Buddhist Fury: Religion and Violence in Southern Thailand

By Michael K. Jerryson | Go to book overview

2
Representation

Thai Buddhist monks are walking embodiments of Thai nationalism. For centuries, Thai monks symbolized political and religious power.1 However, in the southern conflict, the State’s escalated use of the monks’ signification makes them choice targets for militants. Additionally, as an embodied symbol, a militant attack on a Buddhist monk becomes an attack on the body-politic as well as the Buddhist sangha. The potential result of such an attack is one of local and national fury. Attacks on monks act as ethno-religious bombs and can ignite passions and acts of retribution from Buddhists in the border provinces. While on the ground many monks seek to distance themselves from the politics and the violence, their religio-political identities ultimately draw them closer to the conflict and raise the relevance of religion in the violence.

This chapter examines the ways in which Buddhist monks, even as passive agents, become catalysts for Buddhist violence in Thailand. Since Buddhist monks are passive agents in this context, it is not their intentions, but rather the way their actions are perceived, their representative power, that becomes significant. Thai Buddhist monks become symbolic of a concept greater than religious authority; they become representations of the imagined solidarity, the nation. In this particular context, Buddhist-inspired violence requires three conditions: a space of conflict, a politicized Buddhist representation, and an assault on that politicized representation.

Buddhists are motivated toward violence by the murder of monks—in effect, the defacement of sacrosanct bodies—within a conflict zone engulfed by ethnonationalist and religious strife. Much of the powerful significance of the monk’s body is due to the Thai State, which appropriates Buddhist monastic roles and actions to the political stage. The infusion of politics into the depiction of religious agents carries inherent dangers. In this instance, the murder of a monk can act as a medium of transformation and change the conflict over economic and national grievances between the Thai State and militant Malay Muslims into a war of religious proportions.

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Buddhist Fury: Religion and Violence in Southern Thailand
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures and Tables vii
  • Introduction 3
  • 1 - Histories 28
  • 2 - Representation 50
  • 3 - Practice 82
  • 4 - Militarization 114
  • 5 - Identity 143
  • Conclusion 178
  • Appendix 187
  • Notes 189
  • Bibliography 233
  • Index 249
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