An issue that our group found particularly interesting in the context of this week’s theorist Ernest Gellner is the ongoing nationalist struggle of ethnic Malay Muslims in southern Thailand for independence. The transformation of the agricultural state of Siam into the nation of Thailand drew on Buddhism as a primary feature of Thai identity. This was problematic for a Muslim minority included within Thailand which found the dominant Thai culture relatively inaccessible to them. The YouTube video above, produced by AlJazeera, provides a bit of background on this issue.
Gellner outlined several ways in which nations attempt to deal with or incorporate ethnicities and cultures into a unified nation-state.We believe that Thailand has attempted to use the process of education to create a compatibility between different cultures and the state culture of the Thailand. In ‘The Coming of Nationalism and Its Interpretation” found in the book Mapping the Nation Gellner wrote
“So this kind of [Industrial] society not merely permits but positively requires homogeneity of culture. It must be a culture of a specific kind, that is, a ‘high’ culture (needless to say, the term is used here in a sociological and not in an evaluative sense). It must be standardized and disciplined. All this can only be achieved by sustained education, and this kind of society is indeed marked by the near-complete implementation of the ideal of universal education. Men are no longer formed at their mother’s knee, but rather in the ecole maternelle.” (page 109)
For people striving to reclaim a cultural, nationalist identity separate from the dominant ‘high’ culture this kind of sustained education seeks to impose, the educators themselves can become symbols of cultural homogenization. For the militants in Thailand seeking nationalist independence from the Thai state, teachers have been targeted and killed as a symbolic resistance to this process, which is viewed as in indoctrination into Thai rather than Pattani culture. This Huffington Post article provides a helpful background on this issue.