Feelings from “the virtual world” – people’s hearts have separated already

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"We have tried to resolve the separatist problem, but our efforts have unfortunately resulted in creating further social divisions.  We have essentially already separated the people.”

Note: On January 18, 2009, at the Novotel Central Hotel in Hat Yai, Songkhla province, the Deep South Watch (DSW) and the Southern Journalist Association of Thailand held a seminar on resolving the conflict in southern Thailand entitled Five years of fire in the south: war, knowledge, and confusion…and now what?

 


                                                            (ภาพ : ตูแวดานียา มือรีงิง)
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Relationships and feelings of the people in the region

"We have tried to resolve the separatist problem, but our efforts have unfortunately resulted in creating further social divisions.  We have essentially already separated the people.”

- Dr. Prae Sirisakdamkhung

Faculty of Archaelogy, Silapakorn University

  "Muslims in the southern border provinces
and the Thai sense of virtual community"

On March 14, 2007, suspected insurgents shot and killed 9 Thai Buddhist passengers traveling in a minibus from Hat Yai to Betong district in Yala province.  Within a period of two days immediately following this tragic incident, a total of 9 website discussion forums received some 1,317 postings. The first posting clearly indicated hatred toward the Thai state.  Even though this person did not reveal their identity, it was likely posted by a terrorist. 

Subsequent postings claimed that the terrorists in Thailand are Muslims.  Many people indicated antipathy for Islam and strong sympathy for Thai Buddhists who live in the region without receiving adequate security protection.  Others stated that the Thai government provides more protection for Muslims than Buddhists, and that there is no need for the government to try and reconcile relations with Muslims.

Much of the content in the forums showed strong feelings of anger and antipathy toward those responsible for the killings, and many forum participants even wondered why the Thai government did nothing to respond to the event; some even vehemently stated that the government has demonstrated strong favoritism toward the Muslim majority at the expense of the Buddhist minority in the three southernmost provinces. 

Some people who expressed strong feelings of anger and hate may have been influenced in part by other postings that stated that Muslims do not love the Thai nation-state.  Similarly, some forum participants wrote that they could not understand why Muslims would like to separate from Thailand and cause harm to people from other religious backgrounds.

Many forum participants also suggested that it is necessary to respond to the situation in the south with violence and other heavy-handed tactics.  For instance, several people said that the people responsible for the killings should be decapitated, while many others mentioned other forms of violent punishment.  Moreover, cruel, derogatory jokes about Islam were found in many postings. 

Although some participants’ postings demonstrated marked concern for building peace in the region, some of these same people also claimed that those groups who seek to separate from Thailand are unpatriotic.  Some even suggested that those groups who do indeed wish to acquire independence from Thailand and view themselves as distinct from other Thais deserve to die.

These highly emotional postings demonstrate that many people in Thailand can not accept social diversity within Thailand’s borders.  Any perspectives that contrast with those accepted in mainstream Thai society are strongly looked down on.

Besides all of the aforementioned opinions, other postings claimed that Thai Buddhists in the region do not have a voice.  However, a thorough reading of the forums reveals that virtually no Muslims even participated.

Perhaps most interesting is the apparent widespread belief among forum participants that Thailand’s soldiers and police are the primary victims of the violence.  But as Dr. Srisompob Jitpiromsri research clearly demonstrates, the number of casualties is equal between Muslims and Buddhists and the majority of victims have been civilians. Hence, this raging anger and resentment posted on these websites by Thai Buddhists toward Muslims could in part be a reflection of uneven news coverage in the Thai media

In sum, the forum postings clearly show that though we have tried to resolve the separatist problem, our efforts have unfortunately resulted in creating further social divisions in Thai.  We have essentially already separated the people.

 

Perspectives on study results

“Dr. Prae’s personal feelings may have led her to select specific website forum postings to support her beliefs.  At issue is whether her analysis reflects her personal beliefs or an objective interpretation of the forum postings.”

- Assistant Professor Piya Kittavorn,

Faculty of Political Science, Prince of Songkla University, Pattani

A key question to be asked regarding Dr. Prae’s findings and interpretation is do they accurately reflect the opinions overall on the website forums, or could they possibly reflect the researcher’s own personal opinion?  Dr. Prae’s personal feelings may have led her to select specific website forum postings to support her beliefs.  At issue is whether her analysis reflects her personal beliefs or an objective interpretation of the forum postings. 

 

“Venting such strong feelings may make these people feel better, but the postings no doubt represent significant obstacles to resolving the conflict.”

- Abdul Azis Yany,

President, Club of Pondok Institute of the Southern Border Provinces

 

Venting such strong feelings may make these people feel better, but the postings no doubt represent significant obstacles to resolving the conflict. For example, the perspective that all Muslims are terrorists is disturbing and dangerous, as it very well could anger Muslims -- most especially those strongly opposed to the state -- and further escalate the situation.  It is thus important that we refrain from expressing or publishing these kinds of feelings. The opposition in particular will no doubt be strongly offended. 
  
             In general, it is important that more recognition is given to Malay Muslim identity.  Terms such as “Siyae” (Thai) and “Malayu” (Malay) were regularly used in the region among Malay speakers in the past; and even today, one can still hear these terms frequently used by Malay speakers.  The use of these two words – Siyae and Malayu – is normal and should not be an issue, as they mean Thai Buddhist and Malay Muslim respectively.  This is why we would like the Thai government and its officials at all levels to implement changes that give more official legitimacy to Malay Muslim culture. For instance, we would like to see the use of Malay names for villages instead of Thai names, though using the Thai or Romanized script would be perfectly acceptable.

 

 “This is the main strategy of the opposition”

 - Iskandar Thumrongshub

Local Intellectual

There have many times in which government officials have discussed the government’s strategy to resolve the problem, but these people never pay attention to the opposition and others who speak on its behalf such as professor Prae.  The government’s unwillingness to listen to the opposition’s grievances has led the opposition to conceal its own strategy to the government. 

 

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Recovering from violence and reducing its impact – the work of assistance

 
"The data and trends on the incidence of violence seem to show that the situation appears to have improved.  But we must give more attention to in-depth details in each specific area."


- Dr. Worasit Sornsriwichai

Faculty of  Medicine, Prince of Songkhla University

 

 

An unexpected incident took place when a local health office in Kapor district in Pattani province was hit by an arson attack.  This shocked local workers in the medical industry as well as others involved with humanitarian work.  Most of these people had thought that they would not be targeted in violent attacks.  As a result of this attack, medical organizations and NGOs began to realize that they needed to adopt safer procedures.  Toward this end, they looked toward the experiences of medical workers and others in other countries struck by conflict in an effort to improve safety measures.

One way in which local workers have begun to develop more effective safety measures has been the creation of a system that collects and organizes the details of violent incidents.  Beginning in 2007, the Ministry of Health and the Prince of Songkla Univesity collaborated together to produce a VIS system that collects data to better prepare for injuries resulting from violent events.  For instance, the new VIS system has shown that many victims of violence have been the elderly and children under the age of 15.  This has allowed medical workers to prepare treatments that would apply specifically to people in these age groups.  This system is now even being used in Satun province, which has not been affected by the violence at all.

When there is a question concerning whether the situation in the south has improved, the data and trends on the incidence of violence seem to show that it has indeed.  But we must give more attention to in-depth details in each specific area. Doing so may reveal that the situation continues to negatively impact many locals.
 

“In the past, the Deep South Coordination Center was a recipient of other people’s assistance, but now it wishes to focus on helping others.”

- Dr. Metta Guning,

The Deep South Coordination Center (DSCC)

In 2006, the Deep South Watch Coordination Center discovered that since the dramatic escalation of violence beginning in 2004, there had been some 310 widows resulting from the violence.  Because of the psychological and economic hardships that these women had confronted, the Center considered it crucial to improve the lives of these victims of violence by supporting and empowering them.  Toward this end, the Center organized meetings to learn the best means through which it could accomplish this.


           The Center has also been working with children who have been adversely affected by the violence, particularly in Pattani province. Over the last few years, there has been an increase in reports of child abuse.  As a result, in some cases families do not want to have their children visit the Center. The Center found that approximately 60% of the children who enter the Center have been abused by their parents. These children tend to suffer from severe psychological problems compared with other children. In 2008, in an effort to provide rehabilitation services for these children, the Center entered into a collaborative arrangement with the Department of Mental Health.  Together, the Deep South Coordination Centre and the Department of Health have assisted some 72 children.
 

“Over the next five years, we need to create high quality rehabilitation services for those people impacted by the violence”

         - Dr. Supat Hasuwannakit

Director of Chana Hospital, Songkhla Province

A proposal for improving the treatment of patients
    in the southern border provinces

Hospitals have dealt with a high number of patients due to the increase in violence over the past five years.  Unfortunately, this has meant hospital workers are frequently confronted with addressing the needs of numerous patients, resulting in a reduction in the quality of care hospital patients.  Though it is critical that patients receive better care so that they have new opportunities in life, the proper care and treatment required for this to happen is seldom provided.
 
            As it stands today, hospitals prioritize treating a large number of patients.  While many patients may receive financial compensation for their injuries, very little moral support is provided because of this stress on treating a high number of patients. 

Over the next five years, it is necessary to improve the quality of treatment for patients, and this should be accomplished under the supervision of the government.  Financial support may be acquired through the various sectors and government agencies that are involved with improving treatment.  Meanwhile, more local psychologists should be employed to offer assistance and support to those undergoing emotional trauma.
 

Analysis of assistance provided after violence

Dr. Petdao Tohmeena

Director of Mental Health Center, District 15, Department of Mental Health, Public Health Ministry

Victims from the three southern border provinces must tediously contact several government offices before they can even receive assistance. 
Since victims usually receive assistance from NGOs in the region,  the government can somewhat rely on these NGOs to compensate for the government's inadequate assistance.


            Problematically, the government currently does not have adequate public relations that inform the people in the south about the potential services they can receive if they experience an injury from violence. 


            The government and all relevent agencies must provide more meaningful and more effective assistance to victims; to date, it has largely concentrated on providing financial compensation.

  
            The government does not have any so-called “one stop service” centers where victims can receive assistance. 

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