The Asian Muslim Action Network (AMAN)

By Dr. Abdas Sabur, Thailand

 

 

AMAN is a network that brings together individuals, groups and associations of Muslims in Asia subscribing to a progressive and enlightened approach to Islam.  Since its inception in 1990, AMAN has been cooperating with groups whether they are Muslims or of other faiths, and whether they are working with grassroots communities or engaged in research and policy advocacy for the eradication of poverty, environmental protection, human rights, social justice, inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue, communal harmony and peace.

 

As a network, AMAN provides forums to share ideas and experiences, facilitates follow-up processes to synchronize the actions and programs launched by common interest groups and individuals in Asia within its effective reach.  Regions of particular focus include South and Southeast Asia, and more recently an expansion of activities into West and Central Asia.

 

AMAN Activities

 

School of Peace Studies and Conflict Transformation – A joint initiative of AMAN and the Asian Resource Foundation (ARF), the school offers a three week course on peace studies and conflict transformation and a one week course on trainer’s training dealing with community based peace education.

 

Research Fellowship:  Islam in Southeast Asia – A joint program of AMAN and ARF, the fellowship provides research grants to young Muslim scholars for research on issues concerning economic, socio-political and cultural changes taking place in the diverse Muslim communities of Southeast Asia.

 

HIV/AIDS Prevention – This joint program of AMAN and ARF includes research, preventative education, networking and advocacy.

 

AMAN Watch – For the promotion of human rights with special emphasis on ethnic and religious minorities, women and children.

 

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The Present Situation in Southern Thailand and Its Impact on the Local Population

By Mr. M. Abdus Sabur

Secretary General

Asian Muslim Action Network

 

The Underlying Causes of Conflict in the South

 

Ethnic, Linguistic and Religious Identity

The Muslim majority of the southernmost provinces of Thailand include Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Satul.  Many southern Thai people seem to identify more with Malay than Thai and are distinct in terms of Malay ethnic identity, the widely spoken Malay and Yawi languages, and the Islamic way of life.  One of the most indicative factors of this unique identity is the preference of the majority of Muslim Thai families to send their children to study in traditional Ponoh for religious education.  In efforts to combat this trend the Thai government has focused on integrating the Southern people into the national mainstream through unifying the national administrative and education system but as yet it has not been successful.  The mainstream Thai education curriculum does not conform to the life style, culture and aspirations of Muslim people, rather the system tries to imprint a consciousness of Buddhism and most Muslim families feel hesitant to accept such a system.

 

A Sense of Belonging to old Pattani – A Muslim Ruled Sultanat  

The Southern people’s sense of belonging to the once prosperous Pattani Kingdom is still alive today, even after their ultimate integration into the Buddhist majority Thailand. 

In November 1947, the military coup led by Thai General Phibul led to the exile of Thailand’s Prime Minister Pridi and the Muslim spiritual leader of the time Chularajamontri Cham Promyong.  Haji Sulung was arrested soon after in January 1948.  Following these incidences and many years of General Phibul’s reign, the proliferation of separatist movements began with the Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO) being the most prominent.

 

The Thai Modern Nation State

Under General Phibul, the administration made serious efforts towards integration and unification through a unified administrative and education system.  The Thai government promulgated a series of cultural mandates which included the prohibition of any designation other than Thai, the prohibition of the use of any language other than Thai, and the decree that homage must be paid to Buddha’s image.  This confronted the Southern Muslims with the challenge of either being loyal to their faith or to their state.

 

Unemployment and Poverty

Many members of the Muslim population, particularly youth, are often forced into Malaysia for both seasonal and permanent work.  This is primarily because jobs in the public sector are difficult to obtain for those students who did not complete their schooling within the Thai education system or learned the Thai language.

 

Nature of the Recent Violence

 

In a renewed campaign, both from insurgents and government, there have been losses of both life and property in the Southern provinces.  Within the first six months of 2005, 207 people have already lost their lives with another 607 injured.  Those who were killed included 6 soldiers, 15 policemen and 186 civilians.  Teachers, religious leaders, and businessmen are among the civilian casualties.   

 

Spread of Fear and a Widening Gap of Understanding - The once vertical conflict between government and insurgents has now grown between religions.

 

Martial Law - Martial law was granted by the Thai government on January 5th ‘04 which gives law enforcement agencies wider power for arrest and detention. 

 

Main Stream Education - Due to the burning of schools, many classes have had to be suspended.

 

Economic Down Trends, Unemployment and Increasing Poverty - Due to continuing violence there has been reluctance on the part of investors to work in the South which is limiting prospects for strengthening the economy and employment creation.  On a more individual note, many families who have lost their loved ones, in many cases the only family wage earner are suffering from deep poverty. 

 

Migration/Refugees - In an unprecedented announcement Malaysia offered to provide temporary shelters for Thai nationals seeking refuge in the wake of the unrest in the southern provinces.

 

Sector Responses

 

Government of Thailand

§       Immediate declaration of Martial Law in order to restore law and order.

§       Development of an economic package in order to create employment and improve the economic condition of the people.

§       Establishment of an inquiry commission to investigate the military operation in Kruse Mosque and the allocation of funds to compensate those who lost family members.

§       Initiation of dialogue with the government of Malaysia to strengthen cooperation on solving the border problem.

 

Civil Society

§       Pressured the government to demonstrate restraint and not to use excessive force.

§       Organization of forums to address the situation, particularly to identify any under lying causes for the conflict.

§       Initiation of open dialogue with youth and community members.

§       Encouragement for communities to develop their own programs that address their immediate needs.