Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thailand, Malaysia, and the Jihad

Bangkok Reporting

This post is the latest in a series from our Bangkok correspondent, H. Numan.

Here’s a news story from Thailand along with H. Numan’s commentary. First, from The Bangkok Post:

Thai separatists kill four district officers

Pattani — Suspected separatists killed four local officials as they drove home in Thailand’s strife-torn southern province of Pattani Wednesday and injured another three with a booby trap bomb stuck in the victims’ car, police said.

The insurgents, riding motorcycles, shot up a car carrying four district officials, including two women and two men, as they were driving home from work, said Pattani Police Colonel Somchit Nasomyon.

Three of the officials died at the scene of the attack, and the fourth died en route to the hospital.

A bomb, apparently planted on the car of the victims, was detonated when police and journalists came to inspect the attack, injuring three people.

“We think the separatists had been planning this attack for some time,” said Somchit.

According to military data, more than 2,500 people have been slain over the past three years and ten months in Thailand’s troubled deep South, the majority-Muslim region comprising Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces and parts of Songkhla.

Those deaths have been tallied since January 1, 2004, when a gang of Muslim militants successfully raided an army depot in Narathiwat, stealing more than 300 weapons and sparking a government crackdown on their long simmering separatist struggle.

Nearly 80 per cent of the 2 million people living in the three southernmost provinces of predominantly Buddhist Thailand profess to be Muslims.

The three-province area, which borders Malaysia, was an independent Islamic sultanate known as Pattani for hundreds of years before being conquered by Bangkok in 1786. The area came under direct rule of the Thai bureaucracy in 1902.

A separatist struggle took off in the 1950s, fuelled by government efforts to suppress the local culture and religion.

H. Numan adds this commentary:

The second to last paragraph isn’t quite correct. Muslims conquered Malaysia somewhere around 1440 CE. They didn’t send missionaries to convert peacefully, but — as usual — by the sword. Before that period Malaysia was predominantly (a mixture of) Buddhist, Hindu and animistic religion(s).
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As Thailand (the early kingdom of Siam in those days) conquered the area in 1786, we also might say that the kingdom of Thailand ruled it for hundreds of years.

A matter of “is the glass half empty or half full?”, I guess.

More information on the relationship between Islam and Malaysia:

Clash of Contrasts — Buddhism and Islam in Malaysia

Before being overrun by Islam, the people of Malaysia and Indonesia were overwhelmingly Hindu and Buddhists. In fact what are today the ASEAN countries had one religion (a mix of Hinduism-Buddhism-Animism) and one culture till the 15th century. They did not look upon themselves as different countries. A large part of today’s Malaysia was a part of the kingdom of Siam (Thailand). And at times Malaysia and Indonesia were under the rule of one single dynasty (Sri Vijaya, Shailendra, Mataram and Majapahit).

The Bas Reliefs of Borobudur in Indonesia and words like Putrajaya (name of the new Malaysian Capital), Tan Sri (honorific title in Malaysia), Garuda (Indonesia’s national air carrier), and names like Megawati Sukarnoputri (Indonesia’s former President), Imam Samudra (the Bali Bomber), which have been derived from the ancient Indian (Sanskrit) language are the only reminders of the Buddhist and Hindu past of the current Muslim population of Malaysia and Indonesia. The clash of the gentle ancestors of the Malays and Indonesians with the violent Muslims is a clash of contrasts.

This is so as there is no greater contrast than that between Buddhism and Islam. While Buddhism is intrinsically and universally non-violent, Islam is a violent, cruel and murderous paranoia as we witnessed in 9/11, 7/7, 3/11 and numerous other events in recent history. The 14 century long history of Islam has been equally violent and bloodied and cruel.

For further reading on this topic, see The History of Jihad.

This was Bangkok reporting,
H. Numan.