Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Deconstructing Philip Cunningham: Save the South By Giving the Terrorists a Kiss on the Lips


The Bangkok Post

Save the South from fanatic Islamists

There are a number of approaches that can be taken to deal with the escalating crisis in the southernmost provinces of Thailand, but there is no time to waste


In dealing with the southern violence, every approach has its dangers, none more so than doing nothing. The challenge is to find a course of action that is firm but wise, tough but compassionate.

What does wise, tough and compassionate mean? Are terrorists problem children?

While violence instigating racial and religious intolerance is in itself intolerable, and the deliberate hurting of civilians must be punished and condemned, it is important, even for the victims of violence, to guard against absorbing the infectious hate sown by political agitators.

What does this mean? Horrible writing. Let met get this: Race and religious based violence is bad and intolerable, and those who instigate it "must be punished and condemned," yet the victims should let their anger and hatred go. Why should they let that anger go if it leads to action in solving the problem?

Sectarian strife in Iraq and elsewhere makes it all too plain that violence begets violence.

Of course, a notorious America hater like Philip Cunningham would bring Iraq into it. And it is a little simplistic to say the root of violence is sectarian strife.

It is human to become uncontrollably angry when one bears witness to the killing of innocents. Yet restraint is still called for. The insurgents in the deep South, as elsewhere, thrive on retributive violence. To win over their "own kind" they must court bloodshed, to make ogres of their enemies. Heavy-handed counter-insurgency, any harsh reaction on the part of the state is a boon to rebel recruiting and propaganda. See how they hate us? See why we must fight back with guns and bombs and our bodies?

And what if people fight back? Not fighting back hasn't been effective. The Surayud government's hands off "kiss the terrorist" policies have been ineffective. What is the evidence? Terrorism has gotten worse.

Counter-insurgency has a long and troubled history because it often produces the opposite of its intended result. If there is one lesson to be drawn from past mistakes in Vietnam and elsewhere it is this: the battle of guns must be subordinate to the battle of ideas.

What kind of stupidity is this? Is Vietnam the standard we measure all armed conflicts in the world? Battle of ideas? Al Qaeda and other militant Islamic groups have had access to politics and the media to resolve their political differences with their enemies. And they have chosen violence over politics. But naive Philip Cunningham believes if we tolerate murder and mayhem, and just understand the hearts and minds of the terrorists, that is enough.

The few cases where counter-insurgency programmes were effective, or at least did not lead to unmitigated disaster, demonstrate the primacy of politics over armaments. Britain was successful in rolling back the onslaught of the Communist Party of Malaya during the Emergency in the 1950's by elevating the economic and political status of the-then disadvantaged Chinese communities from whence most the rebels were recruited.

This is an outrageous lie. The British did use violence to counter the Communists in Malaysia. And what about the draconian anti-Communist laws that are still in effect today to counter political and democratic opposition in Singapore and Malaysia. Malaysian intelligence continues to use the old British colonial laws to torture anti-government opponents and trouble makers.

In Thailand, the heavy-handed junta crackdowns on the democracy movement of the 1970's drove a generation of youth to the jungle; it took the restraint and political wisdom of the progressive wing of the Thai military to effectively broker peace through amnesty in the early 1980's, bringing the Thai Octoberists and communists back into the fold.

The monarchy was behind the violent wing of the police, the military and paramilitary groups that drove Communists and student leaders into the jungle, yet Mr. Cunningham makes the argument that the monarchy is the solution to the problem at the end of this column. There are many reasons why the government gave amnesty to those who fled to the jungle.

The Surayud Chulanont administration appears to understand these dynamics intimately, one would expect nothing less from an old soldier who contributed to the defeat of Thai communism because he understood, through the example of his own father, that Thai radicals, however misguided, were full-blooded human members of the same national community, not anonymous monsters and subhuman ogres.

Philip Cunningham's knowledge of Thailand's Communist movement is weak. Thai Communism wasn't defeated. It withered away for many reasons. For one, the PRC stopped financing the Communist movement in Thailand. Two, many Thais became disillusioned with the rhetorical stringency of Chinese sponsored Communism, and came to see itself as a pawn in an international Cold War game rather than as a home grown revolutionary movement. Three, the US withdrew from Southeast Asia and closed down its military bases in Thailand. Four, there was disillusionment with the Communist governments that took power in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

But even if Gen Surayud is taking the right approach towards the South, it will take time to recover trust frittered away by the arrogant errors of the police and military under ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra's command. And differences between militant Islamists and communists need be taken into account.

Huh? Again, the writing is bad. Basically he is saying that Thais should tolerate the murderings, the bombings, the beheadings and Thai citizens, because it was the fault of the last government's heavy handed actions in the South. Of course, differences between Islamists and Communists should be taken in account. So why does Cunningham keep making the comparison?

The Thai communists, daunting though they were in their day, shared with every Thai school child a similar mental map, a vision for a multi-ethnic community called Thailand. The same cannot be said for fundamentalist insurgents; from all indications they want out.

Again, more horrible writing. Each child shared a mental map of a multicultural society? This guy has no idea what he is talking about. The central Thai imposed their view of what it means to be Thai on the rest of the country, which is composed of dozens of different ethnic and linguistic groups. And the reason the insurgents want out can't be summed up so easily. Part of the problem is that people in the South have a historical memory that is different from the central Thai oppressors. But even then, I doubt that written or manufactured history probably has little to do with the conflict.

Murky and shadowy the southern insurgents may be, the crisis is real and rising; the insane cruelty of their actions is crystal clear.


Looking at the targets of violence, one can detect a pathological fear not only of the Thai state but even Thai culture itself. Repeated, tightly-focused attacks on state cultural institutions such as schools, Buddhist temples and soft targets such as car showrooms and karaoke bars all point to a resentful fundamentalist agenda. For the sake of sovereignty and survival, the dismantling and discrediting of the errant fundamentalist vision is an essential task. Intolerant Islamism must be confronted head on, while simultaneously, moderate Islam must be embraced and cherished as part of the national polity.

There is a criminal section of the Muslim community in the South that is holding the region and the country hostage with violence and murder. The problem is this radical minority can't stand to live in a pluralistic society. They don't believe in using politics to voice their complaints and to win others over to their views. So they use violence like petulant children. They should be wiped out. Of course, there needs to be a distinction between terrorists and Muslims.

Buddhist and Confucian citizens of the southernmost provinces need little convincing about the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism; they are paying for it with their lives. But moderate Muslims are victims too, in even greater numbers than non-Muslims.

Duh. But hey, even after acknowledging this, Mr. Cunningham still believes in that old saw of "winning the hearts and minds" of criminals and mass murderers.

The critical population is caught in the middle, and they should not be tarred with the same brush as the terrorists but drawn back into mainstream society. Thai Muslim youth who under normal conditions would be comfortable with, if not outright proud of being part of a diverse, cosmopolitan entity called Thailand, are not being permitted to get a Thai education, to read Thai papers or watch Thai TV. Such youth, deliberately denied links with the larger Thai society, turn inwards. Their legitimate local grievances are intensified by the ranting of religious figures and the sympathetic vibrations of apparent atrocities against Muslims all around the world. Unemployed and enraged with no place to go, such youth are malleable and easily indoctrinated.

I love Phillip Cunningham's original thinking. This is the same excuse made for terrorists in the appeasement sections of the world community towards terrorism. Unemployment? Thailand's unemployment rate is less than 2%. It is not the same as Iraq or other impoverished Muslim countries. The Thai South isn't Pakistan. But Cunningham can't make the distinction.

It is the common fate of minorities, be it Buddhists in a predominantly Muslim country like Malaysia, or Muslims in predominantly Buddhist country, to feel a bit insecure and slightly suspicious of the majority. But in southern Thailand, the paranoia is out of control.

There are many reasons why religious and ethnic minorities should be suspicious of the Thai government. But unlike the Muslim radicals, these minorities don't go around beheading monks and teachers and other innocents.

One reassuring gesture would be to call for greater involvement and support from Bangkok's large and highly assimilated Muslim community, to reassure their disaffected co-religionists that it is possible to live a good Muslim life in perfect harmony with non-Muslim friends and neighbours.

Isn't that what General Sonthi has been doing? Yeah, it has been working. Plus, the Bangkok Muslims have had a different historical experience than Muslims in the South.

Another font of benevolant influence is that of the Royal Palace. The Thai monarchy predates nationalistic democracy, which for all its good points has the attendent tendency to elevate the status of the majority ethnic group. This less than ideal aspect of majority rule was evidenced in the name change from Siam, a multinational realm, to Prathet-Thai, with its emphasis on ethnic Thai.

This writing is horrible. What does this mean?

The monarchy actually has been a driving force in religious and ethnic tolerance. It has always welcomes Muslims and Christians in the kingdom. And, of course, the monarchy's ethnic makeup is composed of Mon, Brahman, Thai, Persian and Chinese blood.

Thai people have always called themselves Thai. Thailand has always been called Muang Thai--even long before the official name change in the 1930's . Siam was a foreign moniker for Thailand that elite Thais adopted for themselves. Indeed, I think King Mongkut wass the first to ever refer to Thailand as Siam in official documents.

Here are two sources: La Loubere--pg. 18 and 19 in his book "New Historical Relation of the Kingdom of Siam." 1693

Page 86 "National Identity And Its Defenders: Thailand Today"

Constitutional monarchy at its best serves as a symbolic umbrella for every last citizen regardless of race or creed; an informal but powerful unifying influence that can tide a nation over in time of division and crisis. Furthermore, the monarchy enjoys far more prestige with Thai Muslims than it did with Thai communists (whose ideology was inherently republican) and that is something that can be built on. The ritual hierarchies of royalty, in effect a respected parental figure, fits well with popular Muslim culture.

Again, Cunningham doesn't know what he is talking about. Muslims don't believe in worshiping the Thai monarch like a God. To Muslims, the non-Muslim Thais are idolaters and sinners.

Thailand clearly possesses the cultural tools and innate comfort with diversity needed to reintegrate the troubled fringe of the South with the rest of the country. But time is running out; the conflict is acute and could escalate.

What kind of bullshit is this? Thailand doesn't have the cultural tools and innate comfort to deal with diversity, which is why there are problems in Thai society between minorities who live on the periphery and the center. As foreigners go, Thais are racist, especially against the farang, the dirty smelly khaek, and the negroes of Africa.

This would be a good time for politicians in and out of power to put petty differences aside and instead summon up the considerable courage and attention required to save the South from utter ruin.

The South is in ruin because there are radicals who insist on using violence instead of politics to make their complaints.

Philip J Cunningham is a free-lance writer and political commentator.

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