Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Thai – Khwaam klua

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Fear, Thai


Khwaam klua

Relates to fear

In Thai security discourse ‘fear’ is cast as generalised emotion and is not necessarily seen to emerge from a specific threat. Some of the fear that is felt in Thailand today can be traced back to the ways that memories of historical violence, and state sanctioned retribution, make them cautious of events in the present day.

When applied to Southern Thai insurgents, the term ‘evil-doer’ (phuu ko kaanraai) is more common than any more literal translation of ‘terrorist’. This does not, however, imply that ideas of terror and fear are absent from Thai discussions of violent political activity.  On the contrary expressions of fear and trepidation are integral to Thai reports on southern violence.  Importantly, Thai government forces as well as ‘evil-doers’/insurgents/terrorists are portrayed as causing fear (khwaam klua).

A particular theme, which stands out, is the uncertainty as to the status of others and whether they are friend or foe. Previously, the ordinary person feared the ‘โจร’ (‘Jon’ or bandits) who lived outside the boundaries of authority. The authority of the state protected the life and property of its citizens from these lawless bandits. However, in the south, the situation has changed. People now fear the government, as well as ‘Jon’ or the ‘Phuu ko kaan rai’. Consequently, people trust neither side. Strong government rhetoric and its use of force in ways that Muslims perceive as violating fundamental rights (particularly at Tak Bai and the Kru Se mosque) have alienated the common people and increased their fear. The effect is to blur the boundaries of legitimate authority and hierarchy.

This ambiguity is further demonstrated by the relationship between the words Jon and Phuu ko kaan rai. When translated literally, the latter term means a person or people who do evil. However, it is usually used as the Thai equivalent of the English word ‘terrorist’. It is a much more forceful term than ‘Jon’ but the two terms continue to be used almost interchangeably. A further distinction is often made between the ‘Jon kao’ or ‘old bandits’ and the ‘Jon mai’ or ‘new bandits’.  The new bandits are considered responsible for the present situation in the south. Indeed, some of the ‘old bandits’ claim to be afraid of the new instigators of violence.

There has been a twofold effect to this fear and ambiguity. On the one hand, some have fled the border provinces for the safety of Malaysia. This is in order to be safe from both the bandits and the Thai government. The other response has been retaliation. They seek to take over a domain which is usually the responsibility of the state, namely the protection of its citizens. The legitimacy of the government in southern Thailand has been reduced, because it is increasingly viewed as contributing to the current fear.

One area in which a new range of “fears” are being expressed in Thailand centres on the use of the Internet, particularly to discuss sensitive political issues. Some Thais now describe their apprehension about the ways that Internet activities are monitored by the government in terms of the kwaam klua that they feel.





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