Not quite onebig happy family

Though on the surface Thailand is a happy, tolerant, cohensive nation, a little below the surface tensions simmer and occassionally threaten to come to the boil, Pad Pak-style. Whilst Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country, the south is predominantly Muslim. In recent times the southern Muslims have become more vocal is pushing for their civil rights and autonomy. Earlier this year, the tensions become overwhelming and in Tak Bai in Pattani province over 80 Muslim protesters - who were protesting against the treatment of prisoners - died in the back of army trucks whilst being transported to a neighbouring province.

So what does Prime Minister Thaksin Shinwatra decide to do? Shower the south in the paper rubbish from the rest of the country. Well, that's not how he'd put it. The Nation newspaper from Bangkok put it a little differently:

People in the country’s southernmost provinces will purportedly be showered with love and sympathy this weekend. At the latest count, more than 20 million origami birds have been folded by their compatriots from around the country, and when they are dropped from the skies on December 5, it will send an unmistakable message of deep concern and caring.

(A side note from an article read a couple of days ago - the Doves of Peace thing has become a bit of a joke. Muslim leaders are rejecting it, arguing the doves have no significance to their culture. The army are pissed off that so much of their energy is being put into transporting them all the way down south. The environmental movement are worried about the effect of masses of paper waste. The local people are upset at the asthetic effect on the neighbourhood. Policy on the run, Thai-style.)

The way this farang (whitefella) sees things, the heart of the problem lies in the intimate relationship between Thailand and Buddhism. Thailand is the spiritual home of the religion, Wats (religious temples) are dotted throughout Bangkok and indeed the rest of the nation. The flags of the two fly side by side, and the Buddhist monks who can be seen on the streets are the most revered figures around. There is an aura of spirituality that is felt everywhere. On it's own, this is healthy and desirable and provides an outlet for spirituality that would otherwise be lost in a sea of 7-Elevens and Skytrain stations, but when it turns into relgious nationalism, the outcome in the south seems strangely inevitable.

When a group of people are told that they are a deviation from the norm, and can never be truly Thai so long as they are not Buddhist, they rebel, and often with anger. Particularly when emboldened from similar but different Islamic struggles in Chechnya, Kashmir and some other joint in the Mid-East, Muslim nationalism is growing. A prediction - within a generation, southern Thailand will break off from the rest of the country and form its own state. Just another reason why secularism it the best way for national cohesion.


Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
A Thai friend of mine tells me that the media has got it completely wrong, and that the violence is the cause of criminal gangs rather than Islamic nationalism, and that the whole 'one religion vs the other' conflict is just a big media beat-up.

Obviously he is speaking from the perspective of a Bangkok native, but is it possible that the media is just framing this in terms that the global public will find easy to understand and that is convenient for them to report, sort of like what's happening in the Ukraine at the moment? You know - good vs bad, one side fighting injustice, etc?

To be honest, I don't know that much about the whole situation in Thailand, but knowing the media it is very possible that not all as it seems. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.


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