Many of the problems that have contributed to the violence in South Thailand have in fact existed for a long time. Differences in religion and culture have been cited as causing violence. In fact, it is important for the central state of Thailand to understand the differences of the southern states.
NGOs working in the deep south of Thailand have learnt the importance of creating spaces for local people to voice their opinions and take part in activities. It is key that people feel they control their own destinies if there is to be peace in this region.
Islam is the majority religion in the three most southern provinces of Thailand – Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat. Religious considerations play an important role in any development project. Leaders are an important part of the culture of Muslim communities in the region, so work which cooperates with community leaders – religious, village-level, and political – is crucial to the success of development projects.
By gathering people together and providing an open space for them to express their opinions on the problems affecting the village, it's possible to create a peaceful foundation for future development. Development that is successful does not come from the state, but from the people most affected.
In Pa-te, in the Yaha district of Pattani, problems of violence because of the war are widespread, as well as unemployment and drug abuse. Community-based decision making has led to education programmes in local schools as one way of stopping future generations falling into the same trap. With the help of the Faith Community Network, they developed types of Muslim schools known as ‘keerooartee’, to educate young people about the benefits of peace, and for which they have managed to get government support.
In Salopatae, the economic centre of Yala province, the mosque did not serve as the centre of the village for the Muslim community. People practised religion in their own homes, and therefore lost the community aspect of the mosque as a meeting place. The Faith Community Network worked with the villagers to redevelop the mosque, rather than the local government office, as the centre of village activity. The redevelopment of the mosque allowed for the same type of youth education as in Pata, as well as the establishment of a women’s group that makes items from local materials for sale.
Kadudou village, in the Pinang District of Yala, was in a state of conflict. People didn’t trust each other. Many meetings were arranged and eventually they set up a sewing group in order to develop some kind of livelihood for the villagers. Again, the local mosque had lost its role as a centre of village life, meaning people didn’t talk to each other. The sewing group took on its role.
These are just villages in a global world. The Muslim community in Thailand is a minority – Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country, but it is wrong to say that religion is the cause of the violence in the South. Rather, the Thai state fails to understand the local culture sufficiently, and act accordingly. The same is the case for the state’s response to the violence, it is wrong to simply brand everybody ‘terrorists’ and then respond with more violence.
As these examples show, involving local people directly leads to new and sustainable ways of resolving conflict and building a peaceful life.