THE WISDOM FUND: News & Views
January 7, 2004
The Christian Science Monitor

Muslim Unrest Flares in Thailand

by Frank Bures

Just as residents of southern Thailand thought the New Year had come peacefully in spite of a holiday terrorism alert, a series of coordinated terror attacks has prompted the government to impose martial law and has renewed fears of resurgent Islamic separatism in the region. . . .

Martial law has been imposed across the border provinces. The region was annexed by Thailand in 1902 as a buffer against British Malaya. Historically, the Islamic Sultanate of Pattani is considered by some to be the cradle of Islam in Southeast Asia. When the area was taken over by Buddhist Thailand, it had been mostly autonomous for several hundred years, and has chafed under Bangkok's rule ever since.

This political border was overlaid on a less stark division between Thais and Malays, who differ greatly in their languages, religions, and sensibilities. The 1970s and early 1980s saw this translate into a violent separatist movement seeking reunification with Malaysia. But a shift in government policy in the 1980's and 1990's brought peace to the region.

. . . while acceptance of Chinese has improved in recent years, Thailand's six million Muslims remain a people apart. . . .

Thailand's active role in the US-led war on terrorism has further estranged those in the south who see the global conflict as a war on Muslims. . . .

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Alan Oxley, "A Beach Head in the Second Front?," Tech Central Station, June 23, 2004

Jason Burke, "Muslim rebels light fuse in Thailand," The Observer, July 25, 2004

[Southern Thailand was until recently a model of tolerance, with a Muslim majority living side by side with a Buddhist minority under the umbrella of the Thai Buddhist state. But after a year in which more than 500 people have died in bombings and random shootings and at the hands of harsh military and police action, the region is a brewing cauldron of religious and ethnic conflict.--Michael Vatikiotis, " Southeast Asia: New pressures turn Muslims to militancy," International Herald Tribune, December 9, 2004]

[Some 1,580 southern villages have been surveyed for their co-operation, and categorised as red, yellow or green, depending on the degree of violence found there.--"Thaksin puts pressure on south," BBC, February 17, 2005]

[Both Southern Thailand and Northern Malaysia were once part of a Malay-Muslim kingdom that was split apart. This was done via the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909. The Brits have lot to answer for, no? But what that left was that Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat are the only Muslim majority provinces in the majority-Buddhist kingdom. Siam, as Thailand was known then, attacked the Malay states with the blessings of the British (who wanted a buffer state between them and the French in Indochina). The last Raja of Pattani, Tengku Abdul Kadir Kamaruddin, was literally dragged to Bangkok, chucked into jail, humiliated at every turn and finally died there. The Pattani royal palace was looted and a symbolic object of Malay pride, the huge cannon known as Sri Negara, taken to Bangkok and to rub it in, placed in a prominent position in front of the Thai Ministry of Defence Complex, even now. While the Muslims really didn't get to grips with discrimination till way after World War II, a low level insurgency has been bubbling away since the 1960's.--Bhaskar Dasgupta, " Insurgency in Thailand," Hindustan Times, March 11, 2005]

[. . . the violence is the latest flare-up in a century-long struggle by the three Muslim-majority Malay provinces, which were annexed in 1902 by Thailand (then Siam) and which have resisted the Buddhist "Bangkok Empire" ever since.--Stanley A. Weiss, "No tuning out Thailand's Muslim insurgency," International Herald Tribune, February 19, 2006]

[The Thai government is seeking a scapegoat to distract from its problems. It has settled upon Cambodian Muslims again--"Thailand: Southern Violence and the Scapegoat Next Door," Stratfor, April 13, 2007]

[It is now violently apparent that Thailand's military-appointed government's policy of reconciliation toward its three insurgency-hit majority-Muslim provinces Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala was never really implemented on the ground.--Shawn W Crispin , "Point of no return for southern Thailand," Asia Times, May 11, 2007]

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