Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The trouble in southern Thailand.

There's been a problem, a huge problem loitering in Thailand for a long time. It's a problem far bigger than corruption , far more important than any airport and far more deserving of attention than Thaksin Shinawat.

That problem is the continuing violence and brutality in the deep south.

Part of the reason for not discussing this is that I don't know the background. I have a fair amount of knowledge on the topic but I've been unable to find an academic text to accompany my study. (Actually , I did find one but it was grossly overpriced).

So what follows is an embarrassingly brief summary of the tragic situation.

It's a situation so deep and tortuous I don't know where to begin. The deep south of Thailand was "taken" from Malaysia in the sixteenth century. Pattini was annexed at the start of the twentieth century. Resistance by and amongst the predominantly Muslim population has always existed. Surprise, surprise after 9/11 a small number of militants in the south suddenly decided that it was time for jihad. Violence slowly but surely escalated. Attacks on 'government' targets - including teachers - grew.

The problem has confounded many. During his tenure Thaksin actually said "There is no ideology, there are fighting politicians, gangsters and smugglers but no ideology". Thaksin was not to blame for the problem, but he may well have exacerbated it. Various schemes were set up including a scheme "to save the poor young boys coerced into committing these acts" and nothing changed.

Undoubtedly police and military in the south aggravated the locals, but the militants displayed an utterly cold blooded willingness to kill any targets including teachers and innocent shoppers.

In April 2004 , a group of insurgents being pursued by police retreated to a Mosque where they were all killed. Tragic as the deaths were, the fact was that this group had attacked ten police outposts and spent seven hours calling for martyrdom before the police opened fire.

Also in 2004 , a large group of locals gathered to protest against the arrest of young men who had stolen weapons from local authorities. They refused police requests to disperse and - allegedly on the orders of the PM himself - the military made a brutal crack down. Many people died. The envent was to go down in history as the "Tak Bai Incident".

Thaksin immediately attempted to alleviate the problem by doing what he did best - buying people off. He offered money to the families to visit Bangkok mosques because: "after all, they were born Thai" . The problem continued unabated and Thaksin barely controlled his anger and frustration.

One particularly nasty incident that ticks in my mind was the raid of a Buddhist temple where two young boys and a monk were slaughered and the temple desecrated. This was a typical example of the violence.

In another incident , a female teacher in her twenties was kidnapped and beaten by a group of one hundred villagers. She lapsed into a coma and died about two months ago. Her crime? None. She was taken as a random target in a retaliation for the death of a local villager.

After the coup, optimism that the Muslim general Sonthi could help was short lived. General Surayud tried a much requested tactic of peace , apologies and compromise. He made a heartfelt apology to the Muslim communities and released all suspects of the Tak Bai incident.

Still nothing changed. This week - Chinese New Year - saw the largest ever wave of co-ordinated bombings in the south. Karoke bars , shops and power stations suffered bomb blasts. The government , like its predecessor , had no plan B. No response has been made, and general Sonthi continues to spout nonsense about the patriotic duty of reclaiming satellites sold to Singapore.

This is a situation where nobody has the answers, and humanity is the ultimate loser. I'm sure many people share my sentiments that is a mix of disbelief at the violence dealt by mankind, grief at the loss of innocent life, and anger at the inability to respond.

It could be said that in some senses - though certainly not all - the situation in the south of Thailand reflects the terror war at large. The authorities are fighting cowards they cannot see. They are trying to negotiate with a group that have no interest in negotiation , and every interest in shedding blood.

Herein lies the root of my anger. The southern resistance is ostensibly based on a return to autonomy or Malaysian rule. I'm willing to bet few of the militants have true knowledge or interest in that. The type of people who beat an innocent woman into a coma and behead a pensioner on his far are not the sort who support diplomacy or a peaceful autonomous existence. While we all sit about talking about "understanding" and "oppression" hundreds more continue to lose their lives.

Last month, a man and his wife were killed at their rubber plantation. The man was beheaded , and a had a note left on his body saying "We will kill all Buddhists". Where is the "understanding and tolerence" in that message?

The other PC line of course is to tell us it's just " a brainwashed minority". That is at least partly true. There are many vilagers in the south who just want peace. However, the fact remains that in many cases, entire villages have been implicated in protests, often protecting militants or demanding their release. The kidnappers of the teacher beaten to a coma numbered over one hundred. One hundred people entered a school, took teachers hostage and beat a female teacher into a coma by using wooden sticks.

Yet another line of forgiveness - an important human quality - is that these actions are a cry for help from an impoverished, mistreated region of Thailand. Again, this contains some truth. The region is one of the country's poorest and suffers from gross mismanagement by police and authorities. However, the poorest region of Thailand is Isaan, which also houses the nation's friendliest and happiest people. All areas of Thailand suffer from police corruption. We should protest vigorously and peacefully. It is not an excuse to shoot a teacher dead in front of his students.

The sad truth is that a significant amount of people interpret the message of the ultra violent Qu'ran literally and use it as an excuse for endless violence. If you disagree with my previous statement that the Qu'ran is violent, or if you want to make the PC comment that all religious texts contain violence , then you have not studied Islam or the Qu'ran.

The simple fact, the bottom line truth , is that the beautiful south of Thailand harbours a group of people who live to kill, maim, and torture. My heart bleeds for their victims, and I see no way out.

I'm going to put my neck out here and suggest a website with interesting information and a very interesting list of books that shed some of the PC veil we see through.

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