Interfaith Dialogues: A Method to Promote Peace in Southern Thailand

Anna Yacovone

Abstract


An interfaith dialogue can be loosely defined as a discussion among people from different religious backgrounds who work together in order to achieve a common objective. The appeal behind this peace-building tactic is that such dialogues can be flexible in terms of its purpose and how it is implemented. In addition, because conflicts are often complex and have multiple influencing factors, interfaith dialogues are useful because they provide a multidimensional outlook. One conflict I learned extensively about while studying abroad at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand is occurring in the country’s southern provinces. Although religious discord may have been a catalyst in this conflict, other political, socioeconomic and cultural factors also play a significant role. Unfortunately, because of the media’s portrayal, many believe the problem stems from differences between the Thai Buddhists and Malay Muslims in this region. However, the origins of this conflict delve much deeper and even date back to when part of the Pattani Kingdom, a former state of Malaysia, was annexed under Thai rule. As a result, harsh assimilation laws have been passed in order for the Malay people to become Thai, thus causing friction that has lasted over a century. Though Southern Thailand has seen cycles of civil unrest and instability, the last decade has experienced the worst acts of violence since the country gained five of the Pattani states.

This paper will explore more thoroughly interfaith dialogues and discuss how such a tactic can be applied to the situation in Southern Thailand. Along with providing a brief historical overview of interfaith dialogues, there will also be a discussion on a mock interfaith dialogue I hosted in an academic setting at Thammasat University. Afterwards, this paper will look at the presence of interfaith dialogues in Thailand since this country’s seemingly tolerant outlook juxtaposes with the reality of what is occurring in the southern provinces. Lastly, this paper will address the historical progression of this conflict and then provide nine recommendations if an interfaith dialogue is held in regards to this crisis.


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