Tearing Apart the Land: Islam and Legitimacy in Southern Thailand

In This Review

Tearing Apart the Land: Islam and Legitimacy in Southern Thailand
by Duncan McCargo
Cornell University Press, 2008
264 pp. $21.00
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McCargo's close study of the origins of militancy in three southern Thai provinces carries clues to the problem of state-minority relations all over Asia. Based on a year's fieldwork, interrogation records, and anonymous leaflets, among other sources, McCargo's book argues that Thailand's overcentralized state failed to give meaningful participation to ethnically Malay Muslim citizens. The resulting popular alienation led to the violence that has been going on in Thailand since 2001. Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's regime, although popularly elected, was especially inept in relations with local minorities. The chapter on police and army action is a case study on how to make local insurgencies worse instead of better. In McCargo's account, Islamic identity provided a frame -- but not the motive -- for the militant movement. But if autonomy short of independence is the demand of many groups in Asia, it remains unclear to McCargo, and perhaps to the southern Thai militants themselves, how much local participation is enough to stem this kind of violence once it starts.