Observers Jason Burke har vært i de tre sørlige provinsene i Thailand, hvor det foregår et muslimsk opprør. Hvem husker ikke bildene av unge menn på scooter, som ble lett bytte for politiets maskinpistoler for en tid tilbake. Hva tenkte de på? Angrepet var rent selvmord.

Forklaringen ser ut til å være at de er grepet av den samme eskatologiske muslimske vekkelsen. En gang i tiden var det her et muslimsk sultanat, og nå er det noen unge som vil gjenopprette det med våpen i hånd. (Filippinene har samme problem.) Også her finansierer saudi-penger madrassaer.

There are no clear explanations why more than 100 poorly armed villagers launched themselves against automatic weapons. Some blame religion, others ‘outside influences’ that convinced the men they were invulnerable. But what is clear is that the attack was part of a wider pattern that has brought the vicious little conflict in the south of Thailand, which has claimed 300 lives already this year, to a new level of intensity.

The villagers of Su So, like most of the people in the three provinces where the violence has been concentrated, are Muslim.The fighting that has surged there is often, by outsiders at least, said to be based in religion.

Islam is a strong element. Ever since the Sultanate of Pattani, a local Islamic kingdom, was annexed by an expansionist Buddhist monarchy more than a century ago, some have fought central rule and called for a separate Islamic state. Revolts in the 1970s and early 1980s were put down with great brutality.

The most recent violence also has a strong religious flavour. On the day that TR Sports died, another group of men attacked a police post on the outskirts of the town of Pattani after praying at a historic mosque near by. According to Niseng Nilaeh, an eyewitness, the leader called on local people to join the battle to ‘sacrifice themselves for God’. Later the police found a 30-page tract arguing that it was a religious obligation for Muslims to fight for the ‘lost land’ of the Pattani sultanate.

Religious radicalism has been growing in the south for several years. More conservative, intolerant styles of worship have been imported from the Middle East. Certainly, many of the TR Sports players had been educated in government-registered religious schools and at least two ran their own Islamic study groups. Some had studied in the 200 new medressas -independent Islamic colleges devoted purely to religion – that have sprung up in the past decade. There are some links to a Saudi-funded hardline religious college.

Muslim rebels light fuse in Thailand Jason Burke reports from Su So, Thailand, whose football team died in an ugly little war waged between Islamic militants and the police and fuelled by religious, ethnic and economic rivalries

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