By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Like a never-ending vicious cycle violence – from both sides, oppression and discrimination by the state, ignorance by non-Thai-Malay Muslims – feeds into this conflict with no end in sight. The case of 11 killings at a mosque in Narathiwat province on Monday won’t be the last. Forget about the separatists – they’re probably beyond reproach. Think instead about how to win the hearts and respect of the moderate Thai-Malay Muslims. If there’s any hope, it will be with them, along with the mostly ignorant and indifferent Thai Buddhists who need to re-learn.
Much more can be done and here are some humble suggestions.
1) Win the trust of moderate Thai-Malay Muslims by supporting genuine decentralisation such as elected governors or limited but genuine autonomy.
Those with friends among the moderate Thai-Malay Muslims must have heard them complain why they can’t have their own elected governors, given their unique political history. They feel alienated by Bangkok-appointed bigwigs and wish Bangkok should trust them more. It’s also an insult to people whose ancestors once belonged to the proud Islam kingdom of Pattani.
Talk to officials who trust you and they will likely say the day a governor is elected is the beginning of the end. A senior police officer in Pattani once told this writer: The bottom line? They simply don’t trust the locals but are too shy to tell them directly.
But how can we move forward without mutual trust?
2) The media shouldn’t dwell on the weekly violence but do more to include and publicise critical views of the locals. For every violent incident, why not ask a Thai-Malay Muslim to write a commentary to reflect upon the issue?
The Bangkok-centric mainstream mass media doesn’t seem to give a hoot, however. But how can we move forward without substantial debate and without engaging the locals with the rest of the nation.
3) Win their respect by respecting their identity, living culture and history.
Mainstream media mostly refers to these people as “Thai Muslims”, which fails to recognise their living Malay culture and language. A “Thai Muslim”, need not be Thai-Malay Muslims as they could be of Indian or other origin. How can you win their respect when you don’t even recognise their living identity?
Also, as for history, those acquainted with it will know Pattani became part of Siam not through marriage or peaceful union but rape. Have these people no rights whatsoever?
4) Cast aside multimedia state propaganda which portrays Thais or all faith and ethnicity in the deep South as living in eternal harmony .
If that is true, there would have been no Tak Bai incident where 78 Thai-Malay Muslims protesters suffocated to death while being transported in army trucks. There would have been no Krue Se mosque killing, no murder of 11 prayers at another mosque on Monday, no tortures, no daily discrimination, no sense of alienation, and no heartless recent verdict from a cold inquest by which the court concluded that security officials handling the Tak Bai incident were protected by Emergency Decree.
For a change, the government might want to sponsor an essay writing contest amongst high school students in the deep South: “How I feel as a second-class citizen in my very own land” and the winning essay should be published and read nationwide. The more we cast away propaganda, ignorance and indifference the better. It’s time to speak frankly as too many people have already died.
For more details, some well-intended Thais from Bangkok and elsewhere might want to head to the deep South for their next vacation. Try to win at least a friend and win his or her trust, stay alive, listen to the person over a long and frank discussion. Try to talk simply as one fellow human being to another and be prepared for a reality check.