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Letters from Tokyo
Buddhists Fear to Walk in Southern Thailand
By Lee Jay Walker
Tokyo Correspondent
Buddhism in Thailand Nearly 95% of Thailand's population is Buddhist of the Theravada school, though its Buddhism has become integrated with folk beliefs such as ancestor worship as well as Chinese religions from the large Thai-Chinese population. Buddhist temples are characterized by tall golden stupas, and its architecture is similar to those of Cambodia and Laos.

The image of Thailand is one of beautiful beaches and stunning Buddhist places of worship. However, in recent times this nation is blighted by political infighting, mass demonstrations, a delicate economy which fluctuates too much, and a devastating Islamic insurgency in southern Thailand.

It is the Islamic insurgency which I will concentrate on because the current crisis in southern Thailand does have wider consequences for Southeast Asia. After all, you have Christian-Muslim tensions in parts of Indonesia and the Philippines. Therefore, the situation is southern Thailand is very important both internally and externally.

The vast majority of people in Thailand belong to the Buddhist faith; however, southern Thailand is very different because most people are Muslim in the provinces of Yala, Narathiwat, and Pattani. Therefore, a major Sunni Muslim insurgency is currently igniting tensions in order to drive away the Buddhist minority and therefore lay the foundation of separation and independence from Thailand.

The radical Sunni Islamic insurgency desires to spread fear, hatred, and an area where Buddhism is eradicated just like what happened in Afghanistan or what is happening in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in modern day Bangladesh.

Therefore, the brutal Sunni Islamic insurgency is killing both moderate Muslims and Buddhists for different reasons. The reason for killing Buddhists is because certain elements within radical Sunni Islam do not believe in religious co-existence. Also, Buddhists are deemed to be infidels and within Islamic Sharia law they have no legal rights and conversion to Islam or death is sanctioned because they are not monotheists.

Given this, southern Thailand resembles modern day Afghanistan and Somalia because in both these nations you have radical Sunni Islamists who will not tolerate even one single Christian church or Buddhist temple. Therefore, the slaughter of Buddhists in southern Thailand is following a similar pattern of past and current history and the current anti-Buddhist onslaught in southern Thailand is reaching new heights.

At the same time moderate Muslims are being killed by radical Sunni Islamic fanatics. Given this, Muslim teachers, administration workers, or anyone deemed to be working with the government of Thailand is liable to face the threat of death. This fear is real and the methodology of killing is intended to spread fear to all who oppose the Islamization of southern Thailand.

The dream of radical Sunni Islamists in southern Thailand is to have a land with no Buddhists and to create an Islamic Sharia state. Therefore, the usual beheadings of innocents is deemed to be justified on the grounds that non-Muslims are infidels in accordance with the Koran and Hadiths.

This applies to the Koran for 9:29 states “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the last day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and his apostle nor acknowledge the religion of truth of the people of the Book (Jews and Christians) until they pay jizya (tax on non-Muslims) with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.”

Verse 9:73 in the Koran also states “O Prophet! Strive hard (wage war) against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell, - an evil refuge indeed.” While the Hadith 9:4  says "Wherever you find infidels kill them; for whoever kills them shall have reward on the Day of Resurrection."

It is clear that these sayings in both the Koran and Hadiths are still potent today because radical Islamists are spreading mayhem in many nations and this also applies to nations with small minorities. After all, Christians have been burnt alive in Pakistan despite being a small minority and several Christian leaders were beheaded recently in northern Nigeria in order to intimidate the sizeable Christian population in northern Nigeria.

Zachary Abuza, the author of “Militant Islam in Southeast Asia,” stated that Buddhists have been forced to flee in a “de facto ethnic cleansing.” He further continued by stating that “The social fabric of the south has been irreparably damaged.”

Meanwhile Sunai Phasuk, a political analyst at Human Rights Watch, commented that “Buddhist monks have been hacked to death, clubbed to death, bombed and burned to death.” Therefore, it is clear that this Sunni Islamic insurgency is following a familiar path and this applies to the destruction of all non-Muslim elements within society or the complete dhimmitude of all non-Muslims by the rule of fear.

From the Sunni Islamic insurgents point of view they believe that the former Sultanate of Pattani is the structure of their society and that Thailand had no right to annex this land. Also, many Muslims claim that they face discrimination and that they have been marginalized by the central state. Therefore, many Muslims desire independence from Thailand.

However, the degree of violence aimed at both the Buddhist community and any Muslim deemed to be in favour of the government of Thailand is brutal. Zachary Abuza states “What is new about the current conflict is the level and degree of violence, the Islamist agenda of the insurgents, and their unprecedented degree of cooperation and coordination.

He continues by saying that “The level of violence in Thailand’s south has never been higher” and this can be seen clearly by the beheadings of Buddhists and hacking to death of Buddhist priests. Zachary Abuza also states this, for he says that “Nor has it been more brutal” and this is what is worrying for Thailand and the region.

After all, you have many Sunni Islamic insurgencies or Sunni Islamic terrorist networks in Southeast Asia. Therefore, you have the threat of these different organizations working together in order to install radical Sunni Islam. This notably applies to Eastern Indonesia (particularly Maluku) and Mindanao in the Southern Philippines.

In Eastern Indonesia and Mindanao in the Southern Philippines it is a clash between Christians and Muslims and the nation state is much weaker in both areas. However, in Indonesia the majority of Muslims support a more moderate version of Islam but in recent times radical Sunni Islam is increasing and Sunni Islamic jihadist movements have targeted both Christians and foreign nationals.

The most notable movement in the region is Jemaah Islamiya which is often linked with Al Qaeda and this Sunni terrorist Islamic organization desires to create more chaos and hatred in order to spread its influence and obtain its ultimate objective. This objective, just like the radical Sunni Islamic objective in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, and other nations, is to create an Islamic Sharia state and enforce the slavery of non-Muslims by a policy of dhimmitude.

Zachary Abuza also mentions that Salafist and Wahabbi influence is also growing because moderate Sunni Muslim leaders have been sternly rebuked or attacked by conservative Sunni Islamists. Also, it is noticeable that more women are covering up in purdah and clearly this will lead to even more cultural divisions within society in Southern Thailand.

Abuza has claimed, “They [insurgents] have killed and threatened imams who have performed funerals for Muslim collaborators and killed almost 10 imams who teach at government-funded Islamic schools. They have threatened parents to not send their children to any school but the private Islamic schools. They have forced businesses closed on Fridays. Suffis and moderate Sha’afis have been routinely targeted.”

However, overall Zachary Abuza hints that the main cause in Southern Thailand is internal and currently Jemaah Islamiya is not strong enough to export its violence on a major scale to Southern Thailand. Also, Jemaah Islamiya is primarily focused on Indonesia and the security forces in Indonesia are fully aware about this problem.

Overall, it is clear that elements within Southern Thailand desire a non-Buddhist land and the role of Sunni Islamic indoctrination is now turning its hatred against moderate Sunni Muslim leaders. This hatred and alienation of the younger generation began after many studied at international universities throughout the Middle East and clearly some funding from the Middle East is being used to spread radical Sunni Islamic versions of Islam.

The government of Thailand is at a loss about the current crisis because of internal convulsions within the political system. At times the military have responded with brute force in order to contain the insurgency in Southern Thailand but at other times a more moderate approach is enforced.

Yet from a wider perspective it is clear that you have many radical Sunni Islamic terrorist organizations in Southeast Asia and terrorist networks survive and flourish in failed states or where centralization is very weak. Therefore, the future of Southern Thailand is also an issue for Indonesia and the Philippines because both nations have internal problems with radical Islam.

Also, the heart of Islam is now at war with itself and moderate versions in Southern Thailand and Indonesia are being put under tremendous pressure in certain regions. Therefore, the hidden war in Southern Thailand by radical Sunni Islamists is being aimed at moderate Muslims and Buddhists alike.

However, for the Buddhists, they face complete annihilation and one day Southern Thailand may end up like Afghanistan, Central Asia, and other areas which once had a thriving Buddhist community. It would appear that Islamization is now a reality and in time the Buddhist minority will continue to dwindle and the only saving grace at the moment for Buddhists is the military of Thailand.



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Lee Jay Walker serves as Tokyo Correspondent of The Seoul Times. He specializes in int'l relations and geopolitics. He is also involved in analyst work and research on business. After finishing BA degree in East European Studies at the University of London, he earned MA degree in Asia Pacific Studies at Nottingham Trent University. Website at http://www.leejaywalker.wordpress.com where work is published.

 

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