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Tuesday, June 29, 2010
The breaking up of a country?
The month of May was a nightmare for Bangkok. But it was only for a month. For the restive South, where casualties have exceeded 4,000, the Muslim-dominated region remains trapped in a six-year-long nightmare with no end in sight.
Some southern Muslims may feel the capital deserves it. After all, Bangkokians are generally supportive of state violence in the deep South and unsympathetic to the plight of southern Muslims whose everyday life is a constant struggle with fear and danger in a war zone. It is time for Bangkokians to have a taste of that.
Although many of his peers feel that way, Maroning Salae does not share that sentiment.
"There's a rumour that Isan will declare independence this coming October. Is it true? If so, there will be more violence. Nothing good will come of it. I know what it's like living in fear all the time. I don't want this to spread to other places."
Maroning used to be a fisherman in Ban Dato, Pattani province. Not anymore. The coastal seas have been destroyed by trawlers of the fishing industry which is supported by the government for export money.
When there are no more fish in the sea, the mothers and daughters leave to work in factories. The fathers kill time in tea shops, swallowing their hurt pride. The boys leave for work in Malaysia. But many more jobless youths hang out at home, turning to drugs and violence, as an escape from hopelessness.
With his wife now the family's breadwinner as a food vendor, Maroning is busy restoring local history and documenting changes in the village.
"We have to know who we are and what are the roots of our problems," he said.
He is one of the villagers supported by the Thailand Research Fund to become "researchers" of their own localities, believing that knowledge is power. Apart from empowering the village folk to stand tall with their set of experiential knowledge and solutions to their problems, the move is also to counter the prevailing prejudice against country folk as being ignorant - a view which sustains top-down authority and political centralisation.
This "empowerment" approach is scoffed by many academics. It is derided as the perpetuation of the romantic notion of the countryside, anti-politics and anti-change.
The criticism is quite similar to that in the 1970s when the left clashed with the right during the Cold War: to solve Thailand's problems, the old power structure had to go down. Anything less than that was only a pain-killer.
According to this argument, Thai society has drastically changed from an agrarian to an urbanised society with a new underclass, new needs and political demands. The solutions that focus on the agricultural sector are bound to fail. The best people's participation is through the voting system because politicians will eventually learn to respond to the voters' demands. Sufficiency is meaningless. Globalisation is the way to go.
What does Maroning say to that?
His answer came after a long pause. It is true that many youths do not want to follow in their fathers' footsteps now, he said, but many still do. "Yet they can't."
He blames it on top-down development which destroys the locals' sources of livelihood, the central education system that erodes local cultures, and the political structure which has no room for the southern Muslims.
The ballot boxes are essential in a democracy, he said, but the question must be asked: why they have failed to answer the locals' needs, and how to fix this system?
Dismissing the agricultural sector which depends on the health of the environment is also a mistake, he said. Food security after all, is the foundation of peace and growth. "If it is in decline, we must restore it, not continue to overlook it."
For him, the crux of the problem is the the top-down development and the belief that the villagers are simpletons incapable of thinking for themselves and choosing their way of life.
The leaders may change. The political system may change. "But as long as the villagers are looked down upon and the leaders far away keep thinking for us, our plight will continue."
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