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Not just by name

Commentary, The Buddhist Channel, Oct 31, 2004

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- Tak Bai will remain in infamy. Not just in Thailand, not just for all of South East Asia, but for Buddhism as well.

When Thai security forces quelled a general protests led by 2,000 mostly Muslim youths in Tak Bai, a town located at the southern province of Narathiwat, they did more than make baton charges or arrests. Those arrested were literally "herded" onto woefully inadequate transport trucks.

Reports from eye witnesses said that many of the protesters, who were observing the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan, were stripped from hips up, and hands tied to their backs. Some were literally kicked and punched while they were down.

Those subdued were told to lie on the ground, while waiting to be picked up to be sent to another destination for "processing". When the trucks arrived, they were thrown - literally - onto the trucks and stacked horizontally on top of one another. And the detainees were laid like that, in a journey that would take six hours to arrive.

Of 1,300 who endured the torture, 78 perished. Many died from suffocation, some with broken necks. Pornthip Rojanasunand, the kingdom's most prominent forensic expert broke the news to a shocked news gallery of the cause and extent of the deaths. If this had happened in Saddam's Iraq, or Idi Amin's Uganda, one would have expected the type of barbarism involved.

But Buddhist Thailand? What on earth were the generals and soldiers of the Thai Fourth Army thinking about?

In a nation that positions itself as the protector of Theravada Buddhism, where its wats and ancient temples are adorned with Buddha images and other iconic depiction of peace, compassion and loving-kindness, the extent of the acts of barbarism at Tai Bak is nothing more than mind boggling. This then lies the paradox of the situation.

Many Thais readily subscribe to the teachings of kamma-vipaka, (cause and effects), where any kind of intentional or volitional action whether mental, verbal or physical, will result in a cause, which then in turn become a cause for another set of reactions, further setting another round of  volitional retribution. The teachings of kamma-vipaka is ingrained in Thai society. For many Buddhists, it is central to their beliefs which guides their moral behaviour.

What is certain is that Tak Bai would not have happened if the local security forces' action were guided by Buddhist principles, or if they were more "mindful". What is even more certain that those who perpetuated the actions were either over zealous or were plainly driven by vengeful anger. We would like to assume that this over-zealous group is but a small minority.

If that is the case, it would be in the great interest of Thailand - and to the image of Buddhism - to demand that the state's highest authorities take immediate action against these renegade forces which impudently trampled human rights and perpetuated injustice against human dignity.

Nothing less will do.

In this time and age where a jittery world is traumatized by international terrorism, Thailand is uniquely positioned to showcase alternative ways to handle social harmony and to prevent civilizational confrontation. By placing Buddhism side by side to its national identity, it is imperative that the authorities use the religion's gentle axioms to guide its policies and actions.

And let us all send our thoughts of loving kindness to those deceased, so that their relatives and closed ones know that the civilized world, whether Muslims or not, feel for their unfortunate loss. And may we all pray hard that good senses prevail, so that "right actions" are taken to set the process of healing in motion.

If ever any one, and Thailand in particular, need any advise, they should listen to their wise King, who said that in order for peace to be achieved, the government must follow three principles - "khao jai, khao teng, pattana (understand the people's problems, win their hearts and develop them). If the government is sincere, there is no reason why peace will not be restored in the restive south. And together with it perhaps, the image of Buddhism as a spiritual broker of peace for humanity.

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