The Muslims of Thailand

History of the Malay Kingdom
of Patani

Dynamic Diversity in
Southern Thailand

Notes from a lecture in Thai by Dr. Mark Tamthai, a member of the National Reconciliation Commission, on the occasion of Silkworm's book launch of Dynamic Diversity of Southern Thailand and History of the Malay Kingdom of Patani, on June 16, 2005, in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  

In Thai society, we don't value knowledge and information enough in solving problems. But knowing about the situation and the people involved is very important. When we are able to see the people involved in the situation as fellow human beings much like us, and as fellow citizens, it will be easier to find a solution. In this sense, Dynamic Diversity in Southern Thailand is a valuable book for understanding the people in the south of Thailand.

History of the Malay Kingdom of Patani is also very important for a similar reason: it gives us knowledge about the history of the situation in the south, the background of the current crisis. Many people are apt to see the situation in the following way: two years ago everything was peaceful, and then suddenly for the last two years there has been continuous conflict and violence. This view of the situation will engender one type of approach to resolving the conflict. But this book informs us that there has been continual bitterness and unrest in the south, and that it has broken out now and then in scattered periods throughout history.

As a member of the National Reconciliation Commission, my approach now is very concrete. It is time to take practical measures. The role of the media in bringing about reconciliation can be very practical and concrete, so let's take a look at it.


How is the media useful in the process of reconciliation? What is its role? Who are its consumers?

Society as a whole is the consumer of the media, including both so-called outsiders (people outside of the local region) and insiders (people resident in the local region).

Why do "outsiders" need knowledge and awareness in bringing about reconciliation in the south?   They need to know the history of the situation.The National Security Policy for the Southern Border Provinces (1999-2003) under which the south was being administered was written together with the southerners and translated into their own language of Jawi. (It was translated into English for UN distribution.).   It was important for three main reasons:

a) the people were allowed to be who they are, to be Muslim, without the need to compromise with others.

b) cultural diversity was seen as an advantage, essential for providing alternatives for people to choose among.

c) participatory processes were given importance.

However, the peace under this policy began falling apart around 2002.   It is important to understand why.

How can reconciliation be successful?

A clear governmental policy is necessary, and local officials need to receive training on how to implement it.

History of Patani was once banned, but it should be required reading for everyone.

How did the tragedies of Tak Bai and Kru Se happen? Did the officials not know enough? Were the media reports wrong?

Problems arose because:

1) Government policy wasn't concrete enough. If everyone thinks the same, shares the same opinion, then there will be only one way to solve the problem. We need more ideas, and this will give rise to more approaches.

2) Many officials didn't agree with the new methods for arriving at reconciliation. They did the opposite of the policy, and their superiors didn't reprimand them because they themselves didn't agree with it either. And the problem escalates because they choose to solve the problems another way.

3) The policy in the south was seen as relating only to that particular locale, not to the rest of society. But the problem in the south is not just a southern problem; it is a problem for the whole of Thai society.

The reaction of the rest of society has an important effect on the commanders in the locale. Hence, the media can play a key role. Many people in the south don't know anyone outside of the region. Their understanding of what Thais think of them comes from the media, so the media is important. The media gives images to the local residents. Everyone has their own ideas and opinions, and very few are willing to change their opinions. They stick to their long-held ideas whether or not they're reliable.


Five approaches that can help bring about reconciliation:

1) Telling the Truth.

Reconciliation can only come about with truth. Without it, peace is impossible. The truth of the Tak Bai tragedy must be exposed.

2) Bringing about Justice.

Justice is essential. There are only two choices in an unjust situation: to accept it, or to fight it. So, the fighting will go on, unless justice comes.

3) Understanding the diversity of Thai society.

Thai education, textbooks have promoted the image that Thailand is unified. But in reality there are many different cultures. They may not be equally represented, but they exist.

4) Advocating Nonviolence.

We need to use peaceful methods to solve problems. Thailand is democratic, so we should be able to solve problems without violence, learn to live together even with our differences.

5) Imagining the Future.

If we imagine the future together, we see that we hope for the same thing, and this provides a basic foundation for the present. The past may not be unified, but we all want a cooperative future. The media can help us imagine a unified future.

Five practices to avoid :

1) The media should avoid reducing the problem to a simplistic one of two opposing sides. The media needs to be attentive to specific details showing how the opposing parties are similar. It needs to identify the different groups on each "side"; there are many different factions represented, and they don't all agree. For example, in the Tak Bai video, one can see someone doing something wrong, and someone of the same group is trying to stop him.

2) The media should avoid portraying the conflict in the simplistic terms of "them" vs. "us." This is a false dichotomy. Everyone is part of us. It is easier to deal with people if we think of them as "the enemy," "the outsider," but if we see them as part of us, we will treat them differently.

3) The media should avoid focusing on violence. Violence is not the norm--in between the many violent actions that are regularly reported there is no violence happening. Balanced reporting is necessary.

4) The media should avoid evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of the actions or policies that use violence by looking only at the surface. It should investigate the effects or results of different actions. Positive results indicate that the methods used were good.

5) The media should avoid reporting on the efforts at reconciliation by focusing on people outside the region, whether their ideas or their actions, as if the local people's efforts were just window-dressing. The main players in the situation are the local people, and they should be given the central attention. They are the ones at risk. The media should interview residents and local leaders, not "outsider" academics and politicians. The media must introduce these people to the general public and let people know these people rather than focusing on the people everyone knows already.

My assumption all through has been that the media should help in reconciliation. I know that newspapers give higher payment for breaking stories and big, sensational news items, but the media reportage shouldn't be shaped by the media workers' attempt to earn money for themselves. This is my question for all working people: are we working for ourselves or for others and for our communities? We all must be willing to make some sacrifice for society.

In summary, it is important to have as much knowledge and understanding as possible about a conflict situation in order to find a resolution. Good ideas for reconciliation come from people all over the country, not just from the National Reconciliation Commission itself. The commission discusses all these ideas. It has the role of helping local people see the diversity of the ideas that are contributed.