In the last week, Islamic militants in southern Thailand have responded to the death of 85 Moslem protestors by killing a dozen non-Moslems. Particularly troubling has been the attacks on Buddhist monks and temples. Most Thais are Buddhists.
Only 113 of the 1,200 young Moslem men arrested last week were kept in custody. The police are trying to run down and arrest Islamic radical leaders before a lot of organized religious violence gets established. Of particular interest are Islamic radicals coming across the border from Malaysia. While only five percent of Thailand's population are Moslem, over 80 percent of them live in three provinces in the south, right on the Malaysian border. These three provinces were conquered only a century ago, adding a Moslem minority to a Buddhist country. The Moslems were seen as backward and ignorant. This translated into the Moslem south not sharing in the economic growth of the country over the past few decades. But mainly the Moslem south resents being a minority, and a poor and despised one at that. Most of the unhappiness is based on economics, but more young men are buying into Islamic radicalism and the concept of Islamic world conquest. If that idea spreads, this year's 500 dead in the Moslem south (about 17 dead per 100,000 in the south) could grow considerably. To put that in context, crime in the United States kills about six people per 100,000 each year, while the rate in South Africa is 58 (about the same rate that Iraq currently suffers because of the civil war with the Sunni Arab minority.) Thailand does not want a little Iraq in it's southern provinces, but Islamic radicals want it very badly.