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ASEAN ANALYSIS  Asean Affairs  24 September 2010

Asean’s Spiritual Map

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs   24 September 2010

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An address this week in Singapore by the country’s Law Minister K. Shanmugan inspired this look at Asean’s diverse religious quilt. The world’s major religions are all practiced in the Asean member countries contributing to the rich cultural diversity in the group.

Indonesia and Malaysia have Muslim majorities but advocate religious freedom. Brunei's population is 65 percent Muslim, 15 percent Buddhist, and 10 percent Christian. Thailand, Cambodia , Laos and Myanmar are predominately Buddhist (95 percent) but most of the remaining population adheres to Islam, Christianity, Animism and Hinduism.

Vietnam is predominantly Buddhist but with a large Christian population. Philippines is a largely Catholic and Christian country with a significant Muslim population on some islands. Singapore is a multi-religious country due to the population coming from many countries.

In both Thailand and Philippines there are active Muslim insurgencies. This information provides a backdrop for the comments of Mr. Shanmugan, who focused on the existence and growth of terrorism in the region. He emphasized the individual responsibility of each country to address terrorism issues in its own backyard.

He felt that jihadist ideology was spreading online and observed that Asean is a multireligious and multiethnic community and that is what makes dealing with radical clerics of all types a compelling regional issue.

He noted that many countries had inadequate mechanisms and legal constructs to deal with the issue and that “harm could be done to the fabric of society.”

The recent uproar in the United States over a threatened burning of the Koran and the location of a mosque near Ground Zero has pointed out the headline-grabbing nature of religious conflict and the volatility of the issue.

With its diverse religious populations in its countries, the Asean community might serve as valid examples of actualizing freedom of religion and religious tolerance.

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