Guest Writings
31/10/04 Thailand: Killing Hope by Satya Sagar

Within just three years of the dehumanizing, US manufactured War on Terror, for many around the world, the routine murder of Muslim civilians by armed 'keepers of law and order' is not an outrage anymore.

According to the logic of fear and hatred promoted by this brutal, bogus War every Muslim, everywhere, is a potential terrorist with no rights of any kind. Echoing Pol Pot George Bush Jr. has decreed to all Muslims 'You die no loss. You live no gain' and Bushites around the world are saying 'Aye, aye Sir'.

And yet when innocent Muslims die- face down, hands tied, kicked, stubbed, piled five on top of the other, necks broken on the backs of steaming army trucks- and you don't cry- someone needs to pull the plug and shut you down.

On October 26, Thailand, a key US ally in the War on Terror, perpetrated precisely such a massacre killing 87 unarmed Muslim protestors in the southern Thai town of Tak Bai. 81 of these died of 'suffocation', packed inside a few military trucks taking them to a detention center.

According to the official version of events a 2000 strong crowd, mostly made up of local town residents and demanding the release of youth arrested by police for allegedly aiding separatists, got riotous and were fired upon by the Thai army. The firing itself killed six people on the spot. The other 81 died when detainees were tied up and thrown one on top of the other into military trucks covered with tarpaulin and taken on a six-hour journey in tropical heat.

Media accounts reported detainees being beaten with rifle stubs, kicked repeatedly and denied any assistance while desperately pleading for help. Many of those who died of 'suffocation' did so due to their kidneys failing, crushed under the weight of prisoners on top of them. Those at the bottom of the pile were not even allowed to lift their heads by soldiers stomping them down with their boots.

The Thai army is not known for its respect of human rights by any definition of the term. During six decades of dictatorship over Thailand it killed hundreds of innocent people under the guise of 'anti-Communist operations' or while putting down political dissent. During the Vietnam War, as a lackey of invading US imperialists, it sent death squads into Laos to kill pro-Independence activists.

Kicked out of power by a courageous pro-democracy movement in the early nineties the Thai army still survives as a parasitical creature, living off the backs of its own people, looting national resources, running extortion rackets, involved in drugs and gun smuggling, providing hit men for private assassination jobs, the works.

And yet, even by its own dismal standards, the Tak Bai massacre represents a new low. For what the world saw there was raw sectarian hatred, that not animals but only human beings can display, of 'troublesome Muslims' at work. Sentiments similar to that displayed by US soldiers to their Iraqi captives in Abu Gharib or what the Hindu mobs did to women and children during the pogroms in the Indian province of Gujarat two years ago. All of them, inheritors of that most frightening face of fascism -the very personal, very direct, very complete contempt for their victims and every conceivable norm of humanity.

While in an earlier period such a massacre would have brought global condemnation from around the world, in this case there was outrage expressed only by a few Muslim nations. As if when ordinary civilians, who happen to be Muslims are wantonly murdered, and that too in such a brutal manner. the only ones to protest should be fellow Muslims and not all of humanity.

Without underestimating the indigenous capacity for cruelty in every nation one can say that this international climate of impunity, when it comes to attacking Muslims everywhere, is due to the post-September 11 paranoia promoted by the US regime of George Bush Jr. A paranoia and hate that is robbing our world of every redeeming value it ever possessed.

On the part of the Thai government to use its military as the main weapon to tackle what is a low-level separatist insurgency, shows not just political but also abject moral bankruptcy.

Just six months ago, on April 28, the Thai army had shot 107 Muslim youth, armed with mere machetes and holed up inside one of southern Thailand's holiest mosques. They could all have been disarmed and arrested with no or few casualties. They were instead shot like rabbits. At that time the incident was described as a 'mistake' by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra though not one of the guilty army officers was punished.

In his first reaction to the Tak Bai massacre Thaksin again explained it as yet another 'genuine mistake' while callously praising the army for its 'soft approach'. The real mistake here is the explanation itself, revealing a mindset of indifference if not outright arrogance that has been characteristic of the past four years of the Thaksin regime.

The low-level insurgency in Thailand's Muslim dominated southern provinces is a result of various historical grievances and can be solved if Thai politicians are willing to be a little less arrogant and more imaginative.

The Thai Muslims, mostly of Malay origin, still resent the fact that they were co-opted forcibly into Thailand at the beginning of the last century. They are unhappy with the lack of local representation in state power structures and also what they perceive as racist attempts by the Thai government to impose Thai culture on them. Added to all this is the fact that the southern provinces have become a hotbed of drug smuggling and other criminal activities- much of which unfortunately takes place with the connivance of police and army officials.

Over the decades there have been a few small separatist groups active in the region, trying to spread a violent insurgency, without really making much headway among the local people. With its incompetent, high-handed and crude approach the Thaksin regime is making sure that these groups do succeed and the problem blows up into a larger national disaster.

Now with just a few months to go before national elections the problems in southern Thailand are only bound to worsen, as there is also evidence the situation is being exploited by domestic Thai political elites for dubious purposes. There is even a good chance that current crisis may become an excuse for them to take the country back to the bad old days of dictatorship under the pretext of 'restoring national security'.

The only forces that can prevent the situation from spinning further out of control are Thailand's civil society institutions and various activist groups, there being no other mass political organizations representing the interests of ordinary people. If the history of modern Thailand, with its glorious anti-dictatorship struggles, is any indication they will surely rise to the occasion.

The only question is whether they will do so fast and forcefully enough before the next catastrophe in Thailand's own version of the US War on Terror strikes the nation.

Satya Sagar is a writer based in Thailand. He can be reached at

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