Tearing Apart the Land

Tearing Apart the Land: Islam and Legitimacy in Southern Thailand

Duncan McCargo
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Tearing Apart the Land
    Book Description:

    Since January 2004, a violent separatist insurgency has raged in southern Thailand, resulting in more than three thousand deaths. Though largely unnoticed outside Southeast Asia, the rebellion in Pattani and neighboring provinces and the Thai government's harsh crackdown have resulted in a full-scale crisis. Tearing Apart the Land by Duncan McCargo, one of the world's leading scholars of contemporary Thai politics, is the first fieldwork-based book about this conflict. Drawing on his extensive knowledge of the region, hundreds of interviews conducted during a year's research in the troubled area, and unpublished Thai-language sources that range from anonymous leaflets to confessions extracted by Thai security forces, McCargo locates the roots of the conflict in the context of the troubled power relations between Bangkok and the Muslim-majority "deep South."

    McCargo describes how Bangkok tried to establish legitimacy by co-opting local religious and political elites. This successful strategy was upset when Thaksin Shinawatra became prime minister in 2001 and set out to reorganize power in the region. Before Thaksin was overthrown in a 2006 military coup, his repressive policies had exposed the precariousness of the Bangkok government's influence. A rejuvenated militant movement had emerged, invoking Islamic rhetoric to challenge the authority of local leaders obedient to Bangkok.

    For readers interested in contemporary Southeast Asia, insurgency and counterinsurgency, Islam, politics, and questions of political violence, Tearing Apart the Land is a powerful account of the changing nature of Islam on the Malay peninsula, the legitimacy of the central Thai government and the failures of its security policy, the composition of the militant movement, and the conflict's disastrous impact on daily life in the deep South. Carefully distinguishing the uprising in southern Thailand from other Muslim rebellions, McCargo suggests that the conflict can be ended only if a more participatory mode of governance is adopted in the region.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6362-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xx)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  6. Timeline of Major Events
    (pp. xxiii-xxvii)
  7. [Map]
    (pp. xxviii-xxviii)
    (pp. 1-18)

    An English-language sign outside the historic Kru-Ze Mosque in Pattani (which I photographed in 2006) was riddled with bullet holes. One bullet had passed through the second “t” in the word “Pattani,” so changing the spelling of the word to “Patani.” There is no way of knowing how this happened: Was the bullet fired randomly by Thai security forces on April 28, 2004? Or did militants deliberately shoot up the sign, in order to make a political statement? Spellings can be highly political: Pattani is the name of a modern Thai province, whereas Patani alludes to an older and larger...

  9. 1 ISLAM
    (pp. 19-54)

    What does the violence in Southern Thailand have to do with Islam? Anonymous leaflets purportedly issued by militant groups often contain some jihadist language. Many young militants received training and indoctrination from Islamic teachers, some of which took place within Islamic educational institutions. The perpetrators of some incidents used Sufi-style rituals, swearing ceremonies, and “magic spells” intended to protect them from harm. It is tempting to see the Southern Thai violence as a form of Islamist militancy, testifying to the strength of Malay Muslim beliefs and the determination of local people to resist the Thai state on religious grounds. Some...

  10. 2 POLITICS
    (pp. 55-87)

    Politics in the deep South from the 1980s onward were characterized by two main forms of transformation: the domestication of dissent and a parallel dissent from domestication. During the 1990s, conditions in the region were apparently “normalized” through the rise of representative politics, but just as Thailand’s supposed “democratization” had shallow roots—as shown in the widely welcomed 2006 military coup—so the South’s “normalization” proved a mere façade. Far from reducing conflict, greater political openness after the 1997 “people’s constitution” actually coincided with a rise in violence.

    Who was best able to represent the views and interests of Malay...

  11. 3 SECURITY
    (pp. 88-133)

    To what extent was the Southern Thai conflict provoked, shaped, or exacerbated by the operations of the state authorities and security forces? The appropriate use of security forces in an internal conflict is closely related to questions of state legitimacy: nation-states claim a monopoly on the use of force, but where a state resorts to invoking force against its own population, it risks eroding its legitimacy. Militant groups dedicated to delegitimating a state have a vested interest in provoking state violence, since unwarranted aggression by the security forces follows the scripts of militant propaganda. Yet when states become afraid of...

    (pp. 134-182)

    The nature of the militant movement behind most of the violence in Thailand’s deep South remains a matter of dispute. Important questions include: How are militants recruited? What is the structure of the movement? How far is the movement subject to central command and control? How far is this an “Islamic” movement? What do the militants want? How closely is the movement related to former “separatist” groups such as BRN?¹

    Some analysts see the militant movement as a reconfigured version of earlier separatist organizations, probably led by a shadowy group known as BRN-Coordinate.² Others view the militants as a largely...

    (pp. 183-190)

    The Southern Thai conflict is a war over legitimacy. For significant numbers of Patani Malays, Thai rule over their region has long lacked legitimacy; over the past century, rebellious leaders and militant groups have periodically sought to nudge legitimacy strain toward legitimacy crisis. In their attempts to fuel uprisings against Thai rule, rebels have been aided and abetted by the inept repression to which Bangkok has regularly resorted. During the second half of the twentieth century, the Thai state sought to manage the provinces largely through the imposition of virtuous monarchical and bureaucratic rule, a mode of legitimacy predicated on...

  14. Glossary
    (pp. 191-192)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 193-228)
  16. Index
    (pp. 229-236)