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Beyond Hatred and Violence
in Southern Thailand

 

PressInfo # 204

 December 15, 2004

By

Chaiwat Satha-Anand, TFF Associate

Vice President, Strategic Nonviolence Committee

National Security Council

 

One of the most important features of the present violence in Southern Thailand is its sustained deadliness which engenders the state's violent responses. The phenomenon is fast becoming normalized due to its continuing violence. A possible consequence of this normalization of violence is that Thai society risks losing its capability to find political solutions to violence and being suffocated in the pool of violence itself.

The Queen's speech on November 16, 2004 was a remarkable wake-up call for the whole Thai society about the seriousness of violence in Southern Thailand. Heeding Her Majesty's admonitions from a nonviolence perspective, some concrete nonviolent alternatives, necessary if this deadly conflict is to be mitigated and the prognosis of deepening violence and hatred in Thai society altered, will be proposed here.

 

Nonviolence Perspective

It goes without saying that there are a number of ways "a nonviolence perspective" could be characterized. Its common features, however, consist of three basic principles. First, there should be no hatred against opposing parties in conflicts. Not only because hatred is one form of defilement, but also because from a social science perspective there are structural causes and cultural elements which produce and legitimize it. If the goal is to solve the problem, a sustained solution is to address these structural causes as well as cultural elements and not merely the actors involved.

Second, nonviolent methods are used to attain just causes. A most distinctive feature of nonviolence is its refusal to separate means used from the ends intended. This is because the means is considered the ends which reveals itself in process. For example, one cannot cheat so that he/she could become a judge to dispense justice for all because in time the action one commits (karma) will bring about its consequence(s) which would, in turn, impact the ends intended. As a result, nonviolent methods cannot be used to attain an unjust ends .

Third, those who embark on the road to use nonviolence should be prepared for self suffering. A nonviolence perspective requires a blurring of the line dividing "us" from "them", "friends" from "enemies", or "self" from "others". This is based on an idea that everyone's life and dignity are important. "We" are friends in the journey of life facing and enduring/overcoming sufferings or finding "our" destinies in God's mysterious plan. It is based on a human ability to look into the eyes of the others, especially those "on the other side", and recognize the humanity in them. From this nonviolence perspective, I will try to identify lessons learned from Her Majesty's speech.

 

The Queen's November 16, 2004 Speech

There are numerous lessons one could derive from Her Majesty's speech. But from a nonviolence perspective, I believe there are at least three important points. First, the speech was a way to share her stories and first-hand knowledge of the problem with the people of Thailand. She must have felt that the whole society needs to be informed of its seriousness. Through her stories, real-life sufferings were communicated to the authorities and the public at large so that the problem of violence in the South should receive due attention. It is an attempt to invite the whole of Thai society to consider this problem as our own sufferings and do something about it. Second, when she was talking about the 300,000 "Thais" in the area who are minorities in the primarily Muslim provinces, she spoke for their lives and livelihood which need to be protected and respected.

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From a national and global perspective, she was perhaps reminding the rest of us that in order to realistically solve deadly conflicts involving peoples of differences anywhere in the world, it is important to take into account the sufferings of all minorities in a given society. Third, her willingness to defend herself at this moment in her life against the increasing violence in the area, strongly points to the fact that there is a systemic failure in the Thai political society where her people's lives who are its members are constantly threatened with violence. Taken together, it is a wake-up call for all sectors in Thai society to show its strength, "not by jumping in with weapons", but by strengthening the ties that bind peoples from North to South, East to West together, and the caring ability that bonds a society together as family.

 

Beyond Hatred and Violence: Four proposals

There have recently been several proposals suggested to address violence in Southern Thailand. Some seek to address its structural causes such as chronic poverty, others emphasize the immediate contributing factors such as apprehending or removing the perpetrators of violence, on the government side and otherwise. In view of the dangerous prognosis of continuing violence in the South, the proposals suggested here are intended to lessen its likelihood and find a path conducive to peaceful futures in Thai society.

No-killing Zones Despite rampant violence in the South, it would be wrong to believe that there are no space left untouched by its venom. If there is indeed such areas at the village or tambon levels, it is possible that these areas be considered "no-killing zones", not unlike a "forgiving zone" near Buddhist temples where taking the lives of birds in the sky and fish in the water is forbidden. I am not talking about turning a "killing area already plagued with violence" " into a "no-killing zone" with the use of government forces. Instead, these are zones that have demonstrated that the claws of violence have not reached them, perhaps due to the presence of strong civic groups and cultural ties as evident in ethnic conflict research studied elsewhere. These zones should be initiated by the people in the area themselves and nurtured by strong participatory process. Though risks exist since there might be some who would not want to see the emergence of these "no-killing zone", and that's why the initiatives need to come from those involved themselves, the establishment of no-killing zones should indicate that there exist areas of peace and perhaps conditions responsible for its existence could be strengthened .

Mothers' Forgiveness Among the most remarkable power in the world is a mother's love for her child. The violence in the South has taken so many lives, Muslims and non-Muslims. Everyone who was killed has a mother. Naturally these mothers are saddened beyond belief when their children's lives were cruelly stolen. Yet, a more remarkable fact behind the gory of Southern violence is: there are some mothers, again Muslims and non-Muslims, who are willing to forgive and join hands with others who profoundly understand such losses in leading their society on the journey towards healing. A mother of a Muslim killed in Ban Nieng on April 28 said: "I am not angry at the authorities. It is God's Will", while a mother of a Buddhist soldier killed on same day said that " I don't want to see this happens ever again to anyone. We should stop killing one another because it is everyone's loss. I lost my son as many other mothers have." A movement of forgiving mothers who lost their children to violence would be a much more powerful medicine to fight the poison of hatred and violence than any religious sermon or academic analysis because as mothers they have love in their hearts and with their children killed, they understand the losses better than anyone.

Justice Delivered There are many killed, disappeared, and even dead in custody as in the October 25 Tak Bai incident. What is needed is not a special favor for anyone, Muslims or non-Muslims, but justice for all. Though the notion of justice is philosophically problematic, as citizens in this land, everyone has his/her rights and law exists to protect all equally, not the majority nor the minority. When people were killed, on a lonely street, in front of a shophouse, or in custody, their deaths should be taken seriously and justice by law delivered. This is important if the problem of violence in the South is connected in some ways with justice denied. A minimum function of a working political society is that it could protect its members and when violence occurs to any of its members, justice needs to be delivered so that they would have faith that the system works and the illegal use of vengeful violence becomes unnecessary and counterproductive.

Southern Security Plan Publicly Formulated The previous security plan for the Southern Border Provinces was concluded in 2003. This year, plagued with violence, is also a year without a security policy specifically designed for the South. It is important to start a process of formulating a public security policy based primarily of a collective demand for peace and security in this land. To ensure that the policy is indeed a reflection of a collective aspiration, popular participation is extremely important. Though public participation from all sides would not be easy at present because trust among them is fast eroding, it is necessary precisely because the process of formulating public security policy by the people themselves is a way to shake them out of the paralysis resulted from fear of violence, among other things.

Taken together, the nonviolence proposals to move Thai society beyond the poison of hatred and the pain of violence, characterized by action-oriented, participation by all in the environment of working together, is based on the reality of Thai society, the ties that bind people of differences together and the human qualities to care for others.

 

© TFF and the author 2004

 

See also

Reflections on what happened in Southern Thailand

Facing the Demon Within

Interview with Chaiwat Satha-Anand
War on Ignorance

 

 

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