December 30, 2007

Thailand: Another Country

Another Country:
Reflections on the politics of culture and the Muslim South

Michael K. Connors
School of Social Sciences
La Trobe University

Paper Presented at the Thai Update, Australian National University, September, 2006 (with some updated material).

A country in Southeast Asia: armed soldiers occupy Buddhist temple compounds protected by sandbags and barbed wire to protect themselves from insurgent attacks. The same security forces use sniffer dogs to search the homes and schools of local Muslims, well knowing that this is deeply offensive. Militants, some say inspired by perverted notions of the Islamic faith, behead victims, seemingly in emulation of so-called “jihadists” elsewhere. There appears to be some mercy though: the beheading take place after death. Young men, suspected of insurgent activity are released from custody and ‘disappear’. The whispered talk of the town in the small tea-shops that populate the main strip is whether there will be ‘an attack tonight.’ Welcome to the Malay-speaking ‘border provinces’ of southern Thailand: Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, where since 2004 over two and a half thousand people have died in a murky conflict between Malay-Muslim insurgents, criminal networks, and security apparatuses of the Thai state. It feels, in many ways, like another country.

For many outsiders, including myself, the deep South of Thailand has largely been a peripheral concern; studying Thailand has meant studying Buddhist and nationalist Thailand. For the most part, my own work has been motivated by an interest in how nationalism and ideology bind fissiparous social formations. Integrative and almost religious in their combined power, national identity and nationalism (the weapon and the bullet) continue to confound expectations of a post-national age. Thailand seemed to be a good example of this. This interest has led me to pursuing an overly narrow interest in the ‘success’ of Thai nationalism and its various expressions. Events in the South of Thailand, where some form of struggle for national recognition is underway, has brought home just how misplaced such an assumption regarding Thai nation-building can be. More than that, it has introduced to much of the world, including keen observers of Thailand, and Thais themselves, a largely mis-fitting part of that nation-state (as it is currently constituted): the Muslim majority provinces of the deep south.

On my first visit to Pattani in October 2005 I pursued an interest I was then developing in Thailand’s Ministry of Culture. I visited its provincial office on the fourth floor of the sala jangwat, the large building that brings together in one provincial location most of the offices of the Thai state. How, I wondered, would a ministry so identified with Buddhism and devotion to the monarchy, work in the Muslim South? This is something I am still working on, but my basic finding is that middle ranking provincial officials - Buddhist and Muslim - can be quite inventive in their interpretation of central dictate, becoming agents of a more sensitive and nuanced cultural policy. This has meant that provincial offices of the Ministry of Culture are now involved in the process of promoting Malay culture, rituals and the preservation of sites that give the deep provinces their distinctive character. And to indicate the complexity of cultural politics in the South, note that as officials from the Ministry of Culture belatedly promote Malay culture (kite flying, dance forms, theatre), supported by cultural networks, they face hostility from Islamic fundamentalists who outwardly reject Malay identity and who see Malay culture as a contaminating influence that preceded the coming of Islam to the region (field notes, October 2005, January 2006).

Moreover, this seemingly pluralist promotion of Malay culture takes place under the rubric of Thai identity, leaving provincial officials of the Thai state in the deep South caught at the borders of “Thainess”; they end up rhetorically supporting a nation-state project that has little experiential reference in the locality in which they work. This is especially so when they are compatriots of an ethnic grouping (ethnically Malay-Muslims) whose diverse ways of life fails to resonate with the triadic ideology of nation (Thai), religion (Buddhism) and monarchy (Buddhist and patron of all religions). With these thoughts in mind – that the South is a cauldron of competing projects, interests, identities - I’d like to make some general points about events in the South framed around the question of nationalism.

First let me signal where I am coming from: I am increasingly of the opinion that there is a nationalism in the South, which is really to say that there is a state-less ‘nation’ (a language and ethnic community), that is in the process of re-mobilisation and re-generation and perhaps still defining its form. The fact of this ‘nation’ will outlive the current insurgency, and any resolution to the current situation will be long-standing only if it comes to terms with this politically-made reality. That requires a will to undertake a critical examination of Thai-centric nationalism (even in its progressive disguise of localism) and to come to terms with a significant second national body (and perhaps others) within the borders of the Thai state. Whether that recognition comes - if it comes at all - from an internal and deliberative process of reform or is foisted through an insurrectionary act can not be predicted.

It will be well known to those who are familiar with Thailand that it is a deeply nationalist country, and in part this nationalism is refracted through attachments to Buddhism and the monarchy. More recently there has been a progressive evolution of that nationalism into one that has come to valorise local difference as part of the great diversity that makes up the Thai. This has found expression in terms of cultural diversity – now the official policy of the Ministry of Culture (see discussion in Connors 2005, 532-535). This idea was orthodox by the 1990s and seemingly opened a space in which repressed cultures could be recognised and flourish. This shift was matched, or perhaps driven by, democratic openings in the 1980s that provided an avenue for Muslim elites to enter the political sphere. By the early 1990s it was commonly believed that militant separatist groups were in terminal decline. Signalling this sentiment, in part, was the Thaksin government’s dismantling, in 2002, of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SPBAC), the chief body that was charged with administration of the region and which incorporated local forces (for an overview see McCargo 2007, 35-68).

The liberalisation of policy can be seen in a somewhat schematic way by comparing policy thinking on the South. A 1988 publication by the SBPAC saw insurgent activity as a threat to national security and, to quote, “…geo-political stability which are chiefly dependent on the integrity of Thailand’s national religion, traditions, customs, language and culture, and monarchy” (SBPAC 1988, 10). The booklet set out national policy in the South which included promotion of Thai language, “to use more Thai as the medium of communication” , “to enhance positive attitudes toward being their [sic] ‘Thainess’, not members of a minor group” ( SBPAC 1988, 11). The organization also noted the centrality of the monarchy to incorporation of the ethnic Malay (or by the preferred nomenclature, “Thai Muslims”) into the national body. It notes that the king “appoints a respected Islamic religious leader as Chularajamontri, or Supreme Counsellor for Islamic Affairs”. And of the king’s sojourns at his Southern Palace it is said that “the warmth, the supreme happiness, and the charismatic effects always fill up the hearts of all Thai Muslim populace…” (SPBAC 1988, 20). A decade later, reflecting the shift in national culture policy, then deputy permanent secretary of the Interior Ministry Phalakon Suwanrat and Director of SBPAC noted

In the past the attempt to solve the problems in the Southern border provinces using assimilation has proven to be completely wrong…Today we must change from thinking ‘Thai people must be completely the same’ or ‘Unity is all being the same’ to ‘Thai people do not have to be the same’ and ‘Unity can arise in diversity’ (SBPAC 1999, p. ii ).

In this spirit, The National Security Policy for the Southern Border Provinces (1999-2003) states as its vision for the border areas: “Every person…will live in happiness, based on their specific religious and cultural identity, especially Thai Muslims.” (Office of the National Security Council 1999, p. 4). There is evidently some concession to difference here, but it is difficult to locate acceptance of a second national body in official nationalist discourse– hence the endless debates about how to designate the Malay-Muslims in the South (See Jory, 2006). What is apparent, and more on this below, is that “Thainess” can not escape its origins as an ethno-ideology (Kasian 1996 ) and while subordinate identities can flourish under it, none can stand equal to it. This surely is a part of the puzzle that continues to confound those seeking an explanation to recent events in the South.

The violence that has escalated since 2003-2004 has historic precedents, erupting throughout the twentieth century. The Malay Muslim-majority provinces in southern Thailand (and parts of Songkla) were once home to the Malay sultanate of Patani. Full administrative incorporation into the Thai nation-state in the early years of the twentieth century has led to quite unremarkable economic, cultural and political grievances among Malay Muslims (for background see Gilquin, 2005). I say “unremarkable” because they inevitably emerge given a situation marked by a predatory and largely chauvinistic state structure, and, more latterly, a pragmatic and opportunistic Muslim political class that has worked with that structure. In this context, no amount of social engineering (read token reconciliation) will eliminate the ebb and flow of separatist or militant-religious inspired politics in the South unless it moves beyond the contradictory strategy of incorporation of opportunist elites and low-level cultural recognition. The 1980s and 1990s is instructive in this regard. During that time, the SBPAC was held to have succeeded in delivering a burgeoning peace in the region, by incorporating Malay-Muslim elements into administrative structures and thus providing for some form of local elite input into governance structures; this at a time when the Thai state was heavily centralized. The SBPAC also embodied a two-decades social compact in the South that recognised, integrated and legitimised various interests. Although it was claimed that separatism was quelled by the late 20th century, one can detect many ebbs and flows through the period. Most startlingly, a read through the Thai-language magazine Muslim News from the 1990s reveals that its editors were publishing articles that narrate the history of Siam’s encroachment and, ultimately, annexation of ‘Patani’. This nationalist historiography was published under the nose of the SBPAC, while at an ideological level - in the identity producing agencies of the state at the centre - it was ignored.

The sources for an enduring nationalism in the South are fertile, if currently in flux and perhaps inchoate. But one thing is certain: no can one underestimate the contribution made to nation-formation by the subjective and communal experience of what may be experienced as a form of colonialism. Yes, I am alluding here to the idea that in some ways the experience of the southern provinces is analogous to that of a colony. From this standpoint, nationalism is, in part, worked into shape by the corrosive chisel of humiliation that inheres in the colonial encounter. Take but one example: how some local Muslim civil servants feel about the majority of officials in the region who are largely non-Malay speaking Buddhist Thais from elsewhere. The Thai bureaucracy has always seen itself in a paternal relationship to the rural populations across the nation (although it now embraces the language of clients and modern management shibboleths); in the South this assumes a hyper-civilising posture, seeing Malay-Muslims as a group of people who need to be economically and culturally developed (which includes acquisition of Thai language and culture). That the Thai elite have not similarly experienced a process of colonization by a foreign-tongued conqueror perhaps make some of them incapable of empathy.

Newly arriving officials in the South are presented with Primers and Manuals outlining the cultural specificity of the region (see SPBAC 1999; Interior Ministry, 2002). It’s as if they have arrived at a colonial outpost readily armed with manual providing directives on how to treat the natives. One can imagine that the people-to-civil- servant encounter has affinities to those encounters that characterised colonial trusteeship, and its underbelly of abuse, in the early to mid twentieth century. It goes without saying that many Muslims are integrated into this system, and so stand in an ambivalent position.

The sketch above is undoubtedly generalised, but it does reflect things on the ground. One informant, a civil servant, from Yala reported that local Muslim officials who came into touch with central Thai bureaucrats were often subject to the superior airs of their Thai Buddhist colleagues who were armed with the language, education, culture and authority of the centre (field notes April 2006). The SPBAC put in place cultural and language orientation activities for the constantly rotated band of Thai speaking and Buddhist bureaucrats. The same informant explained to me that those local officials charged with the cultural and language orientation of the newly arrived officials often sensed indifference and sometimes contempt for their efforts. The incentive to learn the local language and culture was not great for redeployed bureaucrats: for many the next posting would, hopefully, be elsewhere.

It is from such humiliations that the handmaiden of nationalism often emerges: resentment and anger. Recent events have done much to contribute to a hardening of religious-nationalist sentiment. On April 28th 2004, the anniversary of a brutal crackdown on Muslim dissidents in 1948 that left hundreds dead, over one hundred Muslim men, including many teenagers, armed mostly with knives, apparently and so far, to my mind, inexplicably staged doomed attacks on checkpoints and police stations. In one case they retreated into the sacred Krue Se Mosque, where over 30 were killed. In total 107 were killed during the attacks and subsequent retreat. Some of the attackers were summarily executed. On October 25 in Narathiwat province security forces arrested over a thousand protestors, and transported them to an army camp. En route, 78 people died, some by suffocation. This is the stuff from which militant nationalism is strengthened, and from which revenge flows. Military-run re-education camps that suspected insurgents or sympathisers are forced to attend are unlikely to diminish the historical memory of 2004.

The question now being asked is ‘when will the violence stop’? In June 2006, after a year of deliberation, Thailand’s National Reconciliation Commission (2006) released its final report on the causes and proposed solutions to the violence in the southern border provinces of Thailand. Led by former prime minister Anand Panyarachun, the NRC used the problems in the South as a platform upon which to note the deterioration of democratic rule in Thailand under Thaksin Shinatwatra (2001-2006).

The NRC report notes that the problems that exist in the South also obtain in other regions - poverty, abuse of power, flawed judicial processes. What distinguishes the southern border provinces, and what has thus led to the present low intensity conflict is that these problems play out in a context marked by religious, language and cultural difference. These provide all the necessary ingredients for a further deterioration if grievances are not addressed.

And, as the NRC notes, these grievances are also mobilised by non-ideological forces who use the opportunity provided by the securitisation of the conflict to continue with criminal forms of behaviour such as cross-border trade and drug trafficking. Interestingly, the NRC reports that in close to half of the so-called red-zone villages (where insurgents are held to be operative) conflict over resources is an ongoing issue, thus suggesting that economic issues continue to fuel unrest. Provincial level- statistics showing relative and improved wellbeing in the South, need to be taken lightly and broken down to the district-level to locate pockets of desperation.

While accepting the existence of militant networks, the NRC sees the violence in the South as a consequence of militant, criminal and state-based actors interacting with resource grievances and structural factors such as forms of rule that do not respond to local needs.

Working out who is behind the violence is no easy task (see Askew 2007; Connors 2006, McCargo 2007). While various organizational names are presented to the media, such as BERSATU, BRN, RKK, PUSAKA, few accounts can be definitive, not least because the intelligence forces offer contradictory accounts. The NRC report notes the lack of consensus among state officials. For example, in the first half of 2005, the Thai police were unable to determine who was responsible for around 80% of the violent incidents on record. Furthermore, the military claimed that only half of the violent incidents in the first quarter of 2004 were attributable to militants.

The key recommendation of the NRC is that an Act of Reconciliation be passed which brings into being three new organisations: the Border Provinces Area Development Council; the Peaceful Strategic Administrative Centre for Southern Border Provinces; and a permanent fund to support reconciliation work.

The proposed Border Provinces Area Development Council, which is seen as a response to more radical calls for autonomy, sounds good on paper; but as an advisory body only, with no official power, it fails to address local calls for more substantive reform. In not dealing with genuine political re-organisation, tensions on the nature of political rule in the deep South will continue. The second body, the Strategic Administrative Centre, essentially recreates the SBPAC that the Thaksin government disbanded in 2002. It is not at all clear that re-establishment of that organisation in all but name will end the crisis. SBPAC's success was not simply related to its organisational efficiency. It also embodied a two-decades social compact in the South that, as noted above, recognised, integrated and legitimised various interests. The last five years have seen those interests embroiled in conflict, violence and reconfiguration. The balance of power that held in the SBPAC cannot now be resurrected by simple administrative decree, as evidenced by the post-coup government’s limited success in this regard.

The NRC report also stresses the importance of working towards increased cultural understanding in the region, including the possible expansion of Sharia law. What this means practically will depend on local Muslim interpretation. The NRC also recommended making Malay a ‘working language’ in the region. The significance of such a proposal cannot be underestimated, nor can the immediate rejection of the proposal by the Thaksin government and figures such as Privy Councillor Prem Tinsulalond. As reported in The Nation (20 June 2006), NRC member Ahmed Somboon Bualuang called on the state,

to be more opened-minded and not feel threatened by the Malay language… Ahmed said Malay was an integral part of the southern community and was used in their daily lives - and in their teaching of Islam. Ahmed said the fact that nearly 300 million people in Southeast Asia speak the Malay language in various dialects should prompt the state to look at the idea as an investment in human capital and in economic prospects.

I want to say more on language. Thai is a minority language in border provinces, barring Satun, with a dialect of the Malay language spoken by upwards of 60-70% of the population. The trend, according to the Bureau of National Statistics is towards Malay. For example, in 1990 in Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala and Satun, 70.5, 77.9, 62.4, and 2.8% of people spoke Malay respectively. By 2000 the figures had drifted higher (Pattani, 76.6; Narathiwat 80.4; Yala 66.1; and Satun 9.9%). The four provinces also experienced a several percentage point rise in the proportion of the resident Muslim population during the same period (this before the current rumours of an exodus of Thai Buddhists from the region). While it is true that many of those who report Malay as their primary language will also speak some Thai, it might be plausible to argue that there is a growing language divide in terms of usage because of two structural features: the first is the rural bias of ethnic-Malay settlement and thus distance from Thai speaking centres, and the municipal bias of Thai Buddhist settlement. Secondly, there is the continuing presence of Malay speaking informal schools and religious centres, and the non-presence of many Muslim school aged youth at Thai speaking state schools, especially in the rural areas (exacerbated by the current situation). For educational reformers in the South, language is key. A Malay-Muslim educational advisor who is involved in developing a promising bilingual curriculum told me that when he went to primary school in the 1950s he was hit for speaking Malay (field notes January 2006). Thai was the language of instruction to an uncomprehending class. The language divide is easily observable. I have attended meetings in Pattani where state officials speak Thai to a Malay-speaking audience. People leave those meetings or sit indifferently, as they can’t comprehend what is being said (field notes October 2005).

Culture is lived through language. Devaluing the language spoken by the majority of the people in the southern border provinces in the name of promoting national integration, has bred resentment and antagonism, entrenching a sense of alienation towards the state among some Malay-Muslims in the South. The NRC language recommendation has the potential to provide a long-term solution to the anomic violence that may, in part, flow from social exclusion. If you can't speak in your own voice, how can you be a citizen? The introduction of a new language policy would be an expansion of citizenship rights in Thailand.

The response to language from the government and figures such as Prem points to a more general point: the inability to imagine that a ‘nation’ may warrant some form of autonomous rule. This has proved a stumbling block for the NRC too, as its report failed to raise the question of autonomy for the South. In so doing, the Bangkok liberal elite and their Muslim interlocutors were incapable of working on a political solution, thus reducing the likelihood of halting the downward spiral of fear and hopelessness that, in turn, breeds insecurity, mistrust and violence.

Indicative of just how prevalent is mistrust in the region, travelling with colleagues in April 2006, we met and interviewed a respected Muslim Senator from one of the three provinces. He told us that the government, pursuing repressive measures with abandon, had alienated even the most moderate elements in the South. Even those working with state agencies had been rounded up and taken in for questioning. Asked what solution he foresaw he resolutely called for United Nations intervention. The call makes sense from the perspective of human security. To be a Muslim and a Malay speaker involved in community life is enough to get a person on one of the various blacklists that circulate among security forces – and if worse comes to worse that person becomes one of the “disappeared”. The head of a private Islamic College in Pattani province explained to me that even though he sits on various government committees and has a good relationship with state officials, the military still interrogated him. “If they can’t trust people like me, who can they turn to?” he asked me (field notes October 2005). It is precisely because of this indiscriminate suspicion that anger and mistrust grows, and the presence of a neutral peace-keeping force grows more urgent.

Police and security forces regularly carry out surveillance. A ustad, a religious teacher, in a so-called ‘red zone’ of alleged insurgent activity, told how the police regularly visit his pondok, an Islamic boarding school, ‘just to introduce themselves’. He says he is neutral in the ongoing conflict and all he wants to do is provide his students with Islamic guidance. The school is surrounded by basic brick huts that the students have built themselves. He wants to give them skills that they can take to the outside world (field notes October 2005). For the moment, religious teachers and students are high on the list of suspected militants.

Hundreds of citizens from the South have been charged on various counts only to be released or acquitted because of lack of evidence. Some see the arrests as pure intimidation, bereft of legal purpose. A prime example is that of Waemahadee Waeda-oh who was jailed in 2003 while awaiting trail for JI membership and plotting to bomb Bangkok. In 2005 he was acquitted and then went on to win a seat in the now aborted Senate election of 2006. His victory was not an endorsement of JI politics. Waemahadee symbolized a defiant rejection, by a mobilised population, of repressive government measures, including an emergency decree which virtually suspends due legal process in the southern border provinces, and which the United Nations has judged to be in violation of human rights. (Matichon, 2006)

Fear of course works both ways. Muslims who work closely with the state also fear attacks from militants – and indeed many of those killed by militants are officials or associates of local government with a Muslim background (see Srisomphob 2007, 89-111). A high level Muslim civil servant who works for the government in Pattani province told me that he never travelled at night, fearful of being targeted by militants as a collaborator (field notes August 2006). Lots of people carry private guns for protection with good reason: the insurgents have proven to be callous and monstrous in their effort to carry out symbolic killings as a means of coercing non-cooperation with the state (see Human Rights Watch 2007).

There is also the under-reported story of mass graves. In November 2005 news surfaced of hundreds of unidentified corpses being found in unmarked graves in the Southern border provinces. News on this has been surprisingly sporadic. Conflicting reports in the Thai language press suggest that there are 200 unidentified bodies in Yala and over 300 in Pattani province (Prachathai 2005)

Kraisak Choonhaven, then care-taker Senator, and Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, speaking at a public rally in Bangkok in May 2006 against then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, claimed that the graves may be linked to ‘missing’ Muslims (Prachathai 2006). In Melbourne, in late July 2006, Mr Kraisak spoke to me about unofficial death squads targeting blacklisted alleged militants. He claims that ‘people who complain have also disappeared’. Mr Kraisak says that the corpses in the mass graves are of recent origin, and are evidence ‘that indiscriminate suppression has become acceptable’. In March, the Bangkok based Nation newspaper reported an official saying that the bodies may well be those of Cambodian immigrants who locals described as having a “tendency to get drunk and fight’, a claim that Mr Kraisak describes as ‘preposterous’.

Islamic Councils in the provinces have indicated that exhumation of the deceased for the purposes of autopsy would be acceptable, but Thai forensic scientists efforts to undertake an investigation has been frustrated by government and bureaucratic stone-walling over budget allocation and jurisdiction (Phujutkan 2006). (Updated Note August 5th, 2008 - I am informed by a human rights activist that a budget is in place for this, but the forensic team is not in a position to begin its work because of the insurgency - apparently the team visited Indonesia to look at mass exhumation in preparation for their own work).
The majority of the bodies have been deposited in the graves by a local burial foundation, with little regard for registration. Kraisak told me that in 2004 security forces had a ‘semi-open policy’ of notifying the relatives of those it killed. This led to hatred and hostility among those relatives who came to collect the bodies. Now, death squads are simply leaving the body to be collected by foundations: “They [the killers] would prefer the families to have doubts about where they [the missing relatives] have gone to…”. While some of the bodies may well be a legacy from the ruthless war on drugs of 2003, there is a widespread belief that some of the deceased are “the disappeared” (Prachathai June 4, 2006).

Which brings us back to the question of cultural politics and the status of this “other country”. When life is so cheap (both ways), why should any one imagine cultural policy will make any difference? Indeed, a cultural policy that envisages diversity as a source of unity – as proclaimed national policy - is at odds with the very real political mobilization of nationalist sentiment by security and political forces and the mobilization of nationalist and religious myths by insurgents.

In a country where the nationalist establishment (the monarchy, palace patronised foundations, state agencies etc.) are intent on inculcation of Thainess, and where the population would seem to have largely embraced many of its elements, especially the “monarchy” as the soul of Thainess, the Malay-Muslims may well constitute an identity dilemma for the normative Thai. Consider a hypothetical Thai person: having been taught what Thainess is, and having internalised such notions as part of a personal identity, how does such a person confront a Thai citizen who speaks a different language, worships Allah, and who does not fully participate in rituals associated with elevating the embodiment of Thainess – the King? If they are not Thai, are they Malay? Are they trouble makers? While means of cooperation and co-existence and, indeed shared life, have been found at the local level among mixed Buddhist Thai and Muslim communities (as enduring periods of peace testify), the centralised highly ideological state currently provides no such means for co-existence as equals at the national level. Indeed the mechanisms of the state, and the actions of insurgents, are driving a wedge between communities – the stuff of communal resentment and ultimately an endless cycle of violence. This takes shape in stories that are passed from person to person – for example, stories that Buddhist shopkeepers must employ Muslims to work in shop fronts otherwise no Muslim customers will enter; or stories of Thai civil servants humiliating Malay Muslim men by speaking down to them, so that Muslim women take on tasks involving contact with the state. Other stories point to the possibility, in a distorted way, of shared fate and identity – the story of a Buddhist vocational teacher who is repeatedly warned by several of her Muslim students to avoid certain areas ‘tonight or tomorrow night’ because an “incident” is planned (field notes October 2005, January 2006).

It is unclear what lies ahead. Should the current flow of violence ebb and the insurgency move to a latent phrase, either as a result of a transitory political or military solution, it will be tempting for many strategic actors to put aside the difficult task of recognizing that another nation of language and culture exists in the South. In so doing they will be preparing the ground for a future insurgency or instability of some kind. Better to make the recognition of another nation (in whatever political form) the starting point of any process of peace building. Yet, as Thailand-based scholar Patrick Jory (2006, 43) has observed “within official discourses of Thainess while there is a place for Muslims, it appears there is no place for Malays”. Indeed, if one returns to documents prepared by the SPBAC under the auspices of the Interior Ministry one finds an explicit prohibition of recognising the Malay-Muslims as Malay:

Civil Servants and officials of the state in the border provinces should avoid the following behaviour: the use of words that create dissatisfaction or which create division between people who hold different religions. For example, calling Muslims “Khaek” or using words that make Thai Muslims understand that they are Malay, such as saying “orang maleyu” (SBPAC, 1999, p. 48).

The question remains of whether official Thai nationalism and its custodians can entertain some kind of autonomy or national federation in the long term. That starts with the Malay question in its national sense.

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