Loyalists and Separatists: The Muslims in Southern Thailand

Author(s): Astri Suhrke
Source: Asian Survey, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Mar., 1977), pp. 237-250
Published by: University of California Press
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LOYALISTS AND SEPARATISTS:
THE MUSLIMS IN SOUTHERN THAILAND
Astri Suhrke
THE CONTROVERSY OVER the Thai-Malaysian
border
agreement in 1976 reflected, among other things, a recognition in
Bangkok that the Thai government was unable to govern the southern
border provinces effectively. This paper addresses itself to this problem
from the point of view of the Muslims in southern Thailand. What are
the main dimensions of the problem, and how are these regarded by
the local Muslims?1
The Muslim population in the South is concentrated in the four
provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwas and Satul. The southern Mus-
lims represent about 3% of the population of Thailand, or 700,000
people according to the 1960 census. In the four provinces, however,
they constitute 70-80% of the local population and are clearly demar-
cated as a distinct group. They speak a local dialect of Malay and only
a small proportion (20-30%) also speak Thai except in Satul, where a
substantial proportion of the Muslim population speaks Thai. They
are Malay Muslims, maintain their traditional Malay dress and cus-
toms, and rarely marry Thai Buddhists.
The presence of this territorially concentrated group of Malays in
a region bordering on Malaysia, where the Malays have a dominant
political role, has meant persistent difficulties for both the Thai gov-
ernment and the minority group. Everyone concerned recognizes
that
the problem is an old one, going back to the 13th century when the
Sukothai kings claimed the southern Muslim sultanates as vassals. This
relationship was decisively transformed by the administrative reorgani-
1 This is an abridged version of a paper presented at the Association for Asian
Studies meeting, Toronto, 1976. It is primarily based on information collected dur-
ing fieldwork in Thailand in 1970, 1971, and 1976. I would like to note the assistance
of Charoenchit Na Songkhla, former director of the Co-ordination Center in Yala;
the late Senator Leck V. Angkul, Dato Sin Daraman in Narathiwas, Professor
Pattaya Saihoo at Chulalongkorn University, and representatives of the United
Patani Freedom Movement. Connor Bailey of Cornell University made useful com-
ments on the paper.
237
238 ASTRI SUHRKE
zation of Thailand starting at the end of the 19th century, at which
time the present manifestations of the problem first began to emerge.
These can be divided into three main areas, relating to educational,
administrative, and economic matters, each of which will be briefly
discussed here.
Education: The Thai government has continuously emphasized
that the Muslims must learn the Thai language and receive secular
education. Indeed, there is a tendency in Bangkok and among local
government officials to regard education as a panacea for peaceful inte-
gration of the Muslims. But the response of the Muslim community to
secular education has been mixed. In lower primary school (P.S. 1-4)
student enrollment corresponds to the ethnic proportions of the popu-
lation in the border provinces: Muslims clearly predominate while the
Buddhists are a small minority. However, the Muslim student body de-
clines drastically from lower primary to upper primary school (P.S. 5-
7), and this trend continues in high school (M.S. 1-3, 4-5). The over-
whelming majority of the student population at these levels is Bud-
dhist, while the Muslims constitute a small minority.
This anomaly is partly explained by the attitudes towards secular
education among the Muslims. Some oppose it out of deference to tra-
ditional values, which hold that religious education is more important
than secular education. Another factor is the conviction among some
that the Thai government is using secular education to assimilate the
Muslims, to make them eventually deny their religion, historical herit-
age, race and customs-in short their religious and ethnic identity. As
the separatist United Patani Freedom Movement (UPFM) has claimed:
"The Thai government is trying to teach the younger generation the
Thai language and make them love the Thai government and respect
the king so that in the future they will forget the Malay race and com-
pletely accept Thai nationality."2 Militant Muslims have attacked gov-
ernment schools and teachers, leading to the establishment of teacher
vigilante groups and a temporary teacher boycott in Narathiwas in
October 1975. These views, in turn, are strongly criticized by other
Muslims who maintain that secular Thai education is desirable by
enabling the Muslims better to protect their rights against local officials
and eventually permitting upward socioeconomic mobility.
There are some institutional vehicles for combining secular and
religious education. The Islamic College in Bangkok takes some stu-
dents from the border provinces, and it is interesting to note that
among these almost all cite the prospect for upward mobility as the
main reason for seeking higher education.3 For the majority of the
southern Muslims religious education is provided by the local Islamic
2
United Patani Freedom Movement, "Declaration of Warning," August 1, 1971.
(Original in Jawi and Malay).
3 Author's survey of student attitudes (1971).
MUSLIMS IN THAILAND 239
schools (Pondok), which until recently taught no standard Thai cur-
riculum. In the traditional Pondok the students entered at age 8 and
lived with the teacher on the premises for several years (often 7-9),
hence the Pondok constituted an effective competitor to the govern-
ment schools. The government responded in the late 1960s by using
monetary incentives to gradually convert the Pondoks into private
schools that would also teach Thai language and some standard cur-
riculum. A majority of the Pondok headmasters (to-kru in Thai) reg-
istered their schools in this program, which may, if successful, mediate
the conflict between religious and secular education. Much will depend
upon the manner of implementation as the Pondok is a powerful
symbol of religious and ethnic identity to southern Muslims of all per-
suasions. Separatist spokesmen predictably denounced the program as
an attempt to undermine the Pondok schools, and even those Muslims
who favored secular education cautioned that the government must not
close down Pondok schools that do not convert, or convert too slowly.
Administration: There are no statistics available on the number of
Muslims in the local administration, but it is widely assumed that the
Muslims are in a distinct minority, and a Muslim District Officer or
Deputy District Officer is a rarity. This is primarily due to the low
level of education among the Muslims, although one frequently en-
counters the suspicion that even if a Muslim would qualify, the govern-
ment would post him anywhere but the border provinces for fear that
he may not be "reliable." Moreover, one segment of the Muslim com-
munity, the separatists, denounces all forms of cooperation with the
Thai government and calls on the people not to seek administrative
positions.
The predominance of Thai Buddhist government officials in the
South, most of whom do not speak Malay, is a crucial factor in creating
an adversary relationship between the local people and the administra-
tion. This ranges from complaints by the Muslims of petty harrassment
and corruption to more serious accusations of persecution and im-
prisonment of Muslims based on tenuous allegations of banditry or
subversion.
Muslim leaders have drawn different conclusions from this situa-
tion. Some, such as the famous Haji Sulong, who was killed in 1954
(evidently by Thai police), argue that a majority of the government
officials in the Muslim provinces must be Muslim, although there is
disagreement on whether this should be a gradual process correspond-
ing to the growth of higher education among the Muslims, or be im-
plemented regardless of existing educational requirements under a
general autonomy scheme.4 Others maintain that the Muslims should
4 Information cited in Stuara Siswa (Kuala Lumpur), December 1970, claims that
Haji Sulong was killed by Thai police agents. This was confirmed by a less partisan
source, a British former officer of the Malay police, in an interview with this author.
240 ASTRI SUHRKE
rather rely upon present opportunities to act as a "cushion" between
the administration and the people in the capacity of village and hamlet
headmen (kamnan and puyaiban), and as elected representatives to the
townships (tambon) and in the National Assembly (when functioning).
This strategy has at least two limitations, however. One is that Thai-
land remains what is aptly called a "bureaucratic polity" where effec-
tive political power-to protect and promote individual or group in-
terests-resides in the centralized administration, leaving little scope of
activity for the elected representatives or local leaders. Second, the
more successful this strategy is, the more it tends to polarize attitudes
within the Muslim community since the militants see it as traitorous
cooptation by local leaders. The UPFM, for instance, has accused the
kamnan and puyaiban of being "intelligence officers" for the govern-
ment and warned that these are "very dangerous" people.5 One may
expect a similar reaction from militant Muslims if the present Thai
government proceeds to implement the Bill on Local Government
passed by the National Assembly in November 1975, designed to
strengthen the power of township councils by direct allocation of re-
sources to these units (500,000 baht per tambon).
Maintenance of a modicum of law and order has become one of
the most pressing problems in the border provinces, which have been
under martial law since the Sarit Administration. The government sev-
eral times has moved in troops to quell "disturbances"-whether
caused
by communists, bandits, separatists, or combinations thereof. Invari-
ably, the presence of regular armed forces leads to an escalation of vio-
lence and embitters existing divisions between the Buddhists and the
Muslims, as well as among the Muslims. The so-called Pattani massacre
in December 1975 seems to be a typical example. Five Muslim youths
were allegedly murdered by Thai soldiers, leading to large demonstra-
tions by Muslims where more people were killed. But there was also
evidence of disagreement among the Muslims on the propriety of the
demands presented to the government on that occasion (that the gov-
ernment immediately withdraw troops, pay compensation to the
vic-
tims' families, and send Prime Minister Kukrit to the South for wide-
ranging discussions with Muslim leaders). Some felt the demands
went
too far, others that they did not go
far enough. The government's
re-
sponse also received a mixed reaction, especially the decision to appoint
a Muslim from Satul, Termsakdi Samantarath, to replace the incum-
bent Thai Buddhist Governor of Pattani.6 To the militants it was an-
5 United Patani Freedom Movement,
"Declaration of Warning."
6
Governor Termsakdi comes from a distinguished family of public servants in
Satul and served previously
in Narathiwas and Satul.
1-is
views on conditions in
the border provinces are presented at length in a thesis he wrote for the National
Defense College, Kawbanyasarob satangan si changwad paahtai (An
Account of
Conditions in the Four Southern Provinces) (mimeographed), Bangkok,
1970.
MUSLIMS IN THAILAND 241
other cooptation move; to others it demonstrated government efforts
to meet local demands and promised better understanding and com-
munication between the local population and the Governor's office.
Economic Aspects: Buddhists and Muslims agree that disturbances
in the Muslim provinces are closely related to economic problems that
have some unique, local dimensions. The economic structure is domi-
nated by Thai Buddhist government officials and Thai Chinese capital-
ists (merchants and rubber plantation owners). Although it can be
demonstrated that on a nationwide scale there are Thai Buddhists who
are as poor as the southern Muslims, the focus of the latter is more
narrow, usually confined to the border provinces. In this universe, the
Muslim is generally a rubber tapper (heavily dependent on fluctuating
world market prices for natural rubber), a fisherman, or a vendor, while
the Thai Chinese and the Thai Buddhists occupy the higher socio-
economic strata. Moreover, the relatively low educational attainment
of the southern Muslims makes economic advancement correspond-
ingly difficult. Ethnic divisions thus tend to coincide with economic
cleavages.
Some Muslim leaders conclude that autonomy or secession is nec-
essary for the Muslims to obtain a "just" share of the income generated
in the area. This claim is based on the assumption that the four border
provinces are rich in rubber and tin but this wealth is siphoned off by
Thai Buddhists and Thai Chinese. Others, however, point to the fact
that the budgets of the four provinces are heavily subsidized by the cen-
tral government, and argue that pressure must be exerted within ex-
isting institutions to increase this share.7 Simultaneously, they say, the
Muslims themselves must take a more "positive" attitude towards edu-
cation as a means of economic advancement.
One especially sensitive point is the government's policy of estab-
lishing land settlements (nikom sang kong eng) whereby land is allo-
cated to Buddhists from other provinces. There is no evidence that such
settlements are concentrated in the Muslim provinces as compared to
other provinces in the country, but this is a moot point to those Mus-
lims who fear that eventually the program may seriously affect their
own land tenure.8 Separatist spokesmen naturally emphasize the nikom
program in their anti-government propaganda.
7 Narathiwas province, which is not atypical, collected local revenues totalling
25 million baht in 1970, while budget expenditures were slightly over 117 million
baht. This does not include capital investment effected directly under central ad-
ministration offices. Changwat Narathiwas, Hua kawbanyasarob kong changwat
narathiwas, 2513. (Narathiwas Provincial Yearbook, 1970).
8
According to the Ministry of the Interior, Self-help Land Settlement in Thai-
land (Bangkok, 1971), there were 49 nikom in the country, of which six were in the
Muslim provinces.
242 ASTRI SUHRKE
Loyalists and Separatists
Within the southern Muslim community, then, one can distinguish
two schools of thought with respect to the nature of the problem and
the means of solving it. One view, which may be labelled "loyalist,"
holds that the Muslims must accept Thai rule as legitimate, and that
they must work with Thai officials to solve problems of economic de-
velopment, education and administration in the South. Autonomy or
separatism are seen as impossible and for that reason undesirable. The
loyalists argue that the Thai government permits a great deal of toler-
ance in religious and educational affairs. In some respects they blame
the government more for sins of omission than commission (e.g., failing
to provide adequate social and economic infrastructure), although they
also fear government misuse of power against the Muslims as indi-
viduals or as a group.
A completely contrary view-"the separatist"-maintains that the
Muslims will never be able to protect and maintain themselves as a
distinct community under Thai rule, and that opportunities for eco-
nomic self-advancement are stifled. Those who are concerned with the
latter (and not all Muslim leaders are), also argue that the debate be-
tween "orthodox" and "modern" Muslims in the South is perverted
by the presence of a Thai administration since to become "modern"
means to become Thai. Only by obtaining autonomy or independence
can those Muslims who wish to become "modern" do so while still re-
maining a Malay Muslim. Similarly, those whose primary concern is to
protect religious and communal values can only do so under conditions
of self-rule. This view has in the past been held by advocates of both
autonomy and secession. However, the attractiveness of autonomy as
an alternative has declined as the Thai government proved equally op-
posed to this as to separatism. Its leading advocates in the past were
either killed (Haji Sulong) or went into exile (Abdul Na Saiburi and
Tengku Abdul Yala).9 Although autonomy may appear as a possible
compromise in the future if the situation in the South markedly de-
teriorates, it is not likely to find many supporters at the present time.
Moreover, it should be recalled that the central government has tra-
ditionally responded to challenges to its authority by trying to tighten
central control rather than to decentralize.
While the movements favoring autonomy appear to have declined
9 Some autonomy may be openly advocated by Thai Buddhists, however. In
January 1976, for instance, two smaller opposition parties in the National Assem-
bly, the New Force (Palang Mai) and the Socialist Party of Thailand, formed a
united front and included an item in their program that read: "Equal rights and
some autonomy must be provided to minority groups." Bangkok Post, January 6,
1976. Some Muslims in the Bangkok area (who are not Malay) have tried to mediate
between the government and southern Muslims who advocate autonomy, arguing
that the latter "is not treason." See statement by The Siam Muslim Group in
Bangkok Post, June 27, 1974.
MUSL[MSX IN THAILAND 243
in recent years, the separatists remain. Their strength and constituency,
however, are extremely hard to assess. They do not seem to draw sup-
port from any one educational or occupational stratum within the
community. So far they have not demonstrated any ability to mobilize
popular support on a sustained and massive basis. Violent conflict in-
volving separatists has been limited in scope and distinguished by its
festering nature. The separatists are divided among themselves, al-
though it is difficult for outsiders to determine if the various organiza-
tions are competing, overlapping, or duplicating entities.'0 None of
them claims to receive significant external support. Still, the separatists
maintain that their strength lies "with the people," and that the strug-
gle will and must continue regardless of the poor prospects for success
in the near future.
A closer view of the attitudes and characteristics of the separatists
can be attained from the interviews below. They are contrasted with
similar interviews and descriptions of representatives of "loyalist"
Muslims."
Mr. X is a young Muslim born in one of the four southern border
provinces.12 He speaks Thai, English, and Arabic, in addition to his
native Malay. He has a university degree from abroad, has close con-
tacts with radical student groups in Malaysia, is on intimate terms with
leaders of the clandestine separatist movement, the United Patani Free-
dom Movement, and earns his living by working for the Thai govern-
ment in a professional capacity. His views on the separatist movement,
its chances of success, and of the alternative of accepting the Thai gov-
ernment's integrationist policies are ambivalent. He is hedging his bets
and keeps his options and contacts open to both sides. He summarizes
his attitude as follows:
I am a Malay Muslim. I must stay with my people. The Thai govern-
ment does not respect us. The villagers are treated with contempt and
the educated Muslims are regarded with suspicion. We have a right to
self-determination, to remain Malay Muslim. On the other hand, it is
a long and difficult struggle. Maybe it is better to stay with Thailand
and take as much advantage of the educational and economic oppor-
tunities as we can-at least until the Movement becomes stronger.
The United Patani Freedom Movement:13 The meeting with a represen-
10
Various names have appeared in recent years, including The Patani Islamic
Revolution, The National Revolutionary Front, The National Liberation Front of
Patani, and The United Patani Freedom Movement.
liThe interviews took place in 1971. They were conducted in Thai and Eng-
lish and with the assistance of a Malay interpreter.
12
Further details have been omitted to prevent identification of the informant.
13
For a more recent interview with separatist spokesmen, see Norman Peagan,
"Boiling Point in the Troubled South," Far Eastern Economnic Review, May 1976,
pp. 10-11. Mr. Peagan does not identify which organization these separatists repre-
sented.
244 ASTRI SUHRKE
tative of the UPFM military section took place in Pattani under con-
ditions of considerable preoccupation with security and cautionary
measures by the intermediaries who arranged the meeting.
The military man is quite young. He speaks some Thai, but much
prefers his native Malay. He obtained his military training by staying
with the Thai Army for two years, and says that some of his fellow
guerrillas also have been in the Thai Army or police forces previously.
I have been in the jungle for eight years now. My whole family
joined the Movement, partly because we were afraid of the police,
partly because we want to help. When we joined, the Movement was
a pretty small group around Poh Yeh. Now there are about 1,000 of
us, although it is difficult to give exact figures. Some are not quite
loyal, but are merely bandits who have escaped the Thai police. They
are not true to the Movement at heart, and we give them the bad
weapons. We now have one top-secret permanent camp in the jungle,
the rest of us move around. We do not want to keep too many men
in the jungle but, rather, send in people to contact the villagers to
educate them about the Movement and to teach them how to handle
weapons. This way we have an infrastructure which we can call upon
when the day comes. Now we are building up our strength and we
only attack to get food and weapons, and also to show the people our
strength. Sometimes it is necessary to kidnap or kill Muslims in order
to show the people that they must work with us. The poor people
give us their manpower, but the rich are less willing to give. Do we
get more support from the uneducated than the educated Muslims? In
one sense, education helps us because it is easier to teach the educated
Muslims about our cause. They understand the principles. On the
other hand, the educated Muslims are sometimes afraid to cooperate
because they fear the Thai government.
The Movement, he says, draws on a variety of sources in its edu-
cational program. There are political teachers at the camp who discuss
guerrilla tactics developed in the Vietnam and Algerian wars; there
are seminars on Castro and Che Guevara. Educational material reaches
the Movement in various ways. One English-language book about Che
Guevara, for instance, was translated into Malay by a Malaysian who
had studied at Oxford and supported the Movement because his grand-
father had originally escaped from Thailand. Chinese sources are
translated into Malay by Malaysian Chinese (for appropriate remuner-
ation), and Vietnamese sources are sometimes translated into Thai by
persons who have lived in the Eastern border regions where there are
sizable Vietnamese communities.
As for any further cooperation between the Movement and other
groups, he comments:
The communists [Thai communists in the mid-South, the Malay-
sian, mainly Chinese communists who use the border provinces as a
MUSLIMS IN THAILAND 245
sanctuary] use the same tactics as us, but our aims are different. We
can work together for tactical and diplomatic purposes, but not be-
yond that.
We do want international recognition, so that when we are ready,
we will have foreign support. For instance, we have discussed if we
should kidnap British or Americans who come to the South so that
we can get international publicity.
With respect to the current military situation (1971) and the joint
Thai-Malaysian border patrols, he says:
Sometimes we have a mock fight with the Thai Border Patrol
Police, and the police units surrender their weapons. Now things are
a bit difficult because the Thai Army is brought in, and we are also
worried that the Malaysian security forces will go after us more
heavily in the future. We have told the Malaysian forces not to attack
their Muslim brothers and said that we, in return, will not attack joint
patrols. If we attack, more Malaysian forces may come in.
In the long run, you can interpret our tactic as a means to weaken
the Thai economy by making the government spend more on the mili-
tary. When the soldiers come down here we withdraw or hide, or only
surface to ambush them. It is then difficult for the government to de-
fend their expenditures to the National Assembly. Also, if the govern-
ment has to spend more money on the military there will be less to
spend on economic development, and this will turn the people against
the government.
The meeting with representatives of the political arm of the Move-
ment took place in a village in a quite different atmosphere. Here we
were clearly on "home ground." Except for the fact that the meeting
took place at night, there were no security precautions or nervousness.
One of the representatives was a to-kru, the other was an imam (leader
of prayers). The imam was an old man, the to-kru rather younger.
None of them spoke Thai.
The aim of our organization is full independence-not autonomy
or federation with Thailand. Neither do we want to be part of Malay-
sia-even if that were possible. Only independence will serve our
people. In order to obtain this, the most important thing is to work
with the people and to teach them. They must be taught Islam first,
and when they are strong in Islam we teach the history of our region
and the needs for the future.
Our struggle is an old one. In recent times, the most promising
periods for our movement were probably during the war [World War
II], and after the war when Hadji Sulong was the leader. But then
came difficult years, and things are also difficult now-partly because
there are parliamentarians. The parliamentarians [from the South]
are not doing the right thing. Their way of doing things will not help
our people, but some people might still listen to them and follow
246 ASTRI SUHRKE
them. We are also in a difficult period now because the government is
trying to change the Pondok schools. This we must prevent. If neces-
sary, we will stop all the schools in the villages because no teachers will
dare to come here and teach. The people here are not interested in
learning Thai. But the government is trying to lure the people over to
their side through education. Some to-kru have followed the govern-
ment policy because they are afraid, but we can always win back the
to-kru.
The policy of the Thai government to appoint some Muslims
from the region to administrative positions is a bad policy. These Mus-
lims cannot really help their people because in their heart they become
like the government."
On the question of outside aid, the religious leaders were skeptical
about the merits of establishing a working relationship with Thai and
Chinese communists in the area. It was noted that they were not Mtalay
Muslims; they were outsiders. Ideological differences were also men-
tioned. They were only slightly more optimistic about the possibility
for assistance from Muslim countries and groups, although this was
clearly a more desirable option.
We hope for help from other Muslim countries, but this is dif-
ficult. We cannot accept much help from Malaysia either. We appre-
ciate demonstrations in Malaysia on behalf of the rights of Muslims
in Thailand, this gives our people moral support, but we cannot rely
on getting much more assistance. When the day of uprising comes, we
will have diplomatic and international connections, but first we must
work with the people and strengthen ourselves. The people are with
us, and our organization, which has existed for 20 years, is now much
better organized than before. We have a centralized structure with a
small committee of leaders on the top, the lower levels do not know
the persons higher up, and so on. This makes us much more effective
in the struggle.
It has been a long struggle. If we do not succeed in our lifetime,
the next generation will carry on to victory.
Abdul Bhuminarong, at 40 years old, has twice been elected to the
National Assembly as representative
from Yala. During
the 1957 elec-
tion, he ran on a Saha Phoumi ticket; in the 1969 elections he ran as an
independent but joined the government party (Saha Pracha Thai)
shortly after being elected. He comes from an old and respected
Muslim
family; his father, in particular,
was well known in the area. Mr.
Bhuminarong studied in Kelantan-although
he has no close family
there he says
it was "quite usual" to study in Kelantan at that time.
Later he spent
14 years
in
Bangkok, working
for a Japanese
firm and
serving as a parliamentarian after the 1957 (December) elections. He
returned to Yala to campaign
in the 1969 elections, and won a small
margin (37 votes) over his two opponents (a Thai-Chinese municipal
MUSLIMS IN THAILAND 247
councillor and a Thai Buddhist rubber plantation owner). He explains
the slender margin by referring to his long absence from the province,
and the fact that he won at all he attributes to his family's prestige and
standing in the area. He lives in a Thai-style house in the provincial
capital, owns a small business, and is married to a Thai-Chinese woman
from Yala. His wife was previously a radio announcer and now teaches
high school. She helped her husband in the election campaign (1969)
and says that the villagers did not react negatively to the quite unusual
fact of a Thai-Chinese being married to a Muslim, although she took
care to respect the customs of the villagers so as to avoid giving offense.
Bhuminarong commented on what he saw as marked changes in
government policy towards the Muslims in the last decade. He is par-
ticularly appreciative of the educational policy.
Primary education must be expanded on a broad basis so that
the Muslims learn to speak Thai. If they only complete the lower
primary school level they soon forget Thai. But if they complete higher
primary school as well they do not forget Thai. Now, the Thai govern-
ment officials think that the Muslims are stupid. If the Muslims can
speak Thai they can protect their rights.
He notes that education does provide the Muslim with an increased
range of professional and economic options, and stresses the encourage-
ment given by the government in providing high school and university
education for Thai-Muslims. Several Muslims who manage to go this
far do not want to return to the South, however, but it is important
that they do return and set an example to others in demonstrating
what benefits education can bring, he says. Moreover, if these educated
Muslims become government officials they will be able to help their
people because they know the local customs and the language. On the
other hand, it would not be good if Muslims aspired to high govern-
ment positions in the South because the government might then be
afraid of separatism.
We have to find a balance. It is better to have educated Thais as
government officials than to have uneducated Muslims as officials, and
still better to have both Thais and Muslims working in the administra-
tion so that the government would not worry about separatism.
The separatist movement is an old story. It is a hopeless cause. The
separatists do not know how to organize and fight, and the young Mus-
lims are not interested in the movement. The younger generation is
interested in getting an education and moving on-within the Thai
nation.
He does not see any incompatibility between being a good Mus-
lim, on the one hand, and having a secular education and speaking
Thai, on the other. Only the older generation feels this, "the conserva-
248 ASTRI SUHRKE
tive and stubborn old people." In this connection, he recommends that
the to-kru be presented with progressive views more forcefully than is
the case at present. The to-kru constitute a highly respected and ex-
tremely important leadership segment in the community and they
should be educated in disciplines other than religion so that they could
teach in these areas as well. "At present, the government only brings
groups of to-kru to Bangkok for sight-seeing." There should be a much
more comprehensive program.
Even though he emphasized the need for secular education, he
warned against the professed government policy of closing down all
Pondok schools by the end of 1971 unless they start converting to
private schools and introduce Thai language and secular topics in the
curriculum. The conversion process is difficult and must be gradual.
Religious education is better than no education which may be the al-
ternative in some areas if the Pondok are closed. Most importantly, the
Pondok have symbolic importance to the Muslims and there will cer-
tainly be troubles if they are closed, he warns.
Khun Pisan is a young Muslim living in Yala where he teaches
school. He will shortly be promoted to local school inspector. He sug-
gests that he may not be representative of many Muslims since he is too
Thai in many respects-including his practice of speaking Thai at
home with his wife and children (although lie speaks Malay with his
parents) and having a Thai name.
My father, who is a merchant, was very strict with our religious
upbringing when we were small, but he encouraged me to
go
to
school. I went first to a Pondok school in Pattani, then to a govern-
ment school, followed by pre-university studies at an American-sup-
ported Christian school in Bangkok. Many of the Muslims who, like
me, go to Bangkok, do not want to return to the South because they
feel that people here are too orthodox and concerned with religion
alone. But things are changing here. It is only the old people who
are mainly concerned about religion and the after-life; the young
people are interested in education and material welfare, in social and
economic mobility. They are reversing the priorities of the old genera-
tion. The villagers are changing. They come into the town to sell
their rubber and go to the stores; they change into town-style clothes
when they are here and change back to traditional dress when they
return to the villages. When they
are in town they even go to the
movie-which is not quite as sinful as it used to be. Some to-kru are
also changing. The to-kru sometimes say that it is good to teach the
Thai language because then the people can talk to the government
officials and protect their rights, and, secondly, have a better material
life. In 10-20 years I think the Pondok schools will change to become
full private schools that teach only
a few hours of Islam.
MUSLIMS IN THAILAND 249
The old people are right when they say it is impossible to be both
a traditionalist in religious questions and a modern man. When you
go to the city and you get an education you cannot be so traditional
and strict in many ways. But you can still combine the essence of
Islam with modem life.
Concerning the student demonstrations in Malaysia in June 1971
protesting Thai government policy in the Muslim provinces, Khun
Pisan feels that the news did not have much impact on the local
people: "they only want to be left in peace, they don't want trouble.
Perhaps some bandits in the jungle are interested in the news." He
also thinks that the old, traditional Muslims in the area look askance
at the Muslims in Malaysia for being too "modern"-"there are no
Pondok in Malaysia and the Muslims there even drink beer."
In discussing the parliamentarians elected from the Muslim
provinces during the 1969 elections, Khun Pisan emphasizes that:
when people elect their representatives, they first look at his religion,
but secondly they see what sort of man he is. Remember that two Bud-
dhist candidates from Yala got many votes. But a Muslim candidate-
if he is a good man-may have more of an impact since the government
will know that he speaks for the people. The reason that many mem-
bers of parliament from the South have been rather quiet in the past
is not that they are afraid of speaking up or afraid that the government
will distrust them of being separatists, but just that they are bad
M.P.'s. Still, the government tends to misunderstand the situation here
by suspecting that many Muslims are politically bad. In fact, the
separatists probably make up a very small group. The government also
misunderstands the people here by believing that all Muslims are reli-
gious traditionalists. In fact, as I have said, things are changing.
The Muslims in southern Thailand present a classic case of the
dilemmas of a small minority group faced with a majority-directed
integration policy. The leadership of the minority is split between the
loyalists who accept the legitimacy of majority rule and hope for
gradual changes within the existing system, and, on the other hand,
the separatists who proclaim the necessity of self-rule. Each group at-
tempts to mobilize popular support, but neither has been markedly
successful to date. One of the most significant factors determining the
outcome of this competition in the future may well be the govern-
ment's education policy and the extent to which it succeeds in mediat-
ing the conflict between "traditional" and "modern" values. If this
dichotomy is cast in a communal-religious mold whereby "moderniza-
tion" is seen as equivalent to "Thai-ification," the loyalists (and the
government) will undoubtedly meet considerable local resistance. For
the separatists the question is, rather, to what extent the movement(s)
250 ASTRI SUHRKE
can expand by denying secular education and thus alienating younger
Muslims who receive such education. Another question relates to the
role of young Muslims who have studied abroad in Muslim countries.
Very little is known about this group, even its size, yet it might con-
ceivably emerge to compete with local religious leaders who have been
instrumental in shaping separatist movement(s) in the past.
ASTRI SUI-IRKE is an Assistant Professor in the School of International Service,
American University, Washington, D.C.