As oblivious backpackers party up the coast, an Islamic rebellion roars on with no end in sight. The attackers’ prey? In local jihadi parlance, “Siamese infidels” and their “Muslim running dogs.” In lieu of familiar screeds against Jews, Christians and the “Great Satan” America, these mujahideen call for the heads of Thai Buddhists.
Islamic guerillas here vow to wrench free a Connecticut-sized chunk of Thailand and create the world’s newest Islamic state. With Muslim separatist movements in the Philippines and Indonesia largely tamed through peace agreements, this Islamic insurgency is now Asia’s bloodiest.
“We used to know the Muslims,” said Penporn Saikaew, a 60-year-old Buddhist grandmother living in an army-designated “red zone” rife with insurgents. “We went to the same schools. We loved each other.”
“It’s not like that anymore,” said Penporn, who totes a .38-caliber Smith and Wesson when she leaves the house. “We don’t trust them. And they don’t trust us.”
Known to Thais as the “deep south,” this region was once an Islamic sultanate called Pattani. Along with much of the Malay-Indonesian archipelago, the region absorbed Islam from 13th-century Arab traders. Meanwhile, Buddhism took root in the Siamese empire to the north.
The sleepy sultanate existed for about 500 years until the turn of the 20th century, when it was swallowed by Siam (now Thailand) and carved into three provinces: Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani. The region, roughly 85 percent Muslim, is still largely governed by ethnic Thais, a 15 percent minority.
- Thai bomb attack in south kills 2 Buddhist monks (seattletimes.nwsource.com)