For Halloween, two hosts of noontime variety show “Eat, Bulaga!” (Or Eat Beluga to our friends from Buzzfeed) dressed up like “Arab sheiks”, a costume that offended some Filipino Muslims, including Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujiv Hataman, who called it “a mockery of and an affront to the image of the Muslim.”
In a Rappler report, Hataman said wearing the costume — which is an Arab national costume and that many non-Arab Muslims also wear during prayer — “betrays an insensitivity by these hosts, as they equated the Muslim garb as a costume to be feared, in the way that zombies and ghouls are to be feared.” He demanded an apology from the hosts on behalf of his Filipino Moro constituents.
Blogger Jorjani Sinsuat had more to say on it:
I am not angry but I am very disappointed much like most of our brethren because we are all aware that not only there is seemingly an invisible barrier between Filipinos but it feels like we are mocked in front of national television and we cannot do anything about it because we do not have strong media outlets that may address the lack of information on who we really are as a society.
But the real punchline here is how little netizens cared about the issue, many of whom even played down the supposed offense as Muslims “over-reacting”, “not getting the joke”, and “making a mountain out of a molehill.” Hataman was even scored for using the issue for political mileage.
Some countered that they wouldn’t be offended if people dressed up like Catholic priests and nuns, or even as Pope Francis, so why should Muslims be offended at all? Some even offered the counterpoint that Muslims should not be offended by the costume since, referencing the Mamasapano clash and the Zamboanga Siege of 2013, massacres and war seem to be okay. And there lies the problem.
Filipino Catholics and atheists on the Internet are, sadly, worlds apart from your average Filipino Muslim in Mindanao or even in the quarters in Metro Manila. They are often excluded from national consciousness and discourse if not subject to mistrust and to caricatures like, for example, being terrorists and rebels. They are a marginalized minority, and are, as a consequence, more sensitive to injury and offense.
Few Catholics would bat an eyelash at someone wearing a Pope costume because their position is dominant. Wearing a Pope costume would then be a parody, something that can be taken as a light-hearted joke because after — and during Halloween, because despite its pagan roots and capitalist evolution, All Hallows’ Eve is a Catholic tradition — Halloween, they are still the dominant culture. Filipino Catholics can afford to laugh at themselves because there is no loss of face there, no implied lack of respect, and at any rate, religion is not that big a deal for many of them.
The same cannot be said of Filipino Muslims, who are marginalized precisely because of their religion.
How unfortunate, then, that even what they are allowed to be offended by is dependent on whether the dominant culture agrees that they should be offended.
The costume is doubly tone deaf because it was done on national television and by a senator who has been tasked with deliberating on the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, a piece of legislation 17 years in the making and that has already been tattered and watered down by bias, mistrust, and prejudices.
How, one wonders, can Sen. Tito Sotto be expected to study the proposed legislation objectively when he displays that kind of insensitivity so casually?
It is a small thing, this wearing of the Arab costume, and certainly not the worst faux pas from the Eat Bulaga! hosts, but it is good to keep in mind that for people in the periphery, sometimes small things like being respected and not made a caricature — or, actually, having the right to be offended at something — are all that they hope to have.