The Threshold of Jihadism: Securing Patronage in Southern Thailand and the Philippines
The issue of southern Thailand becoming the next battleground for international jihadist terrorist organizations—such as al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or Jemaah Islamiyah—has reemerged as a prominent security concern following the defeats sustained by ISIS in the Middle East and the dispersion of its fighting force. While the prospect was hotly debated a decade ago, the majority of contemporary scholarship contends that jihadism will find little audience with the Malay Muslims in Thailand’s Deep South, whose Shafi’i population does not espouse the conservative Salafist beliefs underlying global jihad—a religiously-charged violent campaign against infidels (non-believers), munafik (traitorous Muslims), and bastions of state secularism and Western liberal values. It is furthermore believed that because southern Thailand’s armed groups are fighting a nationalist struggle for independence, as opposed to fighting for more ideological reasons, they would not be amenable to jihadist involvement in their conflict.Although it is true that Malay-Muslim militants in Thailand have declined offers of foreign fighters from international terrorist organizations, the cooperation between various separatist movements in Mindanao and global jihadist groups reveals that ethno-nationalism and ideological dissonance are insufficient causes for a rejection of jihadism. Rather, I argue that secessionists develop ties with jihadist groups when they are in need of political, financial, or military support they cannot secure from a legal entity, such as a state. This often occurs when one militant faction breaks away from its state-sponsored parent group following the signing of a peace deal it considers unappealing. Insurgent groups in Thailand have been inclined to distance themselves from jihadism because they have already acquired state patronage from Malaysia, and association with terrorist organizations would likely undermine that relationship. Strategic decisions to cooperate with jihadist organizations are thus executed according to a cost-benefit analysis and are not exclusively determined by ideological predilections.
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