Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Breaking the Horizontal Link

If the link between religious/ethnic groups in the Southern communities is broken then the conflict may become intractable. Muslim and Buddhist girls attending a festival. Pattani - 2006

The situation in Thailand’s far South, in its modern phase, is beginning to resemble many other intractable conflicts over territory that exist all around Southeast Asia and the World.

The argument that I have outlined, in previous posts, is that the fuel that feeds the conflict has little, if anything, to do with a conflict between opposing faiths or cultures.

The problem is fuelled by the application of modern territorial governance, the use of religion to legitimise government, the connection between militarization and the insecurity industry, and exacerbated by the incompetence of Prime Minister Thaksin.

To conceptualise the dynamics of the conflict, as explained by Dr. Chaiwat Satha-Anand of Thammasat University, it is necessary to distinguish both a horizontal and a vertical dimension.

On the horizontal plane is the community.

The South has long been a multicultural region and religious/ethnic conflict is rare, if not absent.

To understand a contested territory as implicitly peaceful may seem contradictory to reality yet that is precisely the situation.

It is not just the residents that claim a strong sense of peace in their community but it should also be considered the logical reality.

For the residents of the South to be locked into religious or ethnic conflict would contradict the reality of a community that has had countless generations living and evolving in a distinctively multicultural space.

The key feature of Southern Thailand is that it has its own unique culture that can be defined as specifically multicultural.

The vertical plane is where the Southern communities interact with the state and that is the source of mistrust, anger, and ultimately of violence.

The Thai state, emulating a homogenous nation-state, promotes a highly unrealistic ethno-religious nationalism that demands that its citizens be both ethnic Thai and Buddhist.

Instances of practiced nationalism, such as the flag raising ceremony, are also mirrored by the hiring of Thai-Buddhists in civil service and military, access to political power, business loans, etc.

The cumulative result is a sense of alienation by those who do not fit the Thai-Buddhist mould.

Such alienation is manifest in the militant’s preference for attacking symbols of the state - police, army, and government buildings.

The future of the conflict has the potential for a much greater escalation of violence.

The community link, the horizontal connection of peace and tolerance existing between religious/ethnic groups in the South, is showing signs of weakening.

The government’s continually misguided and draconian tactics have opened the door for extremists to enter into the conflict.

The growing number of bombings, shootings, and brutal beheadings that have specifically targeted ethnic/religious groups may have the ability to break the horizontal link that binds the Southern communities together.

If the horizontal link is broken the conflict will enter a new stage in which violence will not be confined between the state and militants but could be unleashed across religious/ethnic differences.