Monday, November 13, 2006


Date: Monday 13 November 2006
Subj: Indonesia's Aceh as a model for Thailand's south?
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

Not all Muslims want to live under Sharia Law (the constitution of political Islam). Non-Muslims definitely don't. When Jakarta granted Aceh autonomy and the right to enact Sharia Law it brought peace to Jakarta, but at the expense of the Acehnese. The implementation, subsequent expansion and impact of Sharia in Aceh is the subject of the latter part of this posting.

Now Thailand's military-appointed Prime Minister is proposing the "Aceh model" as a means of ending the Islamic insurgency in Thailand's deep south. This would doubtless bring peace to Bangkok, but it would be at the expense of the southern Thai, 20 percent of whom are Buddhist (not even "People of the Book"!). Southern Thai would pay for this "peace" with their lives as Islamic terrorism morphs into religious persecution and ethnic cleansing.

It may be relevant to note that Thailand's new interim Prime Minister, Surayud Chulanont, was appointed by coup-leader and Army Chief General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, Thailand's first Muslim Army Chief. They have a close relationship. Surayud Chulanont, a former member of King Bhumibol Adulyadej Privy Council, played a key role in the promotion of General Boonyaratkalin to position of Army Chief. The recently installed cabinet is allegedly little more than a political front for the military, and while Thailand is less than five percent Muslim, the most significant and powerful posts are now held by Muslims. The Defence Minister, Boonrawd Somtas, is a Muslim; and the Interior Minister, Aree Wongarya, is also a Muslim.


Muslims count for only 4.6 percent of the 65 million population of Thailand, but are concentrated in the southern-most provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat where they form majorities. According to the 2000 census, Muslims represent 69 percent of the 415,000 residents in Yala; 88 percent of the 600,000 residents of Pattani; and 82 percent of the 662,000 residents of Narathiwat. Around 90 percent of Thai Muslims are ethnic Malay and speak a Malay dialect.

While a separatist struggle has simmered in the deep south for decades, the Islamic insurgency which erupted in earnest on 4 January 2004 has now claimed more than 1,700 lives. Most Christians and Christian ministries have fled the region. Militant Islamists target Buddhist monks (who are frequently decapitated), government-run schools, karaoke bars and other
entertainment venues (which are frequently bombed), as well as Thai soldiers, police, checkpoints and other pro-government individuals or institutions. On Thursday 9 November, eight car and motorcycle showrooms were bombed almost simultaneously at noon in Yala, leaving nine wounded.

While Thai Muslims have historically been well assimilated, several factors have contributed to the growing Islamic unrest and the rise of Islamic terrorism in the Muslim-majority southern provinces.

In May 2005, International Crisis Group (ICG) asserted that despite the rise in "puritanical strains of Islam", "Muslim anger at the deployment of Thai troops in Iraq" and the growth in "Islamic consciousness and a sense of persecution and solidarity with fellow Muslims", the violence in the south is not an Islamic jihad and is driven by local issues. ICG cites "historic issues" as well as discrimination, the heavy handed tactics employed by the Thai police and military, and the government's tendency to send its most inept and corrupt officials to posts in the Muslim south, frustrating the local population there, as examples of local issues driving the insurgency. (Link 1)

While these issues are definitely historic and contributing factors, the pre-eminent factor behind the present insurgency is undoubtedly radicalisation. As noted in mid 2004, "Authorities have known for quite some time that many Muslim Thai activists went overseas to
Islamic schools, where they came under influence of hard-line teachers. Some were reported to have joined the jihad war against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan and returned to Thailand as extremists." (Link 2)

Yet it is well known that radicalisation does not affect all Muslims. Many Muslims, especially in south-east Asia, actively resist the introduction of radical (Wahhabi) elements and ideology. For this they are labeled "apostates" by the bearers of "true Islam", and are persecuted and sometimes killed for their efforts.

Samart Disuma is one such Muslim. Samart, a community leader, has resisted radical and separatist elements in the southern province of Yala for decades. These days he and his family live in a virtual fortress. Rungrawee C. Pinyorat writes, "While critical of government policies, a number of Muslims in the south work for reconciliation and show no desire to live in a separate nation. Although Samart's fortress has never been attacked, at least three Muslims in his village have been slain in the past two years.

"Over the years, the separatist movement has waxed and waned but never completely ceased. In January 2004 it suddenly surged, and when the government failed to ensure people's safety, more Muslims and Buddhists turned to guns for self protection." (Link 3)

According to Samart there have been sporadic clashes between separatist rebels and security forces for decades. But he says today's violence is different - it is more rampant and increasingly indiscriminate. And whereas the old-time separatist rebels used to operate from bases in the jungle, today's insurgents operate from within village communities, putting everyone at risk.

Regardless of their claims, political and militant Islamist leaders never speak for all Muslims. Clearly they are not speaking for Muslims like Samart.


Reuters reported on 22 October: "Surayud Chulanont, the former army chief appointed prime minister by the military, has said he wants a peaceful solution to the violence and offered talks with militant leaders, a policy u-turn from the days of Thaksin.

"During an official visit to Jakarta on Saturday, Surayud hailed Indonesia's Aceh peace accord signed in Helsinki last year to end a separatist insurgency which had seen more than 15,000 killed since 1979.

"'Indonesia has set a model in solving the conflict in the Aceh province successfully,' a Thai government Web site,, quoted Surayud as telling Indonesian media after meeting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

"'The Aceh model is a good example to bring peace to southern Thailand,' the Web site reported on Sunday." (Link 4)

Thai News Agency reported on 8 November: "Prime Minister Surayud said that Thailand will not let go of the territory of the south, but that the government was open to negotiate various forms of polity including self-rule, autonomy and the establishment of sharia (Muslim religious) law in place of Thai civil law." (Link 5)


When Jakarta ended the insurgency in Aceh by granting the Acehnese autonomy and the right to implement Sharia Law, it was appeasing the real power-brokers behind the insurgency: the Islamists. The deal ensured that Aceh's Islamists would no longer be Jakarta's problem, only Aceh's.

International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a report in July 2006 entitled "Islamic Law and Criminal Justice in Aceh". (Link 6)

This is an important and valuable report because the implementation and expansion of Sharia in Aceh can serve as a model to demonstrate how Sharia not only divides Muslims, but has a tendency to expand once implemented.

The ICG report notes that the Muslim Acehnese have long been divided over Sharia. During Indonesia's battle for independence Acehnese elites clearly expressed their preference for Dutch-style secular administration. Even Aceh's ulama (religious scholars) were divided between those who favoured secular administration and those who wanted an Islamic State based on Sharia Law. ICG notes that for many, the issue had more to do with power than ideology - the elites did not want a religious bureaucracy established that could expand and threaten their authority, while the Islamists were determined to establish a formal religious bureaucracy from where they could expand and advance their influence and power.

ICG notes that the leader of the Acehnese Islamists, Daud Beureueh, led the Acehnese in jihad against the "kafir" Dutch occupier specifically with the aim of achieving an Islamic state. Sukarno courted and rewarded Beureueh with assurances that Indonesia would be built on Islamic principles and Aceh would have Sharia Law. This was radical as Sharia had no historic precedent in Aceh.

After Suharto's downfall, President Habibie offered Islamic Law to Aceh as a political solution to Acehnese unrest and disaffection, which really arose out of neglect and frustration. ICG reports that Jakarta regarded Sharia law as "something the Acehnese wanted (although how much was debatable - after the Indonesian parliament granted it, one Acehnese called it an 'unwanted gift', and he was not alone)". (ICG p 4)

Since Sharia has been legitimised and implemented in Aceh it has expanded considerably, for the religious bureaucracy tasked with codifying and implementing Sharia in Aceh is committed to "its own expansion; a focus on legislating and enforcing morality; and a quiet power struggle with secular law enforcement".

According to ICG, many Acehnese worry "that extension of Shari'a has been taken on as an agenda by conservative organisations. . . Women's organisations have been particularly active in raising questions about proposed changes to the khalwat qanun [laws on relationships between men and women] but in general, the conservatives, who support more extensive Shari'a application, are more vocal than those concerned about its consequences". (ICG p7)

The religious bureaucracy constantly extends the reach of Sharia by revising legislation and increasing the number of crimes that can be dealt with by the Sharia Courts. It has already been proposed that revisions be made to the laws covering khalwat (illicit relationships between men and women) so that any woman who alleges she was raped must follow Sharia protocols and produce four male adult Muslim eye-witnesses to support her claim in order to prove it. If she cannot, she will be found guilty of making a false accusation of rape, guilty of illicit sex, and caned accordingly.

In 2004, Aceh established the highly unpopular vice and virtue patrol, the wilayatul hisbah (WH) (hasba/sharia implementaion), which is responsible for monitoring compliance with Islamic law. Not only has Aceh's WH already grown from 13 members to 33 in one year, its powers are constantly increasing. What's more, the very presence of the WH is fueling the rise of hard-line Islamic vigilantism.

ICG also notes that as the religious bureaucracy expands it will rely more and more on young recruits who are motivated primarily by their contacts with intolerant radical foreign elements, in particular Wahhabis, jihadists, and groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir.


Appeasing Islamist terrorists by granting them the right to enforce Sharia Law is a betrayal of all non-Islamist citizens, both Muslim and non-Muslim.

Employing the "Aceh model" in southern Thailand would doubtless bring peace to Bangkok, but it would also close southern Thailand off to Christian ministry and mission; and it would strip all southern Thai of their right live with security under Thai civil law and under the Thai Constitution which guarantees religious liberty. It could also result in southern Thailand becoming a haven and base for terrorists.

Most immediately and seriously, it would involved abandoning up to 400,000 Buddhists to their fate in an Islamic State. Ethnic-religious cleansing is already underway. Escalating Islamic terror directed at local Buddhist civilians recently forced all the Buddhist living in the districts of Than To and Bannang Sata, Yala province, to flee their homes. These Buddhist, amounting to 122 people, or 52 families, have taken refuge in the nearby Buddhist temple of Nirotsangkha-ram in Yala's Muang district and are awaiting humanitarian assistance. (Link 7)


1) Southern Thailand: Insurgency, Not Jihad
Asia Report No 98. 18 May 2005

2) Thailand Islamic Insurgency

3) Thai Muslim village leader builds fortress against rebels
By Rungrawee C. Pinyorat KRONG PINANG, Thailand, AP, 30 Oct 2006

4) Bomb kills soldier, wounds monks in Thai south. 22 Oct 206

5) Thai PM presents Thai road to democracy to world media

6) Islamic Law and Criminal Justice in Aceh
(Asia Report No 117 - 31 July 2006)

7) Exodus of Buddhists. The Nation, Thailand. 10 Nov 2006
ALSO: Thailand: Buddhist flee from majority Muslim villages.10 Nov 2006 (AKI)
AND: Monks in Narathiwat to cease daily alms (dpa) 12 Nov 2006