October 9, 2008
Asia Times

Cambodia's Muslims as Geopolitical Pawns

by Geoffrey Cain

Competition for influence in Cambodia, recently seen as a two-country race between the United States and China, has now seen another deep-pocketed suitor emerge: petrodollar-rich Gulf states.

While Washington has required counter-terrorism cooperation for its assistance, and Beijing has sought greater access to markets, Middle Eastern countries seem keen to build religious ties with Cambodia's Muslim Cham minority. . . .

The minority Cham, the antecessors of the region's once-dominant Champa kingdom, have long been open to foreign influences. They are also no stranger to official oppression and prosecution, both in Cambodia and Vietnam. Ben Kiernan, who heads the Cambodian genocide project at Yale University, estimates that 90,000 of a total 250,000 Cham population were killed during the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime which ruled between 1975 and 1979.

Only 21 of a total 113 imams, or Islamic teachers, survived the radical Maoist regime, along with only 15% of Cham-built mosques, says Kiernan. That tragic history, academics and analysts say, have made the Cham more susceptible to outside religious influences. Islamic charities from Gulf states first entered Cambodia in 1991, when a ceasefire was declared among warring militias, according to academic Agnes De Feo, author of the upcoming book, Muslims of Cambodia and Vietnam.

Foreign identity Faith-based charitable organizations, which Cham often refer to generically as "Kuwait", came mainly from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and gained significant clout over the ethnic minority's traditional Malay Muslim culture. Indian and Pakistani Islamic organizations, mostly promoters of the Tablighi Jamaat, or dawah, an apolitical movement aimed at revitalizing Muslim communities considered to be in danger of losing their Muslim identities, arrived later in the 1990s.

The result was a schism in the Cham community between the Tabligh Jamaat and Wahhabists, . . .


John Pilger, "Propaganda Disguised as Journalism,", June 16, 2007

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