Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Peace in the South?

Chinese and Thai fortunes at a temple in Pattani. I suppose the rationale for choosing this picture is that answering questions on southern violence involves a particular kind of prognostication.

'hobby' said:

"Your film looks interesting - when will it be released? Also, if it's not a spoiler, I would interested in your thoughts on the following":

  • "what the average southern Muslim think of the extremists?"
  • "how to get the southern situation under control?"
  • "how a lasting peace can be achieved?"
The above questions, asked by a reader at Bangkok Pundit, highlights some of the core problems facing a resolution to the crisis in the deep south. Although I am not sure how qualified I am to answer, I will try to summarise what academics, politicians, and southern residents have told me:

  • 'hobby' asks: "what (does) the average southern Muslim think of the extremists?"
I have put that same question to a many southern Muslims over the last two years and most have answered that they simply dont believe the ideology of Islamic extremism and certainly do not agree with the use of violence. For the majority of Muslims that I have talked to the use of violence is unacceptable but the use of violence in the name of Islam is nothing short of abhorrent.

Yet there certainly is a noticeable level of religious ideology that is finding acceptance, particularly in closed rural villages. Terminology from the Koran, like kafet which means infidel and used when talking about non-Muslims, has been creeping into mainstream use. (to read more on this term and extremist ideology please read the post called 'The Coming Jihad')

In closed villages the fear of authorities (military and police) has been exploited by extremists and villagers are more likely to be open to or accept extreme ideology.

I think its due to a lack of options. If the authorities have shown a history of violence and can not be trusted, an alternative source of power/legitimacy can be found in religious extremism.

But, what we need to keep in mind is that extremism and violence is accepted by very small percentage of southern residents. The overwhelming majority of residents wish for peace and have no sympathy for extremists. (for more information on the mood in the south, May Tan-Mullins' essay 'Voices from Pattani: Fears, Suspicion, and Confusion' in 'Rethinking Thailand's Southern Violence' edited by Duncan McCargo is very helpful)
  • 'hobby' asks: "how to get the southern situation under control?"
The short answer is simply justice. The need for Justice is because southern residents have been caught between a violent state and violent separatists.

Years of military and police abuse in the south has broken the trust that must exist between authorities and the population.

State authorities are simply not trusted because justice for state-sanctioned crimes are never addressed.

Dr Pechdau Tohmeena (พญ เพชรดาว โต๊ะมีนา), daughter of Haji Sulong, told me that her family has always known the specific government officials that killed her father yet some 50 years on, there have never been charges laid.

Not only can the same be said about the missing Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelahphaijit, but the whole issue of Tak Bai needs to be addressed. 76 deaths while in police/military custody (85 total) and not a single person held accountable...not even then Fourth Army Region commander General Pisarn Wattanawongkiri. Tak Bai without criminal charges is an insurmountable barrier between the south and the authorities.

But its not just the authorities that need to be restrained. The militants have proved themselves to be capable of absolutely savage violence and that violence is just as often focused upon the Muslims as the Buddhists.

If the government forces can not protect the general population by arresting those causing the violence they simply can not regain the trust
of southern residents.
  • 'hobby' asks: "how a lasting peace can be achieved?"

No one really seems to know but there are symptoms that need to be taken into consideration that could make a lasting peace possible.

Justice has already been mentioned but it should not be undervalued. With out justice there will be no trust and without trust there will always be rebellion.

Chaiwat Satha-Anand, prominent academic at Thammasat University and member of the National Reconciliation Commission, has argued that an alternate understanding of 'Thailand' might address some underlying grievances in the south. How are southern Muslims, who are also ethnic Malay, supposed to feel about the political state of Thailand when Thai nationalism continues to reinforce the myth that the Thai state represents only ethnic Thais and Buddhists?

The militants will also need to be dealt with. This is not to suggest more violence, which while be inevitable in dealing with extremists, but the root causes of how and why some people in the south adopt and attempt to propagate extremism needs to be better understood.

Other issues such as corruption, the failing economy and reliance upon 'conflict industries', as well as serious education issues all need to come together in a more realistic solution to the crisis.

But the resolution, if there is one, is a generation or more away and it certainly requires more political solutions than hard line military solutions.

Hope that answers your questions 'hobby'.

Oh, and the documentary film should be out in about 5 months. I will certainly post more information when I have a better idea of an exact date, cheers.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Chandler.

    Hopefully your suggestions can be tken on board, especially once an elected government is in place.

    I look forward to seeing the documentary.



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