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Friday, 1 October 2010

Cambodia: mosques radicalised due to foreign "aid",

As they struggled from the wreckage, poor Muslim congregations came to depend on foreign charities for help rebuilding their mosques, whose numbers have risen tenfold to around 250 today, says Bjorn Blengsi, an anthropologist. They also became receptive to imported versions of Islam, which tend to be stricter than the traditionally relaxed local variety. Agnès de Féo, another anthropologist and author of “L’Islam au Cambodge et au Vietnam” says both Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia and Tablighi Jemaat from India are gaining adherents.

Nothing wrong with that, perhaps. Most Islamic charities teach the faith and help the poor. But not, alas, all. In one much-publicised incident in 2002, according to the American government, a local member of the Kuwaiti-based Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS) helped an Indonesian fugitive, Riduan Isamuddin (alias Hambali), the mastermind behind the nightclub bombings in Bali. Hambali, who is now in prison in Guantánamo Bay, reportedly said he had hoped to bomb the American and British embassies in Phnom Penh and to use Cambodia as a base for terrorist operations throughout South-East Asia. RIHS, which has been cleared of links with terrorism by Kuwait’s government, remains active in Cambodia. A local affiliate, the Kuwait-Cambodia Islamic Cultural Training Centre, recently met the president of parliament.

The influence of foreign religious organisations seems to be growing along with rising government loans from Gulf states. These loans include help for rebuilding religious institutions. In January, for example, Cambodia approved an agreement with Kuwait from 2008 in which the oil-rich state promised loans of $546m, mostly for energy and agriculture, and including $5m for new mosques and madrassas (Islamic schools). The only unusual thing about this was that the religious component was revealed. According to Milton Osborne of the Lowy Institute, an Australian think-tank, most aid packages from the Gulf include such a component but do not make it public.
Islam in Cambodia.

Flag: Wikipedia.

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