Over 1300 people, mostly boys, were stacked like logs into six army trucks. They were placed face down with their hands tied behind their backs, one on top of another, making a pile of four or five persons deep.
When they were taken down after the six-hour drive to an army base, 79 of them had died because of suffocation and broken necks as doctors'examinations determined.
The Thai military arrested these young, fasting Muslims for allegedly throwing rocks at them during a protest against police brutality that drew 2,000 people in this southern part of Thailand called Patani.
When the army started firing, some protesters ran while most laid down to save themselves from the firing. The army stripped them of their shirts and beat them on the streets while their hands were tied before piling them in trucks.
These deaths, along with those of six people shot and killed in the crowd, constitute more than 440 Muslims killed by Thai forces in three southern Muslim provinces of Thailand.
This recent incident invoked my memories of the Six October Massacre in 1976, when the Thai police and a mob of rightist gangs, marched on demonstrators gathered at a Bangkok University campus, surrounding them from all sides by setting up guns on the campus walls, shooting and killing hundreds of students. Some students were even hanged to their death on campus. They followed this mayhem by arresting 1,700 students. Their crime was being leftists demanding democracy. They were not Muslims.
I also thought of Afghanistan where Americans and American allies kept prisoners in shipping containers where a great many died.
This tragedy also reminded me of Abu Ghraib in Iraq, where prisoners were physically tortured and sexually abused but now only some soldiers are paying for a policy that was tolerated until exposed by Seymour Hersh.
Thai Prime Minister's Response:
The New York Times reports that Thailand's Prime Minister appeared to have little sympathy for the victims. Referring to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is now underway, he said: "This is typical. It's about bodies made weak from fasting. Nobody hurt them."
A day earlier the Thai Prime Minister praised the security forces for their actions and said the crackdown was justified. He now regrets the deaths but still supports the military and police actions.
Eventually, the Prime Minister did offer his sympathies to the deceased after a lot of international outcry.
Impact of Terrorism and War on the Minorities of the World:
Terrorism and the American response to it has become a dual nightmare for Muslim and Christian minorities in the world. Jews in Europe are reporting increased harassment as well.
Whereas one does not expect much respect for human rights from terrorist groups who are targeting Christians as embodiments of the US foreign policy, when it comes to Muslims, these are the government policies across the world which are turning life for Muslim minorities into a nightmare.
Terrorism "laws" are being enacted throughout the world to justify tyranny in the name of security.
Governments are finding it more convenient to join the US-led Western chorus by simply branding dissidents and political opponents representing a credible challenge to power as "militants or terrorists" and by so doing, giving themselves the license to harass and violate the basic human rights of innocent people.
Old conflicts and prejudices are being repackaged under the guise of a war against terrorism.
The brutal killing in Thailand is a symptom of the revival of the historic tyranny in the country against which Thai people have been fighting for last 50 years. These right wing, antidemocratic forces have been supported by the US government that considered Thailand at the forefront of the war against communism. This allowed them to kill leftists by calling them communists in the past.
In Cambodia, all Muslim schools have been shut down since 9/11 although none of the Muslims in the country have been even remotely accused of any terrorism. Most minority Muslims in Southeast Asia are forced to use a Buddhist name if they want jobs. It is this type of environment which results in a lot of strange behavior on the part of state. Story of an American interfaith activist defines this hypersensitivity. He visited a mosque to develop a partnership among Muslims and Christians in the Philippines when police who thought that a white man has been kidnapped invaded the mosque to rescue him.
The majority of Thailand's 63 million people are Buddhists while 10 percent practice Islam.
Thai Muslims are of three types. One small group is ethnically Thai and live throughout the northern Thailand. Most of them are not poor but still maintain two names to hide their Muslim identity and make their life as Muslims easier in the country.
Another small group is of people from Southeast and South Asia who have been settled in Thailand for generations including some Chinese Muslims. They are essentially businesspeople. They mostly also keep two names and maintain close ties to whoever is in power.
Most of Thailand's Muslims, however, live in the poverty-stricken three southern provinces, which for years have been economically neglected by the distant central government. These people are generally referred to as Patani people. They speak the Malay language that is the same as that spoken by their brethren in the south from Malaysia to Indonesia. The region had a Muslim government called the Paten Sultanate, a center of Muslim culture until it was annexed by Thailand in 1902.
These Muslims insist on their Islamic identity with Muslim names. They would like to preserve their language and culture. They would also like to teach their children their faith. Although there has not been any significant independence movement in the region for decades, its residents have been resentful of attempts by Thai leaders to linguistically and culturally transform them.
Although their resentment towards the Thai government has on occasion resulted in targeting the police and the military, this has been rare. But the indiscriminate government response has the potential of popularizing violent options in the presence of frustration against a corrupt government.
Muslim World Response:
There were demonstrations in neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia against the killings. The news made headlines in the Muslim world adding to the Muslim self-image as victims against whom all brutality is allowed.
Many Muslim countries are choosing to remain silent about Muslim minorities unlike the US government, which under the Freedom of Religion Act has been actively pursuing the rights of Christian minorities around the world, and now through a new law, will be rating how a country treats its Jewish minority. As a result, governments around the world are taking extraordinary measures to protect their Christian minorities who have suffered as a result of backlash against US policies.
On the other hand, Muslim governments are silent when it comes to Muslim minorities.
The chief Imam of Rwanda, who has been credited with leading the country's Muslim community's successful efforts to save Christian lives during the infamous 1994 genocide, told me recently that some Muslim embassies which used to give local Muslims copies of the Quran if they asked for it have now stopped doing this. The Saudi Embassy, which always maintained a religious section in its embassies around the world, has closed them down.
Terrorism, Islamophobia, the war on terror and its laws, rhetoric and discourse are creating a very dangerous and potent mix of frustration, anxiety and helplessness. This mix is extremely harmful to freedom of religion, rule of law, human rights, communal harmony and democracy. This is the mix that allows individuals to care less for life and governments to turn towards fascist behavior.
The rule of law, freedom and democracy should get as much attention as terrorism and the war against it if the world is to become a better place. And attention does not mean verbal lip service. It must translate into discourse and funding equivalent to what we are spending on fighting the war itself.
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