Tearing Apart the Land

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Since January 2004, a violent separatist insurgency has raged in southern Thailand, resulting in more than three thousand deaths. Though largely unnoticed outside Southeast Asia, the rebellion in Pattani and neighboring provinces and the Thai government's harsh crackdown have resulted in a full-scale crisis. Tearing Apart the Land by Duncan McCargo, one of the world's leading scholars of contemporary Thai politics, is the first fieldwork-based book about this conflict. Drawing on his extensive knowledge of the region, hundreds of interviews conducted during a year's research in the troubled area, and unpublished Thai-language sources that range from anonymous leaflets to confessions extracted by Thai security forces, McCargo locates the roots of the conflict in the context of the troubled power relations between Bangkok and the Muslim-majority "deep South."

McCargo describes how Bangkok tried to establish legitimacy by co-opting local religious and political elites. This successful strategy was upset when Thaksin Shinawatra became prime minister in 2001 and set out to reorganize power in the region. Before Thaksin was overthrown in a 2006 military coup, his repressive policies had exposed the precariousness of the Bangkok government's influence. A rejuvenated militant movement had emerged, invoking Islamic rhetoric to challenge the authority of local leaders obedient to Bangkok.

For readers interested in contemporary Southeast Asia, insurgency and counterinsurgency, Islam, politics, and questions of political violence, Tearing Apart the Land is a powerful account of the changing nature of Islam on the Malay peninsula, the legitimacy of the central Thai government and the failures of its security policy, the composition of the militant movement, and the conflict's disastrous impact on daily life in the deep South. Carefully distinguishing the uprising in southern Thailand from other Muslim rebellions, McCargo suggests that the conflict can be ended only if a more participatory mode of governance is adopted in the region.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In this introduction to a scandalously underreported conflict . . . McCargo rightly scorns the legions of post-9/11 armchair analysts who try to shoehorn every conflict with Islamic overtones into well-Googled theories of global jihad. No armchairs for this author: he researched the book by crisscrossing southern Thailand in a temperamental 1989 Mercedes, hastening back to the town of Pattani by nightfall to avoid militants' booby traps. McCargo is the real McCoy. . . . For McCargo, the only long-term solution combines firm action against the perpetrators of violence and 'substantive autonomy' for Thailand's three southernmost, predominantly Malay-speaking and Muslim provinces."—Time Magazine

"Thailand, once known as one of the most stable democracies in Asia, is in political and economic crisis. . . . Southern Thailand now resembles a war zone. . . . McCargo gives a thorough explanation of why unrest began in southern Thailand, and why it has spread. . . . By the end of 2008, more than 3000 people had been killed in the south since the beginning of the decade. Bangkok still refuses to consider any form of real autonomy for the region and McCargo is pessimistic about the future."—Joshua Kurlantzick, London Review of Books, 25 March 2010

"The well-written and researched book provides a much-needed detailed analysis of the violent conflicts in three Malay-Muslim provinces of southern Thailand—Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat. . . . It is a 'must[-read]' book for anybody interested in Thai politics. The way McCargo situates the violent conflicts in the nature of the interaction between the center and the periphery is particularly illuminating."—Yoshinori Nishizaki, Southeast Asian Studies (2011)

"Original, fascinating, and important. . . . McCargo has sifted through the details of this tragic conflict with extraordinary diligence and insight. The result is a small masterpiece of investigative rigor and balance. It is an especially welcome corrective to those tempted to see the hand of al-Qaeda in all Muslim insurgencies."—Robert W. Hefner, Journal of Asian Studies (May 2010)

"If you read just one book on Thailand's turbulent south, it must be Duncan McCargo's Tearing Apart the Land. Built on months of potentially dangerous fieldwork, McCargo's book will set the benchmark against which all future studies of the south will be measured. McCargo's intelligent and informed analysis unravels a remarkably complex social, political, religious, and cultural environment to provide an account that does not diminish this complexity but which provides a series of prisms—Islam, politics, security, and militants—that allow us to better understand it. Tearing Apart the Land is an excellent book that tells us much about the separatist conflict in Southern Thailand and also provides invaluable insights into national politics in Thailand. This is essential reading."—Kevin Hewison, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"In Tearing Apart the Land, Duncan McCargo articulates a convincing explanation of the crisis in Thailand's Malay Muslim region with conceptual and analytical clarity. He also boldly offers a direction to the solution and the reasons why it is very difficult for the Thai state to embrace this solution. The book may set a new basis for the discussion on this crisis and its solution for some time to come."—Thongchai Winichakul, University of Wisconsin–Madison

"Tearing Apart the Land is an engaging and well-crafted addition to the literature on Islam, politico-religious movements, southern Thailand, and Southeast Asia generally. Duncan McCargo's extensive familiarity with the region and his many interviews with southern Thais from all walks of life give his account a great deal of authority. His book is a 'must read' for anyone seriously interested in understanding contemporary dynamics in Thailand's southern provinces, how they came to be, and what might be done to establish a solution that is acceptable to the key players in the region, including, not least, the ordinary Muslims who make up the (oftentimes but not always) 'silent majority.'"—Michael G. Peletz, Emory University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801474996
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

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