For 100 years, Buddhists and Muslims lived side by side in southern Thailand. In 2004, a small fraction of the Muslims started killing the Buddhists indiscriminately. This conflict is now the most violent in Asia
, with murders of Thai civilians, including children, monks, and Muslims who refuse to cooperate, occurring on a daily basis.
The southern provinces of Thailand have traditionally had close cultural connections with Malaysia, but were under the political dependency of Siam since the 14th century
, and were formally integrated into modern Thailand during its formation in the 1920s. After losing their jobs during this integration, ethnic Malay Muslim nobility told locals to stop paying their taxes; this rebellion caused Thais to rethink their integration strategy and abolish all regulations opposed to Islam, a policy of religious freedom that continues to this day (PDF
The 20th century brought much human migration to the area. Upset by the mass influx of Buddhist working poor from the north, a group of wealthy, educated Muslims began an armed insurgency; but this was concluded in 1989 with a peace treaty. Some who live in the south consider themselves Thai. Others call themselves Malays, and others think of themselves as Muslims first and foremost.
These early separatist movements were based on vague ethnic grounds and attacked primarily military and government targets. After a sophisticated attack in January 2004
, however, an unidentified group begin burning Buddhist temples and butchering civilians with increasing frequency
Since 2004, estimates show "more than 4,500 people dead, and nearly 10,000 wounded
", not including the impact of property destruction, refugees, and a dehumanizing culture of fear that has torn apart the fabric of village life. 90% of Muslims do not want a separate state; these opponents to the terrorists are being killed in greater numbers than Buddhists
Although Western analysts question "just how far religion has replaced ethno-nationalism as the driving force of the insurgency" (PDF
), and Thai leadership has consistently denied
that the conflict has a religious element, messages left by insurgents make their intentions clear:
"We will kill, burn, and destroy all Buddhists: you will never be able to live in peace here."
“Dogs. Pigs. Shit. Garbage. I’ll give you three days to leave my land. Otherwise, I will kill, burn, destroy all Buddhist Thai property. If you leave the house, travel or go to work, you will die violently.”
The method of murder and assault used by the Islamists is brutal (warning: INCREDIBLY violent photos, NSFW
Documents found at the homes of separatist leaders describe a three-prong strategy of "raising awareness", funding Islamic education, and training young people to commit terrorism and murder
So many monks have been killed that when the few remaining novices go on their daily almsrounds, they must be accompanied by armed bodyguards
Grammar school teachers, also targeted
by the Islamists, now carry guns to school and sometimes have armed guards of their own.
Thailand's current strategy seems to be a secret negotiation with the insurgents, going so far as to offer the institution of Sharia law
. Analysts suggest an alternate solution: adopting COIN strategies and protecting moderate Muslim leadership
Previously on MeFi: In 2006 a Muslim took a hammer to "one of Thailand's most revered shrines