Dragging Buddhism into Political Fights

A post title on Danny Fisher’s blog caught my attention yesterday: “Buddhist Teacher Shot Dead in Southern Thailand.” What makes this Buddhist news? The teacher’s religion is of note only because she was killed by individuals who are Muslim, who are terrorizing southern Thailand for ethno-nationalist reasons

The predominantly ethnic Malay, Muslim region was an independent sultanate known as Patani before it was annexed by Buddhist Thailand in 1909 as part of a treaty with Britain.

More importantly, as Erick D. White has pointed out in comments that Danny Fisher has also posted:

The majority of those who have died in the South are Muslims at the hands of the insurgency. While there are inklings of the conflict taking on a Buddhist vs. Muslim character – and this is a meme that the insurgency would like to spread – it is mostly just a poor, easy hook that the international press employs. The insurgents attack all who are opposed to their project, Muslim or Buddhist. It remains, as far as we can tell, a very local affair (i.e. no international jihad) and primarily an ethno-nationalist insurgency.

The Buddhist vs. Muslim theme also plays well into the hands of Thai nationalists, who would like to tie these insurgents to global terrorist networks (i.e. Al-Qa‘ida). The story becomes “Muslim terrorists vs. peaceful Buddhists” thus legitimizing the government’s policies on the international stage. Thai authorities can accordingly marginalize Southerners’ complaints of discrimination and historical injustice, casting the struggle in terms of Buddhist and Muslim Thais. But the Muslims of Pattani are about as Thai as Tibetans are Chinese. So are we still talking about a Buddhist issue?