Thai Border Conflict
I’m winding down in the Evergreen Laurel Hotel, reflecting on my first day in Bangkok in a jetlagged fog. For our first outing of the day we visited the Asia Foundation, an non-profit NGO that works with the Asia-Pacific region countries to improve governance, civil society, empowerment for women, and the economy. As I pounded multiple cups of coffee to keep the jetlag at bay, our group listened to two representatives who spoke about a border conflict in the southern provinces of Thailand, which are populated by Muslim Malays.
Although Thailand is bordered by many different ethnic groups, and the ethnic Thais are actually the minority in Thailand, the Muslim Malays feel particularly underrepresented by the centralized Thai government. The Malays have struggled to preserve their cultural identity in Thailand, and they have a long history in Thailand, which I cannot summon the energy to explain just now. The conflict between the Malays and Thai society accelerated in 2000 when the former Prime Minister of Thailand gave the police control over these provinces in order to crack down on drugs. The police were given the authority to kill accused drug dealers, many of which were young Malay men. Since this time, an underground Malay insurgency has grown, and young educated Malay men are being recruited into the insurgency.
Asia Foundation link: http://asiafoundation.org/about/
Cultural identity, and identity in general, are often strong themes in conflict resolution, particularly in an international context. I know that understanding the background of each identity group implicated in a conflict is crucial to a strong analysis of that conflict, but I get so overwhelmed when I think of how embedded religion, politics, and history are in protracted conflicts. I feel it is absolutely impossible to make any kind of recommendation unless a conflict resolver spends a significant amount of time with each group. For example, in the case of the Cambodian genocide, it I feel it is natural to sympathize with a victim when they describe their circumstances during the trauma. For me, during their narratives, the Khmers Rouges become ruthless torturers who lust after power, and the fact that many of them have not apologized for the atrocities they committed is horrifying. Yet when I examine the history of the former members of the Khmer Rouge, I find that many of them were 15-16 years old when they were indoctrinated in a way that spoke to their cultural upbringing, and had they obeyed to refuse orders from the higher cadres they would have lost their lives. As one of the (male) members of our group suggested during our two days of briefings prior to this trip, there is little difference between a 16-year-old boy and a sociopath. How can a former member of the Khmer Rouge, who was strongly influenced during a time when they were emotionally underdeveloped, take full responsibility of the atrocities they committed when they too were victimized and alienated from the notion of morality? Black and white answers just do not exist, and this is when I consider adding Baileys to my coffee.
Our second meeting was with a local NGO, which works to protect children from child abuse and human trafficking. Increasingly there is a demand for virgin girls as young as 14, and younger, in the sex trade. Thailand has thus far been very progressive about passing laws against trafficking women and connecting with other countries to put a stop to trafficking, but men are also increasingly trafficked for labor. This was another wonderful meeting, but I don’t have the emotional energy to blog too much about it just now. I might go to the red light district tomorrow, and if that is the case, I’m sure I will have more to say on the matter.
On a lighter note, the food here has been the stuff that dreams are made of. The hotel offers a beautiful breakfast spread with some of the sweetest fresh fruit you can imagine. It doesn’t get much better than eating ripe papaya and scrambled eggs on a sultry 70 something degree day in January. If I get the bird flu, it will have been worth the eggs. For lunch we went to Cabbages and Condoms, a local restaurant that aims to educate people about safe sex. This can be a taboo subject in Thailand, so the restaurant has a back room where people can discreetly discuss sex with educators. We ordered what seemed like nearly everything on the menu so that everyone could try various Thai dishes. My favorite was a whole steamed fish with lemon-flavored juices. It was the most tender delight you can imagine. The seafood here is exceptional, and I have yet to try something I don’t like. Seasoning is taken seriously, and they don’t pussy foot around when it comes to bold flavors. It is a good thing the hotel has a spa, and that they offered a kickboxing class tonight. Sarah, Brandon and I decided to try the class from 6-7 pm before dinner. Kickboxing is a far cry from ballet, but the instructor was pretty fantastic, and it was a good workout nonetheless that reduced some of my guilt for all of the gorging I intend to continue. Hope all is well with everyone!
Cabbages and Condoms link: http://www.pda.or.th/restaurant/