Buddhist Fury: Religion and Violence in Southern Thailand

Buddhist Fury: Religion and Violence in Southern Thailand

Buddhist Fury: Religion and Violence in Southern Thailand

Buddhist Fury: Religion and Violence in Southern Thailand

Synopsis

Buddhist violence is not a well-known concept. In fact, it is generally considered an oxymoron. An image of a Buddhist monk holding a handgun or the idea of a militarized Buddhist monastery tends to stretch the imagination; yet these sights exist throughout southern Thailand.
Michael Jerryson offers an extensive examination of one of the least known but longest-running conflicts of Southeast Asia. Part of this conflict, based primarily in Thailand's southernmost provinces, is fueled by religious divisions. Thailand's total population is over 92 percent Buddhist, but over 85 percent of the people in the southernmost provinces are Muslim. Since 2004, the Thai government has imposed martial law over the territory and combatted a grass-roots militant Malay Muslim insurgency.
Buddhist Fury reveals the Buddhist parameters of the conflict within a global context. Through fieldwork in the conflict area, Jerryson chronicles the habits of Buddhist monks in the militarized zone. Many Buddhist practices remain unchanged. Buddhist monks continue to chant, counsel the laity, and accrue merit. Yet at the same time, monks zealously advocate Buddhist nationalism, act as covert military officers, and equip themselves with guns. Buddhist Fury displays the methods by which religion alters the nature of the conflict and shows the dangers of this transformation.

Excerpt

It is also an erroneous idea to suppose that the Buddha con
demned all wars and people whose business it was to wage war.
Many instances could be quoted to prove that the Buddha recog
nized the necessity of defensive war, and such may also be
inferred from parts of the following allocution itself. What the
Buddha did condemn was that spirit miscalled “Militarism,” but
which is really intolerant and unreasoning hatred, vengeance,
and savagery, which causes men to kill from sheer blood-lust,
and a religion that tolerates such a brutish spirit is not worthy of
the name of religion!

—King Vajiravudh, Rama vi

“We need to find peace,” said a seventy-five-year-old southern Thai Buddhist monk I will call Ačhān Pim during an interview at his monastery August 14, 2004. Ačhān Pim was referring to the growing divide between Buddhists and Muslims in the region, which had suffered sporadic unclaimed attacks against monks, armed forces, teachers, workers, and pedestrians. His monastery is located in a region within Thailand’s three southernmost provinces that border Malaysia (sāmčhangwat chāydāenphākhtai). Eight months before our January 2004 interview, the Thai government declared martial law in the three provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat. However, the Thai government’s declaration, together with its policies and practices, proved ineffective in quelling the seemingly random bombings and murders. If anything, the imposition of martial law intensified the political nature of the conflict.

Among the many victims were Buddhist and Muslim rubber workers. the rubber industry was a major economic commodity for the region. Ačhān Pim explained, “When Muslims threaten Buddhists, sometimes Buddhists need to be violent in return. the people need to rise up and harvest the rubber trees. They need to unite and resist this form of extortion.”

Since January 2004, there have been more than 4,100 deaths and 6,509 casualties attributed to the violence in the deep south. the conflict has had many detrimental effects upon local Thais, among them distrust and suspicion between . . .

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