I was invited to take part in a three-day four-country conference dubbed "Culture, Conflict, and Religion: Implications for Southeast Asia and Australia" last August 26-28 at the Ateneo de Manila University. It was jointly sponsored by the AdeMU Political Science Department and the Center for Dialogue of Australia's La Trobe University.
At the onset, I had to hesitate. At the back of my mind, I was thinking the conference is better off being attended by our brothers and sisters from Mindanao wherein various forms of conflict are raging (among which is supposedly a Muslim-Christian conflict). Nonetheless, the political animal in me got excited particularly when there was mention of analyzing the interaction in the context of the September 11 assault into the United States and the subsequent campaign against terrorism.
As it turned out, I was glad to attend the said gathering. Aside from the opportunity for bonding with kindred spirits from other Ateneos all over the Philippines, it also became a chance to interact with seasoned intellectuals and political analyst from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia. Needless to say, the conference turned out to be a treasure field of information and potential research directions in the area of Muslim-Christian interaction and multiculturalism.
And thus I was forced to look closely into the Naga City context. Questions such as "How do we relate with the Muslims in our midst?" and "Do we have biases and prejudices for our Muslim brothers and sisters?" took on a more serious implication. The social scientist in me is itching to start writing the research proposal and actually doing the study. After all, many of my insights and knowledge on this area is based on gut feel and casual observation. Maybe a more rigid scrutiny, subject to the rigors of the scientific research, will give interesting data.
Most importantly, the conference again awakened my wariness towards stereotyping and labeling. Something that is habitually done by society at the expense of the minority. Is Naga City different from other societies in the treatment of the Muslims? Is there a peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims in Naga City? And how is such interaction affected by the campaign against terrorism?
Maybe an interesting forum in the locality would soon take shape. "Multiculturalism: Diversity and Solidarity in Naga City". Watch out..