Apr. 7, 2014 by Darius
There was a small item in today’s Washington Post about a bomb going off in southern Thailand, wounding dozens of people. Thailand has an insurgency no one talks about, one that has killed more than 5,000 people since 2004.
There has been smoldering discontent in southern Thailand for decades. At issue is a religious and ethnic divide. Thailand is predominantly Buddhist and ethnically Thai; parts of the far south are Muslim and ethnically Malay. Southern Thailand used to be its own kingdom; it was conquered by Thailand in the 18th century and made an official part of Thailand in 1909 when Great Britain dominated the area. In Thailand, Muslims have felt discriminated against economically and socially.
In 2004, the insurgency took off in terms of violence. Between 2004 and 2007, nearly 2,500 people died, including more than 2,000 civilians. In the years since, sporadic violence has continued, mostly in the form of shootings or bombings that target a few people. Since the attacks typically do not target Westerners or Western-frequented areas of Thailand, few in the West seem to care about or even be aware of the situation. The low casualty rate per attack also contributes to the lack of coverage of the insurgency. But the numbers add up. No matter how you look at it, 5,000 is a lot of people.
Thailand’s own Muslim insurgency also helps explain, but not excuse, Thailand’s hostility towards Muslim refugees who are fleeing neighboring Myanmar, generally trying to make their way to Malaysia. On several occasions in the last few months, Thai officials have been implicated in turning these refugees over to human traffickers. [See, for example, https://notwhatyoumightthink.wordpress.com/2013/12/05/thinking-aloud-for-rohingyas-from-bad-to-worse/.]
Thailand’s government has a lot on its plate at the moment, including curbing rampant street protests. Dealing with its low-level insurgency may seem like a relatively minor concern to a government trying to hold on to power. But the simmering resentment between Thailand’s Buddhist majority and its Muslim minority could all too quickly come to a full boil if the Buddhist-Muslim problems across the border in Myanmar spread.