'Thailand needs a new multiculturalism policy'

Updated On: Jul 01, 2005

Bangkok - The Thai Army has taken over responsibility in 10 districts prone to violence in the deep South to stem spiralling unrest. In areas heavily targeted by militants, the military will mount security sweeps to pre-empt terror attacks and protect local officials and citizens, said a spokesman for the Southern Border Provinces Peace-building Command (SBPPC).

    "In light of the escalation of violence, the SBPPC has adjusted its counter-insurgency measures to better ensure the safety of local residents," spokesman Colonel Somkuan Saengpataranetr said on June 27. 
    The sweeps will be reviewed on a daily basis and adjusted to meet insurgency tactics. In security jargon, the military will assume control over the contested zones while the police keep peace in "pacified areas".  
    Col  Somkuan, citing security reasons, refused to disclose which of the 33 districts in the deep South  were being placed under military control. 
    As grisly beheadings and random killings continue in the deep South, a commentary in Singapore’s The Straits Times suggest that since the conflict is to a large extent about religion and ethnicity, a "re-evaluation of Thai-ness is essential".  
    Writer Norman Vasu suggests that since the conflict is to a large extent about religion and ethnicity, "a re-evaluation of Thai-ness is essential".  
    He notes that the term "Thai" is often defined as a person who is of Thai ethnicity and is Buddhist. As a result, Muslim Malays in the South feel that any expression of their Muslim Malay culture and language is perceived as an act of disloyalty by the authorities.  
    "The government may have to revise its practice of multiculturalism and understanding of Thai identity in order not to alienate the Muslim Malays and to remove Malay ethnic identity and Islam as rallying tools by extremists," said Mr Vasu, a post-doctoral fellow at Singapore'Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies,National Technological University
    Many Thai Muslims now prefer to send their children to pondok or Islamic schools instead of state schools as parents fear that the latter are a means of enforced assimilation. 
    "A redrafting of the Thai education curriculum to better reflect and celebrate diversity will attract more Thai Muslims to state schools, or at least convinced pondoks to teach the Thai language and more subjects," Mr Vasu says.
     He believes that a change in the government's policy on multiculturalism "will allow Thais to further develop deeper bonds with each other so that different ethnic and religious communities can view each other with less suspicion".

* Southern Unrest: Army to take control of 10 districts (The Nation, June 28)

* Need to re-evaluate Thai-ness (The Straits Times, June 28)