February 12, 2010: Islamic terrorism comes in many different forms. Christian Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia are complaining that their employers are threatening to fire them if they do not convert to Islam. It's against the law for a Moslem in Saudi Arabia to convert to another religion. The punishment is death, and anyone attempting to convert Moslems is subject to the death penalty. This sort of double standard, and use of coercion, is a big deal in the Philippines, although the government there, and in Saudi Arabia, try to play down this particular problem. There are about 200,000 Filipinos working in Saudi Arabia, and 600,000 throughout the Persian Gulf. The forced conversions are not widespread, yet. But several hundred are believed to have occurred, and the idea is catching on with employers who are conservative Moslems.
This sort of thing is political dynamite back in the Philippines because there, the Moslems are a minority, and a troublesome one at that. Various Moslem separatist groups have been fighting since the 1960s, and over 100,000 (mostly Moslems) have died. The fighting in the south is not only rebels versus the government, but also the many clan and political feuds that are common down there. The Moslem south is more violent than the rest of the country. And then there is the matter of proportion. Only about ten percent of the 92 million Filipinos are Moslem. The Christians dominate the government and the security forces.
Peace negotiations with Moslem separatist groups (mainly the MILF) in the south are currently stalled because of frictions within the Moslem community. Some factions want to work out a peace deal, but others want to keep fighting for a separate Moslem state on part of Mindanao island (the southernmost large island). The problem is, Moslems are only about a third of 22 million people on Mindanao island (the "Moslem" island). The rest are Christians, who do not want to share the island with an independent, or even autonomous, Moslem state. This is especially the case when they hear about forced conversions in Saudi Arabia.
Moreover, most of the Moslem population is intermixed with Christians, and the most radical Moslems want the Christians expelled. Thus the haggling is mainly over real estate. The Moslems in the south still claim "ancestral rights" (to administer, and collect taxes from) many areas that have become largely Christian in the past few decades. The Christian majority has been encroaching, on the sparsely populated areas of the Moslem south, for over a century. But this movement has accelerated as the economy has improved in the last decade. Many Moslems see their culture threatened, but armed resistance has not done much to help. The Moslems are very outnumbered, and have been losing battles for decades.
Remittances from the nine percent of Filipinos who work overseas and send money home are a crucial part of the national economy. In effect, over 20 percent of the workforce works abroad, sending home money that amounts to about ten percent of GDP. Filipinos are very popular overseas workers (because of their energy, skills and ability to speak English). There are no jobs at home for all this talent because of the corruption (the Philippines is among the ten most corrupt nations, out of 180 surveyed regularly) that stifles economic growth. The Moslem south is arguably suffering more from corruption than the rest of the Philippines, and the Christians down there don't want forced conversions thrown into an already very explosive mixture.