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Non-Violence and the State

Satha-Anand answers questions from a student
about it with reference to the situation in Thailand



Chaiwat Satha-Anand, TFF Associate


Q - Why do you think the non-violent action training should be introduced to the National Security Council policy?

A - Let me respond to your questions in two ways: theoretical and practical. At the theoretical level, for the past two decades I have argued that if conflict is paired between the state and the peoples, it has been on the side of the state that initiates violence, not the peoples' side. (See for example: Robin Williams, The Wars Within: Peoples and States in Conflict (Cornell University Press, 2003) As a result, to try to stop violence by "preaching nonviolence" only to the peoples will not put an end to what I called "situation of violence". Understood in military term, between offensive and defensive violence, changing those who use defensive violence alone will not end violence. If offensive violence disappears, then there will no longer be "defensive violence".

My objective has always been to transform the state into using nonviolent methods. ( I am working on a book tentatively titled: State and Nonviolence.) (For this line of argument see Chaiwat Satha-Anand, "Teaching Nonviolence to the States," in Majid Tehranian (ed.) Asian Peace (I.B.Tauris, 1999))

Now to understand the workings on the side of the state, one needs to look at it from at least three levels: Actor(s), Structure(s) and Culture(s). (For this method of analysis, see Johan Galtung, Peace by Peaceful Means (Sage, 1996)).

Policy exists at the structural level which could be a source of violence. (For example: the Thaksin government's policy in the drug war). Government officials who are trigger happy could contribute much to the violence suffered by the people. (For example: when the government chose a police officer who was highly decorated for ending the lives of so many criminals in the past to handle the problem of violence in the South.) A government's policy is a political direction formulated as a guide to mobilize resources to make things happen as determined by the government.

The National Security Council, on the other hand, formulates policies that last longer than the life of a particular government (e.g. Southern Border Security Policy 1999-2003). To have a nonviolence-based policy, then serves the transformative process both from the structural as well as the cultural dimensions, those who don't want to fall back on the use of state terror could work with some levels of legitimacy within the complex state apparatus.

Given my thinking, it should come as no surprise to you why the police and "security officers" (not "authority officers") would qualify as the target groups.


Q - What are the other alternative methods have you suggested to The National Security Council?

A - What do you mean by "alternative methods"? You have to look at what has transpired from within the state-security sector. In terms of policies, there have been the "Southern Border Security Policy 1999-2003", as well as the "Prime Ministerial Order 187/2546" which posits that nonviolent method is the only way the state considers legitimate in dealing with conflicts between the state and the peoples.

In addition, the PM Order 187/2546 also indicates that government agencies which are likely to get into conflicts with the peoples need to have their officials trained in nonviolence so that they will be aware of both the peoples' methods in conducting conflicts and able to come up with nonviolent alternatives themselves.

The Thai state had tried nonviolent methods in the past, especially in the form of the Prime Ministerial Order 66/23. (See an analysis of this particular order from a nonviolence perspective in Chaiwat Satha-Anand, "Forgiveness as a Nonviolent Security Policy: An Analysis of Thai Prime Ministerial Order 66/23," in Social Alternatives Vol.21 No.2 (Autumn 2002)).


Q - Are they any improvements that could make from the training programme?

A - Depend on what you mean by "improvements". For me, the fact that these policies and training programs exist are already "improvements" in terms of furthering the cause of nonviolence.


Q - Is increased training likely to have amy impact on the overall conflict?

A - It would be unrealistic to believe that there will be no impact at all on impending conflicts involving these government officials because, to believe in the "no-impact thesis" would be to assume that change is not possible and that human beings won't be touched by anything they experience. If on the other hand, one believes that we are "touched" by things we experience in life, then certainly the "no-impact thesis" won't hold.

In addition, the idea of training these officials is based on the two assumptions, both realistic and not idealistic. They are: first, the Thai bureaucracy, or any bureaucracy anywhere, is not a monolith. There are officials with differences in this bureaucracy. To assume that they are all alike is quite unrealistic. Second, government officials are normal human beings, not completely evil nor saintly. In general, they would try to function without using violence on people.


Q - In your opinion, it is possible for both sides (government +company) and ( NGOs+community) to form a consensus to solve the problem together?

A - I am not sure I am interested in "forming a consensus". As a matter of fact, I am quite terrified by some "consensuses" when they condemn others to atrocities in the past. (See for example, Jean-Joseph Coux and Philip R. Wood, Terror and Consensus: Vicissitudes of French Thought (Stanford University Press, 1998)).

What I am interested in is to come up with alternatives for both the peoples and the state in their engagements with each other that are nonviolent and try to solve problems through nonviolent fights, if necessary. Conflicts will continue as long as humans exist but violence needs to stop.

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Q - In your opinion, do you think that would it be possible that initiatives in non-violence, grounded in spiritual values (Buddhist and Muslim) offer an alternative way forward?

A - Of course, it would be possible that nonviolent initiatives could be grounded in spiritual values. But I prefer to work for nonviolent alternatives from a non-spiritual position because of my doubt about my own spiritual qualities as well as my experiences in working for nonviolence where it could easily be relegated to the spiritual realm and as a result marginalized.

I could talk about nonviolent security policies based on the state's past experiences or international pool of knowledge on the subject. But it would be much more difficult to put forward such policies to the security communities, both in Thailand and elsewhere in the world, based primarily on spiritual values.

In fact, it could be argued that most success stories of nonviolent actions in the twentieth century have not been spiritually-based, nor "made for moral reasons". (See for example, Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall, A Force More Powerful: A Century of Violent Conflict (St. Martin's Press, 2000: p.5))But to say this does not mean that nonviolent actions are not and could not be inspired by spiritual/religious values.


Q - Are Buddhist and Muslim NGOs able to work together in non violence? Are values about peace and non violence shared?

A - Naree, Phra Paisal and myself work together for nonviolent changes. The villagers in Chana are Muslims who use nonviolent methods. The Ban Krua protesters are Cham Muslims who use nonviolent methods to fight for their rights and consequently strengthen the Thai civil society. (See Chaiwat Satha-Anand, The Life of This World: Negotiating Muslim Lives in Thai Society (Marshall Cavendish, 2004-forthcoming)). In so doing, they couldn't have done it alone but in collaboration with others, especially non-Muslims. But whether values about peace and nonviolence are "shared", I am not sure. All I could tell you is that I don't think my understanding of "peace and nonviolence" is really shared by all my friends and vice versa, partially shared? Well, perhaps...


Q - I have read your paper that came from one of the hand out document from non violent action training in Songkla in draft version about "Non Violent Action from the State's perspective". Would it be possible for you to give me some advice on how could I get the complete version?

A - Yes, the complete version is published in the National Defense College's journal: Rattapirak (June 2004?). I will have to find the correct citation for you.

May I ask you a favor? Would it be possible to send this question-answer to some of my friends abroad? I believe it would be interesting to hear what they have to say about it.

Wish you all the best,

Chaiwat Satha-Anand


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