November 7, 2007

Thailand's Muslim Conflict

Violent conflicts between Thai armed forces and a rebel separatist group in the three Muslim-dominated southern provinces of Thailand flared up again last week when a series of small bombs planted in restaurants and karaoke bars killed a Buddhist civil servant and wounded four others.

The insurgency, and the government’s campaign to crush it, have resulted in 2,500 deaths in the past decade, according to the Jakarta Post.

Although Islamic reformists say they are making progress against violent ideology, the conflict has now spread to neighboring provinces and could soon affect Bangkok as well.

Thailand’s population is 95 percent Buddhist, and measures to combat the rebellion increasingly appeal to religious intolerance.

Thai forces are empowered by martial law and have detained dozens of people without charge.

Last week, three provincial courts ordered the release of 86 Muslim detainees — though not to return home, but to enter a “forced job training program,” reports ADNKronos.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are pushing a draft law that would make Buddhism the de facto official religion of Thailand by strengthening and protecting the clergy and the face of Buddhism itself.

The law would dole out harsh punishment for anyone who assaults a monk, and proposes a jail term of up to 25 years for anyone caught “insulting, offending and distorting Buddhism and the Buddha.”

Critics say the law rewards “ambitious, greedy monks” and retains a “feudal system” under which all Thai citizens suffer.

However, a more tolerant tactic is also gaining ground.

Thai officials have begun subsidizing madrassas and Islamic boarding schools that use “moderate” Islamic teachings and adopt the national curriculum, writes the Jakarta Post.

Accused militants are sent to these schools to learn non-violent beliefs, and many of the school’s graduates go on to university.

Local Muslim leaders say most residents of southern Thailand oppose the separatist violence that has brought high levels of drug-related crime, violence, and unemployment to their towns.

Sources:

“Bar bombs kill one, wound 4 in Thai Muslim south”
Reuters, October 31, 2007

“Thailand: Draft law to strengthen Buddhism criticized as ‘draconian'”
ADNKronos, November 2, 2007

“Thailand: Moderate Muslims fight radicalism in south”
Jakarta Post, October 16, 2007

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