Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Recently the Thai military junta arrested and disrobed a racist Buddhist monk called Apichart. This has resulted in a wave of criticism from Thai racists and many pro-democracy activists who should know better. Many Red Shirts have complained about Apichart’s treatment by the military. They are totally missing the point.
Apichart is a thoroughly odious creature who has published videos of his islamophobic rants on social media. A couple of years ago he said that if one more Buddhist monk was killed in the Deep South, then Thai people should burn down mosques all over the country. He claims that southern Muslims have always been out to destroy Buddhism and take over the country. He uses the abusive and racist term “Kaek” to refer to Malays, Muslims and anyone from South Asia.
Apichart’s favourite Buddhist monk is the Burmese fascist “Wiratu” who uses anti-Muslim rhetoric to mobilise armed gangs to attack Muslims, including Rohingya people. Wiratu also has close connections with the Burmese military. Both Wiratu and Apichart distort history by claiming that the Rohingya and the Malay Muslims “should be grateful” for being allowed to remain in the country. But the reality is that their ancestral lands were seized by the central states of Thailand and Burma during the process of nation building.
Some of those defending Apichart have posted statements on social media saying things like “we should force the Muslim Imams to drink pork fat”.
The fact that the Thai military junta has arrested and disrobed Apichart has nothing to do with any progressive ideals on its part. The military is merely afraid that Apichart will inflame the situation in the Deep South so that it will be more difficult to control. But the results is that Apichart can now re-model himself as a martyr and racists all over Thailand can come out and defend him.
One huge problem is that the prevailing ideology in Thai society is racist. Ordinary Thais, many of whom do not agree with Apichart, use racist terms like “Kaek” to refer to Malays, Arabs or Indians. The fact that there is no left-wing political party of any significance means that an anti-racist movement has never been built. Apichart’s racist rants therefore went more or less unchallenged. They were not condemned by most Buddhist monks either.
The kind of islamophobic ideas put forward by Apichart are part of the same rhetoric used by fascists throughout the world. The concrete results is to cause divisions among ordinary people and to bind citizens to the nationalism of the ruling class. Despite the fact that Apichart was arrested by the junta, his ideas, especially about the Deep South, only serve to strengthen the dictatorship and divert attention from the real causes of the violence. It is the Thai state and the military who are the real terrorists in Patani, not those small groups of Malay Muslims who have taken up arms to fight the Thai state.
Seen from this angle, the ideology put forward by Apichart dove-tails with that of another extremist Thai monk called “Isara”. Isara encouraged the use of violence to wreck the general elections in 2014. He is also Generalissimo Prayut’s favourite Buddhist monk.
Not only does Thailand desperately need a mass pro-democracy movement, but it also needs a mass anti-racist social movement to operate in tandem. Such a movement could start to turn the tide of racism within Thai society and help build a free and equal society.
Further reading: http://bit.ly/2bemah3