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.

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