Thursday, March 29, 2007

Khaleel Mohammed, with whom I exchanged e-mails a short while back, has updated his web page. He has moved a few polemics around and added a couple more into paragraphs. If this was done because of our exchange I have no idea, but his site is still one big piece of argumentation.

The professor, while being good enough to engage in debate, hides behind typical talk of non - Arab speakers "not being able to understand the Qu'ran" and all critics having "their judgement clouded by faith". The irony of this last comment seems lost on him.

Likewise, his talk of "hate" belies the fact that in my case at least, two thousand of my countrymen have been murdered by Islamic militants since 2004. Something would be wrong if we were not angry (not hateful) about execution of farm workers, beheadings of monks and public slayings of teachers. We should be angry and we should look for the source, if the source is a religious book that teaches violence, we should respond peacefully by exposing it.

It would be unfair of me to keep referring to the professor, so this will be the last reminder of our exchange for people to see his words in full and judge for themselves.

Communication with more open and informative people is in progress, it might be a while but stay tuned for some very revealing investigations.

As sceptical author and paranormal debunker James Randi once said: "You can argue and you can hide, but the truth is annoyingly persistent"

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


To understand how politics work in Thailand, it's necessary to understand a bit about the history - the real history - of certain events and historical influences that shaped the formation of Thai society today. Such a task is beyond me right now but there are minds greater than mine that can reveal at least some of the picture.

There's a book available free on the net I would recommend to anyone interested in politics. I don't agree with everything the author says, but it makes a great and revealing read.

Giles Unpagkorn is a professor in the Political Science Faculty at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand's most prestigious educational institution. The book is entitled "A coup for the rich?" and has been pulled from the shelves in stores after it was noticed the book contained a reference to another publication that is censored in Thailand. However, I personally am amazed that the book made it to the shelves in the first place. If it were in Thai instead of English, I'm sure it would not have made print.

Giles clearly is a left winger, just how left is unclear and since left wing connections are viewed highly unfavourably in Thailand (for obvious reasons) some allegiances are best unsaid (Incidentally, an article by a different author called "An internal history of the Communist Party of Thailand" is also available on line and is a good historical read). To appreciate just how unconventional and unorthodox Giles' outspokenness and choice of critical targets are , one must understand the level of influence and prestige of the King of Thailand and his palace. Whilst it is obvious that the vast majority of Thais love their king, this is not due to His Majesty's actions alone. The palace is heavily promoted in Thai society and the royal family command great respect from all areas. As a constitutional monarchy, it varies greatly from England where our head of state makes only rare appearances. The Queen of England is not considered to have any influence over politics or military.

Of course, when some institutions are sacred, there is always the possibility that major historical events can be misunderstood or reported to how one wishes things to be seen from a certain angle.

I know I'm talking cryptically, I hope people will understand why.

Unpakorn's book is so remarkable, it displays a full understanding of historical events and institutions and express opinions on them with a free and critical mind. That might seem 'par for the course' for any western academic, but from a country with Lese Majeste laws and a developing democracy, it is rare , insightful, educational and revealing.

If anyone is interested in Thai politics and wants to read a debatable but frank and honest work, then go on down to Google, type in the name of the book and follow the first link. A book (containing the word "smiles" in its title) referred to several times by Giles in his publication is also worth a read.

A journalist friend and I are hopeful of getting some interviews with prominent figures on the southern Thailand conflict soon. I also plan to contact Mr Unpakorn and ask him a few questions and express my disagreement with him on the root causes of the southern violence. I'll post my mail and any response - if he so permits - right here.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Farang Kii Nok!!!!!!

When you hear and comprehend these words as they ring in your ears, you can bask in the glory of an achieved milestone. You are no longer a tourist.

Before I explain what the backhanded compliment or insult actually means, let’s examine each word.

Farang” is actually pronounced “falang”. Thais will tell you it simply means “foreigner”. That’s not the whole picture though, there is actually another word in the Thai dictionary describing anyone of a differing nationality. What the expression “farang” means is a white skinned foreigner. A person of Japanese or Indian appearance is unlikely to be slapped with the same label. So in occidental psyche, the term is discriminatory. In Thai psyche – which is what matters – it’s another case of 'say what you see'. The connotations of racism are not the same here.

Ex-pats will all happily tell you the etymology of the word "farang" – it shows how smart they are, you see? – but the reality is that so many theories exist, nobody knows for sure. The most credible sounding theories I’ve heard are that the term is etymologized from “farangseht”, meaning “French” from the times of French colonialism around, and trade opening within, Siam. The other theory suggests it stems from the derogatory term “barbarian” , which is an old Asian label for us white folk.

Kii” is a word that – as best as I can gauge – is midway between “poo” and “sh*t” for offensiveness and has the same meaning.

Nok” means “bird”.

So if you are Caucasian and you fit the criteria I am about to elucidate on, you are a “bird poo foreigner”.

Come again? I am a what?

Nobody seems to know exactly why the Thais choose to give us such a dubious compliment. Again theories run amok and the best one I’ve heard is the idea that when bird’s "poo" hits the hot ground in Bangkok, it dries on and sticks. You see, a "farang kii nok" in its politest terms is a farang who’s been around so long, he or she (I’ll say “he” from now on, since the vast majority of ex pats are males, now why could that be, hmmmm?) knows his way around. He can understand some Thai, he won’t let the taxi driver circumambulate ten times around the hotel street and he knows that the fried rice should be fifty bhat, not two hundred.

In other words, he’s no longer a tourist. Also – and bear in mind we are still using the word in its kindest terms here – Thais use the expression to test if you actually are at the kii nok stage yet. They’ll mention the very same words to or around you while looking to see if your ears pick up. The real kii nok of course could play double bluff and act dumbfounded whilst listening to hear what else is said after the "kii nok test" appeared to confirm it's safe to gossip.

However the FKN expression is similar to many of the milder swear words in English, it can be used in a friendly way to someone you know well (ala "Dave you old bast**d! How are ya?") or in a very unpleasant way. The other side to FKN terminology depicts the farang as a scrounger, a cheap skate and a reject from their own country. To my knowledge, I've only had this form of the insult hurled at me once though I suspect that the crafty Thais actually have an underling of this meaning every time they utter the words.

The incident in question occurred in my old village. My son was just one month old and needed a lot of sleep. A group of kids insisted on "playing" directly outside my front door from school close time to ten PM every day. "Playing" involved yelling at full volume. Imagine coming home from work each day and listening to a fat kid bawling non stop right outside your front door for six hours. They had been moved there because their own parents didn't want the noise outside their house. Most of them were just normal kids but a couple of the older boys were particularly unpleasant in their words and behaviour (sitting on our car and kicking footballs against it, throwing their rubbish on our garden and even graffiti. Hardly Hitler Youth but still not so nice). After several polite requests were ignored, I asked one boy to stop sitting on my garden door. He ignored me, I told him again in firmer Thai and received the same zero response. I kicked the gate and he left. The next day as I left home I heard a deafening bellow of "FARANG KII NOK!!!" that was so loud a couple of people came out of their houses and one guy, to his credit, reprimanded the foul mouthed kid. Whilst not bothered by the insult itself - I am fortunate enough to earn more than triple the average wage in Bangkok - I was taken aback by the sheer racism and malice of the action.

Similar expressions exist in Thai for other farang behaviour. "Farang kii bon" is "moaning sh*t farang" a title well deserved by many , "Farang kii neow" is "sticky sh*t farang" i.e. a cheap person and so on. However these other expressions can also be used on locals, the "kii nok" is reserved for foreigners only.

Really, the whole "kii nok" thing doesn't cause too much concern. Newcomers still in dreamland - even those who speak Thai - are blissfully unaware and those in the know are too far indoctrinated to be sensitive to it. Many farang use the tag in the same way NWA used the "n" word, they use it on themselves lightheartedly to diminish the offensiveness. "Shall we get a taxi to the club?" "No, let's kii nok it and take the bus".

As with so many things in life, familiarity with Thai culture can take away some of its magic, yet I personally take solace in the knowledge that if the worst thing that happens is that people call me barbarian bird poo in secret, I can live with it.

After all, in the west we say that if a bird defecates on you, you're about to come into some money. There must be a link somewhere........

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Meds meds meds

For many, medical care in Thailand never stretches further than the drug store in Patpong, which must be the only store to proudly display its range of condoms in the window. But bear in mind that illness can strike at any time....

Let's cover the good stuff first. Thailand has a wide range of excellent private and international hospitals. The buildings and equipment are far better than your average English state hospital. The cost is usually great value and well covered by most insurance policies. Doctors are often educated abroad and speak good English.

However, as I type this it's 2330 and my son has finally come down from his drugged high. He overdosed heavily. For the last two hours he's been zipping around the bedroom in a frenzy, while I tried and failed to calm him. He won't be going for counselling however, my son is only sixteen months old and his drug was supplied by local doctors.

I defy anyone, anywhere within Thailand to visit a doctor and come away without at least two forms of medication. Go ahead, try it. Visit any random medical centre and tell them you had a slightly runny nose a couple of days ago. See what happens.

Thais love their medication and in all my time here, I have never known anyone to come out of a clinic or hospital without three types of medicine. There seems to be a two fold reason for this. First, it's an all over Asian culture (right Bri?) that the second you feel unwell, you throw drugs down yourself. After all, drugs make you better so why not take plenty, just to be sure? The other reason is one that is subliminally accepted but not widely discussed in Thailand: the doctors and hospitals get kickbacks.

Thailand has only a minimal healthcare system built into its infrastructure. Staff salaries , standards and medication are monitored only by a very inefficient and anachronistic system. When you pay to see a doctor here, you pay not a set charge but a charge fixed by the age, rank and experience of your doctor. A GP of fifty years of age would command a far higher fee than a newly qualified twenty five year old. However, even the steeper fees are actually very reasonable, it's not where the money is made.

The real windfalls for these institutions - be they government or private - comes from the meds. Its a terribly kept secret that pharmaceutical companies pay monster kickbacks to medical centres, and that little line can only be kept going if GPs are errr.....'liberal' with their prescriptions. Have a cold? Take this bottle for your stuffy nose, this liquid for your cough , etc. Bad stomach? Take this stuff for the stomach pain, these tablets to stop the runs, this antibiotic to kill the virus, this orange drink to replace your salts, etc.

What's more, the charge for these medicines is usually four to ten times the cost for the exact same product from the pharmacy across the street.

One of the most prevalent areas of this practise is in the paediatric section. After all,what parent wouldn't be relieved to hear the doc say: "Just take these four types of medicine home and your precious little one will be fine"? Not a bad little sales pitch is it?

I may sound horribly cynical, but there's nothing here that isn't solid fact. Don't get me wrong, the vast majority of doctors in Thailand are excellent. I must also note the doctors will usually prescribe the right kind of medicine so you will get better. There are exceptions though, I know first hand cases of overzealous hospitals and pharmacists giving antibiotics for colds and sore throats. Even a dunce like me knows that ABs don't work for them.

If you're single, the above shouldn't be too much of a problem. The charge is still relatively cheap, especially if you're only on holiday.When I was single, I used to politely but firmly decline every prescription I didn't need. All the creams, salt drinks and other nonsense I refused and if I was given a month's worth of meds for a cold, I'd just take one week's worth and visit the pharmacy with the box if I needed more later.

A friend of mine - new to Thailand - fractured his arm playing football. He was delighted with how well the hospital treated him and bandaged him. However, when sent to the hospital desk he was parented with a bag full of creams, tablets and other goods he had no wish for that more than doubled his bill! He simply refused the extra meds and his bill was cut by more than half!

However the problem has become more serious and difficult to tackle since I wed and became a father. My lovely son has been ill a few times, and on one occasion a doctor prescribed a whopping eight forms of medication for my boy's stomach bug. I reacted angrily, telling the doctor I was well aware that too much medicine is damaging to anyone and asked if he would give so much to his own child. Justified as I may have been, it caused problems for my wife. In Thai culture it's a big loss of face to disagree with a doctor and even more to dispute what medicines you are given. Embarrassment and annoyance reigned on both sides.

So while it still makes me unhappy, I've given up trying to fight the "meds" mentality. If you have a kid, you're as likely to escape the problem as you are to escape taxes , as likely to overcome the problem as you are to overcome death.

It's also worth noting once again that local clincs are just as helpful as hospitals for minor ailments. You'll still get the same volume of medication, but the charge will be lower.

So as my beloved boy recovers from bronchitis, we have to deal with the drug highs caused by his three types of medicine that are al rich in sugar and glucose causing him to hit the roof for hours each day. As long as he recovers, I can't complain.


Potshot updates:

I have found no other riders of the lesbian bus.

The Thailand and Singapore spat seems to have died down though no formal apology or settlement has been mad eon either side. With the upcoming trial of Kurb Kalew a Singaporean company accused of being an illegal nominee for ex PM Thaksin - the sparks could fly again.

The airport investigations are ongoing but no progress seems to be coming through.

A colleague of mine is journalist and is due to be given her journalists licence soon. We've set up a contact list and plan to work on a book or website concerning the southern troubles. The plan is to interview with activist groups and leaders from the Buddhist and Islamic community. It will require trips the deep south and a little danger therewith, but it will be worthwhile. Stay tuned!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Massacre at Yala

Two days ago a van full of people were killed in the south. The van was acting as a bus and was chosen at random. The aggressors put a tree trunk across the road, as the van tried to U -turn the attackers came out with machine guns and killed them all bar one who escaped seriously injured.

The government did little except to confirm that it will continue its peaceful policy but will also impose a curfew in the area.

Something has snapped though. In several provinces, peaceful demonstrations against the attack took place with some demanding that the government take stronger action against these people. Patience is beginning to reach breaking point and this does not bode well.

Surayud's problem - apart from the aging and inept government surrounding him - is that like troops in Iraq, he is up against a cowardly enemy he can't see. How can he use peaceful means with an invisible opponent? I'm also predicting right here that villagers will grow antagonised by a curfew and quite possibly they will be manipulated to use this as a reason for further skirmishes with authorities.

I'm stepping things up in this area. Like most Thais, I'm tired of seeing innocents slaughtered every day. The greatest excuse apologists make for them is that they are a corrupted few or they are fighting for restoration of historical justice.

Both arguments are starting to display their hollowness. First, the latest Muslim militant tactic has been to send hundreds of woman and children to protest for the release of any captured militants. At least one hundred woman and children for each protest! The gang that beat poor teacher Juling Kamphongmoon into a coma numbered at least one hundred. (I repeatedly mention this assault because its sheer brutality and evilness sums up the situation in the south so accurately.) Nearly every activity in the south smacks of gangs that number well above "a corrupted few".

As for historical injustice, that may be so but somehow I don't see justice in the eyes of men who shoot teachers in class, behead rubber farmers, behead a man in front of his nineteen year old daughter, kill a man leaving a note that reads: "You arrest innocent people so we murder one in revenge" or walk out and kill a van load of people. Do you?

Unlike many, I'm choosing to educate myself. I've nearly finished my study of the Islamic scriptures and what I have learned has changed my perception of the world. I'm planning to visit local mosques and discuss the situation with scholars and ask for their insight into problems that affect the entire world.

I have several questions I will be looking to ask from connected and knowledgeable people. I believe I have answers to some of them already but I will ask again:
(Obviously I won't go charging in with aggressive and impolite questions, but these are the ultimate answers I'm searching for)

  1. Why is there not clear and public condemnation of the attacks from prominent Thai Muslims?
  2. Why are villagers not turning in or exposing Muslim militants?
  3. What are the motives of the attackers? Do they have full knowledge of the history of the region? How often do they study and read Islamic scriptures?
  4. Why are the victims of the attacks almost exclusively Buddhists? (Its a pop fact to point out that as many Muslims have died in the area. This fact misleads, since the area is about eighty percent Muslim and the victims of specific attacks are nearly always Buddhist)
  5. Most importantly, how can we stop innocents dying?

I want to go into great depth here but I will wait until I have completed further studies. I will say this much: right now, I stand alarmed, shocked and scared about this situation. We seem to be competing with people whose rule book tells them to ruthlessly murder anyone who takes land they perceive to be their own. Morality, innocence and respect for life have no part to play for them.

Feel free to challenge, debate or question me on this.

Oh by the way, another man was shot in an unprovoked attack yesterday too. Guess that was just in case they hadn't made their point by removing enough woman and children from their husband and fathers yet.


On lighter notes:
Last week, I got the usual bus down a well known main road to return from one of my houses to the other. I noticed that the bus actually stopped well past the bus stop and forced me to run a bit. Nothing unusual there. As I tried to pull myself on, the bus tried to speed away and lose me. gain, nothing unusual there. Then as I sat down I noticed an unusual sign on the front of the bus "Lady Bus". I looked around , no I was OK, there were plenty of guys here! No, wait a minute..........they were girls dressed as guys. The bus I was on was a lesbian bus!!!!!!! They tried to lose me most likely because they didn't have the English to explain I couldn't get on and as my keen students will recall, no Thai expects any farang to understand Thai!!!

I'm not making this up. I got on a lesbian bus. If anyone else has experienced this please let me know.


We had a great little break in Cha-Am this week. The town is changing. With Pattaya sinking further into decadence, Cha-am is becoming more popular with "family" farangs. During the week it's easy to find a good value place near the beach. The area is cheap and the beach is OK, be prepared to fight off vendors every ten seconds though they are not too pushy.

The weekend is still the regular time spot for the Thai-Chinese invasion though.
On the way back, we got lost. We drove through minute villages and black country roads looking for Bangkok signs to no avail. No less than four times we stopped and asked for directions. Three times we were given misinformation. Thais are always keen to help their countrymen (and shotgun farangs!) but like many other nationalities, they would soon as give you false directions rather than admit they don't know!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Letters on Islam

This blog is, was, and probably always will be about life in Thailand. Today though I'm taking a slight detour.

Anyone remotely interested in the issue of Islamic terrorism in the world today may find this exchange intriguing. Those only interested in Thailand can scroll up or down and find other articles quickly.

Readers know I've become absorbed with Islam lately. My interest was sparked by a particularly nasty event in southern Thailand. Brutal killings have become so frequent in the region that the event has become almost de-sensitising. However, one occurrence that shattered the awareness threshold was the random kidnap of a female teacher by a group of over one hundred people all from the same village. The teacher was beaten into a coma and died months later. The woman was chosen at random as a revenge attack for the arrest – not murder or conviction – of an Islamic militant. For me, this tragedy smashed through the usual excuses we hand to the Islamic community i.e. they are a minority of Muslims and they have been mislead or corrupted by a particularly nasty branch of Islam. Do those excuses apply when over one hundred locals all take the same vicious and brutal action against an innocent young woman? That question set me off on my search.

I've already made references to several very comprehensive and meticulous works on Islamic terrorism. Still, my moral code always tells me to seek an alternative viewpoint. With this in mind, I've spent the last few weeks perusing web sites and trying to make contact with figures in the Islamic community. Some have been welcoming, some have ignored me, a couple have been rude and some just dismissive.

One name that caught my eye was Professor Khaleel Mohammed. Khaleel caught my attention because of the notes on his website. As well as stating:
"If anyone wishes to have up-front, honest dialogue with me, with no hidden agenda or malice aforethought, I welcome this" , Khaleel offers a range of annotations I have found to be repeated among prominent Muslims such as……..

"[I] prefer to engage in discussion where facts, rather than fictions and prejudgments are presented"

"I have encountered racism, anti-semitism, as well as free discussion in Arab countries--the same as I have encountered in the U.S

"I do not have to apologize for that--no more than I expect every Christian to apologize to every Muslim and every Jew for the crimes committed in the name of Jesus during the crusades."

Not withstanding his clear social status as a professor, I could not resist the urge to humbly contact Mr. Mohammed and ask him some questions.

Before we start, let me explain that the hadiths and the surahs are the written records of Muhammed's life. The surah of Ishaq is the only written account of Muhammed's life written within two hundred years of his death, so you could say it is important to Muslims.

When I want to comment on something discussed in the e-mail, I'll type in bold to differentiate from the e-mail text itself.

OK, let's press on with the opening correspondence:

Dear Prof. Muhammed,

I feel urged to contact you after I read your website notes with great interest. I am not affiliated with jihadwatch or any other web site. I am not a Christian. I am a very interested and concerned observer who has studied not only the Qu'ran but also the hadiths and Ishaq's sira.

I notice that you consider yourself a scholar and prefer to engage in arguments where facts are abundant. I too feel that facts are lacking in many discussions about Islam and the Qu'ran and I trust that you are far more informed than most on this topic. Likewise, I share your concern over incorrect translations of the Qu'ran. Such understandings have become crucial in my adopted home of Thailand due to the numerous tragic deaths in the south of the country due to terrorism.

I would like to humbly request your assistance in understanding a few verses of the Qu'ran. I will pick just a couple of verses to avoid unnecessary polemics.

Tabari: "Arabs are the most noble people in lineage, the most prominent, and the best in deeds. We were the first to respond to the call of the Prophet. We are Allah's helpers and the viziers of His Messenger. We fight people until they believe in Allah. He who believes in Allah and His Messenger has protected his life and possessions from us. As for one who disbelieves, we will fight him forever in the Cause of Allah. Killing him is a small matter to us."

Ishaq587: "Our onslaught will not be a weak faltering affair. We shall fight as long as we live. We will fight until you turn to Islam, humbly seeking refuge. We will fight not caring whom we meet. We will fight whether we destroy ancient holdings or newly gotten gains. We have mutilated every opponent. We have driven them violently before us at the command of Allah and Islam. We will fight until our religion is established. And we will plunder them, for they must suffer disgrace."

Professor, I am most concerned at numerous verses such as these. They come from widely accepted translations of Islamic texts and they are repeated in their nature. They clearly suggest that violence is acceptable against non-Muslims. I will not insult your intelligence by quoting Qu'ran verses but you are of course well aware of the repeated themes of Muhammed's paranoia, fear of demonic possession , chauvinism and repeated violence. These are not verses taken out of context or taken from a particular version of the Qu'ran. They are verses widely acknowledged and used by numerous English speaking Muslims.

I also would ask you to ally my fears over certain facts about Muhammed and Islam:

Muhammed married a girl believed to be six - nine years old.

Muhammed married the wife of his adopted son.

Muhammed believed that at times he was possessed by the devil: "The Satanic verses" (I believe that to a neutral observer, this could cause grave concerns for one's sanity)

Muhammed ordered the assassination of a female (Asma bint Marwan) who suggested he was a fraud.

I note with interest that you quite rightly prefer to use facts rather than polemics and vested agendas in debate However, I take issue with some of your comments: You suggest that you have experienced: "encountered racism, anti-semitism, as well as free discussion in Arab countries--the same as I have encountered in the U.S.". This may be true but it is misleading. As you are well aware, the vast majority of Muslim countries have far lower press freedoms, far less tolerance of religious freedoms and far less respect for women's rights than the US (of which I am not a citizen). I am not aware of any Western country allowing huge protests or having its leader issue a fatwah calling for execution of a book writer that was deemed to be offensive to its religion.

Likewise, you make a reference indicative of the argument of many who hold your stance: " That many Muslim regimes have confused Jihad and War is something that I admit to--but their crime is their own, and I do not have to apologize for that--no more than I expect every Christian to apologize to every Muslim and every Jew for the crimes committed in the name of Jesus during the crusades.". This is a simple "two wrongs make a right" argument. The crusades were evil and we can all see that. However they are past. In my home, people are being killed every day in the name of Islam and one would expect that if Islam is truly a peaceful religion, other members would be doing all they can to halt this.

I appreciate that you are surely a busy man but I have faith that as a respected scholar and someone who clearly has a voice on such issues, you will be able to respond and ally my concerns that I have laid out above. Allow me to repeat that I have no religious or other vested agenda and I am not relying on any 'interpretation' of the Qu'ran. I am merely someone who shares the concerns of many over Islam, a force that affects our entire world.

Kind regards,

I really didn't expect any response but two days later I received.......

With due respect, the quotes you came with were not from the Qur'an [Whoops! I introduced them as Qu'ranic verses but next to the quote I did clearly quote it as Ishaq] ........if they were, I would have known them, or would have expected you to provide the verse and chapter.
The other issues you mention have been answered by several scholars and I do not revisit issues that have been rejected ad nauseam.[Really? Read on]

That was great of him to respond, no doubt he must be in demand. Still he hasn't actually told us anything yet even though he clearly invited discussion on his site.

Dear Professor,

Thank you for your reply and please forgive my slip. Although I introduced the quote as being from the Qu'ran, the first quote was from Tabari's hadith chapter nine verse sixty nine, the second quote was from Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah (I did provide the verse number which was 587).

I appreciate your time, like mine, is in demand but if you could perhaps provide a link to any academic source which can explain or reject any of the issues I mentioned , I would be most grateful.

Thank you for taking the time to discuss this matter. I'm sure someone of your standing feels as I do that greater communication and understanding of such crucial issues can only help us all.


And the response..........

YOu mentioned these were "verses" from the Qur'an. [I did actually correct that in the previous e-mail] Neither Tabari's work nor Ibn Hisham's qualify as Qur'an. [But they are still integral to Islam and worth discussing surely?]Some academic works you may refer to are "Islam" by Fazlur Rahman, as well as "Islam in History" by the same author. There are several websites such as "answering Christianity" that deal with the issues you mentioned. As I noted, these are materials that have been long debunked, and I assume that there are academic scholars in your area that can provide you access to the refutations.

While I was truly grateful for the reply, it seems the professor is either purposely not reading my contact properly or simply doesn't really invite the debate he professes to. After the previous mail, I found a couple of interesting interviews with the professor [try a google yourself to see more] including this one where he claims the Qu'ran allocates Israel to the Jews. I also read an on-line debate with Mr Mohammed and I noted he is of the academic type that adopts a little linguistic snobbery in exchanges. I always try and imitate another's form of language if I am trying for profound communication with him or her. Again, not withstanding the fact that the professor is substantially more academically rewarded than I am as well as the fact that he has probably forgotten more about Islam than I know, there remains unanswered questions. Let me try again:

Dear Professor,

Once again I offer my sincere thanks for your esteemed reply. If you take a double check, you'll see that I did actually state that I would not insult your intelligence by quoting Qu'ranic verses although a multitudinous number of them cause me grave concern. I offered a couple of hadith verses as examples of my fears.

My gratitude for the links you offered. I have perused 'Answering Christianity'. My first impressions amounted to a poorly designed website with grammatically erroneous passages. Searching for content, I found some interesting polemics but the overall theme of the site is certainly not a fluent or perspicacious insight into Islam, it smacks of borderline paranoia and argumentation against Christianity. I am unaware of most authors 'rebutted' on the site but the polemicism against Craig Winn halts at interpretation of verses and undocumented and un-cited rebuttals such as the evidence of when the Qu'ran was first transcribed.

One rebuttal states that Winn cannot claim the first written record of the Qu'ran was made long after Mohammed's death, it then goes on to dispute Winn's claims of numerous grammatical errors. The piece supplies a link which leads to another link which leads to yet another link where the refuter immediately opens his defence by stating that the Qu'ran was written at least one hundred years after its revelation!

I continued to seek rebuttals or debunkation for the issues I mentioned in my mail to yourself. The site you gave defends - as opposed to debunks or rejects - the issue of Mohammed's marriage to a nine year old. I was unable to find any reference to the other topics.

I note your intriguing interview on frontpage mag where you propagate the concept that the Qu'ran states Israel belongs to the Jews. I am curious to ask: how do verses such as surah 59, verse 2 and surah 33 verse 26 incorporate this concept? The latter verse especially implicitly implies the capture of Jewish land. To a layman like me, the Noble Qu'ran appears clear in this message (surah 33 v26), there is no room for ambiguity or interpretation.

Once again I thank you for your time. My quest for the truth and the inspiration behind the motivation of one hundred villagers who kidnapped an innocent female teacher and beat her into a coma with wooden sticks in response to the arrest of an Islamic militant continues. I have found my personal search for knowledge on this topic to be revealing not only factually but emotionally and behaviorally for all involved. With the notable exception of Jalal Abualrub at , I have found the Muslim community to be dichotomised when discussing challenging issues. One section appears vituperative towards questioners , Christians in particular. The other seems to use a veil of intellectual classification to obfuscate or supply straw man rebuttals rather than genuine discussion of a sensitive topic.

This is of course only my humble opinion of a topic which - due to the numerous daily brutal killings in the south of my country - I believe we all have a need to understand. I thank you once again for your insight and your time. Many others have not offered the courtesy you have.

And the reply was forthcoming........

A mistake: the website ref. should have been islamic awareness.[Surely this is a change of mind rather than a mistake?]
Next: u [A scholar using txt spk! Cool!] seem focused on this supposed marriage. For me the issue is rather simple. First there is the issue of grammar, assuming that a marriage did take place.[I know of no other source that disputes this marriage but as I said, he has forgotten more than I know]..if a child marriage, it was the custom of the time, and does not state that it was consummated [ .................did]. In keeping with talmudic law about when a woman could reproduce, marriage was common at 11-13 [ she was aged 6 - 9 and Muhammed was fifty two!]. I still don't buy into it since the Quran has nothing about it and I do know that later Arabs wanted to establish that Muhammad did marry a virgin..and what better way to do so than to provide a child bride.

As far as the Holy Land is concerned, you note that you are a layreader. I focus on that since none of my muslim [I've just noticed he never uses capital letters for a proper noun?] interlocutors has provided those verses to which you refer as a counter to my argument, nor do I see where you assume they are [ This I find extraordinary, see my comments after this mail]. I note you talk about finding the Muslim community hostile. I see however only one analysis: here in the US I see the christian community as very hostile and I see that they also are hostile in places where there are Muslims etc. I truly wonder why Christians don't focus on their own need for purification. [He seems to be implying I am Christian, in fairness he probably has thousands of e-mails and forgot I clearly stated I'm not Christian] I focus on my fellow Muslims. Unfortunately, as I have pointed out, there are professors in Thailand who can deal with the issues you present as I don't seem my time being spent on revisiting issues that are meaningful to you only [Fair point, though I would argue that such issues affect the whole world right now and in hosting a web site with polemics, it invites debate]. If there are issues of Islam that cause you concern, then there are issues of every religion that cause me concern too. I understand them by reading, the critics within and without. I am truly sorry but I don't have the time for individual correspondence of a detailed nature which is why I referred you to scholars in your area.

I find his comment "nor do I see where you assume they are"
in reference to verses on the Jews to be remarkable. See for yourself here and here. The "people of the book" are without a shadow of doubt the Jews (Judaists) and this version of the Qu'ran - The Noble Qu'ran - is the most widely used in the English speaking world. There are numerous examples of Qu'ran hostility to Jews, I just chose two as random examples. If I missing something obvious here about this issue or any other I welcome correction from the Islamic community, but for me it seems glaringly obvious and I am stunned as to how it can be denied.

I sent the following reply:

Dear Professor,

One last thank you for your time. I appreciate you are a busy man and I will engage you no further. Just one point of reference: I don't "assume" the Qu'ranic verses regarding the Jews, they are here and here and clearly refer to violence against "the people of the book".

Thank you and best wishes.



Well whaddaya know!? Today I received this gem:

Dear GregI will depart from my norm to tell you the obvious: I answered you a particular way because, being experienced, one "reads" letters a certain way. Like the buddhist story that says you cannot fill a cup that is already full, I hesitated to do the impossible with you. YOu "know" the qur'an so well that as is obvious,it was a waste of time to contact me. Since it is a language that you don't understand [ The Qu'ran has been translated by numerous Arabic scholars and all recognised versions have very clear statements in the verses I referred to. The "you don't understand the language" rebuttal is standard fare for some sectionsof Muslims. Read the verses for yourself and see if they are open to 'misunderstanding' in translation.] and is still subject to the whims of polemists, I suggest you spend time on something in bart ehrman's books or so.

I could reply, I could point out the fact that he has said so much and yet said nothing at the same time. "One reads" mails in a certain way indeed, although I clearly stated I wasn't a Christian he continues to insist I am (Bart Ehrman is a critic of Christian scripture) and offers no explanation for the verses I offered. I won't though, it would achieve nothing.

I have to give great gratitude to Professor Mohammed for even replying to a pest like me, and it must be noted he is a prominent 'moderate' Muslim.

Still it was a most interesting exchange. It seems that even the most educated circles have something to hide and something to be very defensive about. Comments such as "What about the Crusades?" and "It's just a few using violence" are no longer sufficient.

My exchanges with Jalal at have been far more enlightening. Since the exchanges are ongoing and I'm hoping Jalal can refer me to a Muslim scholar in Thailand, I'll wait for a conclusion and his permission before putting them on here.

Anyone has the right to adopt a religion - just as we have a right to view all or most religions as open to abuse of power and meaning - but we must all accept criticism and frank discussion, especially when others commit their actions that stretch brutality beyond the realms of comprehension in the name of religion.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


If you watched iTV in Thailand this week, you could be forgiven for thinking a national tragedy had occurred. You'll be greeted with waves of crying faces, mourning morning presenters (see what I did there?) and various other forms of grief.

But I'm glad to say there has been no national tragedy and no wave of despair gripping the nation. Although the grief is real - it is the faces of innocent people who have quite possibly lost their job - the reason is not heartbreaking although it is most certainly interesting. It's the end of Thailand's only independent TV station.

iTV was created in the aftermath of the events in 1992 and the much vaunted constitution drawn up thereafter. The inspiration was to establish a truly independent media outlet as a sign of flourishing democracy. Alongside the iTV formation was the establishment of a watchdog entitled the National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) to oversee fair play. Sadly, no sooner had the announcement taken place than big names in the telecoms sector began lobbying for a place on the NTC. So blatant was the conflict of interests in the first selection draft that the constitutional court declared it invalid. However, many of the same names appeared on the second draft and the selection cruised through the already infiltrated senate.

Still, iTV received a good reception in first few months on air and some genuinely challenging, analytical and even critical programmes appeared to offer a change to the usual Thai soap operas.

Then along came your friend and mine, Thaksin Shiniwat.

In hindsight, the opportunity was all too easy. iTV was struggling financially and major shareholder SCB (Siam Commercial Bank) was looking to dilute some of its interest. Although other groups showed interest, Shin Corp quickly snapped up 39 percent of stock for the sum of 1,600 million baht. So began a very telling series of evens. First, the ruling Thai Rak Thai party (headed by Thaksin) objected to the Nation Group's programming content. The Nation Group were responsile for all news coverage on iTV, they were a group known for staunch support of press freedom and impartial reporting and as such represented a clear avenue for critical analysis of eh government. So iTV - now headed by Thaksin's business, Shin Corp, - dismissed a large number of reporters and presenters for being critical of the ruling party which, of course, was also headed by Thaksin. Can you say "Conflict of interest"? Apparently none of the so called watchdogs could.

Still as strange as things seemed they were about to get stranger. At the request of iTV (don't forget now, they are owned by the Thaksin family!) the government (headed by .......can you remember?) appointed an ombudsman to make some decisions regarding iTV. First, the ombudsman decided that iTV's concession fee to the government should be massively reduced from 44 percent to 6.5 percent. If you've been paying even miniscule attention, you can probably work out were all those savings for iTV would have been headed. The second decision from the ombudsman was that iTV should reduce the amount of news and documentary programmes from seventy to fifty percent and should screen more "entertainment " (read: brain dead , poorly acted and poorly produced soap operas) during prime time. The ombudsman also gave control over broadcast content to the government office, seemingly safeguarding the government interests.

Shortly after this decision, iTV announced that it was to increase its stock market offerings. Some people got either very rich or even richer than they were before.

The fact that events reached this phase without resistance was indicative of had young Thailand's democracy was. The NTC - a group required by the constitution - was dominated by businessmen. The senate was no longer impartial, and not one single jurisdiction or watchdog had the integrity to object to independent media being bought out and ruined by the government.

Things stayed this way for some time. Then came the coup. It didn't take long for the new government office to decide that iTV's reduced concession order had been unlawful.iTV were ordered to pay back payments to the rippling sum of over one hundred billion baht.The deadline was eventally extended to midnight tonight (Tuesday 6th March) but it could have been 2020 for all it mattered, the sum was well beyond the means of iTV.

iTV has understandably applied every stalling tactic in the book. Requesting injunctions from every court, making public pleas for sympathy and trying its best to look like an innocent victim of corporate bullying. Nothing has worked. And so it came down to the desperate propaganda piece you can see on your iTV right now. I feel sorry for these people on two accounts, firstly they are everyday people who had no control over the takeover and have probably lost their jobs, secondly they are being used as propaganda by the people who are the true perpetrators of this mess, the iTV management who allowed the takeover and gleefully snapped up the concessions savings. Sadly , the biggest crook of all (you know who) will not suffer as Shin Corp sold themselves to Tamesak of Singapore about one year ago.

What is the future? iTV have made one last court plea but it looks unlikely to help. The government has promised that TV can continue to exist with full staffing - but not broadcast - after tonight and some groups are talking about a new independent TV station. The problem is, what is to stop a new station being compromised in the same way? The real future lies with the junta and the next government. If they are truly willing to allow a free press, they can give permission to a new iTV protected by the new constitution. What seems more likely is that a new TV station will be labelled independent but controlled by the military.

I hope I'm wrong. A critical TV station is the sign of a healthy democracy. It can send out positive messages to other countries and broaden the horizons of its own people. Sadly , the biggest crook of all (you know who) will not suffer as Shin Corp sold themselves to Tamesak of Singapore about one year ago.
Sadly , the biggest crook of all (you know who) will not suffer as Shin Corp sold themselves to Tamesak of Singapore about one year ago. Thais deserve independent media, but will they get it?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Potshots: Thailand's imaginary hereos, bye bye Somkid and more on the southern terrorism

Last week three friends of mine went on the Cambodia visa run, a frequent fixture for those who are in application stage for a work permit. It also used to be a fixture for people who didn't want or couldn't get a work permit, but the Thai government is cracking down in that area.

On the trip, my colleagues happened to meet a most interesting lady. She was head of EFL for the UN and she had worked as a supervisor at Microsoft! And yet there she was on the same humble visa run as my friends. She promised them she would keep in touch and help them in future anytime she could. What a useful ally, eh? Only one problem: it was all crap. My friend ran a google search and could find no trace of the woman's name. She was just another fantasiser. I've mentioned all this before but it bears repeating. For some reason Thailand encourages westerners to fantasise or often just plain lie about their background. It seems to be something about the seductiveness of the sand, sun and beautiful woman and the idea that somehow being a teacher is belittling, it makes people want to think they are something more.
I've meet a Black Panthers member, an alcoholic lawyer and a businessman of the year during my time in Thailand. The "lawyer" in question used to arrive at work with a backpack and a bandana on his head. He would great every person with "Hi, I used to be a lawyer in the states". As the weeks went on he would turn up for class later and drunker each time (Thailand is also a magnet for heavy drinkers), he took his framed law degree to immigration for verification and got so drunk he left it at the bus stop and never saw it again. He was sacked from his school and subsequently two other schools shortly after.

Strangely enough, those who do or would have the right to think of themselves as high powered are normally the most modest. Luckily, there's just as many of these people around too.

Somkid Jatusripitak- the Villanised capitalist displaced in a coup then hired to explain the benefits of sufficiency economy to the other villains by the new junta resigned after one week due to protests from anti-Thaksin groups. The junta government continues to struggle and seems very slow to react to any problem.

The spat with Singapore has not yet resolved itself. After Sonthi's infelicitous nationalistic waffle about Singapore (also see this link again ) , the Singapore government demanded an explanation and Thai spin doctors talked it down. One minister actually described Sonthi's "It is the duty of every Thai citizen to sacrifice for the country and help take back our assets. As a soldier I will not concede one square inch. " by saying "It must be taken in context".


The insurgency in the south of Thailand continues. The death toll now exceeds two thousand and the Australian and British embassies have issued safety warnings for visitors to Thailand. The violence shows no sign of abating. I mentioned Prophet of Doom in a recent post on southern terrorism, the author is a former billionaire who invested over ten thousand hours into his research on Muslim scriptures. He is often accused of taking verses out of context, to which he replies that the five most popular versions of the Qu'ran are available on his website. I've been in touch with Craig (the author) to thank him for his work and discuss the troubles in southern Thailand with him to which he sent a prompt reply. His work is available completely free on his site and it's fascinating, well worth the effort for anyone interested in this topic that affects the world.