Buddhist Fury: Religion and Violence in Southern Thailand

By Michael K. Jerryson | Go to book overview

5
Identity

“These Muslims in the South,” reported Mongkon to his fellow ninth-grade Social Studies students in Central Bangkok, “I don’t think they are one hundred percent Thai.” He continued in his presentation and described the characteristics that make Thais “Thai” and the Malay Muslims “not Thai.” Mongkon covered topics such as language (Yawi, a dialect of Bahasa Melayu), clothing (such as the tudung, a Muslim woman’s veil), and lifestyle (prescribed by the teachings of Muhammad). After Mongkon concluded his report and returned to his seat, his teacher looked at him approvingly, and said, “Very good.”1

Like others, Mongkon distinguishes southern Thai Muslims from the rest of Thai society through what they are not: Thai Buddhists.2 This unspoken comparison with normativity is a transnational phenomenon and takes in the components of ethnicity and religion to distinguish the in-group from an out-group. This method of thin-slicing occurs on a daily basis without conscious awareness of the process. Mongkon is not alone in his application of social differentiation; this is a cognitive process endemic to human relations. If we draw back from this process, we find even greater implications of religious identification—most particularly its relevance to national identity.

Contemporary national identities are, as in the past,ffluid in nature and represent transformations of the social imaginaire, most recently due to colonial influences. One of the transformations is the role of religion in national identity. If a national identity requires a specific religious marker, this dismantles the most rudimentary notions of civic nationalism. Political scientist Liah Greenfeld defines civic nationalism as an inclusive category, one that allows people from different ethnicities, religions, and those that practice different customs to share the same citizenship. According to Greenfeld, people acquire a nationality through their own volition.3 However, religious identity is a means of excluding a group from Thai nationalism. Though Mongkon did not label them as Malay, he did not need to do so. The details of his report refer to the Malay Muslims, the largest Islamic group living in southern Thailand.4

Michel Gilquin points out that the tendency of Malay Muslims to live within the three southernmost provinces is a geographical reflection of their social status:

-143-

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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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