Since the latest crisis between Palestine and Israel started on 7 October 2023, questions have been raised about what impact the situation in the Middle East might have on Thailand's Deep South. Hara Shintaro writes about the reaction of the insurgent group BRN and other locals to the crisis, noting that it is unlikely the crisis in Palestine will affect the situation in Thailand's Deep South.
Since the latest crisis between Palestine and Israel started on 7 October 2023, some people who follow the conflict and the peace process in Patani (the southern border provinces of Thailand) have asked the author about what impact the situation in the Middle East might have on this region. Some of them expressed concern that the crisis would worsen the situation in Patani, or radicalise the local Malay Muslims to the extent that they might join the jihad in Palestine, or even espouse more extreme Islamic concepts such as global jihadism.
The reactions of the local Muslims are most visible in Facebook activism, such as posting political messages or changing profile pictures to include symbols displaying sympathetic support for the Palestinians. Some public discussions or online forums by academics knowledgeable on the issue have also taken place. However, no concrete collective action has been taken so far in this area, such as a demonstration condemning Israel and/or expressing solidarity with Palestine.
The Information Department of BRN (Barisan Revolusi Nasional, the National Revolutionary Front), the most influential insurgent group in the region, released a YouTube clip on 12 October 2023, titled “Patani-Palestina: Bersatu Demi Keadilan dan Damai yang Hakiki (Patani-Palestine: Unite for the Sake of Justice and Genuine Peace)” This is not the first time that BRN has issued such a statement. During the Israel-Palestine crisis in 2021, BRN also posted a video clip via YouTube on 26 May, called “BRN Mendukung Sikap Komuniti Antarabangsa dalam Mengakhiri Konflik Palestina-Israel (BRN Supports Efforts of the International Community to End the Palestine-Israel conflict)”. These two clips contain almost identical messages. Both express staunch support for Palestinian brethren suffering the serious consequences of the conflict, condemn the atrocities committed by Israel, denounce colonisation and suppression as the root causes of the conflict, and call for the peace-loving international community to solve the problem urgently. Without any doubt, BRN’s empathy and solidarity with the Palestinians is genuine. At the same time, the armed group also tries to enhance the justification for their struggle by emphasising the similarities between Patani and Palestine: both Patani and Palestine have been colonised, and it is the right of the people in these colonised regions to stand up and fight against the colonisers. Therefore, the statement released in May 2021 ends with the following calls: “Free Palestine...Free Patani...Merdeka (Independence)! Merdeka! Merdeka!” The latest post closes with the following phrase: “Merdeka demi kedamaian (Independence for peace)”. Therefore the gist of these messages is: “BRN and Patani Malay Muslims stand by the Muslim brothers and sisters in Palestine because we are both colonised, and our fight against the colonisers (the Siamese in Patani and the Israelis in Palestine) is legitimate.”
Up to this moment, there have been no studies to indicate that the crises in Palestine (or in this matter, in any other place) worsen the situation in the southern border provinces of Thailand. The recent increase in the number of violent incidents is most likely caused by the stagnation in the peace process. The last official meeting took place on 21-22 February 2023. The new government has not yet announced any clear policy about the peace process. The National Security Council, the Thai government’s secretariat for the peace process, does not yet have a new secretary-general. The new head of the Thai dialogue panels has also not yet been appointed by the Prime Minister. In almost all conflict areas, when a peace process comes to a deadlock, it is quite usual for insurgents or rebels to increase the level of violence to sustain their negotiation power.
The possibility of Patani Malay Muslims joining the jihad in Palestine is almost unthinkable, because the very jihad which is obligatory for the Muslims in Patani, according to the views of nationalistic Malay Muslims, is the jihad for the liberation of Patani.
This recent crisis in Palestine will not radicalise the Malay insurgents in the region to the extent they would espouse global jihadism or collaborate with such organisations as Al Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), or other extremist militant groups in Mindanao. The nature of the conflict in Patani is not a religious war, but an ethno-nationalist conflict between Thais/Siamese and Malays. The rhetoric of jihad is used in order to justify their struggle on religious grounds, not to define the struggle as a holy war solely for the sake of religion. On top of that, collaborating with global jihadist groups is even crucially detrimental to their struggle. A BRN political leader in Malaysia told the author that “the enemy which we can face with our maximum ability is the Thai state. But if we are blacklisted as a terrorist organisation, we have to face the United States. This is far beyond our limits.”
Although the crisis in Palestine has certainly aroused a lot of sympathy from Malay Muslims in Patani, it will not affect the conflict in the region, at least in a significant way. However, it does not mean that the government led by Srettha Thavisin of the Pheu Thai Party (PTP) can leave the conflict unsolved forever. Violent incidents in this region are rarely covered by the mainstream media (including English-language newspapers) because the number of casualties in each attack is very limited. But the accumulated damage and loss are already enormous (the death toll is over 7,000 and more than 13,000 people have been injured). The numbers have been steadily increasing. Thus, the government should swiftly announce its policy about the peace-building in the region, and resume the peace dialogue process as soon as possible with a more serious engagement than the previous government. The peace dialogue under the junta talked only about reducing the level of violence with BRN. This time, the new government should drive the peace process further. In the last paragraph of the latest statement on YouTube, BRN said “We call for all peace-loving nations to unite and collaborate in facing suppression and colonisation in order to create justice and genuine peace”. Now that BRN has presented itself as a peace-loving organisation, it is a good time for the government to restart the peace process that has been suspended for eight months.
 For a detailed explanation on the ideology of the Patani liberation movement and its relation to global jihadism, see “Jihadism in Southern Thailand: A Phantom Menace”, Asia Report N°291, International Crisis Group, 8 November 2017. Available at https://www.crisisgroup.org/asia/south-east-asia/thailand/291-jihadism-s...
 A BRN political leader, interviewed in February 2017.