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Why are Thai monks and teachers oftentimes killed in Thailand’s Deep South?

An old article written by Nithi Iaosiwong: “Protect Teachers and Monks” – Matichon
on Friday August 26, 2011 provides reasons behind the killing of teachers in the South.

Of course it is necessary and appropriate to protect teachers with military and police forces. Of course the arrangement of forces providing protection must be improved for more effectiveness than in the past, so that there are no losses of both teachers and soldiers-police providing protection. But it is not possible to protect teachers from not being harmed 100% so long as there are people who aim to harm teachers. No matter what, people will seek out and find “loopholes” to harm teachers in the end. But why are teachers targets of harm?

Teachers are deemed targets because harm of teachers does not arise from planted bombs in communities where teachers happen to be in the location and are incidentally harmed. And teachers are not harmed only because they are one of the ” siyae” (Siamese) riding motorcycles in places where they can be attacked. But there is intention to harm teachers directly. Even though opportunities to do so are not fully open, but it is because teachers are teachers that they are harmed.

Teachers are targets more than doctors, more than irrigation officers, more than Subdistrict clerks, and perhaps even more than civil servants of all other sectors, except only for soldiers and police….why?

I want to guess that there are two types of answers which are related to each other. In the first place is the fact that teachers’ status as “officers of the state” may be more meaningful than those of other government sectors. Even if a teacher of private schools, teachers are those who bring the ideology of the Thai state (which event creators dis agree with) into the Malayu Muslim community (which is a society that they want to change to be in accordance with their ideology).

Therefore, teachers are “officers” of the Thai state more than officers of other government units. Whether they intend to or not, teachers are warriors of ideology, while doctors and irrigation officers are not.

It is certain that, by the nature of their work, there are many teachers and they must stay in risky areas where it is harder for them to defend themselves, compared to state officers of other sectors. Therefore, it is easier for them to become targets. But if the problem is viewed as a phenomenon in this way, then there are no solutions than to solve the problem at the phenomenon level, such as the increase of soldiers and police to protect teachers and schools which makes teachers and schools more of a “battlefield.” In the second instance, based on the first factor, schools or education organized by the government (through both government and private schools) itself is viewed as the enemy.

In reality, viewing education that is organized by the state as the enemy is a very normal thing. I myself am an enemy of many things, many factors of the state’s organization of education. And every time I discuss this matter with others, I see many more enemies of the state’s organization of education. It is even written in articles, dissertations, and works of criticisms in larger forms, in large quantities.

But it is a shame that the path to fight with such an “enemy” is not an open path for those who are dissatisfied with the state’s education in the three southern border provinces. Because of many conditions that will not be mentioned here, fighting with the “enemy” has turned into harming each other. From the perspective of creators of events, how is state education an enemy?

This matter requires much further study. But the import ant thing to keep in mind is that even if we cannot access the viewpoint of the event creators or of the leaders of the movement, we can access the thoughts and views of the general population. Although these people are not part of the movement, but their frustrations must necessarily be one of the issues being fought for by the movement. Because the movement works among the people and demands support from the people, it would naturally add such an issue -which is a burning topic in the hearts of the people–as part of its reason for fighting.

Moreover, knowledge of frustrations regarding education as organized by the government for people in general would open the path to allow the government to improve and fix issues on point. If people in general did not view schools and teachers as enemies, or if they feel that schools and teachers are their resources, then the harming of teachers and burning of schools would naturally be something they could not accept. Then, if the movement continued (to harm teachers and burn schools) it would be equivalent to creating enemies for the movement among the general population.

Without seriously studying and analyzing data from the people, I rely on documents created by others and some conversations with villagers. I think that there are issues of frustration as follows:

(1) Schools and education destroy the identity of the Malayu Muslim people. It is not just regulations and rituals that are not trusted as being in accordance with religious principles but includes the curriculum and teachings that do not include any Malayu qualities. For instance, children might recite the eight stanza poetry but never learn about pantuns in the Malayu language. This does not include the fact that children may not understand what teachers say very well because teachers do not use the local Malayu language.

In the present, the Ministry of Education has tried to open up more on these issues. For instance, many schools teach the Malaysian language (although it is not the local Malayu language, it is similar) with Rumi letters. Girls’ clothing is what people in the area view as being in accordance with religious principles. There are even stories or cartoons that are local tales read to children. As for the Muslim religion, it is taught in schools more solidly. All of this is solving the problem at the right point. But parents and guardians should be listened to more. More improvements can be made to be aligned with their expectations.

(2) Presently, parents and guardians understand that the Thai language is important. Many complain that they send their children to school for many years but their children still cannot write their own names with Thai letters. This is one side of the effectiveness of education, an issue where schools in the area cannot realize parents’ expectations. This does not yet include the standard of education that is lower than the national average. It is one reason why educational opportunities for children in the area do not lead very far.

The safety of teachers is one thing that cannot be lacking in improving the effectiveness of education, but it is not the only thing. Many other things must be thought of, on many sides, so that education of children in schools yields better results than what is currently the case. Studying in schools that is under the direction of the state must really make their lives different. Then, schools will become an indispensable ally of society.

(3) Other than educational effectiveness in schools, access of higher education for children also has many obstacles. One thing is that they were not educated well enough, making it difficult to continue education. Another is the lack of financial resources and necessity to help feed the family, making it difficult to continue education. Education that does not lead to anything, because of the inability to continue education , may make education have less meaning to people in the area.

(4) Education lacks connection and correspondence to the lives of learners. It is another matter about which many complaints were heard. Even though it is a problem that also exists in other parts of Thailand, it seems to create more problems for people in the area because of the different social conditions.

(5) Everything stated thus far makes schools a clearer symbol of domination than in other areas. Therefore, it is not surprising that when someone burns a school, even though villagers may not agree with it, villagers understand it easily and may not be very bothered.

It is appropriate to protect teachers with soldiers and police forces; at least it provides morale to teachers. But it is also necessary to change schools and education from being the enemy to being an ally through other means. That will be a more effecting and lasting method of protection that the use of soldiers and police forces.

As for the case with monks, it is appropriate to protect monks undertaking religious duties because it is necessary. But at the same time, there should be review and consideration of whether Buddhist temples are still an ally of people in the community? To what degree? Although the majority of the people in the community may not be Buddhists, if temples and monks can be adjusted to become a central resource, villagers can use them for benefits in different ways. Muslims make use of it in one way; Buddhists make use of it in another way. Then, harming monks may become something that villagers increasingly cannot accept.

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