Tearing Apart the Land
by Duncan McCargo Cornell University Press, HK$218
If anyone thinks the southern Thai conflict is mainly about Islam they are wrong. So says Duncan McCargo, who writes in his eye-opening study Tearing Apart the Land: 'The primary emphasis of the militants is on historical and political grievances, not religious ones.' The professor of Southeast Asian politics at the University of Leeds is also clear on a related point: the separatist insurgency is not part of a global jihad. It is a battle between Bangkok and Patani, an area in southern Thailand that, he says, has never been properly incorporated, culturally or psychologically, into the country. Based primarily on fieldwork, including interviews by McCargo with hundreds of people during a year spent in the troubled region, the book is an authoritative analysis of goings-on in the three Thai/Malaysian border provinces that have long resisted leadership from Bangkok. McCargo concludes that the only solution to the protracted problem is to restore the legitimacy of the Thai state and hand the ethnic Malay Muslims 'substantial control over their own affairs, while retaining the border region as part of Thailand'.