Thai Buddhists at Bay? Confronting the Southern Conflict
Proposed Panel for Association for Asian Studies Annual Meeting,
Boston, March 22 to 25, 2007
Endorsed by the Thailand/Laos/Cambodia Group (TLC)
Organizer: Duncan McCargo (University of Leeds)
Thailand?s southern border provinces have been affected by serious violence since January 2004, violence that reflects the eruption of longstanding tensions linked to identity and religion in the sub-region. Yet the conflict has typically been characterised as a ?Muslim? issue: the challenges facing the 300,000 strong non-Muslim community in the area have received far less scholarly or media attention.
This panel aims to redress this balance by focusing on the political, cultural, socio-economic and religious responses of the predominantly Buddhist non-Muslim community to the continuing crisis. The four paper presenters hail from four different continents, have been trained in various disciplines, and are at diverse stages of their academic careers. All are currently conducting, or have recently completed, in-depth fieldwork in the provinces of Pattani, Yala or Narathiwat.
The focus of the panel is both highly topical and of considerable academic interest; the aim is to produce a quality publication, probably in the form of a special journal issue.
Chair: Justin McDaniel
University of California, Riverside
Department of Religious Studies, 2617 Humanities Building,
University of California, Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521
Assistant Professor; Religion
The Politics of Buddhist Identity in Thailand?s Deep South
Duncan McCargo, University of Leeds
School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK
Professor; Political Science
This paper reviews a number of issues relating to the politics of Buddhist identity in Thailand?s Southern border provinces, which have been the site of a renewed violent conflict since January 2004. Issues addressed will include the formation of Buddhist defence militias, and the arming of the region?s Buddhist population. Following the widely-publicised 2005 bloody attack on Wat Promspasit in Panare, Pattani, prominent monks in the three provinces launched public denunciations of the dovish stance adopted by the National Reconciliation Commission, a body created by the Thaksin government to propose a peaceful solution to the Southern crisis. These interventions by senior monks were apparently prompted by past and present senior military chiefs. Underlying the abbots? uncompromising statements lay widespread Buddhist fears that they could ultimately be ?swallowed? by Muslim neighbours and driven from their land. Drawing on a recent period of extended fieldwork based at Prince of Songkla University, Pattani, the paper will make use of interview materials to explore the fears and aspirations of the region?s Buddhist community.
Appropriating a Space for Violence: Buddhist Wats in Southern Thailand
Michael Jerryson, University of California, Santa Barbara
762 Birch Walk, Apt. G, Goleta, CA 93117
PhD student; Religion
One of the first blunders when discussing violence is considering it to be an aberration. Violence is an irrevocable aspect of social life. But when violence is conducted outside of the state, there is a socially assumed disruption. Social network falter and the fluidity of identities is actualized. This is witnessed most powerfully in public spaces. In Southern Thailand, wats used to attract both Buddhists and Muslims for Thai national celebrations, such as Mother?s or Father's Day. Unlike mosques, the wats served as the focal point for different communal identities to negotiate shared space and, with it, shared identities. However, since martial law was declared in 2004, Muslims in Southern Thailand have not frequented wats. Wats are now guarded against power outages and armed assaults by military and state police who occupy their buildings. This Buddhist space has exchanged its inclusivity for exclusivity due to its politicization. Buddhist identity is being seen through the activities of wat and its occupiers: monks and the security forces.
Buddhist Perceptions of Muslims in the Thai South
Amporn Marddent, Walailak University
School of Liberal Arts, Walailak University, Thaiburi, Tha Sala District, Nakhon Si Thammarat 80160, Thailand
This paper seeks to examine how Thai Buddhists in the deep South of Thailand understand their own identities in relation to the Muslim communities they live alongside. It describes the relationships between Buddhists and Muslims by emphasizing Buddhists? perceptions concerning Muslims, Islam and ?Malayness? in the current wave of violence. Since January 2004, the representation of Muslims in southern Thailand has changed in many respects, especially in the socio-political, cultural and religious spheres. Issues relating to the global ?war on terror? as reflected in Thailand?s national security policy for this sub-region have played a critical role among Thai Buddhists. Under these changed circumstances, the image of Muslims from the perspectives of Buddhists can be explained by considering the role of identity politics in the Southern Thai conflict.
Neighbourhood in a Time of Danger: Buddhist-Muslim Village Relations amidst the Southern Insurgency
Marc Askew, Victoria University
30 Kellett Street, Northcote, Victoria, Australia 3070.
Associate Professor; Anthropology
Since the onset of the enigmatic insurgency in Thailand?s southern border provinces from early 2004, little intensive locality-based inquiry has been undertaken concerning ordinary people of the region, notwithstanding the representations of advocates and press commentators who claim to speak for these people. In the past, studies of the ?Muslim South? have tended to concentrate on Muslim-Thai state relations rather than interactions among local Buddhists and Muslims. This paper investigates how Buddhist and Muslim neighbours in the border provinces of Thailand?s Deep South manage everyday life in the midst of a ?reign of terror? where assailants are killing Muslims and Buddhists in roughly equal numbers. I examine horizons of trust and suspicion as neighbours confront threats to daily existence and encounter broader narratives about the causes and culprits of violence. Buddhist residents of the borderland provinces affected by the violence (spanning districts of Songkhla through to Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat) form between 20 to 30 percent of local populations at district level. Based on a study of villagers in the adjoining districts of Thepa and Nongchik straddling the Songkhla-Pattani border, this paper brings an ethnographic lens to focus on webs of relationships, personal stories, and shared rumor in order to shed light on how ordinary Buddhist and Muslims neighbors in this insecure borderland manage everyday co-existence, try to make sense of the ongoing disruption to their worlds, and articulate values about neighborhood, social and ethno-religious relations that centre around the threatened value of sangop (peace/tranquility) in their daily lives.