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Like many Islamic insurgencies, they claim mainly Muslim victims.
PATTANI, Thailand — As with so many of the world’s Islamic insurgencies, jihadis here end up inflicting the most carnage on fellow Muslims.
Buddhists may make up 60 percent of the conflict’s 7,500-plus injuries, according to Deep South Watch figures. But Muslims make up 60 percent of the dead.
Abdunkorde Daman was nearly another death toll uptick. The 46-year-old Muslim rubber tapper was standing outside his village tea shop in May when he watched three men drop to the gravel from gunfire. Panicked, he dashed towards his toddler, who was wailing from the bed of his truck parked nearby.
In his last waking moments, he saw his attacker, eyes visible through a ski mask slit, firing an AK-47 from the back of a speeding pick-up. Then Abdunkorde dropped too. He was still crawling towards the sound of his child’s shrieks when he blacked out from blood loss.
As Abdunkorde fell unconscious, the attackers continued up a country road. They shot a female vegetable vendor. Then they fired on two elderly Muslim men squatting by the roadside. In total: four dead, 12 wounded.
“I don’t know how many bullets they pulled out of me in the hospital,” Abdunkorde said. “Nor do I know what we did wrong.”
The plump headman of Ga Sod village, 52-year-old Ya Mayae, has heard the gossip. Something about an insurgent’s brother getting shot here. Something about the mujahideen marking the village as insufficiently loyal.
But he says he doesn’t really know for sure. Nor does he know why, two years ago while driving, some gunman hidden in the roadside bramble shot him up as well. The shells tore into his forearm. Nerve damage deformed his hand into a crumpled claw.
“It’s tough to be a Muslim man in the deep south,” said Pratubjit Neelapaijit, 29, her doe eyes framed by a Dalmatian-spotted hijab. “They feel like they’re the biggest targets.”
Pratubjit would know. Her mother founded the Pattani-based Justice for Peace Foundation after a Muslim lawyer representing alleged separatists was kidnapped and never seen again. The man, presumed dead, was Pratubjit’s father. Their foundation continues his work: monitoring abuses against Muslims and Buddhists alike.
To be male, poor and Muslim in the southern borderlands, Pratubjit said, is to forever tread tightrope. They must insist to army interrogators that they know nothing of the insurgency. They must also promise neighborhood jihadis they’ll help resist the infidels.
“We can’t polarize them into two sides that are clearly black or white. A lot are grey,” Pratubjit said. “If you ask villagers [about the insurgency], they’ll say, ‘I have no idea.’ But you can’t trust that they don’t really know.”
Asked how many militants dwell within Ga Sod village, considered a full-blown insurgent hotbed by the army, headman Ya grows uncomfortable. He defers to his assistant, a village holy man named Ismael Kalatae. His answer is stiff and unequivocal.
“Please allow me to confirm for you, 100 percent,” he said, “that there are no insurgents living in this village.”
Insurgency aside, might life be better if the sultanate was restored?
The headman and holy man go silent for a moment, staring at cupcakes and orange Fanta the headman’s wife has set out for guests on the tabletop. As they mull their answer, a military ranger clomps by on the dirt road outside. He is clad in pitch black, from his boots to his handkerchief to the belt or grenades slung across his chest.
“I can’t answer your question,” Ismael said. “No one has ever asked us that before.”
Well, do the old timers at least swap tales of the lost sultanate passed down through elders? “Just talking about this, it could become misconstrued,” the holy man said. “Someone could get the wrong idea.”
They are tight-lipped for a reason. Even the most law-abiding Muslims worry that complaining, or even romanticizing the old days, will attract suspicion from authorities.
Privately, Pratubjit said, they have much to grumble about.
The Muslims have long bemoaned the indignity of visiting a government office where imported bureaucrats can’t speak their their native Jawi, a Malay tongue written in flowing Arabic script.
The elderly remember the shutdown of their Shariah-law courts beginning in the 1939, the first