Muhammadiyah Offers Thai South Help

Indonesia's second largest Islamic movement is offering assistance to improve Islamic education in Thailand's Muslim-majority restive south to help create peace and prosperity.

Muhammadiyah Offers Thai South Help

Indonesia's second largest Islamic movement is offering assistance to improve Islamic education in Thailand's Muslim-majority restive south to help create peace and prosperity.

"[We] want to help empower Muslims there in education, health and economy," Muhammadiyah Chairman Din Syamsuddin told The Jakarta Post in an interview on Monday, August 27.

He recently paid a four-day visit to Thailand where he met with top officials including King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Premier Surayud Chulanont, army chief Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin and governors of four Muslim-majority southern provinces.

"I told them that Muhammadiyah would be ready to help.

"We might send teachers, Muslim preachers and medical officers there, or they might come here for schooling…or short-term education for cultural enrichment," said Syamsuddin.

He criticized the Islamic education process in south Thailand.

"…one of the problems there is Islamic education, which is too conservative…and the curriculum taught is very rigid," said the Indonesian Muslim leaders.

"As a result, students graduating from Islamic schools get nothing and have no clue about global issues. In the end, they are trapped in the devil's ring of unemployment and poverty, which will create a perfect breeding ground for separatism and radicalism."

The southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, home to 1.8 million Muslims, were once an independent Muslim sultanate until annexed officially a century ago.

Soft Approach

Syamsuddin said the Thai government seemed ready to cooperate with his group, which boasts some 29 million members.

"I had the impression that the King and Gen. Sonthi accept and welcome the role of the Indonesian Muslim civil society, in this case Muhammadiyah, to help create peace and prosperity in southern Thailand."

He urged the authorities to pursue "soft" approach in dealing with the conflict in the Muslim south.

"I suggest the Thai government use more soft power than hard power, like the military, which will only add more problems."

"Soft power is more like persuasive actions, but it should also come along with efforts to reduce the wealth gap and improve prosperity."

Thai Muslims, who make up five percent of the predominantly Buddhist kingdom's population, have long complained of discrimination in jobs and education.

Syamsuddin said that social and political woes, not religious reasons, were to blame for the trouble in the south.

"Sometimes, religion is only used as a justification.

"Islam in Thailand is a moderate Islam, which is why we should empower them," he added.

Separatism

The Indonesian Muslim leader believes the situation in south Thailand has huge potential for separatism, because of religious and ethnic diversity. "There are two factors: religion and ethnicity, with Islam and Melayu in the south and Buddhism and Thais in the north.

"I told the prime minister and armed forces officers to prevent the third factor, which is the economy and the sociopolitical gap. I can see that southern Thailand is not as prosperous as northern parts."

Syamsuddin believes that there are a few religion-motivated separatist groups in the south.

"In the Muslim community in southern Thailand, the existence of these groups is not obvious.

"Such groups are found in one or two districts, especially in Yala. In other areas they are not widespread, so it's an underground activity and it has signs of terrorism."

He drew similarity between the situation in the south and the three-decade conflict in Aceh province.

"They also want to relive the glory of the past, when there was a self-reliant Pattani kingdom and they used to have connections with the Kelantan (Malaysia) sultan."

The Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) have signed a peace accord in 2005 under which the group has given up its fight for an independent state in return for greater power over the resource-rich province's affairs.

The International Crisis Group has recently urged the military-installed Thai government to start preparing the Buddhist majority to accept a negotiated autonomy for the Muslim-majority south.

IOL

Last Mod: 28 Ağustos 2007, 09:42
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