"We will kill, burn, and destroy all Buddhists"
July 27, 2011 9:19 PM   Subscribe

For 100 years, Buddhists and Muslims lived side by side in southern Thailand. In 2004, a small fraction of the Muslims started killing the Buddhists indiscriminately. This conflict is now the most violent in Asia, with murders of Thai civilians, including children, monks, and Muslims who refuse to cooperate, occurring on a daily basis.

The southern provinces of Thailand have traditionally had close cultural connections with Malaysia, but were under the political dependency of Siam since the 14th century, and were formally integrated into modern Thailand during its formation in the 1920s. After losing their jobs during this integration, ethnic Malay Muslim nobility told locals to stop paying their taxes; this rebellion caused Thais to rethink their integration strategy and abolish all regulations opposed to Islam, a policy of religious freedom that continues to this day (PDF).

The 20th century brought much human migration to the area. Upset by the mass influx of Buddhist working poor from the north, a group of wealthy, educated Muslims began an armed insurgency; but this was concluded in 1989 with a peace treaty. Some who live in the south consider themselves Thai. Others call themselves Malays, and others think of themselves as Muslims first and foremost.

These early separatist movements were based on vague ethnic grounds and attacked primarily military and government targets. After a sophisticated attack in January 2004, however, an unidentified group begin burning Buddhist temples and butchering civilians with increasing frequency.

Since 2004, estimates show "more than 4,500 people dead, and nearly 10,000 wounded", not including the impact of property destruction, refugees, and a dehumanizing culture of fear that has torn apart the fabric of village life. 90% of Muslims do not want a separate state; these opponents to the terrorists are being killed in greater numbers than Buddhists.

Although Western analysts question "just how far religion has replaced ethno-nationalism as the driving force of the insurgency" (PDF), and Thai leadership has consistently denied that the conflict has a religious element, messages left by insurgents make their intentions clear:

"We will kill, burn, and destroy all Buddhists: you will never be able to live in peace here."

“Dogs. Pigs. Shit. Garbage. I’ll give you three days to leave my land. Otherwise, I will kill, burn, destroy all Buddhist Thai property. If you leave the house, travel or go to work, you will die violently.”

The method of murder and assault used by the Islamists is brutal (warning: INCREDIBLY violent photos, NSFW).

Documents found at the homes of separatist leaders describe a three-prong strategy of "raising awareness", funding Islamic education, and training young people to commit terrorism and murder.

So many monks have been killed that when the few remaining novices go on their daily almsrounds, they must be accompanied by armed bodyguards.

Grammar school teachers, also targeted by the Islamists, now carry guns to school and sometimes have armed guards of their own.

Thailand's current strategy seems to be a secret negotiation with the insurgents, going so far as to offer the institution of Sharia law. Analysts suggest an alternate solution: adopting COIN strategies and protecting moderate Muslim leadership (PDF).

Previously on MeFi: In 2006 a Muslim took a hammer to "one of Thailand's most revered shrines".
posted by shii (52 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Religion is just super great. I don't think our civilization will advance much further as long as it continues.

Great post, but very, very disturbing.
posted by IvoShandor at 9:38 PM on July 27, 2011 [9 favorites]

After looking at the brutal photos, I don't really want to delve too deeply into the rest of the links, so I apologize if one of them explains this but: why is this happening now, if it hasn't happened previously? Where is this religious violence coming from if the two faiths had previously live in relative harmony for a century?
posted by asnider at 9:40 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is it really about Muslims and Buddhists? Or is it two ethno-linguistic groups?
posted by KokuRyu at 9:45 PM on July 27, 2011

As gruesome as this is, it could also be very informative. It seems possible that the 'Jihadists' are leveraging the most extreme religious hate and violence not for religious gain but for more practical reasons.
posted by nikolayevich_ray at 9:45 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have been disturbed by this violence in Thailand for a long time. It makes no sense to me really. I knew quit a few Muslims from India and Pakistan, who were by no means 'liberal' a few came from the area near Bodh Gaya. Many had positive attitudes toward Buddhists, because of the Buddhist rejection of caste, and they had a positive attitude toward the Buddha, regarding him as a good and wise man.
I am speaking of Muslims who could be regarded as just this side of extremist. So this business in Thailand has distressed and puzzled me.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:47 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just... I just don't understand. I've read everything, but it doesn't make any sense at all.

Why? Who the hell has a problem with vegetarian pacifists? What benefit is there in killing everyone?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:49 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

The answer to the questions above is not clear to me. The Malay Muslims are an ethno-religious minority, which is a recipe for suffering anywhere in the world, but they don't seem to have acquired any new grievances between 1989 and 2004. The simplest answer is that they found the financial and ideological support of extremist Muslims in other parts of the world, which some of the links attest to, but I don't think anything is that simple. Why 2004, when they had a friendly face as prime minister (Thaksin)? How is there such a large group of people committing brutal violence with hardly any overarching organization? (Reminds me just a little of Rwanda.) Anyway, many of my links are long essays on the subject and can help you reach an informed opinion.
posted by shii at 9:50 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is it really about Muslims and Buddhists? Or is it two ethno-linguistic groups?

Good question. Seems to me it's got to be a little more complicated than merely a religious issue, since as the original FPP notes:

90% of Muslims do not want a separate state; these opponents to the terrorists are being killed in greater numbers than Buddhists.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:51 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

This makes me sad. I know little about Thailand itself, but Thai cuisine is spectacular in the U.S., and I miss it in Europe since Europeans don't handle spicy food well.

I'd assume the Islamist philosophy driving the violence began with Sayyid Qutb or whoever, but I'm also curious how Islamism was imported into Thailand. Saudi evangelists? Pakistani Taliban-esqe refugees? I'd imagine the political crisis played an enormous role, yes?
posted by jeffburdges at 9:52 PM on July 27, 2011

(Or what shii said.)
posted by saulgoodman at 9:52 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Reminds me just a little of Rwanda

Me too. Group delusions, irrational hatred.

The jihadis are also emboldened by incantations and spells. According to army interrogations of captured militants, imams often order recruits to swallow paper marked with 24 Quranic vows. The promised effect? Bullet-proof skin.

In a bizarre 2004 attack documented by McCargo, young men under an imam’s guidance believed themselves invisible and suicidally rushed at military camps to snatch up as many guns as they could carry. Many were armed with only kitchen knives. Though more than 100 were shot dead, some made off with a precious cache of rifles.

They're insane. Literally insane.

Surely, the first time an immam says "I have cast my powerful magics! You are now bullet proof", and then your friends get blown to pieces in front of you, you stop believing the damn immam. But apparently not.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:55 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jeffburdges, what do you see as the difference between Islam and Islamism? Islam has been in Thailand for centuries. If by "Islamism" (a term, if you hadn't guessed, that I find somewhat objectionable) violent or terrorists that practice some form of Islam, then you should be aware that Southeast Asia has had much of this for many decades, in Indonesia and the Phillippines in particular.

The violence or ideology of it as such doesn't need to be imported; the largest contribution that Qubists/Saudis/etc would make to the region would be a fiscal one.
posted by smoke at 9:59 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Comment removed. You're an adult, you can in fact resist writing derail jokes right at the start of threads.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:04 PM on July 27, 2011

I'd imagine the political crisis played an enormous role, yes?

I'd say not.

The political crisis was more about a schism between the urban elite, and the (largely Northern) rural bulk of the population (Thai Rak Thai et al) - both overwhelmingly Buddhist.

The South of Thailand is a long way from Bangkok - and not just in miles.
posted by pompomtom at 10:07 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Surely, the first time an immam says "I have cast my powerful magics! You are now bullet proof", and then your friends get blown to pieces in front of you, you stop believing the damn immam

These people are not simple colporteurs. They have powerful psychological tools at their disposal. For example, these boys might be told that in order for the magic to work on a particular person, he must be a true believer, a chosen one. Didn't get killed in the barrage? The magic must have worked for you, chosen one. Your buddy got shot in the face? He obviously didn't have strong enough faith. You better not waiver in yours, or you might be next to fall...
posted by nzero at 10:10 PM on July 27, 2011 [8 favorites]

These people are not simple colporteurs. They have powerful psychological tools at their disposal.

I know that, on an intellectual level. But I can't understand it. It's difficult for me to grok that some people don't think rationally or logically.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:24 PM on July 27, 2011

Thanks nzero. I would generalize with "once a religious leader has followers competing to show who among them is the most pious/faithful/willing to face danger for the cause, any reasoning or logic among those followers is easily disposed of."
posted by telstar at 10:28 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Islamism simply means the belief that Islam should define the political system. Christianity has the equivalent term Dominionism.

A priori, both terms define a philosophy of religious oppression, but not necessarily violence. Yet, each drives much senseless violence the world over. Ain't too surprising when a philosophy of oppression leeds to violence, no?

Yes, I'm aware that Islamic doesn't imply Islamist, of course. I am though happy that Christian terrorists like Anders Breivik get labeled by the broader term Christian fundamentalist which contains, rather than the obscure technical term Dominionist that doesn't openly contain the word Christian.

Islamist is already more specific than Islamic fundamentalist. In each case, the religion itself purports some absolute moral authority while sheltering an authoritarian philosophy of oppression that often leeds to violence. Ergo, we should tar either religion's name with the resulting violence to undermine this authority.

posted by jeffburdges at 10:46 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is a complex and perplexing issue, but we're beginning to make progress on understanding (pay wall) some of the underlying factors that drive religious violence. Here's a very good, well-written, and well-researched paper (dissertation) on the topic. This paper addresses most of the current theories about violence and religion, but then adds information from the cognitive sciences. It's very compelling stuff, and goes a long way toward helping us understand why religious violence occurs. Essentially, religious memes can "fool" the brain. Religion has no doubt provided some survival value for the species, or it wouldn't exist. That said, the more we understand the reasons for religious violence, the better able we are to head it off at the pass.
posted by Vibrissae at 10:48 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I know that, on an intellectual level. But I can't understand it. It's difficult for me to grok that some people don't think rationally or logically.

Most religions don't come out with the swallow this paper and you'll be bulletproof crap first-thing. The lies start small and "reasonable", and they build up from there, each following "reasonably" from the last in a parade of internal consistency. As one goes deeper, one begins to judge truth by the religion's standards, and the lies become all the more believable by their very opposition to outside (sinful, wicked, evil, corrupt, blah blah etc) logic.

By the time you're lining up for the Holy War, you're so far down the rabbit-hole that bulletproofosity is both logical and rational... within the framework of the religion, which is the only framework you've been living in for some time. You're isolated both physically and mentally from anyone outside the faith, and doing whatever it takes to prove that you belong is the only "rational" option left to you.
posted by vorfeed at 11:08 PM on July 27, 2011 [9 favorites]

This post seems somewhat one sided.
posted by the noob at 11:11 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

This post seems somewhat one sided.

Please feel free to contribute your wisdom/knowledge about the "other" side. I mean that sincerely.
posted by smoke at 11:20 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

MetaFilter: [That's] what shii said.
I'll show myself out.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:31 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Radical imams preaching killing under the guise of religion should be blamed, not the religion itself.
posted by Cranberry at 11:33 PM on July 27, 2011

Many had positive attitudes toward Buddhists, because of the Buddhist rejection of caste, and they had a positive attitude toward the Buddha, regarding him as a good and wise man.

Quite a few Muslim scholars (mainly those who incline towards sufism) are of the opinion that the historical Buddha was a prophet.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 11:13 PM on 7/27

Actually, the most 'conservative' least likely to have Sufi leanings guy in that crowd did say he believed the Buddha was a prophet.
The one I knew from near Bodh Gaya was very proud that his part of India was where the Buddha got enlightened.
Believe me these folks were nit in the least bit Sufi, in fact they did nit like Sufis one bit.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:57 PM on July 27, 2011

Muslims believe that God sent prophets to all peoples and nations. So believing that Buddha was a prophet would be in line with fairly orthodox Islamic belief.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:16 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's a lot of talking out the ass in this thread.

The religious aspect of this is way, way overplayed. Like most conflicts, this isn't actually about religion (though that makes good window dressing) - it's just plain ol' dudes getting upset because they feel marginalized. What some Muslim guy in Bodh Gaya told you about Buddhists is totally irrelevant.


"Attacks after 2001 concentrated on installations of the police and military, schools and other symbols of Thai authority in the region were burned."

PM Thaksin escalated the conflict a couple years later, and you got things like this, which happened at a peaceful protest: "Hundreds of local people, mostly young men, were arrested. They were made to take off their shirts and lie on the ground. Their hands were tied behind their backs. Later that afternoon, they were thrown by soldiers into trucks to be taken to the Ingkayutthaboriharn army camp in the nearby province of Pattani. The prisoners were stacked five or six deep in the trucks, and by the time the trucks reached their destination five hours later, in the heat of the day, 78 men had suffocated to death."

They said they guys died because they were weak from fasting during Ramadan. There was also an incident where the Thai army stormed the holiest mosque in southern Thailand and summarily executed 32 "militants," who had a single handgun between all of them.

There are certainly monsters on both sides, and the "We will kill all the Buddhists" mentality does exist, but take your talk about Muslims and Jihad and "Islamist philosophy" back to Fox News where it belongs.
posted by borkingchikapa at 12:49 AM on July 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

Woah, nobody said this was a one-sided fight. There are definitely many forces at play here. But I think talk about Muslims definitely does belong in a discussion of Muslims brutalizing and murdering Buddhist monks and other Buddhists, which constitutes large-scale and ongoing Islamic terrorism against people who had nothing to do with the events you mentioned.

Also, your "peaceful protest" was a group of protesters throwing rocks at the police and trying to storm the police station.
posted by shii at 1:36 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Please feel free to contribute your wisdom/knowledge about the "other" side. I mean that sincerely.

Attempting to boil this down as just "Muslim vs. Buddhist" seems overly simplistic - it's an easy way to describe a two-sided fight, except for the fact that it's not a two-sided fight. Government troops, Muslim moderates, and Christians are being killed by the same, tight-knit group of extremists that are killing Buddhists. In fact, the group appears to be killing anyone not of that group - religion is merely an attribute, from what I can see, and the true motivator is separatism. It's a two-sided fight, sure - but it's "separatists vs. everybody else." We've seen the "everybody else" side, but the "separatists" side have some gripes of their own. It's not a recent thing, either.

It's not like the separatists don't have cause. The region was an independent Islamic sultanate, the Pattani Kingdom, until about 200 years ago when it was annexed by Thailand. Since the 13th century, Islam was the dominant culture in the area, and remained so until Thailand's regime forced residents to give up their culture and language. In the late 1930's, the Thai regime at the time, determined to create a unified, Buddhist state, forced Buddhism into the area. There was a brief respite during World War II, when the area sided with the Brits after Thailand sided with the Japanese, but that respite was very short-lived. In 1948, after the war, 250,000 Thai Malays petitioned the UN to oversee the accession of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala to the new Federation of Malaya, to no avail. At this point, Muslims in the region start forming separatist groups, and after police & military forces kill 400 Muslim villagers and protesters in 1948, separatist groups start organizing. At first, the push was largely peaceful, with groups trying to get the remaining parts of the Pattani Kingdom integrated with Malaya, but as the border between Thailand and then subsequent country of Malaysia firms up, the push changes.

Separatist groups advocating armed resistance start popping up in the late 50's, after increased violence by Thai police & military forces against protesters and organizers picks up. PULO, the group most associated with the current separatist violence, forms in 1968, followed by a period of guerilla actions and military responses. In 1981, a move by Thailand from confrontation to negotiation all but halts violence in the region until the early to mid 90's. In 1993, the U.S. Department of State reported that anti-Muslim discrimination was widespread, and that military forces clashed with Muslim separatists on several occasions. Violence slowly escalates, as both police and military forces clash with Muslims in the region. In 1997, several separatist groups (PULO, BRN, and GMIP) join forces and start to ramp up separatist activity until, in 2001, five coordinated attacks throughout the region by separatist forces succeed in killing 5 officers and one civilian.

The economy was also a problem - the area's economy changed drastically, as a combination of increased government presence and an influx of people moving to the region from north Thailand starting in the 80's results in a six-fold increase in median income by 2003. The Muslim population in that region was largely excluded from that economic boom, forced to watch as northern Thai citizens moved into the area. Thailand's early attempts in the 80's to integrate the Muslim population gave way to sheer exploitation in the 90's, as Muslim workers are relegated to undesirable jobs. Education, language, and culture barriers essentially segregate the non-Muslim and Muslim population, despite efforts to demonstrate that coexistence was possible. At the end of the day, so to speak, the poorest folks in the poorest region of Thailand come from Pattani, Narathiwat, and Yala, and the majority of them are Muslim.

The fighting hasn't been just "Muslims killing everyone." Once the military decided that the government's assessment of the situation as a collection of isolated incidents instigated by criminal gangs and opportunistic drug dealers was flawed, they treated the separatist movement as if it were a full-blown military insurgency. The pre-2006 Thai government handled the situation poorly, to say the least, and the Thai goverment have more than a few questions to answer regarding the treatment of Muslims in south Thailand. Human Rights Watch started asking questions when Malay Muslims started disappearing around 2003 and 2004. There were some shady goings-on occurring, and when pressed by separatist and religious leaders, the Thai government and military offered little in the way of explanation.

In fact, the military took a brutal approach to Muslim insurgency, pushing hard to exclude any conciliatory or moderate approach towards the Malay Muslims. The Krue Se mosque incident in 2004 exemplifies the military's approach. In almost all the material I can find regarding the south Thailand conflict's history, the Krue Se incident serves as a hard marker in the conflict's timeline - many historical accounts basically sum up the conflict in terms of the periods before and after this event.

The incident apparently goes like this: about 100 separatists execute a coordinated attack, assaulting 10 police stations in the region to obtain weapons. 32 suspected separatists, armed only with a few guns and knives, retreat to the Krue Se mosque, demanding that the Thai government recognize their demands. During the Krue Se mosque standoff, the military stormed the mosque & executed everyone in there in direct violation of the orders of Thailand's Defense Minister. There's compelling evidence to indicate that the Thai military pounded the mosque with heavy weapons, stormed the mosque, rounded up everyone they could find, insurgents and innocent alike, tied them up, and shot them all in the head one by one. 32 insurgents entered the mosque, but 108 dead are found. After an international outcry over what appears to be a military blunder, the Thai government performs a perfunctory investigation. The results of that investigation, an obvious whitewash, leave more questions than answers and makes it hard for separatist leaders to trust the Thai government's motives.

The Krue Se incident is still used as a rallying point for the separatists - I find it hard for them to believe that the Thai government is interested in negotiation, not when they watched as the Thai military tear gassed the place, took the mosque, and executed everybody inside, insurgent and innocent alike, only to have the Thai government whitewash the whole thing.

Once the military got a relatively free hand in the region thanks to the emergency order signed in 2005, the military presence ramped up dramatically - as did the military brutality. The military established a policy of non-negotiation, massively increased the amount of both troops and resources in the region, and went to town. The military operated almost independently of the government, and while the government sought reconciliation and repatriation, the military became determined to quell any resistance. The coup in 2006 did little to improve the situation. Reports of imprisonment, torture, and execution started to creep out of the region. The Asian Human Rights Commission accused the military of beating and torturing suspected insurgents by burning their genitals with cigarettes, smashing beer bottles over their knees, and chaining them to dogs. In June 2006, even as the Thai government was attempting to establish an avenue of negotiation, hundreds of dead civilians were found in mass graves in Pattani. Meanwhile, citizens disappeared as Thai military forces abducted anyone considered suspect, confirmed separatist and clueless bystander alike.

The following month, in apparent retaliation, the separatists bombed 22 banks in a highly coordinated attack. The rest of the timeline alternates between military violence, separatist violence, civilian suffering and death, and an odd intransigence between Thailand and Malaysia (in which Thailand repeatedly refuses Malaysia's offers of assistance and mediation.) Thailand has also refused offers from the United States for counter-insurgency training.

The combination of social and economic inequality, constant fighting, governmental indifference, and military brutality does give credence to the various separatist groups and their demand for, at the very least, "special governance." In 2009, the Voice of America reported on the often-contradictory efforts of the Thai government, which is attempting to engage with the separatists, and the Thai military, which is harassing, torturing, and murdering both separatists and suspected sympathizers alike.

The whole point of this wall of text is to say that there are more than two sides to this decades-long conflict, and that those sides are separated by a lot more than just religion. The conflict has evolved over a long period of time, punctuated by events perpetrated on all sides that have fueled and sustained the conflict - it's not one-sided by any means.
posted by FormlessOne at 3:31 AM on July 28, 2011 [85 favorites]

Flagged as fantastic, FormlessOne; I was really hoping someone would chime in with a bit more context.
posted by smoke at 3:38 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

32 insurgents entered the mosque, but 108 dead are found

I should reword that - 32 separatists were killed that day in Krue Se mosque itself, but 108 separatists were killed that day in all, along with 5 officers.

That same year, the Tak Bai incident resulted in the deaths of 88 demonstrators. Some were shot or beaten to death, but the majority of the deaths were caused by simple suffocation, after about 1,300 arrested, bound demonstrators were stacked five and six layers deep into trucks, like cordwood, and covered with tarps for a five-hour ride to an army barracks in Pattani.

In the Krue Se incident, the commission investigating the incident concluded that the military used excessive force, but the military rejected the ruling. In the Tak Bai incident, the government claimed that Ramadan fasting caused the suffocation and beating deaths. An official apology for the Tak Bai incident was finally given in 2006, more than two years later, by the new Thai government as an overture to reconciliation.

In both incidents, however, not a single police or military officer was held accountable for those deaths.
posted by FormlessOne at 3:57 AM on July 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

smoke: "I was really hoping someone would chime in with a bit more context."

That's slightly more than a bit; about a smidgen I would say.
posted by bwg at 5:23 AM on July 28, 2011

The southern provinces of Thailand have traditionally had close cultural connections with Malaysia, but were under the political dependency of Siam since the 14th century,

This is weak - you could say the same about Kedah or Kelantan. "Under the political dependency of" is just another way to say they paid tribute to avoid being crushed, isn't it?

Pattani was a particular bright spot for Malay cultural and religious output. A respectable chunk of "kitab kuning" literature originates from Pattani. Some biographies of 19th and early 20th century religious figures are on the web, in Malay but Google Translate does a decent job: Shaykh Daud al-Fathani is representative.
posted by BinGregory at 5:44 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Something a bit disturbing about the framing of this post. Glad to read the highly educational info by FormlessOne above.

I just came in to say, if anyone's take-home from this is the conventional Western "Buddhists good, Muslims bad", consider Sri Lanka.

Anyway, glad to see the discussion hasn't developed along those lines.
posted by iotic at 5:49 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm increasingly of the opinion that the killer asteroid can't arrive too soon.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:11 AM on July 28, 2011

Religion has no doubt provided some survival value for the species, or it wouldn't exist.

There's a fair amount of scholarship out there about it; start with Durkheim and work your way forward.

(Or, if you'd rather not slog through 100 years of scholarship, more recent studies into the physio-psychological benefits of religiosity are fairly numerous.)
posted by elfgirl at 6:19 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Religion has no doubt provided some survival value for the species, or it wouldn't exist.

One could argue that religion doesn't deal with things that exist. And obviously someone is benefiting from it, or it wouldn't have sponsors in high political places. I would suggest pondering the value of slavery or genocide as counter-examples, and consider the enforced ignorance and scorched earth birthrates in religious cultures as evidence of a religious survival, not a human one. I would compare it with a cancer or virus any day, especially considering religious doomsday.
posted by Brian B. at 6:34 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

One group's primary texts contain a series of detailed instructions about how to conduct a lifelong journey to observe and neutralize the causes and effects of human suffering.

The other group's primary text contains dozens of exhortations to convert or kill all infidels.

Guess which is which?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:47 AM on July 28, 2011

Excellent post and comments. I can't wait to read it more thoroughly later.
posted by desjardins at 6:56 AM on July 28, 2011

One group's primary texts contain a series of detailed instructions about how to conduct a lifelong journey to observe and neutralize the causes and effects of human suffering.

The Thai government is Buddhist. Guess who kills protestors?

This isn't a clash of religions, it's a clash of power.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:59 AM on July 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

Then it's settled - they're both Religions of Peace!
posted by etherist at 7:03 AM on July 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

Then it's settled - they're both Religions of Peace!

To paraphrase Tim Curry, "Religion is just a red herring." Or, at least, it was before 2004.

That's the truly interesting thing about Sara's thesis, in that it's obvious that religion was just a factor in a larger, older cultural conflict, until Thailand used the "Threat of International Terrorism" canard to justify its own military actions after 2001. When it did that, Thailand may have inadvertently opened the door to the very real threat of international terrorism, triggering a "third wave" of separatist action, in which the pendulum of driving force has shifted from ethno-nationalism to religious persecution.
posted by FormlessOne at 8:22 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Only autonomy can resolve southern conflict

- Jon Ungphakorn, former elected senator for Bangkok
posted by BinGregory at 8:33 AM on July 28, 2011

Something a bit disturbing about the framing of this post. Glad to read the highly educational info by FormlessOne above.

The original post provides a very misleading view of events prior to 2004, and then provides a biased selection of quotes and images to essentially paint a picture of a tiny minority of highly trained, highly organized, dissatisfied Islamic terrorists, clearly motivated by the "War on Terror" and religious extremism to commit atrocities for no real reason against the innocent citizens of Thailand.

Centuries of history and interaction are glossed over as the post charges like a bull at the "Buddhists are good, Muslims are bad" brass ring - scary quotes, gory photos, and the shift in language to "Islamists", rather than "Thai Muslims" or "Malay Muslims", to hook into the pervading "War on Terror" anxiety.

The reality is very different. It's no less horrible, but it's far longer, more complex, and less tractable than the simplistic, one-sided picture painted by the original post.

Only autonomy can resolve southern conflict
- Jon Ungphakorn, former elected senator for Bangkok

He has the right idea, but that idea crashes against the wall built from centuries of Thailand's rigid national identity. On the other end, he'd have to convince those three provinces that this attempt at "de-colonization" is really warm & fuzzy, unlike the multiple attempts over the last two centuries to "de-colonize" the area using military force, social suppression, and economic leverage to destroy anything that wasn't part of the Thai national identity.

It's not intractable, but it's going to require some serious establishment of trust, on both sides, to unwind the last decade or so before even the idea of autonomy can be approached.
posted by FormlessOne at 9:13 AM on July 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

As to the historical/political reasons given for the Thai conflict, those are undoubtedly specific factors affecting the growth and survival of this remarkable violence, but I doubt they suffice to explain the phenomenon alone. Human history has seen countless instances of political and cultural assimilation that don't result in such potent and durable minority uprising.

I suspect the explanation is to be found at least in part by an inquiry into the mental processes involved.

Richard Dawkins discusses his theory about the behavior of memes especially in a religious context. Another likely relevant field of study is large-group awareness training. Someone must be doing research into LGAT and terrorism.

It's good fun to ridicule people who consider themselves bulletproof by explicitly religious faith, but maybe that misses the point. Most of the well-educated and peaceable humanists on this board participate in our civilization's monstrous economic practices, and many people cling to an unreasonable faith in a salvation from those practices' clearly demonstrated consequences. Some even insist that dramatically accelerating the present economy is the path to said salvation.
posted by maniabug at 11:42 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Setting the religious aspect aside, there are parallels with the situation in Sri Lanka. If the state of Thailand is determined enough, no amount of rebellion will lead to autonomy. The Tigers waged a relentless campaign for decades - replete with suicide missions. Note, you don't need religion, no need to swallow pieces of paper. It has been proven time and again, that non-religious actors, motivated by many things, such as nationalism are quite capable of sacrificing their lives in suicide missions.

The question is, does the state of Thailand have the determination to crush this rebellion? If they do, then nothing the rebels do will save them. The rebels are outnumbered, period. It may take a very long time indeed, but crushed they will be. The Tigers in Sri Lanka have much greater resources, and the imbalance of power is not quite as great as it is in the case of Thailand. Yet they lost. The rebels will be annihilated, even if it takes depopulation to do so.

It would be far better to settle this through non-military means - for both sides. Nobody wins here, if violence continues - a purely military solution represents the worst kind of resolution. Convincing either side though, may not be possible. It's tempting to turn to neutral parties to help reach a settlement (in the case of Sri Lanka, Norway was acting in that role for a long time), but there's no guarantee that this would work (it didn't with the Tigers).

Interestingly, the U.S. always classified the Tigers as a terrorist movement. What's the official U.S. position in this case, if any?
posted by VikingSword at 1:09 PM on July 28, 2011

I'm glad this was posted. I only first became aware of it a few years ago when I noticed that the global corporate travel policy had marked southern Thailand as a "DO NOT TRAVEL" hotspot due to the danger of death and injury. I was in Bangkok during the red shirt and yellow shirt demonstrations and was warned as a visitor to not bring any clothing in either of those colors...

I find it interesting that Malaysia is in the opposite situation: a Muslim majority, but Chinese minority... but it is the majority that feels victimized and marginalized even though they hold government. I think it is a deliberate decision of the Malaysian government to not get themselves involved at all with their Muslim brethren across the border, and in fact try as much as possible to keep knowledge of that conflict out of the public consciousness.
posted by xdvesper at 4:20 PM on July 28, 2011

Formless One, thanks for the (amazing) context. Flagged as fantastic.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:31 PM on July 28, 2011

ditto. I was waiting for someone to post the background of this issue. I know little other then the muslims in thailand did allow some Cambodians to live in the region during the 60 and 70's, The Cham people were brutally targeted by the Khmer Roughe and a natural allie they found. The wiki page is a bit dodgy but helpful as a primer. I re-read parts of von der Mehdens wonderful book Religion and Modernization in Southeast Asia

not much relevant per say to this point in time. But he concludes that the moderization process, compounded by the Thais program like the ARD that had monks working in conjunction with the government in everything from road building to medical facilities could one historical reason for unrest. He concludes that if modernization does not work in harmony with religion then those people may resisit change and the regions isolation and proximity to Malyasia could point to a potential problem for the future. He has a wonderful section on Animism from 3 different countries and posits the west perception of these countries, for example animism equals nonsecular values and seeks isolate cultures unwilling to open up to moderization.

interesting post.
posted by clavdivs at 5:15 PM on July 28, 2011

The Art of Magical Tattoos. Lars Frutak
posted by clavdivs at 5:30 PM on July 28, 2011

Lars Krutak....sorry, changing mouse batteries
posted by clavdivs at 5:31 PM on July 28, 2011

More on the politics of the area: No democratic hope for south Thailand
posted by homunculus at 5:43 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

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