02 August, 2008

What Will ASEAN say to a Malaysian Islamic State?

What Will ASEAN say to a Malaysian Islamic State?

Written by Farish A. Noor
Wednesday, 30 July 2008


At present, there are several right-wing conservative Buddhist groups calling for Thailand to be officially declared as the first Buddhist state in the world; a feat unmatched by anyone else thus far for even Sri Lanka has remained a secular state all these years. One wonders what the implications of such a move might be both for Thailand and the region as a whole should it come to pass: Would the rise of right-wing Buddhism have an impact on the Muslim and Christian minorities in the country? Would it further inflame the situation in the South of Thailand where conflict between Thai Buddhists and Malay Muslims has been raging since 2004?

One factor that has prevented any country in ASEAN from unilaterally making such drastic changes to its internal politics has been the checks and balances offered by the region’s plural character itself: A quick look at the map of the ASEAN region would show that this is a region of many faith communities living together and overlapping. Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei remain predominantly Muslim, but they are flanked by predominantly Buddhist Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and even Vietnam. In turn there is the Phillipines which is Christian as well, and in all these countries – Singapore being a case in point – there are also large pockets of cosmopolitanism mixed with multiculturalism and multi-religiosity too.

Historically this may have been one of the factors that prevented countries like Malaysia and Indonesia from unilaterally upping the stakes in the Islamisation process, for it would have raised eyebrows in the neighbouring capitals. How long this state of affairs will remain unchecked, however, is anyone’s guess. In Malaysia and Indonesia the rise of political Islam has also given birth to radical new Islamist groupings like the Hizb’ut Tahrir that are now calling for a Pan-Muslim ASEAN super-state, far-fetched though their ambitions may seem.

Read more here.

(Dr. Farish A. Noor is Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University and co-founder of the www.othermalaysia.org research site.)

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