Staging history for Thailand’s far south: fantasy for a supposedly pliant Muslim community

By developing an “official” history of its land, the Thailand's government tries to ignore internal problems in its Muslim-dominant far south provinces. Moreover, the absence of any serious attempt to interpret the resurgence of violence and to account for incidents of unnecessary death in Thailand's far south remains a barrier to bridging relations between the Thai government and ordinary Muslim citizens.

McMaster Researcher


Yong, K. H. (2014). Staging history for thailand's far south: Fantasy for a supposedly pliant muslim community. Social Identities, 20(2-3), 171-185. doi:10.1080/13504630.2013.878093

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What is this research about?

Since 1948, conflicts due to differences in ideas between the government and Malay Muslim citizens have been prevalent in the south of Thailand. This area was once a separate maritime kingdom called Patani which comprised the present-day Malay Muslim majority frontier provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat. On April 28, 1948, large protests and clashes occurred in the south due to the arrest of Haji Sulong Abdulkadir al- Fatani and other Muslim leaders by the Thai government.  This resulted in the unexplained death of 400 Muslims and 30 policemen. Similarly, on April 28, 2004, clashes between Muslim men and police and military personnel in the south resulted in the killing of 107 Muslim men. The purpose of this research is to understand why the Thai government and even some local Muslim elites ignore the historical significance of the 2004 incident, which took place exactly 56 years after the 1948 "Islamic Awakening," and instead broadcasted an “official” history about Patani's harmonious relationship with Thailand.

What did the researchers do?

The researcher conducted fieldwork in Thailand in 2005, 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013 where he interviewed locals and observed events that occurred in Thailand's far south.

What did the researchers find?

The researcher found that:

  • The government tries to shape south Thailand Muslims' understanding of the history of their land with propagandistic shows and public events which broadcast a story of a glorious Patani that largely had a harmonious relationship with Thailand. However, most ordinary Muslims are not fond of the government's tactics and view the events and shows as patronizing.
  • Local elites agree with the government's story of Patani because it reasserts their power, traditions, and morality, and imagined social unity.
  • Using the sugar-coated history of Patani, the Thai government can continue to ignore long-lasting social and economic problems in its far south provinces.

 The researcher argues that the absence of any serious attempt to interpret the resurgence of violence in Thailand's far south and to account for incidents of unnecessary deaths significantly hinders an understanding between the Thai government and ordinary Muslims in the far south.

How can you use this research?

This research should remind Malay Muslim elites and Thai government officials about the ineffectiveness of their approach to deal with problems in Thailand's far south. Activist groups and politicians can use this research to help the Thai government and ordinary Muslims in Thailand's far south achieve a better understanding of one another.  Canadian government officials visiting Thailand will find the research helpful in understanding and interpreting Thailand’s internal conflicts.

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