Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mosque shooting fallout

*All Photos Copyright*
Pondok (Islamic school) student in Narathiwat province, 2008.

The fallout from the mosque shooting last week in Narathiwat has succeeded in exacerbating the religious tensions between Muslims and Buddhists.

From Muslim militants in the South, there has been a flurry of retributive violence directed along religious lines.

In addition to the usual southern chaos, a Buddhist elementary school teacher was shot and killed while on her way to work. She was the 117th teacher killed in the Deep South since the outbreak of violence.

And a particularly grizzly beheading of an Buddhist rubber tapper whose head was left impaled on a post outside his house also occurred on Monday in Yala.

Besides being deplorable acts of terrorism, the attacks do demonstrate how the mosque shooting has triggered a wave of violence aimed at further dividing southern communities along religious lines.

Clearly separatists and their supporters believe the state or those sponsored by the state (Buddhist militias) are responsible and are using the mosque shooting to further expose religious divisions.

The flurry of violence has also shown that southern militants have the ability and means to continue attacks despite approximately 60,000 troops trying to enforce security.

And from the Buddhist side, the mosque shooting has spawned the ugly appearance of the nationalist right-wing criticism against the government.

Criticism at the government's handling of the south is certainly welcome but the critic quoted bellow demonstrates how Buddhist nationalists have a fundamental misunderstanding and dangerous outlook of the southern situation.

According to Prasong Soonsiri, a right-wing nationalist and former National Security Council member, in an interview on the PAD mouth-piece ASTV station and quoted in this Bangkok Post article:

"The former NSC chief said if he was prime minister he could resolve the southern insurgency problem within three months"

Unless Prasong is planning to arrest every southern Malay-Muslim male resident between the ages of 15 to 45 or simply granting the southern provinces independence then his ridiculously bold statement is simply right-wing nonsense.

Prasong also goes on to make dangerous comments like:

"Now, they [the insurgents] had established a network and infiltrated all three troubled provinces. They were trying to build a base of power within the government administration and were fighting to win support from the mass of the people."

This is dangerous because it is a xenophobic allegation leveled at southern residents whom participate in local democratic governance. To be clear, he is talking about Malay-Muslims as, obviously, there are no Thai-Buddhist separatists.

A major part of the problem is the Deep South is the lack of opportunities in local government for Malay-Muslims as well as venues for them to enter into national-level politics.

If xenophobes like Prasong want to keep Malay-Muslims out of legitimate government where they can channel their grievances through peaceful democratic means then the only other option is armed struggle against an inaccessible and intolerant government.

In addition, he raises the specter of jihad:

"Prasong said the insurgents had become more aggressive because they now had more fighters who were trained abroad"

Prasong is orienting his argument in religious terms as it is somewhat implicit that Muslim fighters trained abroad would be jihadists whom would be conducting a religious war.

Ultimately the mosque shooting has highlighted the ever-present and rather precarious religious sub-plot of the southern insurgency.

As the religious frontline of the conflict has been exposed, both Muslim militants and Buddhist nationalists have used the incident it to further exacerbate and define the conflict along religious lines.

At the risk of stating the obvious, were the military or police to identify, arrest, and pursue charges against the perpetrators of the mosque shooting through the proper legal channels much of this religious-based fallout could be mitigated.

But as incidents at Krue-Ze or Tak Bai have demonstrated the rule of law and a resolution to the mosque shooting is unlikely.

And in the absence of a resolution, the fallout from the mosque shooting will be an increased emphasis on the religious component of the southern insurgency.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Gunman kill 11 in Mosque - Media and PM Lose the Plot


Solider at a mosque in Banang Sata District of Yala back in 2007.

Dramatic events with the mosque shooting in the South (BBC story here) and I am not sure if this should be a rant at the pitiful English-language Thai media, criticism over Abhisit's misguided optimism, or a general commentary about the abysmal situation in the Deep South so it will have to be all three.

On the Media:
Specifically the Bangkok Post's lame story Gunmen kill 11 at mosque: Updated

When 'Suspected militants' kill 11 and injure another 12 people it might be a good idea to question who the 'Suspected militants' are.

Are Buddhist militias to blame, is there factional fighting amongst insurgents like the RKK or BRN-C, are villagers striking back at militants, is it a blood feud, was it overzealous village defense volunteers, a business hit, or troops taking revenge for a previous militant attack in the area?

The point is there are a number of possibilities and it is important to get at the truth.

Instead of simply quoting the army spokesman (which i presume they mean 4th Army spokesman) saying "They are trying to make it look like the attackers are the authorities, because Muslims would apparently not shoot inside a mosque. But it's impossible that it is the work of the military,''

Why is it impossible that is it the work of the military? That might be a good starting point for the media to ask because one of the MOST LIKELY sources of well armed and highly mobile attackers who would shoot up a mosque would be some pissed off troops or those who receive weapons and support from the military!

How about ask the villagers, ask the victim's families, ask the bystanders, ask the village defense volunteers, ask other military units, hell, you might even ask the police!

(on a side note, I did call a local resident in Pattani who said villagers blame Thai-Buddhist militants and I tend to believe this theory which leads to the question of whether there will be revenge attacks on Buddhists in the next few weeks...but that is a whole other conversation.)

On PM Abhisit:
Specifically: PM visits Malaysia for talks on southern unrest

"We remain optimistic that things will get a lot better if we continue emphasizing economic development and giving them a better future," he said.

Yes, this was two days before the mosque shooting.

And what misguided whimsical fantasy did Abhisit base his optimism on?

"Let me reiterate that my government's approach is based on the belief that the key to peace and security is justice and opportunities," he said.

If he really believes that then Abhisit has lost the plot of the southern insurgency.

Justice is simply the lowest common denominator that most people can agree upon about the South. Really, who can really argue against justice?

Sure, justice and opportunities (presuming that these are the economic/development type of opportunities) are nice but that is not the southern storyline that the PM should be following.

How about political empowerment or a substantial devolution of state powers that gives southern residents the power to lead and develop their own communities as they see fit?

But I guess Abhisit is following the ultra-conservative military/royalist/bureaucratic fantasy which imagines that 'benevolent' and 'enlightened' leaders should be sent from central Thailand to rule over the 'backwards rural Muslims' and kindly giving them justice and opportunities. How kind of them.

That is an old Thai fantasy and recently appeared, albeit in a lite-version, with the National Reconciliation Commission's report in May 2006 and was most recently and heavily propagated by Surayud's ultimately useless efforts at addressing the southern conflict.

It is a fundamentally flawed fantasy and should no longer be told to the public as some sort of feel good bed-time-story where the situation is really not that bad and some good people will come along and sort this mess up.

On the Abysmal State of the Deep South:

If the Prime Minister doesn't seem to have a clue about the core grievances in the South and the Thai media are largely uninterested in investigating and reporting on events there then the abysmal state of the Deep South is rather implicit.

Yet what is not immediately implicit is that the authorities and the general public seem unprepared to admit the seriousness of the situation in the South and this is a serious harbinger of the future of the conflict.

If the media and the PM have lost the southern plot, then Thai society is years away from grappling with the social and political concessions needed to build a durable and lasting peace.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Global Peace Index: Thailand 118th

*My blog posting has been infrequent, to say the least, lately. Due to work and study obligations, infrequent posts will likely continue for the next 3 months.

*All photos copyright*
A "gun locker" outside a Thai night club were gun-toting patrons are requested to store their firearms while drinking inside the bar.

For 2008 and 2009, Thailand's Global Peace Index has been holding at 118th out of 144 countries.

In 2007, the first year of the Index, Thailand was doing at little better at 105th.

This places Thailand in the bottom 20% globally and in the company of some very troubled countries being ravaged by high levels of conflict.

The Global Peace Index is established through "23 qualitative and quantitative indicators from respected sources, which combine internal and external factors ranging from a nation’s level of military expenditure to its relations with neighbouring countries and the level of respect for human rights. These indicators were selected by an international panel of experts including academics and leaders of peace institutions."

From a global perspective, New Zealand comes up shinning in 1st place while Iraq is dead last (no pun intended) at 144th on the list.

From a mainland Southeast Asian perspective, Vietnam looks promising at 39th as does Laos at 45th while Cambodia is much closer at 105th (among other troubles, Preah Vihear hostilities occasionally flare into open conflict between Thailand and Cambodia). Myanmar (Burma), follows Thailand just slightly at 126th.

From a personal perspective, I tend to think Thailand is an exceptionally safe place to live...that is excluding a couple of close calls while working in the conflict plagued Deep South of course.

But, 118th is obviously not that good and particular issues which Thailand scored badly on were political stability, human rights respect, potential for terrorist acts, levels of violent crime, and the likelihood of violent demonstrations.

But this is of course not surprising with the ongoing Red vs. Yellow conflict, other ugly issues like the shocking treatment of the Rohingya boat people, or the festering southern insurgency.

While the index is useful to give a global perspective it is only in its third year and obviously does not yet provide much of a perspective of yearly changes.

It will be very interesting to see the index each consecutive year to measure positive or negative changes.

But as many of the issues which Thailand scored badly on - political stability, human rights respect, levels of violent crime, and likelihood of violent demonstrations - are certainly far from being resolved it is highly unlikely that Thailand's score will improve next year.

I hope I am wrong.