January 21, 2008

Al Qaeda in Thailand

The inevitable, vague connection: The Muslim insurgents in southern Thailand are in fact no other than -- dunh dunh dunh! -- AL QAEDA! Well, who can blame the Thai government official who uncovered this shocking news? If you told Uncle Sam that the leak in your kitchen faucet was caused by evildoers, they might write you a check for four hundred million dollars to fix it.

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Marcus's picture

Hi Phil,

Yes, I think asking for help is admirable, and yes I also think that ASEAN would be the most logical place to go first. We agree on that. We also agree that giving way to terror is no solution.

As for whether or not the southern provinces ought to be independant - well, I think it is difficult for any country to give up any of its territory. This would be especially so when the majority in the provinces concerned aren't asking for independance at all.

The insurgents in southern Thailand are a minority. The majority of Muslims there are loyal to His Majesty the King of Thailand and loyal to the Thai state. To allow the minority of violent Islamist terrorists to win independance would not only go against the wishes of the majority of Thais, it would go against the wishes of the majority of Thai Muslims.

As for terrorism being the weapon of the powerless - I disagree. Kobkul Runsaewa, was shot dead by Islamist rebels while travelling home by motorbike to prepare lunch for her elderly mother. She was a school teacher. How much power did she have compared with those who gunned her down?

Terrorism, certainly in this case, is not the weapon of the powerless, it is the weapon of an evil minority that will do anything - no matter how cruel - to achieve their aims. And it is a real shame that people should even consider allowing them to have their way.

Okay, I'll shut up now! But would like just to thank you for this wonderful blog and the original post and the chance to have this discussion.

With metta,

Marcus

Philip Ryan's picture

Hi Marcus and Gerald,

The point of my original post was that a government official saying, "Maybe this is Al Qaeda," is an official asking for help from the West, or making an excuse for the continuing violence. It's fine, even admirable to ask for help sometimes. Certainly there is terrible violence in southern Thailand -- and almost zero attention about that in the West, despite the American preoccupation with the War on Terror.

So saying "Al Qaeda" is a ploy to get the West's attention, but it doesn't mean he is being deceitful. It seems to me that Al Qaeda is more of a concept than a concrete organization at this point -- not so much because of Western military and political efforts but because to begin with it is a loosely knit organization of autonomous cells -- witness all the "Al Qaedas" in Iraq -- more of a terror brand than a terror company.

Whether or not the southern provinces of Thailand should be independent of Bangkok is a complicated issue. Certainly terrorism and murder are not independence movements to which we tend give our most sympathetic attention. Stop the violence, then talks can happen. (It seems they have more outlets and political options than the Palestinians, for example. Terrorism is the weapon of the powerless, and it is hard, even for the very powerful, to squelch, but this doesn't mean democracies must surrender to terror.)

Should the West be involved in southern Thailand? Maybe ASEAN would be a smarter play at first, though they didn't earn such high marks for their work in Burma.

-Phil

Marcus's picture

Hi Gerald,

Thailand was - as any Thai will happilly tell you - never colonised.

And even if it had been, are you seriously suggesting that the actions of the western powers hundreds of years ago when they expanded into other parts of the world are responsible now for an Islamist militant sawing off the head of a Thai soldier on a roadside or ambushing a school teacher on her way home from work?

I don't know how the Thai government is going to resolve the problems in the south. They've tried heavy-handed approaches, they've tried soft approaches, nothing seems to work - the brutality of the Islamists there just gets worse and worse. Considering that the problem is escalating, I can see how your history lesson might be interesting (although most of it was not connected to Thailand), but I don't see how it is useful.

Are you suggesting that the west either should - or should not - be involved in resolving the bloody insurgency in the southern provinces?

All the best,

Marcus

Gerald Ford's picture

Hi Marcus,

I studied SE Asia back in college (coincidentally enough it was my bachelor's degree ;) ), so the subject is somewhat familiar though my information is dated before 2001.

The issues is not so one-sided as you might think. Muslims in Thailand are separatists who want to join their fellow Malay Muslims in Malaysia. The conflict is less about ideology than just classic ethnic tensions. The Thai government has been heavy-handed with the Malays in the southern provinces in much the same way they are heavy-handed with hill tribes way up in the north. The Thai govt is acting, shall we say, less-than-Buddhist regarding the issue. :(

The same issue plays out in the Philippines where the southern island of Mindanao is a Muslim culture, not a Catholic one, but they have felt oppressed by the government up in the north. The group Abu Sayyaf represents the frustrated ethnic groups who live there who want their own land, separate from the rest of the Philippines. Their methods are abhorrent, but look into how the Philippine govt. has cracked down on dissenters too. It's not a one-sided issue.

The whole problem is one of post-colonial ethnic tensions. Malaysia as we know it today was drawn on a British map, while what comprises of Indonesia and the Philippines was agreed upon by the Dutch and Spanish respectively. They're not natural borders. In Africa, you see much the same issues where say the British and French drew a random line between their "territory", not realizing they drew the line right in the middle of an old african kingdom. This means that an ethnic group would be split across two countries, and likely forced to live among people they didn't like historically.

By the way, Iraq as we know is not a natural border either. Guess who drew that one up after the Ottoman Empire collapsed? The British who defeated them. Read Iraqi history after the Ottomans and before the Ba'ath party. ;)

So when people wonder why there's so many problems in the 3rd world, just remember that we Westerners (and Japan, who had similar colonies) caused some of the problems by exploiting resources and redrawing historical boundaries to suit their needs. When they left their colonies by the 1950's, all that they left behind was a huge mess that will take many generations to sort itself out. It will not resolve in our lifetime. :(

Marcus's picture

Hi,

From the article you link to, it seems that the Thai government is down-playing the claim - saying that there is no solid information.

The Prime Minister said “They may share the same ideology. We don't know for sure if they are indeed connected,”

So I'm not sure of the point of this post on the Tricycle Blog. But it seems to me very likely that the government official involved is probably pretty close to the mark.

Thousands have been killed in the Islamist violence in the south of Thailand. School teachers and monks are targetted and last week there was a roadside beheading in an ambush of Thai security personell.

It sounds pretty Al Qaeda to me. And if the US were to offer funds to combat such awful terrorism, then I for one would be very relieved. I'm pretty sure the families of the victims of Islamist violence in Thailand would be too.

It is only a matter of time before we see major terrorism in Bangkok - as opposed to just the southern provinces - and when it happens the world will wonder why the situation was allowed to develop as badly as it has done.

Better to fix the leaky faucet than deal with a major flood.

Marcus