Rescuing and serving persecuted Christians since 1995
Select Page

The following article provides an in-depth analysis of the broader picture behind Muslim aggression in Indonesia . Rather than focusing on just one country, radical Muslims are instigating violence all over Southeast Asia . To make matters worse, terrorists are playing into the hands of politicians and military leadership, who are using the instability to garner more power for themselves.

Der Spiegel (11/21/05) – Buddhist monks are being murdered, Christian schoolchildren beheaded and dissenters blown up. Southeast Asia’s peaceful co-existence among religions is under siege, from Bangkok to Jakarta . Meanwhile, politicians and military leaders are using Islamic fervor to boost their own power.

Pheewat Tirasato is normally in a hurry to reach the scene of the crime when he’s needed. After all, he only has to throw on a saffron robe and a pair of rubber sandals and hop into the car he is provided by the temple where he serves as a monk. But when his mobile phone rang on Oct. 16, he could only advise the caller to lock his doors and pray that the army would arrive soon. “I don’t know if I can make it there alive,” he says, and tells the caller that he’ll be there the next day.

It’s a cautiousness that has probably saved his life. By the time Tirasato, who provides comfort to the victims of violence, finally arrived at Promprasith Temple 20 kilometers from the southern Thai city of Narathiwat , large sections of the complex had been destroyed.

Local residents told the “monk of reconciliation,” as Tirasato is called here, that about 20 masked men attacked the temple complex. “Allah is great,” they shouted before killing two temple novices. When a 76-year-old monk stood in front of the attackers in an attempt to appease them, they slit his throat and threw his body into a fire.

The army couldn’t help because fallen trees blocked the access roads to the temple. But Tirasato was also of little use to the surviving residents of the temple complex. “Hatred robbed them of their voices,” he says.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in southern Thailand in the past two years in clashes involving the military, Muslims and Buddhist settlers. But the slaughtering of monks by Muslim holy warriors — that was a first.

The news from Promprasith came as a shock to the rest of Thailand . It brings with it an unmistakable message: that dedicated jihadists who have been committing acts of terror in Southeast Asia for years have now set their sights on this primarily Buddhist country. The region’s image of peaceful co-existence among more than 200 million Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus — a peaceful co-existence among vastly different religions from Indonesia to Burma, which has made Southeast Asia a model of tolerance — now exists only in tourism ads.

Terror is everywhere. Although Indonesia recently reported the death of dangerous bomb-maker Azahari bin Husin (“Dr. Azahari”), a member of the notorious Indonesian terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah and the man believed responsible for the 2002 attacks in Bali, among other acts of terror, the whereabouts of the more than 40 suicide bombers he trained remain a mystery. In Australia , authorities reportedly managed, at the last minute, to prevent a group of Muslim extremists from staging “an attack on the scale of the London bombings.” The would-be attackers had apparently singled out the country’s only nuclear power plant as their target.

…

Western terrorism experts already refer to southern Thailand as an Asian Caucasus. According to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, two groups are responsible for the unrest, the “Patani Islamic Mujahidin Group” and “New Pulo,” both offshoots of a once-powerful guerilla organization that until the 1980s fought for a separation of Thailand ‘s 2.4 million Muslims from the country’s 60 million Buddhists — and for an independent Muslim state.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a former telecommunications mogul and, with an estimated net worth about $1.3 billion, one of Asia’s wealthiest heads of state, isn’t entirely convinced that Thai mujahedeen with experience fighting in Afghanistan are behind the bloody attacks on temples and military bases. At first he suspected drug gangs. Then he riled against the Organization of Islamic States, advising Muslims to “read the Koran more closely” because, as he said, it states that they should respect the laws of a country in which they are guests.

But a fair share of Thailand ‘s problems are homegrown.

…

Thailand ‘s Muslim youth often go to Malaysia to study, especially in the northern state of Kelantan, where terrorists wanted by Thai authorities have allegedly gone into hiding. Indeed, Malaysia hasn’t just served as a safe haven for Thai religious warriors. Until the late 1990s, Indonesian hate preacher Abu Bakar Bashir, now in detention in Jakarta on charges of “planning to overthrow the government,” taught at a Malaysian religious school, where he indoctrinated the members of terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, who killed 202 people in the October 2002 nightclub bombings on the resort island of Bali .

All of this comes as no surprise to Imtiaz Sarwar, an attorney in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur . “The political system here promotes intolerance, and our rigid rules of behavior practically play into the hands of radicals,” he says. Sarwar, a slender man with fine facial features, represents two men who were born as Muslims and have now been sentenced to three years in prison. Their crime? They joined a sect and publicly announced that they no longer wished to be Muslims. Their case has since become one of many similar cases.

Although the Malaysian constitution states that Islam is the “religion of the federation,” the multicultural state also grants its citizens freedom of religion. But this principle has long since yielded to the pressures of daily life.

In an effort to avoid losing power to the radical Islamic party Pas, then-President Mahathir Mohamad announced in late 2001 that Malaysia is already an Islamic state. But even that has not been enough for hardliners.

At the beginning of the year, religious police reporting directly to the prime minister stormed Kuala Lumpur ‘s Zouk nightclub and handcuffed young women who they believed were dressed immodestly. And now, for the first time, two young people who were caught drinking alcohol face the threat of a public whipping.

Malaysia ‘s growing fundamentalism gets a boost from the country’s “Bumiputra” system, which grants Malaysians 54 percent — corresponding to their share of the population — of university slots and government jobs. Gone are the days when the mostly Christian Chinese — who, despite making up only 34 percent of the population, control the economy and pay the largest share of taxes — could buy their religious freedom with bribes. “If we want to build a church,” says historian Ng Kamweng, “we always run up against a Muslim official who refuses to make the necessary decision.”

Despite problems in Thailand and Malaysia , international observers and Western intelligence experts are even more concerned about Indonesia , Southeast Asia ‘s largest country. With its 212 million inhabitants, including 185 million Muslims, the giant island nation is the world’s most populous Islamic country.

…

Indonesian authorities have arrested more than 200 members of terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah in recent months, but acts of terror committed by Muslim fanatics have not subsided. Six hooded men in black staged an especially brutal attack on Oct. 29 on the island of Sulawesi , where they beheaded three Christian schoolgirls in their uniforms and placed one of the severed heads in front of a church.

Although Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was quick to condemn the attack, radicals are already beginning to run the political establishment. Kept under control under former dictator Suharto, they now have far greater power to enact their own laws in the country’s freely elected parliament.

Under a recently enacted law, kissing in public can be punished with a fine of up to €2,500. Although a ban on dance performances was voted down, the Council of Muslim Legal Scholars has spoken out against liberal interpretation of the Koran, thereby issuing a de facto prohibition on marriages to Christians.

Even more disturbing is the suspicion that the powerful military has likely played a behind-the-scenes role in the bombing attacks.

Hadidi, a 40-year-old day laborer who also goes by the name Abu Zahro, was involved in the first attack in Bali in Oct. 2002. He recently confessed to police that he learned how to make explosives at a jungle camp on the island of Mindanao . He said that a group considered an offshoot of Jakarta ‘s security forces paid his passage to Mindanao . Such revelations reinforce the suspicion that the country’s military is using terrorism as a pretext to stay in power.

People who have spent decades trying to promote reconciliation among the region’s religious groups are beginning to feel that their efforts are futile. Pheewat Tirasato, the Buddhist monk in the Thai city of Narathiwat , is one of these people.

“These days people are more interested in settling scores and exacting revenge,” he says. One of the temple novices who survived the attack on the Promprasith temple apparently sees things in a similar light. In early November he enrolled in a course on the use of handguns offered by the army.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

[Go To Full Story]