Material & Symbolic Aspect of Conflict

in the case of The Southern Thailand Conflict or well known as ‘Unrest in Southern Thailand’, just for brief background, that the former Sultanate of Pattani was conquered by the Thais in 1785 and has been governed by them ever since. The Thai ownership was confirmed by the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909. The majority population in the region is Muslim (Malay ethnic). Actually, low level separatist violence has occurred in the region for decades, but the insurgency escalated in 2004, occasionally spilling over into other provinces.

What is the material aspect of the conflict? The material aspect is that, the conflict was caused by the discrimination in terms of political and educational rights towards Malay Muslims. Firstly in terms of political rights, by the late 1990s, Malay Muslims were holding unprecedentedly senior posts in Thai politics, for example with Wan Muhammad Nor Matha (a Malay Muslim from Yala) serving as Chairman of Parliament from 1996 to 2001 and later Interior Minister during the first Thaksin government. Thaksin’s first government (2001–2005) also saw 14 Muslim Members of Parliament (MPs) and several Muslim senators. Muslims dominated provincial legislative assemblies in the border provinces, and several southern municipalities had Malay Muslim mayors. Malay Muslims were able to voice their political grievances more openly and enjoy a much greater degree of religious freedom. However, the Thaksin regime began to dismantle the southern administration organization and replaced it with a notoriously corrupt police force which immediately began widespread crackdowns. Consultation with local community leaders was also abolished. Discontent over the abuses led to growing violence during 2004 and 2005. Muslim politicians and leaders remained silent out of fear of repression, thus eroding their political legitimacy and support. This cost them dearly. In the 2005 general election, all but one of the eleven incumbent Malay Muslim MPs who stood for election were voted out of office. Secondly in term of educational rights, Malay Muslims in the border provinces generally have lower levels of educational attainment compared to their Buddhist neighbors. 69.80% of the Malay Muslim population in the border provinces have only a primary school education, compared to 49.6% of Buddhists in the same provinces. Only 9.20% of Malay Muslims have completed secondary education (including those who graduated from private Islamic schools), compared to 13.20% of Buddhists. Just 1.70% of the Malay Muslim population has a bachelor’s degree, while 9.70% of Buddhists hold undergraduate degrees. However, one must keep in mind that government schools are taught only in Thai, and there is resentment and even outright pulling of children out of Thai-language schools. The lesser educated Malay Muslims also have reduced employment opportunities compared to their Buddhist neighbors. Government officials comprised only 2.4% of all working Malay Muslims in the provinces, compared with 19.2% of all working Buddhists. Jobs in the Thai public sector are difficult to obtain for those Malay Muslims who never fully accepted the Thai language or the Thai education system.[1]

By considering those kinds of discrimination, it is hardly surprising if PULO (Pattani United Liberation Organisation) wants the Malay Muslim-majority southernmost provinces to secede from Thailand or at least will be given some level of regional autonomy.[2]

What is the symbolic aspect of the conflict? The conflict is caused by the discrimination over identity or values of Malay Muslim. As already mentioned and elaborated in the material aspect that Buddhist is more priority than Malay Muslim. This case is such a huge discrimination over identity/ values/ race. Thus, it is not surprisingly if PULO demands an end to perceived discrimination by Thailand, recognition of their unique culture and justice for a litany of alleged abuses by Thai security forces.[3]

What is the relational aspect of the conflict? The conflict happened because of the bad social networks of the leadership. The leaders (in the reign of Thaksin Shinawatra) cannot control his sub-ordinates including his people particularly minority society. His policy even discriminates the minority society in Thailand (the Malay Muslims), “Malay Muslims previously were able to voice their political grievances more openly and enjoy a much greater degree of religious freedom. However, the Thaksin regime began to dismantle the southern administration organization and replaced it with a notoriously corrupt police force which immediately began widespread crackdowns”. This phenomena evident Thaksin hierarchical and heterarchical relations (social network) at the time was really bad which cannot control and maintain states’ stability which resulted in southern insurgency against the government.

But how those three aspects relate or influence each other? The case above actually already shows the connection between those three aspects. The conflict firstly was rooted in the ‘Thaksin bad relations’ with his people.   That bad relations is might be caused by the psychological factors of Thaksin who has desire to diminished the Malay Muslim identity or values involvement in government. Then, the Thaksin regime began to dismantle the southern administration organization and replaced it with a notoriously corrupt police force. That policy evident the main cause of the conflict is about gaining power.

Thus, basically a conflict is caused by material aspects – the desire to get absolute power – which then resulted in the ‘minority identity or values’ discrimination. The discrimination thing, off course, led the destruction over relations between people. [MSS]

 

[1] Wikipedia.org.(February 2013). South Thailand Insurgency. [online]. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Thailand_insurgency

[2] Ndtv.com.(February 28, 2013). The Deep Roots of Thailand’s Southern Insurgency. [online]. Available: http://www.ndtv.com/article/world/the-deep-roots-of-thailand-s-southern-insurgency-336620

[3] Ndtv.com.(February 28, 2013). The Deep Roots of Thailand’s Southern Insurgency. [online]. Available: http://www.ndtv.com/article/world/the-deep-roots-of-thailand-s-southern-insurgency-336620

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