Bangkok – When government officials speak of the problems in Thailand’s deep South, they tend to depict the ongoing violence as the work of a handful of fanatical insurgents bent on using religion to achieve some undefined goal. Such a portrayal oversimplifies the issue and ignores the complexity of the long-standing problem of assimilation facing the ethnic Malays and Thailand as a whole, according to an analysis in The Nation.
The government, says writer Don Pathan, has poured money into development and other community projects in the hope of winning the hearts and minds of the ethnic Malay in the southern province. But this may not succeed so long as it ignores the Malays’ desire to preserve their Islamic identity.
In fact, the government may need to re-examine its policy of "Thai-ising" the ethnic Malays in the same manner as it did with the other ethnic groups, such as the Chinese, Lao and Khmer.
"No Muslims in the three southernmost provinces have complained about a lack of religious freedom. They have complained that their Islamic heritage and the proud history of the Pattani Sultanate are not being recognised."
Mr Pathan says the South’s rejection of outside influences is not aimed at ethnic Thais alone. "Arabs and Indian Muslim missionaries have been kept at bay by the local community and their tok kuru, or religious teachers, who have devoted much of their lives to preserving their own local Islamic heritage."
If the government continues to oversimplify the problems in the deep South, it risks alienating many Muslims, especially those who would like to work with the government but are put off by the official refusal to think outside of the box.
For example, the government has come up with its definition of a model Muslim citizen, which it wants the country’s Muslims to emulate. "This model isn't catching on – no one wants to be seen as a ‘Muslim Uncle Tom’," Mr Pathan writes.
* Do not oversimplify the southern troubles (The Nation, June 27)