Ancient mosque stands witness to Muslim influence in Thailand’s present and past

Ancient mosque stands witness to Muslim influence in Thailand’s present and past
Worshippers are seen at the Tonson Mosque in Bangkok on Feb. 23, 2024. (AN Photo)
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Updated 08 March 2024
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Ancient mosque stands witness to Muslim influence in Thailand’s present and past

Ancient mosque stands witness to Muslim influence in Thailand’s present and past
  • Founded in 1688, Tonson Mosque is one of Thailand’s oldest
  • Muslims constitute about 5 percent of the country’s population

BANGKOK: Located between three Buddhist temples and in proximity to a Catholic church, the 17th-century Tonson Mosque is Bangkok’s oldest, offering a glimpse into Muslim influence in Thailand’s present and past.

The advent of Islam in Buddhist-majority Thailand dates to the ninth century when traders from the Arab world established connections with Southeast Asia.

It was in the 13th century, however, when local communities began to embrace the Muslim faith, mainly in the southernmost regions of today’s Thailand, which share an ethnic and cultural affinity with neighboring Malaysia.

Muslims nowadays constitute about 5 percent of Thailand’s 66 million population and are its largest religious minority.

Out of nearly 4,000 mosques in the kingdom — mostly in the south — over 100 can be found in its capital, with the Tonson Mosque being the oldest one.

Sitting in the Bangkok Yai district, next to the Chao Phraya River, which flows through Bangkok and used to bring to its docks the ships of Muslim merchants from Asia and the Middle East, the mosque remains an active Islamic learning hub.

“We have a learning center for the young generation over here, in another building, (with) 100 students every week,” Sarawoot Sriwannayos, the mosque’s imam, told Arab News.

“We have classes teaching Islamic studies … They can practice, and they can pray, they can (learn) the recitation of prayers together.”

Sriwannayos’s great-grandfather was also an imam, and the family has been serving the mosque for generations.

“I would like the current generation to maintain harmony with the others,” he said.

“It’s the matter of how we are living together and how we construct the nation together … Islam is for all.”

Founded in 1688, in the era of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, which ruled present-day Thailand from the mid-14th to the late 18th century, the Tonson Mosque is an example of the confluence of cultures that shaped the region and its history.

Its original building was made from teak and bore an architectural resemblance to Buddhist monasteries of the time. Renovated in 1952, the current structure is more Middle Eastern in design, but the ornamentation bears Thai influence, as the mihrab and minbar have been decorated with motifs inspired by flower bouquets, rooster leaves, and swan tails.

Visiting from Muslim-majority Indonesia, Retno Minarti was at the site of the iconic Wat Arun temple when she realized she could just walk a few minutes to reach the mosque.

She was surprised at how big it was given that Islam is a minority faith in Thailand.

“There are facilities for worship and many people came. There were also many civil servants who attended Friday prayers,” she said. “I’m quite amazed.”

For residents of Bangkok, however, it has been a familiar sight for centuries.

Next to the building lies a historic graveyard, a burial place of Muslim community leaders such as Chaophraya Chakri, who in the 18th century served as the prime minister of Siam, or the 19th-century naval commander Phraya Ratchawangsan.

“Muslims in Bangkok, they have been living here for very long,” said Ruedon Samard, who has been attending Friday prayers at the Tonson Mosque since he can remember.

“My family would come here … My grandfather, great-grandfather — they are buried here. I come to visit them.”

He also comes to find what other worshippers seek at their respective places of prayer.

“Like when the Buddhists go to their temple,” he said. “(I feel) peace.”


Kremlin blames US for ‘barbaric’ missile attack on Crimea

Kremlin blames US for ‘barbaric’ missile attack on Crimea
Updated 51 min 35 sec ago
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Kremlin blames US for ‘barbaric’ missile attack on Crimea

Kremlin blames US for ‘barbaric’ missile attack on Crimea

MOSCOW: The Kremlin blamed the United States on Monday for a Ukrainian attack on Crimea with ATACMS missiles that killed at least four people, including two children, and injured 151 more, and said there would be consequences.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the attack “absolutely barbaric” and said Moscow would react to the United States involvement in it.
Peskov suggested that reporters should ask the governments of Europe and the United States why their governments were involved in killing children. 


Russia is revising its nuclear doctrine, Kremlin says

Russia is revising its nuclear doctrine, Kremlin says
Updated 24 June 2024
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Russia is revising its nuclear doctrine, Kremlin says

Russia is revising its nuclear doctrine, Kremlin says
  • Vladimir Putin said last month that Russia might change its official nuclear doctrine setting out the conditions under which such weapons could be used

MOSCOW: Russia, the world’s biggest nuclear power, has started updating its nuclear doctrine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday, citing an earlier statement by President Vladimir Putin.
“President Putin has said that work is under way to bring the doctrine into line with current realities,” Peskov told a briefing, without elaborating.
A senior member of the Russian parliament said on Sunday that Moscow could reduce the decision-making time stipulated in official policy for the use of nuclear weapons if it believes that threats are increasing.
Putin said last month that Russia might change its official nuclear doctrine setting out the conditions under which such weapons could be used.
The war in Ukraine has triggered the biggest confrontation between Russia and the West since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.


Death toll rises to 19 after gunmen attack Russia’s Dagestan

Death toll rises to 19 after gunmen attack Russia’s Dagestan
Updated 24 June 2024
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Death toll rises to 19 after gunmen attack Russia’s Dagestan

Death toll rises to 19 after gunmen attack Russia’s Dagestan
  • Gunmen with automatic weapons burst into an Orthodox church and a synagogue in the ancient city of Derbent on Sunday evening
  • Dagestan is a mainly Muslim republic of Russia’s North Caucasus, a patchwork of ethnic groups, languages and regions

MOSCOW: The death toll from a series of brazen attacks on churches and synagogues in Russia’s mainly Muslim region of Dagestan rose to 19 on Monday after gunmen went on the rampage in coordinated attacks in two of the republic’s most important cities.
Gunmen with automatic weapons burst into an Orthodox church and a synagogue in the ancient city of Derbent on Sunday evening, setting fire to an icon at the church and killing a 66-year-old Orthodox priest, Nikolai Kotelnikov.
In the Caspian city of Makhachkala, About 125 kilometers north, attackers shot at a traffic police post and attacked a church.
Gun battles erupted around the Assumption Cathedral in Makhachkala and heavy automatic gunfire rang out late into the night. Footage showed residents running through the city to seek cover as plumes of smoke rose above Makhachkala.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Russia’s investigative committee said 15 policemen and four civilians were killed. At least five attackers were killed, some were shown by local media shot dead on a pavement.
“This is a day of tragedy for Dagestan and the whole country,” said Sergei Melikov, the head of the Dagestan region.
He said that foreign forces had been involved in preparing the attack, but gave no details.
“This is an attempt to cleave apart our unity.”
Dagestan announced three days of mourning. Pictures of the dead policemen were lined up on the street before red carnations in Dagestan.
President Vladimir Putin, who has long accused the West of trying to stoke separatism in the Caucasus, has yet to comment.
Dagestan is a mainly Muslim republic of Russia’s North Caucasus, a patchwork of ethnic groups, languages and regions that live in the shadow of the Caucasus mountains between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea.
DAGESTAN
The attack on Christian and Jewish places of worship stoked fears Russia may be facing a renewed militant Islamist threat just three months after a deadly attack in Moscow.
In the Moscow attack, 145 people were killed at the Crocus concert hall. Islamic State claimed that attack.
In October, after the war in Gaza broke out, rioters waving Palestinian flags broke down glass doors and rampaged through Makhachkala airport to look for Jewish passengers on a flight arriving from Tel Aviv.
In Israel, the foreign ministry said the synagogue in Derbent had been burned to the ground and shots had been fired at a second synagogue in Makhachkala. The statement said it was believed there were no worshippers in the synagogue at the time.
Derbent, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth, is home to an ancient Jewish community and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Russia’s state media cited law enforcement as saying two sons of the head of central Dagestan’s Sergokala district were among the attackers in Dagestan and had been detained by investigators.
June 24-26 have been declared days of mourning in Dagestan, Melikov said, with flags lowered to half-mast and all entertainment events canceled.
The Russian empire expanded into the Caucasus in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but an insurgency after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union led to two wars.
In August 1999, Chechen fighter Shamil Basayev led fighters into Dagestan in a bid to aid Dagestani Wahhabist fundamentalists, triggering a major bombing campaign by the Russian military ahead of the Second Chechen War.


Independent candidates Kennedy and Stein challenge exclusion from US presidential debates

Independent candidates Kennedy and Stein challenge exclusion from US presidential debates
Updated 24 June 2024
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Independent candidates Kennedy and Stein challenge exclusion from US presidential debates

Independent candidates Kennedy and Stein challenge exclusion from US presidential debates
  • CNN and ABC News will circumvent the Commission on Presidential Debates to host their own one-on-one debates

CHICAGO: Third-party candidates for president, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Dr. Jill Stein, filed federal complaints this week alleging that they were being unfairly excluded from media debates hosted by CNN and ABC News between US President Joe Biden and former president, Donald Trump.

CNN and ABC News will circumvent the Commission on Presidential Debates, which imposes ground rules to ensure debates are conducted fairly for all qualifying candidates, to host their own one-on-one debates. The CNN debate is scheduled for Thursday, June 27, and the ABC debate is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 10.

The presidential election is on Nov. 5, and although Kennedy and Stein are excluded from the media debates, they have filed enough signatures to be accepted on a majority of state ballots and expect to meet upcoming deadlines to file to appear on all 50 state ballots.

Stein filed a formal complaint with the US Federal Election Commission on June 19, while Kennedy filed an FEC complaint on May 28; both arguing no candidates had been certified to be included on any state ballots yet, and that they were victims of partisan political bias.

“The media’s job is to impartially inform the voters about all the choices on their ballot, but what CNN is doing is a coordinated communication and prohibited corporate contribution to benefit two candidates to the exclusion of all others,” Stein said in a statement sent to Arab News.

“The (CNN) debate is far from independent, having been actively negotiated by the Biden Committee, the Trump Committee, and representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties for the purpose of ensuring that all independent and third-party candidates are excluded and denied an opportunity for consideration by the voting public.”

Both Biden and Trump believe Kennedy and other independent candidates could play spoilers in what many believe will be a close contest between the two major party contenders.

The FEC complaint argues CNN, Biden and Trump “flagrantly violated a federal law” that requires media broadcasters to use “pre-established” and “objective” criteria to determine candidate participation in debates. Failure to use objective criteria makes the CNN and ABC debates “campaign contributions,” which are subject to strict financial and cost donation limits, Kennedy said in a statement sent to Arab News.

“Presidents Biden and Trump do not want me on the debate stage and CNN illegally agreed to their demand,” Kennedy said.

“My exclusion by Presidents Biden and Trump from the debate is undemocratic, un-American, and cowardly. Americans want an independent leader who will break apart the two-party duopoly. They want a President who will heal the divide, restore the middle class, unwind the war machine, and end the chronic disease epidemic.”

Kennedy received support from former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, who said: “If the American people could hear what all three candidates had to say about the critical issues facing our country, the choice between these three men would be clear.”

Third-party candidates in past elections have been included in presidential debates under the guidelines of the Commission on Presidential Debates, formed in 1987 “to ensure, for the benefit of the American electorate, that general election debates between or among the leading candidates for the offices of President and Vice President of the United States are a permanent part of the electoral process.”

Third-party candidates could siphon off votes and prevent one or both major party candidates from winning enough votes in many states to become president. A candidate must win a majority of votes in each of the 50 states to take the Electoral College votes in each state, which vary by state population size. A candidate must receive 270 EC votes to win the presidency.

Kennedy argues in his statement that CNN’s published debate criteria requires that “a candidate’s name must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to reach the 270 Electoral (Electoral College) Vote threshold. CNN is holding Kennedy to this requirement but is not requiring Presidents Biden and Trump to meet this requirement by claiming they are each the ‘presumptive nominee’ of a political party.”

Kennedy’s campaign claimed that they had satisfied the requirements to appear on the ballot in 22 states, with a combined 310 electoral votes, although it is months away from states confirming any of the candidate’s ballot placement. California, for example, which has 54 EC Votes, will not certify any candidates until Aug. 29, raising questions about the media’s EC Vote rule.

Technically, although Biden and Trump are the presumptive nominees for their political parties, they will not become official candidates on state ballots until after their nominations are confirmed at the conventions. The Republican Convention begins July 18 in Milwaukee and the Democratic Convention begins August 19 in Chicago.

Stein also accused CNN of “collusion” with the Trump and Biden campaigns, arguing the media outlet used biased polling that “intentionally marginalize candidates other than Biden and Trump” by framing the election as an exclusive two-candidate affair and marginalizing her, and others, to prevent them from receiving a minimum 15 percent polling favorability.

“The poll cited by CNN as its standard mentions Trump 169 times and Biden 146 times, but mentions Jill Stein, Kennedy, and Cornel West only once, suppressing support for candidates outside the two-party system by design,” Stein said.

Neither CNN nor ABC News officials organizing the debates responded to requests for comment, but CNN officials were quoted by Associated Press arguing that the Kennedy FEC complaint lacks merit.

Biden and Trump will not have a live audience during their debate on Thursday, and their microphones will be muted when the other speaks to prevent interruptions. Journalists and campaign supporters will be seated in alternative halls.


EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’

EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’
Updated 24 June 2024
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EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’

EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’
  • Ruling party in Georgia adopted a controversial ‘foreign influence’ law this month
  • Critics say legislation is modelled on Russian legislation used to stifle dissent

LUXEMBOURG: EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell told Georgia Monday that its push to join the bloc could be ended, as Brussels weighs options to punish the authorities over a “foreign influence” law.
“The door for Georgia to become a member of the European Union is open,” Borrell said at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
“But if the government continues on the same track, continues doing what they are doing, this door will be closed, and the Georgian people will pay the consequences, will suffer.”
The ruling party in the South Caucasus country — which formally became a candidate to join the EU last year — adopted a controversial “foreign influence” law this month that critics say is modelled on Russian legislation used to stifle dissent.
The move was condemned by Georgia’s Western supporters, with the United States banning several officials from the South Caucasus nation from visiting.
Concerns were further fueled by proposed new legislation to ban what the ruling party calls “LGBT propaganda,” in another conservative shift that drew fresh comparisons with repressive Russian laws.
The 27-nation EU is now pondering its response to the shifts from the governing Georgian Dream party, but is wary of pushing the ex-Soviet state closer toward Moscow.
Despite the moves from the government, the population in the country remains overwhelmingly in favor of moving closer toward the EU.
Borrell said that initial moves being discussed by ministers could include halting funding for Georgia’s security forces, cutting government financing, or severing high-level contacts.
“We don’t want to affect civilians. We don’t want to put more pain on the civilian people,” Borrell said, adding that no firm decision was expected Monday.
Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna said there would also be discussions on Schengen visa bans for high-ranking Georgian officials.
“The situation for Georgia is serious, and all the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the Georgian government,” he said.
“The Georgian people are supporting the way to the European Union.”
Meanwhile, his counterpart from Lithuania Gabrielius Landsbergis complained that stronger measures were not yet being put forward in a paper presented by the EU’s diplomatic arm.
“Unfortunately, there are certain options in the paper that are not mentioned, such as actually stopping Georgia’s EU integration, which I think it has to be mentioned,” he said.