June 06, 2007
The Thai political system, already confusing and chaotic in the aftermath of the 2006 military coup, took a dramatic turn Monday when the Constitution Drafting Committee rejected a proposal by Thai Buddhist monks to make Buddhism the official state religion. About 95% of Thais are at least nominally Buddhist, but Squadron Leader (!) Prasong Soonsiri nonetheless declared that "As for the issue of Buddhism as the state religion, Buddhism, which is the religion of the majority of Thai people, as well as (all) other religions, must be protected and promoted equally." Thailand has never established an official state religion in its 500+ year history as an independent political identity. Apparently Squadron Leader Soonsiri wasn't willing to buck this trend--either that, or he was concerned about inflaming sectarian violence in the south, which continues to rage: as recently as last Thursday, insurgents detonated a roadside bomb that killed 11 Thai soldiers, and proceeded to execute 10 survivors. In a separate incident the same night, Muslim militants opened fire on a night market, killing 5.
On a less depressing note, the notoriously beautiful valley of Kashmir has decided to play up its Buddhist heritage to tourists from Southeast Asia. Although history has it that Kashmir was predominantly Buddhist during the reign of Ashoka, it has since been displaced almost completely by Islam and Hinduism. Several ruins of importance, including the site of the Fourth Buddhist Council held by the Kushan ruler Kanishka, lie in the valley, and the local government will presumably receive funding and support for their restoration and maintenance. Who knows--in ten years, we might see Buddhism come to life again in Kashmir, as it has been doing elsewhere throughout India.
(Image courtesy of www.buddhistchannel.tv)
--Evan Sholle, Editorial Assistant