Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Although Thailand endorses Buddhism as the national religion, there is a Muslim minority population of an estimated four to seven million people. Most Muslims today live in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces, originally land of the Patani Kingdom, before the Thai government ceased control with support of British colonial power in 1909. In the three southernmost provinces, also known as Thailand’s Deep South, Muslims are the majority population. However, as with all of Thailand’s provincial governments, most public administration is controlled by central authorities who are mostly non-Muslim. Government officials are assigned from the capital city, with little understanding of local Muslim culture and identity.
Armed groups have fought to restore political sovereignty in the Deep South for more than 50 years, targeting symbolic figures of the Thai national state such as attacks on police officers and teachers at the secular public schools. Violence has escalated in the past decade due to renewed efforts of the central government to suppress the conflict by using severe military force and by overlooking the political ideology at the heart of this dispute.
In 2002, the Thai prime minister gave a press interview where he denied the existence of a separatist movement and belittled the violence to an act of “sparrow bandits” without political ideology. In October 2004, during a public demonstration for the release of six men charged with supplying weapons to insurgents, the army arrested hundreds of people in the town of Tak Bai in Narathiwat province. In the arrest, soldiers tied people’s hands behind their backs and stacked them into trucks, five to six people deep. Five hours later, the trucks arrived at an army base and 78 men died of suffocation. The prime minister’s initial response was that the men were weak from fasting during the month of Ramadan.
In 2004, the central government issued a state of martial law in the Deep South, permitting officials to arrest suspects and conduct searches without a warrant. In 2005, the government increased military power by issuing an Emergency Decree, permitting “preventive detention” of anyone – including those who are not criminal suspects – at undefined sites for up to 30 days. This Emergency Decree also declared state officials exempt from charges of human rights violations. In response to the government crackdown, violent attacks have become more severe and widespread, extending to commercial areas and causing civilian casualties. Over the past eight years, violence continues in the Deep South with more than 5,000 deaths and almost 10,000 injuries, both Buddhists and Muslims.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Muhammad-Ayub Pathan is creating a bottom-up peace process in Thailand’s Deep South, the three southernmost provinces mired in long-lasting violence between the Malay-Muslim movements and national military forces. Ayub believes that peace can be achieved and sustained only if local communities have a collective voice and can put pressure on all conflicting parties. Instead of waiting for outside experts to propose conflict solutions which often do not match the local context, he builds a bottom-up movement to engage local communities in promoting and sustaining peace. Ayub is facilitating dialogue among local residents, previously silenced by fear of the ongoing violence and by discrimination from central authorities as supporters of terrorism. He has initiated a journalism movement to equip local residents – particularly women and youth – to report their own stories and broadcast them in local media, in both the national Thai language and local Patani Yawi dialect. This is the first time in decades that newspapers and radio stations are available in Patani-Malay Yawi, perceived by central authorities as the language of terrorists, but promoted by Ayub as the native tongue spoken by three million Muslims in the Deep South. He is creating a variety of mutually supporting mechanisms to provoke dialogue and develop consensus among citizens at three levels: leaders of conflicting factions, local citizen organizations, and diverse communities at the grassroots level.
As a result of Ayub’s efforts, local citizens have spoken against both conflicting factions and civilian attacks have reduced. Local citizens are more engaged and their perspectives are gaining more media coverage as the Thai government and militant groups are beginning negotiations toward a peaceful resolution.
Ayub is expanding his collaborations to media and citizen sector networks in other conflict zones in Asia. In 2011, he set up a training program for Deep South Journalism School students in collaboration with a major newspaper, university and citizen sector organizations in Aceh, Indonesia.