Tag Archives: Buddhism

Thai Military and NGOs cannot build peace in Patani

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Following news of the fatal shooting of Buddhist monks at Wat Rattananupab in Su Ngai Padi district of Naratiwat, the reactionary Buddhist nationalists in Thai society have been up in arms. These people are not interested in seriously analysing the causes of violence in Patani. The Thai military has also used the event to be even more strident in its attitude to those opposing the Thai state.


Yet, in Patani, ever since it was partitioned between Thailand and the British Empire, there has been an on-going war between the Thai state and those who want independence. The violence associated with this war is a direct result of the oppression of Malay Muslims by the Thai state. Patani is occupied by Thai soldiers like a colony. [For further reading see https://bit.ly/2bemah3 ].


The actions of the Thai military are a serious cause for the continued violence. The military’s extreme nationalism means that since the military coup of 2014, so-called peace talks have stalled. The Thai military is not really interested in solving the problems that have led to the on-going war. It is only interested in talks as a means to get the independence fighters to surrender.

Thai State Crime at Takbai in 2004

When considering the tragic events at Wat Rattananupab, one of the worst aspects is the reaction by Thai NGOs and Human Rights Watch. A long list of Thai NGOs was attached to a declaration condemning the events and calling on the Thai state to bring the perpetrators to justice. Human Rights Watch called the independence fighters “war criminals”. In effect, this means that the NGOs have publicly sided with the Thai state in the war because they see the military as having legitimacy to “bring the perpetrators to justice”. None of this is very surprising since many Thai NGOs welcomed the recent military intervention in Thai politics to overthrow democratically elected governments. [See https://bit.ly/1UpZbhh ].

What has often been missing from declarations of outrage is the fact that 3 Muslim clerics were murdered a few months before the events at Wat Rattananupab and that an assassination attempt was made against another cleric in January. Thai army death squads are known to target Muslim clerics and activists, who they claim are part of the separatist struggle. Those who cannot be found guilty in open law courts are often “eliminated”. In addition to this a leader of the separatist BRN was recently killed by a Thai army death squad in Naratiwat.


Luckily, among the nationalist rants and the stupidity of the NGOs, there have been some voices of reason. Two recent articles sought to provide a more balanced understanding of events. Surapot Taweesak wrote that Buddhist monks have been closely connected to the Thai state for a long time. In Patani the military have a history of getting soldiers to become monks and some carry weapons. Soldiers are also stationed in temples and walk beside monks when they beg for food in the mornings. It is therefore not surprising that the Buddhist establishment is viewed as part of the Thai state. Surapot is a respected scholar of Buddhism and has long been an advocate of the separation of religion from the Thai state. [See https://bit.ly/2RRkMG3 ].


Assistant Professor Channarong Boonnoon from Silapakorn University wrote that those who are enraged by the shooting of monks, and raise questions like “why kill monks?”, are seldom interested in the answer. He explained that despite many individual monks being innocent, the Buddhist Establishment has never distanced itself from those in power and never criticised any wrong-doing by the state. He also confirmed that Buddhist monks in Patani have a history of being close to the military. [See https://bit.ly/2WryRIX ].


After the temple shootings, Thai army rangers took the opportunity to raid a Malay Muslim “Pondok” religious school in Patani. They arrested a number of young men. One was photographed covered in a net like a hunted animal. The military claim that these men were carrying out “unarmed combat training” and that some were illegal Cambodian migrants. Local villagers dispute the military’s story. They believe that the young men, some of whom seem to be under 18 years of age, were just exercising after a long day of studying. The fact that all but the Cambodians were later released, shows that there was no evidence that any combat training took place. The Cambodians were detained on immigration charges and deported.


It is worth noting that many Muslim Cambodian citizens are ethnic Chams. The Chams originally had an empire in southern Vietnam and Cambodia. For hundreds of years they have travelled to and sometimes settled in Malaysia, Indonesia and Patani. In modern times they are drawn to Patani because of their common Malay language and their religion and the fact that Patani Pondoks are highly regarded. It is also worth remembering that Cambodian and Burmese migrants are the favourite scapegoats of Thai nationalists and the Thai military has a history of harassing people in religious schools.


Those who are genuinely interested in building peace in Patani know that for there to be peace there has to be justice for the local Malay Muslim population. Locals of all religions and cultures who are living in Patani have the right to collectively determine their future and they have the right to separate from the Thai state if they so decide. But this cannot happen when religion is not separated from the state and the military continue to control the future of Patani.

Unfortunately, the Thai political parties who are now canvassing for votes are reluctant to propose radical progressive solutions to the war.

Other articles on Patani can be read here: https://bit.ly/2HHTwVN , https://bit.ly/2UqtRCc , https://bit.ly/1QCoOWs , https://bit.ly/2tZG5JK , https://bit.ly/1RmdMZs , https://bit.ly/2eBAzDj and https://bit.ly/2bemah3 .

See also, this report: https://bit.ly/2S2qx3N

A Step forward in Policy towards Patani

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

It is very encouraging to see that the policy of the “Future Forward Party” towards Patani has signs of being more progressive than government policies in the past.

เปรมปพัทธ ผลิตผลการพิมพ์

Premprapat Palitaponkarnpim, one of the party’s spokespersons has stated that the autonomy proposals for Patani, originally suggested by Haji Sulong, more than 60 years ago, should be an important party of party policy. However, it is unclear how many of Haji Sulong’s proposals will actually be adopted and there are already signs that Premprapat has started to backtrack under pressure from the conservatives.


Haji Sulong was “disappeared” by the right-wing military dictatorship in 1955. He proposed the following 7 point plan which may need some updating.

  1. That the four southern provinces be governed as a unit, with a Muslim governor. For today’s world we should interpret this as meaning a governor who is a local citizen.
  2. That for the first seven years of the school curriculum, Malay be allowed as the language of instruction. Of course there is nothing to stop Thai speakers being taught in Thai in other schools.
  3. That all taxes collected in the four southern provinces be expended there.
  4. That 85 percent of the government officials be local Malays. If this corresponds to the proportion of the population that is Malay today, this would be a good proposal.
  5. That Malay and Thai be used together as the languages of government. This kind of proposal has been opposed by conservatives like General Prem Tinsulanon in the past. But it is standard practice in Switzerland, Canada and even the United Kingdom.
  6. That the provincial Islamic committees have authority over the practice of Islam. That is just devolving religious powers. But Muslim citizens in Patani should also be free to practice their religion in the way they choose.
  7. That the Islamic judicial system be separated from the provincial court system. Some Islamophobes have claimed that this would lead to gay people being caned. This is just nonsense. What it means is that citizens could choose whether to come under Islamic courts or secular courts. What is more, caning is a regular punishment in non-Islamic Singapore.

Recognising and respecting the local culture and promoting self-rule, are important proposals towards building peace. However, these proposals need to be fleshed out and there are other important issues that also need to be considered.


Firstly, the military and para-military police need to be withdrawn from the region because at present they are an occupying force that is responsible for much of the violence and they are an obstacle to peace. The military should also be excluded from playing a dominant role in any peace negotiations. On this important issue, it is encouraging that the “Future Forward Party” is committed to reducing the political role of the military, although they have said nothing about this in the context of Patani. However, we will have to see whether they can really succeed in cutting down the influence of the military.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has suggested a separation between religion and the state and an end to state sponsorship of Buddhism. This is fine and should be supported, but it will not solve the war in Patani because it isn’t about Muslims and Buddhists killing each other. It is about the repression from the Thai state.

There was no need for Thanathorn to apologise for this proposal after being criticised by Buddhist extremists. It would make Buddhist citizens throughout Thailand free to practice their religion in a manner of their own choosing. This proposal is not contradictory to what Premprapart has suggested in any way either. The two sets of ideas help to redress the imbalance between the various beliefs in society. In the context of Patani the Muslim way of life has for too long been oppressed.


One worrying factor is that when Premprapat was asked about how far the party’s policies on Patani could progress, he indicated that anything was possible so long as it “conformed to the Thai constitution”. The Thai constitution stipulates that Thailand is “indivisible”, thus ruling out a federal system or independence for Patani. Such a clause in the constitution does not allow for meaningful discussions about the future of Patani.

Another issue that needs more discussion is the issue of taxation. Patani is one of the poorest regions compared to other provinces and redistribution of tax revenue from the centre is necessary to improve the lives of local people.

Never the less the “Future Forward Party” has stated that they will organise discussions with Patani activists and organisations in order to further develop party policy and this is a positive aim. They should not avoid talking to the separatists when conducting these discussions.

We shall have to follow the evolving policies of this party on Patani and it is to be hoped that they will go beyond the previous attempts by Thai politicians such as General Prem Tinsulanon or Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to co-opt local leaders into supporting the Thai state.

Buddhism and Sexism

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently a long-running controversy about Thai Buddhist temples in the north erupted into the public consciousness again. The issue is the fact that a number of temples with golden pagodas in the north of Thailand ban women from entering the inner areas of the pagodas.

This controversy previously surfaced some years ago when a fairly conservative woman senator complained about the signs banning women in these northern temples. She, and those who defended her, were subject to much abuse. We were labelled as being “foreign” or “southerners”.

Those that defend the indefensible vary from the most banal superstitious types to those who defend this scandal on the grounds of local culture.

For the banal superstitious idiots, they claim and actually believe, that women are somehow “unclean” because they have menstruation. This is said to reduce the magical powers of holy relics buried in these pagodas. This kind of mumbo-jumbo would be laughable in the 21st century if it were not for the fact that a number of Thai Buddhists actually believe it!

The more sophisticated, but erroneous, argument is that it is the “local culture” of northern Thailand. Well, slavery used to be a local culture in the area as well and so did the fact that the northern rulers used to rape local young women with impunity. One famous anthropologist described how parents used to have to hide away their daughters or cover their faces with excrement when rulers and their thugs ventured into their villages.

Culture is an ever changing and always disputed human phenomenon. There is more than one local culture and many decent citizens in northern Thailand struggle against sexism. Many decent Buddhists also campaign for women’s rights, some maintaining that women have the right to become monks. This is a struggle against the prevailing Buddhist ideology and the power of the state. The Thai state bans women from becoming monks. It also attacks those Buddhist who do not believe in the state approved version of the religion.

Yet, women actually provide the majority of offerings to monks, ensuring the survival of Buddhism.

Reactionary Buddhists claim that Buddha decreed that women do not have the discipline to become monks. I was taught this at school. Now, I have no idea what Siddharta really said. He quite possibly was a sexist or maybe he wasn’t. But Siddharta and all the reactionary Buddhists today would never have been born if it were not for the discipline of women who endured the pain of child birth. Their uteruses would not have been ready for the implantation of an embryo if it were not for the menstrual cycle.

As Karl Marx once wrote, the real nature of religion is not what is written in the religious texts, but how people actually practice their religion in the real world, in different social contexts. Those Buddhists who believe in equality and human rights need to raise a campaign to get rid of the sexist practices in northern temples.

This whole controversy exposes the weakness of the Thai women’s movement which long ago disappeared into a cloud of post-modernism and elitism. Many supported the two military coups. It also is a warning for those who uncritically embrace “communalism”. Some communities in northern Thailand have reactionary views about HIV/AIDS or LGBT people. That cannot be defended.

Religion should be separated from the state and all oppressed groups should be free to worship as they choose without being discriminated against.

In terms of religion and women’s rights when applied to Islam, socialists start from an understanding that Muslims are oppressed by Western Imperialism and the Islamophobic rhetoric of Western politicians. This means that we defend the rights of women who choose to wear the hijab in the West and the rights of women in countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia who wish not to wear it. We are also opposed to state sanctions against burqa in the West, while sensitively arguing, when we can, with those women who wear it, that they should not be subjected to the oppression of the burqa. People need to liberate themselves.  [For more on this see:  https://www.marxists.org/archive/harman/1994/xx/islam.htm ]

I am an atheist, but I would always defend the rights of women when it comes to Buddhism. In northern Thailand, those who advocate banning women from pagodas are not an oppressed group. They are oppressing women who wish to worship freely and they do not have the “right” to do so.

Buddhism and Marxism

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Given the recent comments by the Dalai Lama that he is a “Marxist”, it is worth comparing Buddhism and Marxism.

Both Buddhist and Marxist philosophy have parts of an ancient ancestry from the Greek and ancient Indian civilisations, especially the branch of philosophy from that era which emphasises “the natural state of change”.

Conservative ideologies and philosophies tend to emphasise “the natural order of things” and the “lack of change” or “the impossibility of change”. Thus it is the natural order of things for there to be rich and poor, rulers and the ruled and those in power are appointed from heaven.

An idea that change is natural can be interpreted in a revolutionary manner.

Marxism places much importance on “the dialectic”, an ancient Greek philosophy. According to the dialectic “the truth can only be understood as a whole” and “within this whole change is constant and natural”. What is more, “change takes place because in any whole picture we can see contradictions which are the engine of change”. Change also takes place in steps, from quantity to quality. When a qualitative change takes place, society changes fundamentally. But such changes are never ending with new contradictions arising all the time.

If we look at capitalist society there are many contradiction which help bring about change. Capitalism has an internal contradiction which constantly causes economic crises. Capitalist ruling classes are in contradiction with each other, causing wars and imperialism. Finally, and most importantly for the liberation of humanity, there is a fundamental contradiction between workers and capitalists in capitalist society and this is class struggle. Class struggle determines the degree of freedom and equality in society.

For Marxism, class struggle is what leads to changes in human society through the ages. But there is nothing automatic about this. Change takes place because humans struggle collectively for such a change. However, they do not have the luxury of choosing the circumstances in which they fight. That is determined by the history that came before and the level of material development of production or the practical way in which humans are able to survive and support themselves. This is “historical materialism” and it is the inseparable twin of the “dialectic”.

Therefore Marxists believe that change is a synthesis of human agency, human ideas, collective struggle and the real material circumstances of the world. Marxism is the practice of human liberation.

Buddhism also emphasises the fact that “change is natural”. The Buddhist three marks of existence or the “trilaksana” are made up of “anicca” or  impermanence,  “dukkha” or the natural force which leads to change and impermanence and  “anatta” or the idea that things have no fixed nature, essence, or self, and cannot be commanded by us.

Buddhism may talk about constant and natural change, but this is not aimed at challenging the social order. It is aimed at training us to accept constant change and to “let go”. After all, according to the idea of “anatta” we cannot influence or command change. We can only learn to accept it and reduce the suffering that we experience from the real world. Buddhism elevates “thought” above the material reality of the world because the correct thought can save us from suffering caused by the material world. It is “idealism”, not “materialism”.

This is an inward-looking and individual philosophy. It might be useful in reducing our personal suffering if we are locked up in prison for years under the draconian lèse majesté law, but it will not abolish lèse majesté or prevent others from being imprisoned in the future. It is not a philosophy of collective struggle to change the world. It is a philosophy of how an individual might try to cope with the horrors of the world. The practice of making merit, the belief in Karma and the practice of entering into monkhood are also individual acts which are inward-looking.

Some utopians might say that if we all changed ourselves for the better and stopped oppressing others and causing their suffering, according to Buddhist teachings, the world would be a better place. But this is the kind of wishful thinking common to all religions. It ignores power inequality within class society and has never been known to bring about social change.

There are many instances where progressive Buddhist monks have been known to join the struggle for democracy and social equality. Burma, the Thai red shirt monks and the left-wing monks in Lao during the American war are good examples. But it is hard to see how these progressive struggles rely on the philosophy of Buddhism. What it does show, however, is that people often hold many ideas and philosophies in their heads and that Buddhism does not have to be an obstacle to progressive struggle. Yet reactionary and racist movements of Buddhist monks also exist. The best examples are in Burma and Sri Lanka.

Buddhism offers no solutions to changing society. That is probably why the Dalai Lama, while claiming to be a Marxist, also denies that he is a Leninist. In this denial he is turning his back on the need for collective political organisation in order to overthrow the status quo.

Why is Thai society addicted to violence?

Numnual Yapparat

A number of incidents in Thailand illustrate how violence is endemic in our society.

Recently, a group of secondary school students were made to “walk” on their knees into school because they were late. The pictures of their wounds show the barbaric results of this violence against school children. The teachers in charge were acting like the soldiers who rule Thailand through the barrel of the gun. The Thai education system is designed to train students to obey instead of thinking for themselves. We see this in the words used by Generalissimo Prayut or the university vice chancellors. Also we know that in Thailand students are not seen by many as having any human rights. The National Human Rights Commission is totally useless.

A conservative proverb says that “if you love your cow you must tie it up and if you love your children you must beat them”.

Arriving late at school may not really be an issue of discipline but could well be caused by a lack of decent public transport and the terrible traffic conditions in Bangkok.

A few days before that, a brave woman student staged a three-fingered anti-coup salute outside a cinema. She joined further pro-democracy events outside the Democracy Monument and the Human Rights Commission. She has been approached by soldiers asking whether “she wanted to be raped”.

Apart from the terrible violence that this threat implies, it reveals an attitude devoid of any respect for women. Such an attitude can also be seen in the behaviour of the Crown Prince. Women in Thailand also have no human rights to demand abortions when they need and want them.

If anyone thought that Thailand was a “peaceful” Buddhist nation then they should consider the photos that have been seen on Facebook of a Buddhist monk slapping a western tourist on a train. The monk was sleeping on a seat designed for 2 people. Other passengers wanted to sit down and they woke up the monk who became very angry and resorted to violence.

Monks are usually elevated to respected positions in society and allowed many privileges. Many monks have opposed a woman’s right to choose abortion. However, most Thais would be appalled by the violent behaviour of this particular monk. Yet the regime of hierarchy and fear in today’s Thailand prevents people speaking out about injustices.

Of course the cold-blooded murder of pro-democracy activists, gunned down by the military, and the ruthless imprisonment of people who speak out against the dictatorship, are standards of violence set right from the top.

We cannot place any hope with the UDD red shirt leaders or with Taksin and Yingluk. This is because they are afraid that when the mass of the population really rise up and take matters into their own hands and fight for human rights, they will sweep away even these elites.

If we learn from the young people who were struggling against the dictatorship alongside the Communists in the 1970s, we would see that a better more equal and just society is an elegant aim for us today. (See my previous post on “the Music of Thai Politics”).

Junta set to add further authoritarian controls to Buddhism

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Like all military small-minded despots, General Prayut craves to control and bring authoritarian order to all sections of society. As he busily crafts anti-reforms to destroy parliamentary democracy and as he turns the clock back to the bad old days with the education system, he is now turning his attention to religion.

The junta announced that they would tighten up rules for monks and set up a register of all those currently in yellow robes.

“Model temples” are to be set up as examples of how religion should be administered. One such temple springs to mind immediately. It would be the temple where the acting Supreme Patriarch, head of the Buddhist order of monks resides. Somdet Pramaha Rachamungkalajarn given his religious support to the military junta and General Prayut.

Buddha Issara with his anti-democratic thugs
Buddha Issara with his anti-democratic thugs

The reactionary Buddhist monk “Buddha Issara” (seen here and with Prayut in main picture) would be another example of a fine model. He worked closely with mobster Sutep Tuaksuban during the violent anti-government protests which destroyed the February election and helped to usher in the coup.

Previous Cold War era military dictatorships set out to control the “Song” clergy in order to make sure they were loyal supporters of the status quo and gave sermons against radicalism and ideas about justice, equality and democracy. Under these rules Thai Buddhist monks were told to be non-political. This can be understood in the context of the radical politics of many Buddhist monks in Burma, Lao and Vietnam who were close to the poor.

As a Marxist and an atheist I believe that there should be a complete separation between religion and the state. Religion should be a matter of personal free choice without restrictions on how people practice their religion.

Prayut has blood on his hands from the brutal suppression of the red shirts in 2010. Yet he claims to be able to set moral standards for Thai citizens.

Fawning Buddhist Patriarch highlights case for religious reform

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The acting Supreme Patriarch, head of the Buddhist order of monks, has praised Generalissimo Prayut and his junta. Somdet Pramaha Rachamungkalajarn (to call this reactionary monk by his full title) not only gave his religious support to the military junta, but he also quoted Prayut with approval when Prayut said that peace and reconciliation can be “restored” by using the “five moral precepts of Buddhism”.

The “five moral precepts of Buddhism” are as follows:

1. Refrain from killing.

2. Refrain from taking what is not given.

3. Refrain from sexual misconduct.

4. Refrain from lying.

5. Refrain from alcoholic drinks.

Somdet Pramaha Rachamungkalajarn must have been so busy licking Prayut’s back-side that he has forgotten these “five moral precepts of Buddhism”. Generalissimo Prayut has broken at least 3 of these moral precepts by killing 90 unarmed red shirt protesters in 2010, by stealing the democratic rights of Thai citizens and by lying to the public that he staged a coup to restore peace. The actions of Prayut and his military friends are one of the main causes of disorder in Thailand and in the first 5 months of 2014 they allowed Sutep’s anti-democratic mobs to create chaos in order to have an excuse to take power.

Ever since the Sarit military dictatorship in the late 1950s the Buddhist hierarchy has been controlled and used by the military or the state. The actions of the acting Supreme Patriarch show that there is an urgent need to abolish this backward Buddhist hierarchy and make a complete separation between religion and the state. All religions in Thailand should be confined to a matter of private personal belief.