Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bomb Blasts in Yala, Thailand

Three bombs went off in the provincial capitol of Yala, killing eleven people. This has been reported in the American media. I found the reference on The Daily Beast web site; it was a re-print from an article in the New York Daily News. Muslim, or Islamist insurgents were blamed. That characterization is simultaneously true and not true, or insufficiently true.

Yala is one of the three provinces at the very southern tip of Thailand. The territory where Thailand and Malaysia come together has changed hands many times over the centuries, and these three provinces were part of Malaysia until about a hundred years ago. To this day most of the people in these provinces are ethnic Malays, Muslims whose first language is still Malay.

In my opinion, the divide is only coincidentally religious. These Thai/Malays feel that they suffer from second-class treatment in Thailand, lowered economic and educational opportunities, and it might be true. But there are Muslims in all parts of Thailand, Thai-Muslims, and they do not suffer similar treatment. In fact, they appear to be very successfully integrated into the predominantly Buddhist Thai culture. The difference in the south is the Malay thing.

So I think that the insurgency in Yala, Pattani and Naratiwat is more of a Malay insurgency. I think that it's a mistake to put it into religious terms. The insurgents do not seem to have any anti-Western or anti-Christian agenda, and any anti-Buddhist aspect is, I think, symptomatic of a hostility to the Thai government. I have traveled to the southern region to teach classes, and I asked my friends on the faculty if I should be worried for my safety. Not as a Farang (White foreigner), I was told, nor as a Christian, by extension (and perception), but maybe as a public official, a status conferred by my teaching at a public university.

There are enough Islamist rebels in the world, let's not go looking for more where they may not exist.

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