The question of what Malay-Muslims really want is a serious blind spot in the southern insurgency.
Obviously, it would seem a critical issue to understand not only the grievances fueling the insurgency but to understand the political desires of the nearly two million Malay-Muslim citizens in the southern border provinces.
This is also of critical importance as the issue of autonomy has been a hotly contested political issue lately.
Yet no one can say, with any authority, what the residents there want.
This is in part because the Thai state fails to differentiate between the legitimate political expressions of grievance and separatism. For Thai authorities, Malay-Muslims expressing dissatisfaction with the government is the same as expressing support for separatism.
Because we dont really know that Malay-Muslims want, journalists, academics, and myself, tend to simplify this blind spot and cluster all Malay-Muslims into a homogeneous group.
This is obviously not accurate but serves as journalistic shorthand for a complex issue without easy answers.
As Jason Johnson writes in the Asia Times Online, this has:
"led to widespread misconceptions about the spiraling conflict, including that nearly all of the minority group harbor Patani Malay Muslim nationalist sentiment and resentment towards the Thai state".
In fact, Jason's article makes a number of interesting comments and particularly:
"As de facto spokespeople for the Patani Malay Muslim nation [Malay Muslim intellectuals], they tend to overstate the nationalist cares and concerns of ordinary Malay Muslims, frequently speaking about group pride in the ancient Kingdom of Patani, the Malay Muslims unique way of life, and the need for the Thai government to give greater recognition to this identity by, for instance, allowing some form of autonomy."
With the debate over autonomy brewing, it would be nice to know if a possible autonomy agreement would be serving the political aspirations of a majority of residents or whether it will be an elite driven process granted by Bangkok and solely serving the needs of a few Malay-Muslim elites and by separatists who would be major beneficiaries of increased political power.