’ (epistemology) is nothing but a myth. Accordingly, our beliefs are no more than contingent preferences which help us to cope with the complexities of late modern life. Rights, for Rorty, are nothing more than a story that liberal societies have decided to ‘tell’ and as a consequence, it is only liberal societies which provide an epistemological context for human rights justifications. (Ibid.)

The pragmatists’ denunciation of all narratives which posit universal truths seems to imply a deadly blow for the defenders of human rights. However, Rorty argues that it is ‘we the twentieth century liberals’ who have the responsibility to nurture and strengthen the ‘human rights culture’ which is a fact of the post-Holocaust world. Momentously, for Rorty, this culture ‘seems to owe nothing to increased moral knowledge, and everything to hearing sad and sentimental stories’. (Rorty, “Human Rights, Rationality and Sentimentality,” p. 133) What human solidarity depends upon is the manipulation of the sentiments such that ‘we liberals’ come to realize that our differences with others are less important than our shared capacity to experience pain and suffering. (Brown, “Universal Human Rights: A Critique”)

Yet, Brown criticizes Rorty’s view for nothing to say to those societies which have not undergone a process of ‘education of the sentiments’. Thus, there is no knock-down argument against the Bosnian Serbs who choose to construct Bosnian Muslims as sub-human. He does not want to call these people inhuman or morally wrong as this implies the existence of a universal human nature; instead he wants to argue that they have been deprived of the condition in which to develop feelings of human solidarity. Rorty’s position ‘does not solve all the problems of relativism’ and sentimentality is an ‘inadequate’ response to human wrongs but reluctantly admits that ‘it is difficult to see what other moral vocabulary is available to us once we reach the limits of an ethical community’. (Ibid.)

Cosmopolitan pragmatism

Unlike traditional communitarianism and communitarian pragmatism, cosmopolitan pragmatism is more supportive of universal ideas but on a non-foundationalist basis. For instance, the moral philosopher Bhikhu Parekh argues for a conception of universal values which steers a course between the opposites of moral relativism and foundationalist claims of an essential and knowable human nature. For Parekh, the fundamental problem with relativism is ‘that we have no means of judging a society’s moral beliefs and practices’. At the opposite pole to relativism stands ‘moral monism’, a position which maintains that ‘we cannot only judge other societies but also lay down what way of life is the highest or truly human’. Both are equally unsatisfactory because it assumes an essential human nature which can be revealed after the superstructure of cultural embeddedness has been stripped away. (Parekh, “Non-ethnocentric Universalism,” in Human Rights in Global Politics, pp. 128-159)

According to him, between these two extremes lies ‘minimum universalism’ which recognizes the fact of moral diversity but believes ‘that moral life can be lived in several different ways, but insists that they can be judged on the basis of a universally valid body of values.’

Although this theoretical position has more to commend it than the other two, Parekh opines that it does not overcome the following objections. First, it relies on an account of human nature which brings it perilously close to monism; secondly, it is questionable whether there is a normative consensus on prohibiting even the most cruel and inhumane practice; and thirdly, universal principles are either too abstract or too weak to provide the possibility of judgment across cultures.

Instead of the three approaches, Parekh advocates a theory of non-ethnocentric universal values which can be constructed by means of a dialogue between equals:

“The point of cross-cultural dialogue is to arrive at a body of values to which all the participants can be expected to agree. Our concern is not to discover values, for they have no objective basis, but to agree on them… Values are a matter of collective decision, and like any other decision it is based on reasons. Since moral values cannot be rationally demonstrated, our concern should be to build a consensus around those that can be shown to be rationally most defensible.” (Ibid.)

In sum, for him universal values can have no ‘objective basis’. Universal values are possible but have to be decided through argumentation. Thus, cosmopolitan pragmatism believes it is possible to recognize the reality of cultural embeddedness while leaving open the possibility for a transcultural consensus which is more than just ‘the lowest common denominator of different cultural traditions’.

Is the claim to universality masking the particular interests and values of its exponents, and is it increasingly contested as a consequence of the rise of new power centers in world politics?

In similar view, in exploring this question in terms of the relationship between human rights and power in the debate between the West and Asia, Andrew Hurrell argues that the ‘Asian values’ challenge to the West reflects the growth of the economic and political power of states like China, Malaysia and Singapore, which interpret human rights concerns on the part of the West as a maneuver in the competition for relative gains. (Hurrell, “Power, Principles and Prudence: Protecting Human Rights in a Deeply Divided World,” in Human Rights in Global Politics, pp. 277-302)

Even if the discourse of Asia values is ‘manipulated and abused by governments’ as part of traditional power politics, Hurrell reasons out that the debate reveals ‘real and genuine conflicts over the nature of human rights’. As a consequence, he suggests that instead of worrying about the ‘foundations’ of our human rights claims, we should ‘build on and develop the human rights culture and community that has evolved in practice—the element of consensus visible in the actual practice of states. (Ibid.)

Summary and conclusion

Within the ontology-epistemology matrix, human rights theories can be generally classified into four classes, viz. (1) liberal natural rights theory, (2) traditional communitarianism, (3) communitarian pragmatism, and (4) cosmopolitan pragmatism. Liberal natural rights theory hymns the common ‘song’ that every human being has a set of universal rights by virtue of his or her membership in humanity. This theory represents the universalism-foundationalism ‘box’ in the ontology-epistemology matrix.

Representing the subjectivism-foundationalism subset, traditional communitarianism maintains that though human rights are universally acknowledged, there is no monolithic set of human rights values for all people. Thus, these values are community-based and thus, violation of which must be viewed from the framework of the particular society. This theory is commonly known as ‘cultural relativism’.

By arguing that the problem with both the liberal natural rights theory and traditional communitarianism is their dependence on ‘universal foundation’ and that human rights values are different from society to society, communitarian pragmatism is appropriately placed in the subjectivism-anti-foundationalism ‘box’.

Cosmopolitan pragmatism agrees with communitarian pragmatism in the denial of a common platform to which human rights can be based, but upholds that a sort of universal human rights values can be obtained through agreement among the people of the world.

From the foregoing sections, it is shown that side by side with the progress in the human rights norm cascade is the intensification of violation of the same rights. A methodological examination of the contending theories on the nature of these rights suggests that the debate on the causes of the wide gap between the idea of human rights and the practice of human wrongs goes back to the very question of human rights’ ‘universality’ being based on the ‘humanness’ of human being.

For the years to come, therefore, human wrongs cannot be expected to be sidetracked from the international scene unless these philosophical issues found their absolute settlement. Yet, a probable source of optimism is the fact that although none of the theories taken into account has finally resolved the human rights philosophical problematique, most people are not philosophers who reckon philosophy as master and not servant. As such, the future of human rights lies on the strength, or otherwise, of the popular backing for its universality in the years ahead.  These writings about a massacre, domestication, demolition, and the downtrodden are indeed an illustrious showcase of a continuously growing multidisciplinary trend in the academe.


[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, is a writer, educator, blogger, chess trainer, and translator (from Persian into English and Filipino) with tens of written and translation works to his credit on such subjects as international politics, history, political philosophy, intra-faith and interfaith relations, cultural heritage, Islamic finance, jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (‘ilm al-kalam), Qur’anic sciences and exegesis (tafsir), hadith, ethics, and mysticism. He can be reached at, or and]

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Navigating Human Rights in IR Methodological Landscape (part 1 of 2)



MINDAVIEWS > MARGINALIA: Navigating human rights in IR methodological landscape (part 1 of 2)

Mansoor L. Limba on December 10, 2016

MAKATI CITY (MindaNews /10 December) – Encyclopedia Britannica simply defines human rights as “rights that belong to an individual as a consequence of being human.” For John Vincent, this right consists of the following five elements: “a right-holder (the subject of a right) has a claim to some substance (the object of a right), which he or she might assert, or demand, or enjoy, or enforce (exercising a right) against some individual or group (the bearer of the correlative duty), citing in support of his or her claim some particular ground (the justification of a right).” (Human Rights and International Relations, p. 8)

They are a set of principled ideas about the treatment to which all individuals are entitled by virtue of being human. Due to the fact that one either is or is not a human being, human rights are held equally by all. Equally, since one cannot cease to be human being, regardless of his or her ‘inhuman’ conduct or condition he or she is currently in, these rights are said to be inalienable. (J. Donnelly, “The Universal Declaration Model of Human Rights: A Liberal Defense,” p. 2)

Human rights in IR

In due course, these ideas have earned general recognition as international norms defining what was necessary for humans to flourish, both in terms of being protected from abuses, and provided with the elements necessary for a life in dignity. Since a problem often becomes the subject of international action only after a dramatic event crystallizes awareness, Jack Donnelly argues that the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials (1945-46) at which leading Nazis were prosecuted under the new charge of ‘crimes against humanity’ crystallizes the world awareness on human rights as an international issue worth contemplating for—an issue which was reckoned before as a domestic affair within the cocoon of ‘sovereignty’. (Donnelly, International Human Rights, pp. 4-5)

While the Covenant of the League of Nations made no mention of human rights, the Charter of the United Nations’ Preamble stipulates a resolve “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights” and its first article incorporates “encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all” as among the organization’s principal raison d’êtres. The day after opening for signature the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly (GA). Following the adoption of the seminal and most authoritative statement of international human rights norms, human rights continued to be discussed at the UN though this momentum was initially brought to a halt by the Cold War.

During the Cold War human rights widely became an arena of superpower struggle. Besides, both superpowers manifested a blatant disrespect for human rights. Derailing of work on further elaborations of international human rights standards is also an instance of arbitrary impacts of the Cold War. A case in point is the almost two decades time gap between the adoption of the UDHR and the completion of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—covenants that were envisioned as a single treaty in 1948. Though achieving only limited or partial success, in 1970s human rights norms saw a leap forward from standard setting to monitoring their compliance. As norms continued to be developed, multilateral, bilateral, and transnational human rights activities steadily increased through the 1980s. Then, with the removal of the Iron Curtain, the 1990 decade was a witness to “a most gradual, but generally positive, change as shown by a region-by-region review.” (Ibid., p. 13) These developments in the context of national, international and transnational normative deepening and the maturing of human rights as an international issue have been considered an indication of “a qualitative transformation of the international politics of human rights.” (Ibid., p. 17)

In sum, most international human rights treaties agreed upon after 1945 regulate the domestic behavior of governments towards their own citizens. With the significant expansion of such regimes within the last fifty years state actors face growing formal and informal limits to the policy choices they have. Human rights norms have experienced a norms cascade in the last two decades and are part of the transformation of the international system as indicated by the following facts:

“In 1975, only 33 countries had ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, equaling 23 per cent of the UN membership at that time (144). By July 2001, 147 states had ratified the treaty (equaling 76 per cent of the total UN membership of 189) and 97 the Optional Protocol accepting supervisory powers of Human Rights Committee. In addition, 157 states have ratified the Convention against Racial Discrimination, 145 the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 168 the Women’s Rights convention, 125 the Convention against Torture, and 191 the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” (Handbook of International Relations, p. 524)

Nevertheless, it is proper to stress that the import of the origins, acceptance and evolution of norms depends on their ability to affect actual behavior beyond mere rhetorical commitment. This compliance on human rights norms can be viewed as a spectrum including (1) the ratification of a human rights treaty, (2) the fulfillment of reporting and other requests by supervisory bodies, (3) the implementation of norms in domestic law, (4) and rule-consistent behavior on the domestic level. (A. Kent, China, the United Nations and Human Rights: The Limits of Compliance, p. 236)

Alongside internationalization of human rights norms, there has emerged a growing moral consciousness among world public opinion of human rights issues and concerns. Along this line, state behavior is now more closely monitored with respect to the gulf between the declaratory commitments of governments to protect and promote human rights and their compliance with these standards.

In the succeeding sections the different theories on human rights from the methodological (ontological-epistemological) perspective are presented. These theories give different answers to the following question:

Why the theory of universal human rights and the everyday practice of human wrongs are heaven and earth apart? Are human rights abuses a product of the mere failure of governments to observe universal human rights principles both in letter and spirit? Or, perhaps, is it due to the fact that the very search for moral universals is itself a foundationally fallacious business?

Methodology in IR

As an institutionalized academic discipline, International Relations deals with two fundamental kinds of issues. One kind of issues is the substantive one that refers to the questions of facts. What are the contributory factors that led to the Iran-Iraq war? Who are responsible for the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001? Is the computer technology an agent or product of globalization? What are the political and economic motives behind the US/UK aggression in Iraq? These are examples of substantive questions. The other type of issues is the methodological one. It pertains to conceptual and philosophical questions that are involved in the way the research in the discipline is carried out. Examples of methodological issues include the following: is the national interest of the state constitutive or regulatory, exogenous or endogenous? Is anarchy really what the states make of it? How plausible is the claim of Robert Gilpin that one can adopt realism as a methodological theory while adopting another normative view as he does? (Gilpin, Global Political Economy: Understanding the International Economic Order, p. 15)

Though students of the discipline are usually engrossed with the first kind of issues, it cannot be denied that the second affects the way how we view the former. In other words, substantive questions, including the ones stated above, also exemplify conceptual issues: What is ‘war’? What are the things that can be considered ‘contributory factors’? What constitute a ‘terrorist attack’? What is ‘terrorism’? What is ‘globalization’? What is the difference between ‘agent’ and ‘product’ of globalization? What are ‘political and economic motives’? What comprises ‘aggression’?

As far as methodological issues are concerned, two aspects usually come to the fore, viz. ontology and epistemology. Ontology is that branch of the philosophy of social science, which concerns with the nature of the social world. It is interested with the following question: Is there an objective reality ‘out there’ or is it a subjective creation of people? The extreme objectivist stance is essentially ‘naturalist’: the social world of international relations is basically a thing, an object, out there. (‘Naturalist’ in the sense that the natural and the social worlds are assumed to be the same and as such, the same types of instruments can be utilized to study them.) On the other end of the spectrum is the extreme subjectivist standpoint that is purely idealist: the social world of international relations is basically an idea or concept that people share about how they should organize themselves and relate to each other politically; it is constituted by language, ideas and concepts. (R. Jackson and G. Sorensen, Introduction to International Relations, p. 243) Thus, on the ontological axis we have subjectivism and objectivism.

As another branch of the philosophy of social science, epistemology pertains to the relation of our knowledge to that world. In other words, it is the study of how we can claim to know something: “how to know that we know what we know.” (O. Wæver, The Future of International Relations: Masters in the Making?, p. 16)

At one end of the continuum is the view of scientifically explaining the world. It is a matter of building a valid social science on a foundation of verifiable empirical propositions. In this light, IR theories are explanatory and foundational, i.e. the social world is external to the theory and the theory is based on a common and universally accepted platform. Besides, all truth claims can be judged true or false. The concern of the theory is to uncover regularities in human behavior and thereby explain the social world in much the same way a natural scientific theory does explain the physical world.

At the other end of the continuum is the idea of understanding the world. It concerns comprehension and interpretation of the substantive topic under consideration. Accordingly, historical, legal or moral problems of world politics cannot be translated into the terms of science without misunderstanding them. (Jackson and Sorensen, ibid.)

In this vein, IR theories are constitutive/reflective and anti-foundational, i.e. the theory actually helps construct the world and there is no universally recognized common denominator in which the theory can stand. The very concepts used to analyze the world help to make that world what it is. In addition, truth claims cannot be judged as such since there are never neutral grounds for so doing; each theory instead will define what counts as the facts and so there will be no neutral position available to determine between rival claims. Unlike the foundationalists who believe in the existence of meta-theoretical grounds for selecting between truth claims, the anti-foundationalists think that there are no such positions available, and that believing so is itself simply a reflection of an adherence to a particular view of epistemology. Hence, on the epistemological axis there are two types of classification, viz. foundationalism and anti-foundationalism. Corollary to this, IR theories are classified either as explanatory or constitutive/reflectivist.

Therefore, the social world or any social item (object/subject) such as international relations, world politics, or human rights occupies one of the following ontological-epistemological ‘box’: ontological subjectivism–epistemological foundationalism, ontological subjectivism- epistemological anti-foundationalism, ontological objectivism-epistemological foundationalism, and ontological objectivism-epistemological anti-foundationalism.

(Part 1 of 2)


[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, is a writer, educator, blogger, chess trainer, and translator (from Persian into English and Filipino) with tens of written and translation works to his credit on such subjects as international politics, history, political philosophy, intra-faith and interfaith relations, cultural heritage, Islamic finance, jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (‘ilm al-kalam), Qur’anic sciences and exegesis (tafsir), hadith, ethics, and mysticism. He can be reached at, or and]

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China Visit as Bandwagoning?


MINDAVIEWS > MARGINALIA: China visit as bandwagoning?

Mansoor L. Limba on October 16, 2016

MAKATI CITY (MindaNews /16 October) – Yesterday morning, apart from sitting as a mentor to a thesis about faith-based diplomacy, I was also invited as a panelist to a thesis defense about ‘strategic bandwagoning’ in International Relations (IR).

What is bandwagoning?

Though originally coined by Quincy Wright in his book “A Study of War” published during the Second World War (1942), the concept of bandwagoning in IR has been expounded and popularized by structural realism’s preeminent figure, Kenneth Waltz, in his influential work “Theory of International Politics” (1979).

In a self-help environment of international anarchy with no superior authority over its units (states), they seek their own preservation and survival, in the least, and global domination, at most. This is achieved either through internal balancing (in the form of enhancing economic and military prowess, for instance) or through external balancing (in the form of forging alliances).

When facing a considerable external threat, states that seek alliances may ‘balance’ or ‘bandwagon’, structural realists would inform us. Balancing means to ally with others against the prevailing threat. According to the structural realist John Mersheimer, states prefer to balance for two reasons: (1) to curb a potential hegemon before it becomes too strong, and (2) to join the weaker side to increase the likelihood that the new member will be influential within the alliance.

According to a realist prediction, states will abandon balancing and opt to bandwagon only when balancing is impossible or too difficult for them to do for one reason or another. As a strategy employed by weak states, bandwagoning is chosen when such states decide that the cost of opposing a stronger power exceeds the benefits. Thucydides’ oft-quoted dictum that “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must” dictates that a weaker state should align itself with a stronger enemy state because the latter can take what it wants by force anyway. To induce a weaker rival state to become an ally, the stronger state may offer various forms of enticement such as territorial gain, trade agreement, investment opportunity, infrastructure project, and military protection, among many others.

As I went home after the said thesis defense session, I passed by a newsstand and grabbed a copy of a newspaper. The said national daily carries this headline: “Broader China ties seen.” As I read the news story, I have learned that notwithstanding an ongoing dispute over territorial claims in the South China Sea, the Philippines and China are expected to sign several cooperation agreements on trade, investment, tourism, people-to-people exchanges, and private business deals during President Duterte’s state visit to China on October 18 to 22.

It is quite revealing that during his speech in Lamitan, Basilan last week (October 10), the Commander-in-Chief told his audience of Agrarian Reform beneficiaries, thus: “May duda ako na okey tayo sa kanila. Huwag na muna natin pakialaman ‘yang Scarborough kasi hindi natin kaya. Magalit man tayo, hangin lang. (I think we are okay to them (China). Let’s not mind the Scarborough [Shoal] for a while because we are not capable. Even if we get mad, it is to no avail.)”

Do this upcoming state visit to China and pronouncement in Basilan herald a strategic shift to bandwagoning?

If they do, then Waltz would remind us that bandwagoning is not necessarily identical with ‘independent’ foreign policy, because of the issue of commitment, intention and deception on the part of the stronger power.

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Bay’ah: The Missing Link in the Military’s Denial of ISIS


MINDAVIEWS > MARGINALIA: Bay’ah: The missing link in the military’s denial of ISIS

Mansoor L. Limba on October 8, 2016

(A modified transcript of 15-minute presentation of the paper “The Sociological Significance of Bay‘ah in Islam: The Missing Link in the Philippine Military’s Denial of ISIS’ Presence in the Philippines” at the 2016 Philippine Sociological Society’s National Conference, Ateneo de Davao University, October 7, 2016.)

Salamun ‘alaykum and good afternoon to all of you!

The earlier three presenters have made mention of three stimulant phrases – namely, ‘Davao Death Squad,’ ‘Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak Massacres’ and ‘poetics of violence,’ respectively – which I think, will be enough to keep us awake in this ‘holy hour’. Be that as it may, at the outset, I still deem it proper to give you a guarantee –and that guarantee is that although my paper presentation may be intriguing and stimulant, it will be in no way terrifying or horrible.


To begin with, it is a fact that from the inception of ISIS in Syria among the rebel groups fighting against the Asad regime, to its spread in Iraq and the rise of a certain Abu Bakr Baghdadi as its Leader, to the almost daily atrocities claimed by it in various countries, a specter of an unprecedented violent religious extremism has caught renewed international attention.

It is also a fact that the reported presence of ISIS in the Philippines since August 2014 manifests in many ways, namely: (1) video recorded pledging of allegiance (bay‘ah) to the ISIS global leadership; (2) videos of military training drills and camps with ISIS flags and other emblems; (3) video messages of militant campaigns against the Philippine government and other perceived enemies; and (4) statements of allegiance and admission of violent acts.

Amidst the existence of these various manifestations of the growing influence of ISIS on local Muslim individuals and groups in the Philippines, in general, and in Mindanao, in particular, since 2014 up to the present there has been a persistent Philippine military authorities’ public denial of ISIS’ presence in the country.

* November 19, 2015 – Maj. Gen. Raymundo Pangilinan, 6th ID commander: “[There is] no monitor of any presence of ISIS members or sympathizers in the region.” (, etc.)

* November 26, 2015 – Maj. Filemon Tan, Westmincom spokesperson: “This group has not been officially recognized as ISIS even though they have an ISIS flag.” (, etc.)

* November 27, 2015 – AFPSpokesperson BGen. Restituto Padilla: “The bandit group which clashed with government forces in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat… is not linked to ISIS.” (, etc.)

* April 14, 2016 – AFPSpokesperson BGen. Restituto Padilla: “There is so far no clear, direct link between local terror groups and ISIS.” (, etc.)

* August 12, 2016 – Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP Public Affairs Office Chief: “Angpaniniwalanamin [What we believe] is still there is no ISIS in the Philippines.” (, etc.)

* September 6, 2016 – Maj. Filemon Tan, Westmincom spokesperson: “There is no ISIS-linked group behind Davao blast.” (, etc.) (It is to be noted that this statement was made just four days after the bloody incident and at the time when there was no result yet of the PNP-CIDG investigation.)

Statement of the problem

Against this backdrop, my paper explores the sociological significance of bay‘ah (pledge of allegiance to a leader) in Islamic political thought as the missing link in the Philippine military’s public denial of ISIS’ presence in the country.

In particular, it attempts to address the following questions:(1) What is the meaning and value of bay‘ah in Islamic political thought? (2) Are there local groups and individuals pledging allegiance to ISIS global leadership? (3) What is the implication of these reports of pledging of allegiance toward the Philippine military’s persistent public denial of ISIS’ presence?

Meaning and value of bay‘ah

Let us deal with the first question. To understand the meaning and value of bay‘ah, it is essential to know the twoschools in Islamic political thought, which we shall call in this paper as the Theory of Appointment and the Theory of Non-appointment. The Theory of Appointment argues that there is an explicit designation of successorship to Prophet Muhammad while the Theory of Non-appointment maintains that there is no such explicit designation and it is the duty of the Muslim community as a whole to designate their leader.

Under the Theory of Appointment, which is likewise known in ‘ilm al-kalam (scholastic theology) asimamah (Imamate), the Leader’slegitimacy (mashru‘iyyah) emanates from God through the Prophet’s explicit designation while his acceptability (maqbuliyyah), which is a prerequisite of establishment of any government,stems from the people.

In the Theory of Non-appointment, which is also known in ‘ilm al-kalam as khilafah (Caliphate), the Successor’slegitimacy as well as acceptability originate from the people’s pledge of allegiance (bay‘ah).

As we can see in Muslim history, the first Caliph, Abubakr ibn Abi Quhafah, obtained the office of caliphate through the bay‘ah of selected Companions (sahabah) in Saqifah and subsequent bay‘ah of the majority. The second Caliph, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, became caliph through the nomination of the first Caliph and subsequent bay‘ah of the majority. The third Caliph, ‘Uthman ibn al-‘Affan, assumed the caliphate through a rigid six-man council and subsequent bay‘ah of the majority. The fourth Caliph, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, became the caliph through community bay‘ah after the death of the third Caliph.

After less than a year’s assumption of Hasan ibn ‘Ali to the caliphate, the known caliphates in Muslim history are the following: Umayyad Caliphate (661-750 C.E.), Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258), Mamluk Sultanate of Cairo (1261-1517), and the Ottoman Caliphate (1299-1922).

Since 1924, the official abolition of the Caliphate with the birth of modern-day Turkey under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal ‘Ataturk’, revival of the Caliphate has been a central narrative of Muslim movements – violent or non-violent – throughout the Muslim world.ISIS is just one the latest of these movements.

Local Muslim groups’ bay‘ah to ISIS

Let us now proceed to the second question. So far there have been reports of pledging of allegiance (bayàh)to ISIS of the following groups: (1) Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), (2) Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), (3) Ansar al-Khilafah Philippines, (4) Khilafah Islamiyah Movement/Black Flag Movement (Maute Group), and (5) Rajah Solaiman Movement, (6) BangsamoroIslamic Freedom Movement.

  1. Abu Sayyaf (Island Provinces):January 4, 2016 – “A new video from Mindanao which began circulating on the dark web jihadi forum Shumukh al-Islam on January 4, 2016 shows Abu Sayyaf leader IsnilonHapilon marching with other extremist leaders from Sulu and Basilan, including Abu Sharifah, the leader of Ansar al-Khilafah Philippines, among the most aggressive and targeted Filipino groups linked to ISIS.” (­in­philippines­a­threat­to­region, etc.)
  2. BIFF (Maguindanao, North Cotabato& Sultan Kudarat):August 16, 2014 –“BIFF, Abus pledge allegiance to ISIS” (, etc.)
  3. Ansar al-Khilafah Philippines (Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat& South Cotabato):August 2014 –“Apartfrom the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), another violent extremist group linked to ISIS is Ansar al-Khilafah Philippines, the group that reportedly released a video, threatening to deploy suicide bombers in the Philippines and make the country a ‘graveyard’ for American soldiers, after pledging allegiance to ISIS.”(­in­philippines­a­threat­to­region, etc.)
  4. Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (Lanao del Sur):February 2016 – “Yet another group linked to ISIS is the Khilafah Islamiyah Mindanao (KIM), also known as the Khilafah Islamiyah Mindanao-Black Flag Movement, which caught public attention in late February 2016 when it occupied the municipal hall of Butig town in Lanao del Sur that escalated to 10 days of military offensive operations, in what is believed to be an attempt to “inflame the war in Southern Philippines” amid the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by the Philippine Congress.” (, etc.)
  5. Rajah Solaiman Movement (Luzon):July 7, 2014 – “Prisoners in Philippines show allegiance to ISIS.” and March 2015 –, etc.)
  6. BIFM, a new breakaway faction from BIFF (Maguindanao):October 1, 2016 –“BIFF renegades launch more radical ISIS-style group.” (, etc.)

Local Muslim individuals’ bay‘ah to ISIS

In addition to groups, there are also individuals who have reportedly pledged their allegiance to ISIS leadership. Among them are a certain mufti (rector) and a congregation in Marawi City, around 100 youth in Basilan, and also a hundred inmates of Bicutan Prison.

  1. Marawi mufti congregation: September 19, 2014 –“A Facebook user named Abu uploaded photos showing around people – some of them holding ISIS black flags – pledging support to the ISIS inside the Islamic Center mosque in Marawi City.” (, etc.)
  2. 100 youth in Basilan:September 24, 2014 –“Asreported by ABS-CBN News, Mayor Joel Maturan of Ungkaya Pukan town, around 100 youth have joined the ISIS in Basilan.” (, etc.)
  3. 100 inmates of Bicutan Prison (where many suspected Abu Sayyaf Group and Rajah Solaimain Movement members are incarcerated):July7, 2014 – “Prisoners in Philippines show allegiance to ISIS.” (, etc.)

Bay‘ah’s implication to military’s public denial

As can be seen from the military’s public denial of ISIS’ presence in the Philippines, we can say that there is indeed a little appreciation or understanding of the sociological significance of bay‘ah or pledging of allegiance to a leader. This sociological significance can be summarized in these two ways: (1) It creates a mutual set of rights and duties between the global leadership and local followers, and (2) it significantly boosts the legitimacy of both parties – the main group and the local groups. It practically cements the main group’s claim to be the existing Caliphate, while at the same time, it can effectively be utilized by local groups to refute the usual accusation of their being rōnin (warriors without a master) – in the Japanese parlance – and their being “rebels without a cause.”


To conclude, there are only two possibilities here: either the Philippine military believes in its public denial of ISIS’ presence in the country, or it does not believe in its own public denial.

Assuming the military believes in its denial that “There are no ISIS in the Philippines” or “They are only ‘ISIS-inspired’ or ‘ISIS sympathizers’,” then it is like saying,“There are no terrorists in the Philippines” or “They are only ‘terrorism-inspired’ or ‘terrorism sympathizers’”!

In case it does not actually believe in it, the problem is that the Commander-in-Chief is implicitly or explicitly claiming otherwise in his recent sortie of speeches.

I leave the final judgment and conclusion to all of you, distinguished scholars, experts and sociologists. Thank you!

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Mediating Negotiation, Negotiating Mediation


MAKATI CITY (20 September) – Following ‘Id al-Qurban last week, some 30 Moros from various sectors – revolutionary fronts, legal profession, civil society organizations (CSOs), local government units (LGUs), and the academe – gathered not to form a political party or anything of that sort, but to attend a four-day training on negotiation and mediation at Waterfront Insular Hotel, Davao City.

In partnership with the Clingendael (Netherlands Institute of International Relations) and UNDP Philippines, the Bangsamoro Study Group (BSG) and the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) organized the “Training-Workshop on Negotiation and Mediation as Instruments for Conflict Settlement” with the aim of providing the participants with the necessary skills sets that could “hopefully help them identify, discuss, and achieve common grounds on various issues confronting the Moro society and negotiate better”.

As his opening salvo, one of the two training facilitators introduced the Onion Model of Negotiation and Mediation, which identifies three essential elements that a negotiator or mediator should know. They are ‘positions’ (outer later), ‘interests’ (middle layer) and ‘wants’ (core). As Wilbur Perlot of Clingendael, a world renowned think-tank involved in the training of diplomats and negotiators the world over, was explaining each element of the Onion Model, I cannot help but look at it through IR theoretical lenses – both positivist and post-positivist.

As I was suspecting from the beginning, the model is indeed based upon liberalism and its basic assumptions on cooperation and drive for gains, as can be deduced from the facilitator’s answer to a lawyer participant who asked about the place of ‘motives’ in the model – ‘motives’ being equated with ‘wants’ which constitutes the ‘core’ in the model.

Contrary to the positivist liberalism which identifies ‘wants’ as the element on which the ‘interests’ and ‘positions’ depend, social constructivism – a midway post-positivist tradition – introduces an ‘inner core’ element – that is, ‘identity’. It propounds that one’s positions and interests are not dictated by his wants but rather by something which is continually shaping his wants. That is his ever-changing identity. Accordingly, not only one’s positions and interests that can be negotiated, but also his wants, provided that his identity also changes accordingly.

As Alexander Wendt would blurt, “Positions and interests are what negotiators make of them!”

Interestingly enough, the lecture sessions were interspersed with mind-bending exercises that simulate actual negotiation and/or mediation, while the refreshment breaks were peppered by spontaneous narration by MNLF and MILF negotiators of critical episodes of actual experiences negotiating with the Philippine government in the past.

The exchange of pleasantries and laughter among the participants, and at times, with the two facilitators as well as members of the secretariat, would remarkably defy the wide age disparity among the participants – from mid-20s to over 70 years old.

As part of the debriefing on “bargaining on the merits,” the other facilitator and mediation expert in both theory and practice, Mark Anstey of South Africa, told us the tale of two donkeys who finally found a win-win agreement on how to deal with two separate fodders. Instead of simultaneously consuming their respective fodders which is impossible to do given their being tied together, donkey A and donkey B agreed to consume together fodder A first and then fodder B. Within the framework of liberalism, it is as simple as that – the two parties agree together to come up with a win-win situation for them both.

But it is not so with structural realism which, like liberalism, is also a positivist tradition, but at the other end of the spectrum. Structural realism does not only settle with an apparent agreement but also questions the intention of each party and even entertains the possibility of deception on the part of one or both parties. Accordingly, after the two donkeys agree to consume together the two fodders, it is not unlikely that after consuming together the fodder A, donkey B is deceiving its counterpart as it intends to kill it so that it could consume fodder B by itself alone.

After undergoing the last exercise which was a simulation of tedious multilateral negotiation involving a concerned citizens’ group acting as the mediator, a central government, a regional police, a group of old protesters with specific constituencies, and a group of young protesters with particular constituencies, one realization I had is that mediating is doing a sort of negotiation while negotiating is undeniably inseparable with mediating works.

In short, mediating is negotiating, and vice versa.


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Religion and Post-positivism in International Relations


MAKATI CITY (MindaNews / 20 March) – Way back in early 1990s in Mindanao State University, main campus, in order to facilitate easy memorization, we had to literally sing the ‘six principles’ of Hans Morgenthau’s neoclassical realism in International Relations (IR).

No doubt, alongside Keohane and Nye’s Power and Interdependence (1977) and Kenneth Waltz’s Theory of International Politics (1979) that respectively represent two sides of the neoliberalism-neorealism divide, Morgenthau’s Politics among Nations (1960) had been the IR bible of the Cold War era.

IR as discipline

As a distinct discipline that was born out of the ashes of the First World War, IR deals with both substantial and methodological issues. In particular, it endeavors to identify which issues should be treated as the most important ones, and which method to use in studying a given issue.

State sovereignty, international anarchy, diplomacy, foreign policy, and international organizations and institutions are among the examples of substantial issues perennially dealt with in IR, and as such, countless written works are devoted to them.

Methodological issues encompass both ontological and epistemological questions. What is the nature of the social world which includes international relations? How is our knowledge related to that world? Is there an objective reality in the social world, or is everything there just a social construct of people? How can we acquire knowledge of that world? Is it through ‘explanation’ or ‘understanding’?

Gone were the days of IR positivism which used to privilege state-centric or inter-state substantial issues such as those mentioned above.

Gone also were the days of IR positivism which used to posit that ‘there is an objective reality out there’ (ontology) and that ‘explaining’ is the only way to acquire knowledge of the social world by means of building a ‘valid social science’ on the basis of verifiable empirical propositions (epistemology).


In positivist approaches in which secularism in the post-Westphalian international system is a given, religion is relegated to the fringes of domestic politics and private domain. In structural realism’s anarchical world, for instance, religious beliefs and ideological convictions are located at the bottom of the hierarchy of state interests.

This is no longer the trend in recent years.

Research works and studies about religion in IR – both in its positive and negative lights – are on the rise. Even in thesis defense sessions I sat either as a mentor or a panelist this month, the number of theses with religious underpinnings is quite conspicuous.

One thesis, for example, is about two Buddhist transnational societies that push for cosmopolitan causes such as humanitarian services, poverty reduction, universal education, nuclear disarmament, and environmental protection.

Another thesis is an analysis of Pakistan-Bangladesh diplomatic relations through the lens of faith-based diplomacy.

Yet another thesis is an assessment of Islamophobia in the U.S. media narratives and its impact upon U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.


Alongside the surge of other substantial issues such as religion, women, and the environment, among others, which had been marginalized in IR literature for decades, there is also the entrance of post-positivism in the methodological debate within the discipline.

United not in what they commonly believe but in their dissatisfaction with the established IR theoretical traditions, post-positivist alternatives are challenging positivism’s postulates of an objective external reality, the subject/object distinction, and value-free social science.

Ontologically, post-positivist approaches reject any notion of an objective reality out there, for the social world is nothing but a product of intersubjective conception of people. Epistemologically, they lean toward ‘understanding’ (in contrast to ‘explaining’) as the means to obtain knowledge of the social world by comprehending and interpreting the substantive topic under study. In sum, post-positivism is anti-foundational in methodology, for, all theories make their own assumptions about the social world, and therefore, as Steve Smith argues, “There can never be a ‘view from nowhere’.”

In the aforementioned thesis about two Buddhist transnational societies, for instance, the researchers utilize the eclectic and middle-way International Society Theory, which is better known in the IR circle as the ‘English School of International Relations’, or the ‘English School’, in short. In particular, the thesis is informed of Barry Buzan’s concept of ‘world society’ (in contradistinction with the ‘international system’ and ‘international society’) which, according to him, is the “Cinderella concept” of the English School for receiving almost no conceptual development.

The second thesis which is about faith-based diplomacy employs Peter Katzenstein’s strand of social constructivism that highlights the internal makeup of states in affecting their internal behavior. Accordingly, the domestic normative structure of every state shapes its identity, interests, and subsequently, its foreign policy.

The last thesis mentioned above, which examines the influence of Islamophobia in American media narratives toward the U.S. foreign policy, is inspired by Anthony Giddens’ sociological theory of structuration, which is anchored in the analysis of both structure and agents, without giving primacy to either.

In conclusion, in today’s age of globalization, there will be a resurgence of substantial issues in IR, which for many decades were deemed peripheral or secondary in importance. There will also be parallel mushrooming of post-positivist theories that will pose as alternative lenses in methodologically looking at those substantial issues in IR.

Expect for a recurring saga of re-centering and de-centering in the years to come.


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