International Herald Tribune In a step that could sharpen divisions in its increasingly violent, largely Muslim southern provinces, Thailand appears ready for the first time to make Buddhism the state religion in a new constitution.
I believe that would be a mistake. It will not stop the Muslim violence. The only thing that MIGHT work is to have an absolute guarantee of freedom of religion, i.e. let Buddists worship as they want, and let Muslims worship as they want, but make it clear that the country is secular, i.e. no religious laws from any faith will apply to everyone, and everyone is free to choose the religion they want.Under pressure from masses of orange-robed monks who have rallied in the streets and distracted by other political challenges, the country's military-backed government is going along with a notion that has made little headway in the past.
Big mistake.The movement comes at a time of increased divisions and political tension in Thailand as the government seeks to pass a constitution, hold a parliamentary election and return the country to democracy by the end of the year. More than 90 percent of Thais are Buddhist, and Thailand is already, in effect, a Buddhist state, its rituals, monarchy and national identity closely tied to the religion. It also has a reputation for tolerance and inclusiveness, qualities that have become strained under the pressure of political crisis.
The constitution should enshrine the tolerance and inclusiveness, not select one faith over all others.The constitutional provision would be largely symbolic, without legal weight or substantive effect on religious practices in Thailand. But analysts said it would be dangerously divisive at a moment when Buddhists and Muslims are confronting each other in the south more directly and violently than ever. "It's going to make the situation in southern Thailand a hell of a lot worse," said Zachary Abuza, a specialist on terrorism who has closely studied the situation in the south. Already, more than 2,000 people have died since 2004 in a separatist conflict in which Muslims and Buddhists increasingly see one another as the enemy.