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A narrow view of strife

Publication Date : 20-02-2013

 

A dialogue with separatists in Thailand may still be elusive after more than half a decade of violence but the least the Thai public can do now is not to cling onto just one perspective by being permanently attached to seeing things through nationalist lenses only.

In the aftermath of the killings of 16 separatists, some have advocated more draconian measures to deal with the situation, despite the fact that many locals in the deep South are opposed to measures like martial law and curfews.

Many Thais also continue to fail to recognise that while the state considers them insurgents and terrorists, insurgents and their supporters in fact consider themselves "freedom fighters" or "liberators" of Patani from the yoke of Siamese rulers.

What's more, some ended up becoming gratified with the deaths of 16 insurgents who made a failed attempt to raid a Marine base in Narathiwat's Bacho district last week.

The discrepancy can be at least partly explained by the fact that many Thais see the conflict through nationalistic lenses only and cannot conceive of alternative or competing views of reality.

There is surely more than one set of lenses to be employed when looking at issues such as the deep South conflicts, so why limit yourselves by being incarcerated in only one way of looking at things?

If you are not a Thai citizen, your view towards the Patani issue would most likely differ from many Thais who only subscribe to seeing the conflicts through nationalistic lenses. And even if you are a Thai citizen, and not a Thai-Malay Muslim from the deep South, it would still do well for you and the country to bear this in mind.

Names like "southern goons" (joen tai), for example, tell us little or nothing about the ideology harboured by Thai-Malay Muslim insurgents, who probably do not consider themselves as "Thai", but tell us more about the Thai-language media who are determined to use the term with no end. Why would they choose a term that obfuscates the fact that these people are separatists and not merely "southern goons"?

Employing such a term only reinforces society's unwillingness to deal with competing realities and is an example of how far these media will go to deny the reality that the insurgents are ideologically driven.

When you recognise that both sides are merely fighting and killing one another because they follow their own ideology, all of a sudden people on both sides are more alike, more human and not the faceless evil that extremists on both sides may try to portray.

It is nothing short of a tragedy that people on both sides are getting killed on a weekly basis, with more than 5,000 deaths over the past seven years. What society needs now is for Thais to be able to see that this is an ideologically driven tragedy. The beginning of a solution is to create a climate where extremism and a military "solution" will take a back seat to a political solution.

Dialogue and a lasting solution cannot be achieved if we only want to see our "enemies" crushed at all cost and not be "empathetic" with those who look at things from a different perspective.

While many may feel hopeless about the prospect of peace as more and more are killed on both sides, it would be best for us not to be tempted to unnecessarily support draconian measures in a knee-jerk reaction that would exacerbate the situation.

Instead, what society needs is citizens who are not permanently attached to a single way of looking at things and who are willing to remove their nationalistic lenses and acknowledge the validity of the competing view and the tragedy that has befallen victims of both sides. It's imperative that we achieve this first before we can create a political will for a peaceful political solution.

 

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