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The dangers of the Thai Deep South

By Murray Hunter - posted Wednesday, 15 May 2019


Malay culture itself is slowly becoming influenced by Salafi ideas. It’s not the same straightforward Malay culture it was a generation ago. This cultural shift is opening up the potential for new catalytic narratives to be viewed sympathetically in the future, as some radical narratives are in Malaysia.

Given close ties between these communities, there is some danger that these narratives will be seen as solutions for the younger generation, who think very differently from the older generation. They may not show popular support for Patani-Nationalistic ideals, as the older generation did. However, if these new narratives take hold, then the current conflict will become much more complex.

Secondly, potential targets are well protected in the region by the military. Choosing targets outside the region is a much easier option. This occurred a number of times. The bonus for the insurgents was that these attacks were much more widely reported by the international media, thus publicizing the cause. Continued high profile presence of the military in the south will propel this conflict outside the region much more in the future.

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Thirdly, the Thai government has been criticized for not taking a sincere approach to discussions. The insurgent representatives are not composed of those who have real influence on the ground. This is not conducive for any potential breakthroughs.

One of the biggest impediments to solving the conflict is the massive presence of the army itself. The army is a major contributor to many parts of the local economy, particularly through indirect employment. It would not be easy for the army to dislodge from the region and redeploy somewhere else. The army is looking like a symbol of oppression. Opposition to the army presence is becoming more vocal. The Federation of Patani Students and Youth (PerMAS) on International Peace Day called on the army to remove sources of fear and revoke martial law.

Various interests have painted this as a religious-based conflict, especially with the attack upon monks and Buddhists over the last decade. However, history shows that this struggle is more about ethnic identity than Islam, where many separatist leaders have called themselves ‘Bangsa Patani’ rather than Muslims. Outside interests like the United States have tried to widen the perspective of the southern problems, which thankfully have been rejected by various Thai governments over the last few years. Now Malay-Muslims will be more exposed to influences who want to widen the perspective of the conflict.

Fortunately, as a group, the Malay-Muslims of the Deep South tend to be introspective and cautious of outsiders. It’s not easy to gain trust, even other Thai-Muslims from outside the Deep South. Outsiders suggesting solutions will be viewed suspiciously.

The BRN itself is looking into revamping its political wing to enhance its influence over the ‘hearts and minds’ of the new generation. On the 15th Anniversary of their struggle, a message was released pledging a renewed vigor to continue the struggle until the goals of BRN are achieved.

The Deep South has the potential to be a prosperous region. However, without a real solution, the region will become a never-ending story of tragedy.

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This article was first published in the Asia Sentinel.



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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis.

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