Date & time
This seminar examines how Islam has shaped the struggle of Malay Muslim separatist movements in Thailand’s southernmost region. For the past 16 years, this region has been wracked by violence which has cost more than 7,000 lives. Based on extensive interviews with former and active separatists as well as analysis of internal documents, I argue that Islam has informed and inflected Thailand’s secessionist conflict in various ways. In the form of political ethnicity, it functions as a political identity marker as well as motivational and justification framework. In the form of politicised religion, it provides a blueprint of new political and moral order that forms a crucial part of the political claims of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani (Patani Malay National Revolutionary Front – BRN), the most important separatist group.
Historically, Islam has always been an integral part of what is perceived as a liberation movement in southern Thailand —though the degree of significance varies from time to time. The shift towards a more radical interpretation of Islam among the separatist groups in southern Thailand, particularly the BRN, began in the late 1980s against the backdrop of a global Islamic resurgence and the collapse of communism. While the BRN’s political objectives include some religious agendas, its political vision starkly differs from that of transnational Islamist groups. I argue that the BRN’s invocation of Islam to legitimise violent rebellion does not necessarily mean that they are uncompromising religious zealots. In the wake of the changing political opportunity structure following the start of formal peace dialogue in 2013, the BRN has shown that it is a rational actor willing to make calculated decisions and compromise. Nevertheless, elevating the conflict to a more cosmological realm might make it more difficult for the BRN leadership to compromise on its political demands.
About the Speaker
Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political and Social Change. She has worked as an analyst for International Crisis Group focusing on the southern insurgency and national politics in Thailand. Prior to that, she worked as a journalist with The Nation and Associated Press. Rungrawee has a BA in Journalism from Bangkok’s Thammasat University, an MA in Southeast Asian Studies from the National University of Singapore and an MA in Conflict Resolution in Divided Societies from King’s College, London. Rungrawee’s works have been published in Conflict, Security & Development, Critical Asian Studies, Bangkok Post, New Mandala, East Asia Forum, BBC Thai and Matichon (Thai).