Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Coming Jihad

Muslims praying at the opening ceremony of a new mosque in Pattani province. 2006. (This photo is in no way supposed to suggest that the people pictured are in any way associated with violence or extremism)

Since Siam (Thailand) annexed the Sultanate of Patani (roughly the provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat) in 1902 there has been a constant rebellion against Thai rule.

The local population is comprised of Malay-Muslims and they have long resisted the efforts of Thai-Buddhist governments to control them.

A key characteristic of the resistance was the use of ethnic nationalism to fuel anti-government sentiment.

But the power that ethnic nationalism once harnessed has now ceded to a much more powerful fuel of rebellion. What is now fuelling the conflict is a virulent interpretation of Islam that is not just preaching a division between Thais and Malays but is preaching jihad.

Back in the 1970s insurgent groups like the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO) and Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) ideologically oriented their struggle on a sense of being different from Thai, of being ethnic Malay.

In their struggle they either drew upon glorifying the old Sultanate of Patani to demand independence or looked across the border in an irredentist attempt to join Malaysia.

Yet recent incidents in the deep South reveal that religious extremism has now infiltrated the South and has replaced Malay ethno-nationalism.

The so called ‘Krue Sai’ incident in April 2004 was one of the first incidents that academics, politicians, and those watching the Southern rebellion were given a dramatic example of the new extremism.

105 Malay-Muslim youths died in coordinated attack on at least 10 military/police locations scattered across the three contested provinces.

In the aftermath of the clash a document called Jihad De Patani was found at the scene and it is a manual for jihad.

The document’s English name is Circle at Patani and it contains a vocabulary imported from the battlefields of holy war. For the first time in the Southern conflict the Thais are referred to as kafir (pronounced like ‘kafet’ in Thai) which is Arabic (كافر) for infidel or non-believer.

What had once been a conflict defined between ethnic Malays and ethnic Thais has transformed into a definition between religious groups. In addition to defining each opposing side in religious terms is the introduction of the term monafiq.

Monafiq is the English equivalent to hypocrite and is used to refer to Muslims who work with the kafir Thai.

Those Muslims that work with the Thai state have now been labelled as traitors to their faith.

Some might argue that the introduction of religious terms is inconsequential or a mere detail in a war but it should be noted that these terms have been employed in numerous jihads around the world.

In Afghanistan the Mujahadeen declared jihad against the kafir (Russians) and successfully beat a world superpower. The Mujahadeen are not exactly a home grown organization as much as they are a world-wide religious ideological organization that includes Malay-Muslims from Thailand's deep South.

As Dr Wattana of Prince of Songkla University explained it “I think the idea of jihad, of fighting back the kafet (kafir) is become so popular and powerful in explaining what happened to many problems of many Muslim countries.

So these Mujahadeen come back to Malaysia and Thailand and start their own war.” To such jihadists Patani is not Thailand but it is part of Darussalam - the land of Islam and the kafet Thais are invaders.

Now new ‘separatist’ organizations like the Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Koordinasi, (which is an Islamic offshoot of the aforementioned BRN) and theGerakan Mujahideen Islami Pattani (GMIP) which, like their name suggests is comprised of former Afghan veterans, are capitalizing upon the psychological power of winning a jihad against kafir like the Russians in Afghanistan. If Islamist fighters were successful in fighting the Russian kafir in Afghanistan then why won’t they be successful in Southern Thailand?

The trouble for Thailand is that the former inept bungling of the Thaksin government blamed Southern violence upon ‘common bandits’ until denying the reality of rebellion in late 2004 became an obvious and ridiculous lie.

Now, the current governing Junta would lose enormous credibility if they admitted that their efforts to stem the rebellion is actually a struggle against jihadists.

The first sign of the coming country-wide jihad were the nine coordinated New Years Eve bombings that shattered the 2006 celebrations in Bangkok.

The junta quickly tried to blame Thaksin's ousted supporters but politically-unbiased evidence clearly points to the South. Now Bangkok is on a daily ‘bomb threat’ alert.

The rebellion in the deep South is moving north but its not the same old rebellion of the past, now its jihad.

* Please note - Pattani spelled with two ‘T’s is a Thai government spelling while Patani with one ‘T’ is often associated with the way the name is spelled in the local Jawi language and sometimes an expression of sympathy with separatism. Each oranization's name is presented with their spelling while my own use follows the more common double T spelling but is not meant to demonstrate any political leaning.

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