The formation of identity in Thailand

Identity

 

This will be a short presentation on the formation if identity in Thailand. The presentation will look at how not only identity has been developed, but also how it has been maintained throughout history. The focus will not, however, be solely on a National level but also from an ethnic identity viewpoint.

 

 

Thai National Identity

 

Thailand can be broken into four main regions. The North with its mountainous and fertile lands viable for growing rice and teak. Central Thailand home to Bangkok”City of Angels” and the fertile Chao Phraya basin. The North East (Essan) the driest, least productive and least modern place in Thailand. The South with its moist atmosphere where many produce rubber, tropical crops and tin. Thailand “Land of the free” In the past was a country living in the ideal of attaining a virtuous life by shaping their character to Buddhist principles where goodness was prized over personal wealth. Thailand has now changed from an absolute monarchy rule to one of self-sustained Democracy. Buddhism has supplied cognitive and evaluative elements that have been integrated into every aspect of Thai identity, even If the individual is Thai or part of a Thai ethnic minority. For example, many of the “hill tribes” in Thailand may be Christian or follow traditional religious practices. They do however pay respect to monks and often offer alms during ceremonies. Buddhism in Thailand is practised very differently compared to how Buddhism is practised in other many other countries such as in Japan, China and Vietnam. Each country practices Buddhism but in a very different way. For example, if the Dalai Lama came to Thailand he would have to sit down with the lay people as his position is not recognised in Theravada Buddhism.  In Japan there are not nearly as many images of Buddha compared to Thailand and if there are they are often quite plain and not extravagant and often painted and jewelled as they are in Thailand. As is shown it is distinctly Thai Buddhism that contributes to Thai people’s identity not the Buddhist faith itself with 95% following Theravada Buddhism. Thailand is a very Hierarchal society, If you are born into a  “High-so”  family as they are typically referred to her you, your sense of identity is of course very different than if you are born into a “Low-so” family. Being in a “High-so” family often individuals may have a feeling that they are held above ” Low-so” families. This is not through that particular person’s fault but rather how society has helped shape their identity. An individuals Identity as we know does often change in adolescence as people are exposed to new groups of individuals. When they leave the “bubble” of the social class and meet people from different backgrounds, religions and classes. This change happens not only throughout High School but all the way through to young adulthood.  Steinberg sums up the adolescence journey to identity perfectly by saying:”The development of a strong and stable sense of self is widely considered to be one of the central tasks of adolescence. Despite the fact that identity development occurs throughout one’s lifetime, adolescence is the first time that individuals begin to think about how our identity may affect our lives. During adolescence, we are much more self-conscious about our changing identities than at any other stage in our lives” Steinberg, L. (2008). Adolescence. New York: McGraw-Hill. Families are close in Thailand and are often held above all else, maintaining strong relationships throughout their entire lives.

 

Ethnic Identity

 

There are numerous Ethnic groups in Thailand  according to Reach To Teach” Of Thailand’s nearly 70 million people, roughly two-thirds are from Thai ethnic groups. Although the ethnic Thai people can be divided into dozens of different subgroups, their traditions, languages, and cultures differ only slightly. This leads to a population with a strong sense of shared traditions and cultural identity. The remaining third of the population is made up primarily of Chinese, as well as various minorities including Vietnamese, Khmer, Hmong, and Mein. Even among these diverse ethnic groups, the Thai language is widely spoken and understood, and the Thai script is often used in place of traditional writing styles.[Reachtoteachrecruiting.com,2016].There is also many much smaller ethnic groups throughout Thailand, many who may not even be citizens but have lived in Thailand for hundreds of years. The Karen people for example ” Current debates on Karen identity have tended to focus on the development of a nationalist construct of a pan-Karen community”[Rachel Sharpes,2015]. Many Karen people are Thai and are citizens but identify as Karen more than being Thai. Many ethnic groups such as the Karen live in the mountainous North of Thailand.  As the Thai government started cracking down on the growing of poppies(for opium and heroin production) many had to move further down the mountains Now the majority of Karen people still live in the mountains but do however go to lowland cities for work or grow cash crops in the hills. There has been in the past some problems of course between different groups Although the population of Thailand is relatively homogeneous—regionalism and ethnic differences are issues that are socially and politically significant. Moreover, these differences affect the access of specific groups and regions to economic and other resources, which in turn heightened ethnic or regional consciousness”[Library of congress]. Through all of this, the Karen and others have still kept a  strong sense of cultural identity. Many Karen people are Buddhist, but the majority are Christian and follow animistic beliefs. Sgaw, Pwo, and Pa’o on top of this, almost everyone speaks Thai. If there is a temple or a monk near a village they are still paid a high level of respect, given alms and offerings. This shows how the identity of many ethnic groups has changed since they first arrived in Thailand several hundred years ago.It is true each has their own customs and beliefs but are still very much living in Thailand and follow at least some of the Thai traditions. This is not characteristic for Karen people in other parts of the world. Karen people in America do not pay respect to Buddhist monks in America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

A sense of Identity is formed throughout our entire lives, always changing and adapting. We are born into an identity in some ways, some people with opportunities that people are not. This does not define us however as we are exposed to new groups and cultures our own identity changes, especially as young adults. For example, the Karen people as were shown, very much have their own identity. They are also Thai however. Karen people in America and Karen people in Thailand are as different in many ways as American and Thais are. Our identity is formed by those around us and our social environment, always changing, growing and adapting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Culture and Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism has been growing not only in the West but also much throughout Asia and the Middle East. It is something that is happening and will continue to happen more so on a global scale,it is not always a harmonious process however; there has and will continue to be a number of issues as cultures and peoples meld together.

In my school for example there is over 40 teachers in our Foreign Languages Department. This is a Thai public school and only fifteen of those teachers are Thai. There are teachers Cameroonian,Zimbabwe,England,Scotland,Poland,America,Tunisia,Philippines,China,Vietnam, among others.There is over twenty languages spoken in our office on a daily basis such as: Shona,French,English,Japanese,Korean,Tagalog,German, among a variety of other languages. Even here in Thailand a country that relies on its Foreign influence to survive to some degree there has been great friction. Many officials in Thailand including the Prime Minister  Prayut Chan-o-Cha have voiced their views against the foreign influence(reliance) in Thailand. It goes to show that in rural Thailand even a government high school has felt the effects of multiculturalism.

The argument of  universalism and cultural relativism is one that scholars  have always have and will continue to debate. Is it morally just to impose our views of right and wrong on other cultures ?

Many argue that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(1948) was influenced mostly by the west,therefore aligning with Western ideals of what an infringement of  human rights is and what is not. My friends for example who come from an Arabic background would show me the newspapers and articles in Arabic and translate them. We could then compare them to the American news version of the same incident.The version of news written in Arabic would read something akin to “American bomb massacres funeral party” it would be a main feature.If you did read about it at all in the American news it may be a side note and may read something different such as “successful air strike ” etc.  These instances may not be a breach of human rights as America had a huge hand in writing the Deceleration of Human Rights. However Middle-Eastern Countries did not nearly have as much of an input into the creating of the Deceleration.

This is why many academics link ethnocentrism to universalism as they believe that many Intergovernmental organisation such as the  International Criminal Court(ICC) are incapable of managing nor have to the right to manage international human rights abuse cases. Cultural relativists believe that cases should be managed on a case by case basis in locally governed offices by locally appointed officials. This way not only are you empowering locals and giving them a sense of agency in their own communities but being culturally sensitive to local issues.

I think that many people can be hypercritical of IGO’s, it is very easy to be critical of them as they are so authoritative now: people do not however offer alternatives.I do think that as IGO’s , globalisation and multiculturalism grows it becomes harder to  not see things as being universally right or wrong. What is right in one culture , may be deemed wrong by another. Look at that  the 2004 ‘Muslim Headscarf Ban’ that we studied before. I think from knowledge comes understanding and people need to understand other cultures and how they operate and from that understanding hopefully tolerance is born. IGO’s need to hire more in country experts and locals who know their own system better than international ‘experts’ . Many are of course trying , it is simply harder now as globalisation progresses.

Brief Brief on Gender Inequality in Thailand

In 2011, Thailand ranked 69th out of 143 countries in the Gender Inequality Index. The Gender Inequality Index mainly focuses on topics such as sex segregation and employer discrimination. During the last several decades the Thai Government and Non-Government Organisations have put many motions in place trying to change their ranking on the Gender Inequality Index.

 

 

 

In Thailand, the structure of gender relations suitable same for hundreds of years, with women being caretakers of the family and men taking care of the household financially.Thailand, however, had a massive shift in their social and economic structure in the 1960’s which changed gender relations in the country. The change in gender relations was due to a massive influx of American culture due to the war in Vietnam.Even the relatively small city that I live in had an American military base. Until this point, only the elite in society had any exposure to Western culture in any way. Many Thai people being exposed to these new ideals were drawn to the new and modern ways; this ended in the traditional Thai rural family unit, something of the past and people looked for a fortune in many of the major cities such as Bangkok.

 

 

 

There are three ways in which Thailand still has to make progress; this is reproductive health, empowerment, and economic activity.Regarding reproductive health,  too many women are dying from maternal causes. Too many adolescent women are still giving birth. With roughly 48 women dying in every hundred thousand dying from pregnancy-related causes and 43 out of every 1,000 births being those by adolescents(15-19).Empowerment for females is also still an issue as only 14% of all parliament seats are held by women, and with regards to education, only 25% of women have attained at least secondary school education. Economically women in Thailand still had a labour force of 65% as of 2011.

 

 

 

Due to Thailand dramatic Western influence in the 1960’s Thailand changes from an agricultural to an industrial economy.Now women in Thailand hold 50% of the employment rate.

 

The breakdown of occupations can be shown:

 

 

 

Men-

 

 

 

Agricultural (55.8%)

Mining and quarrying (83.6%)

Public administration and defence (64.0%)

Water supply (69.7%)

Construction (84.6%)

Transportation storage (86.9%)

Information and communication (64.8%)

Professional, Scientific and Technical (52.4%)

Administrative and support services (57.7%)

Electricity, gas, stream supply industry (81.17%).

 

 

Women-

 

Accommodation and food service (64.2%)

Financial and insurance activities (55.5%)

Real estate activities (55.7%)

Education (61.1%)

Human health and social work (75.9%)

Activities of household employers (82.1%)

Activities in international organisations (100.0%)

Other service activity industry (55.3%).

 

 

From personal experience, there does seem to be very much a “glass ceiling” in Thailand.Part of my job is to travel to various schools, almost every time the Directors, Vice Directors and Heads of Departments are men, even when many women have been working at the school for many years and are much more experienced more than them.

 

 

There have definitely been improvements, however. As was mentioned before due to the Western influence Thailand changed dramatically during the 1960’s. This did break down many of the traditional Thai family social norms. However, some of these changes were progressive. These changes allowed women to start and education and eventually a career. These changes allowed women to not only serve their families but server themselves. It is true that women still face opposition and many a “glass ceiling”, the salaries are still not the same, women still are often sold by their families and women must often do what is best for their family. In 2011, Yingluck Shinawatra was elected as the first ever female Prime Minister of Thailand, something which would not even be a concept in the 1800’s.Thailand has a long way to go regarding gender equality, but for now, at least it is moving in the right direction.

 

Human by Yann Arthurs-Bertrand

For anyone who has not seen this life-affirming piece simply must, it is breathtaking.I have watched it a few times now and have used it as a tool for many of the projects that  I have given to my students. It was the first movie to premiere in the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations, to an audience of 1,000 viewers, including the Un Secretary General Baan Ki-Moon.

The film was financed by the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, which gave it rights-free to the GoodPlanetFoundation, responsible for driving the project. An extended version of the film is officially freely available on YouTube (in three parts)

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It covers a range of topics such as war, family homosexuality, religion, ambition and failure. It is beautiful to watch as the film is almost exclusively composed of first-person and aerial shots .By watching it you too may get a sense of what it means to be “Human”.

Human the website available at http://www.human-themovie.org/ [Accessed 6/12/16]

 

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Human movie playlist, introduction plus part 1, 2 and 3 available at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLEgA6bEeal3yh19xRhfVt5q5xBohcPYz7&v=qUWrdnbOEOQ

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Leave no one behind, made with clips from Human available at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhsSQZGDF1E

‘Muslim Headscarf’ Ban 2004

Introduction

 

In 2004, a law banning the wearing of Muslim headscarves came into force in France and has proved very controversial. This will be an analysis of the embargo and the response of the French government to the issue of the wearing of the Muslim headscarf. This will also touch upon why women wear Muslims headscarves and the empowerment and disempowerment that comes with wearing one.

 

 

The Headscarves

 

 

The scarves that women who follow the Islamic faith come in a myriad of styles and colours The word hijab comes from the Arabic for the veil and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women. The type most commonly worn in the West is a square scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear. There is also the al-amira which comes in two pieces. The first part is a knitted cap and comes with a tube-like scarf. The Shayla is popular in the Gulf region; it is one long rectangular scarf. It is then tucked in or pinned at the shoulders. The Khimar is long and cape-like, it hangs down until it reaches the wait, completely covering the hair and shoulders, but the face is clear. The Chador is similar but does, however, cover the whole body not only to the waist but does again leave the face clear. The niqab is like the chador but does cover the face also leaving only the eyes clear. Finally, there is the Burka which covers the body and faces entirely leaving only a screen to see through.

 

The feeling of empowerment

 

There have been people criticising women wearing hijabs for decades. Some would even describe it as a symbol of ‘oppression in a patriarchal society’. Many Muslims including women disagree with this train of thought and rather believe that wearing a hijab is not only a symbol of their religious values but also ties in with their strong sense of cultural identity. Many followers of the Islamic faith believe that a hijab can, in fact, be empowering for a woman.Safiya a Muslim woman living in Canada said:

“The one thing I don’t understand is why people assume hijab/niqab is a symbol of oppression. Never once in my life have I been told to wear the hijab. For me, it has always been part of my life growing up, and every morning when I see myself in the mirror, it makes me happy because I decided that I wanted to wear the hijab.

When I wear my hijab it makes me feel confident, I feel like myself, this is how I have always been. But this isn’t how the majority of the world looks upon the hijab. We live in a strange society where walking around half naked is acceptable but being modest and covering up is frowned upon.

Not only this but also the fact that forcing a woman not to wear what she likes is OK when clearly it is oppression itself. How hypocritical is the French government.”

[Safiya in Canada,2015]

 

A study into female empowerment for Muslim women in America by Anderson Beckmann Al Wazni in 2015 found that:

“Regardless of whatever outright or assumed discrimination participants faced, all of them ultimately identified as feeling very much empowered, and that Islam as a religion was the source of their rights and power as a woman. At some point in the interview, every single participant stated that the hijab gave them a sense of respect, dignity, and control over who has access to their physical body. All members felt that this, in turn, offered them security, self-confidence, and empowerment

.[Al wazni, Oxford Academic social work]

There has been quantifying research showing the emancipation of women according to Mussaps research 2009:

” Quantitative study surveyed Australian women and found that those who follow the Islamic faith and wear hijab were not necessarily any less likely to compare their bodies to the body ideals produced in the media, but that the hijab did offer protection by “buffering against appearance-based public scrutiny (through adoption of traditional clothing) and by insulating her from exposure to Western ideals (by discouraging consumption of body-centric media)”

[Mussap Quantitive study, Muslim women in America 2009]

 

 

Disempowerment

 

Not all Muslim women agree that wearing a Hijab empowers them but find it to be disempowering and are in fact a symbol of oppression.

“For many the hijab, along with the dehumanising niqab and burqa, are symbols of oppression, not some national costume to be worn for kicks and giggles.

Somalian-born author and activist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, describes Muslim headscarves as a means in which a deeply patriarchal culture oppresses women.

“The veil deliberately marks women as private and restricted property, non-persons,” she said.

“The veil sets women apart from men and apart from the world; it restrains them, confines them, grooms them for docility.

“It is the mark of a kind of apartheid, not the domination of a race but of sex.”

Just how is social cohesion advanced by these ludicrous proposals?

As someone from a Middle Eastern background, I’ve seen first-hand the pressure on girls to obey their devout parents as well as their community’s wishes regarding how they dress.

That pressure to conform can be overwhelming.

You risk not only being judged, denounced and reviled but completely ostracised.

Being a source of shame to your family for not abiding by accepted cultural practices can be traumatic for any young girl let alone one raised in cultures where she’s considered subservient to men.

 

[Rita Panahi, The Daily Telegraph, This is a symbol of oppression. Please don’t celebrate it, April 20, 2015]

This is however mostly is taken a first hand from Middle Eastern countries and not the West.

 

The French Ban

The ban in 2004 of religious symbols has been contested since its implementation. The law has been dubbed the ‘Muslim headscarf ban’.The law banned all religious symbols but was aimed at the followers of the Islamic faith. According to a Human rights watch report from February 2004:

“The proposed law is an unwarranted infringement on the right to religious practice, For many Muslims, wearing a headscarf is not only about religious expression, but it is also about religious obligation.”

[Human rights Watch report, February 2004]

Due to immigration from parts of Africa and former colonies, France has the largest Muslim population in Europe. There have been several appeals made to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), all, however, have been rejected every time.The law concerning la séparation des Églises et de l’État was passed by the chamber of deputies in 1905 and has been in effect since then. This intends to separate church and state law entirely. The law has been upheld and most recently” Loi interdict la dissimulation du visage days l’espace public was passed…it was an  act of parliament adopted by the Senate of France on 14 September 2010, resulting in the ban on the wearing of face-covering headgear, including masks, helmets, balaclavas, niqabs and other veils covering the face in public places, except under specified circumstances.”[ Allen, Peter, Daily Mail (14 September 2010).

 

Conclusion

 

The French ban has had many criticisms of the ‘Muslim Headscarf’ ban and individuals claiming that nuns and others have been allowed to wear their habit without contention. The ban has forced mostly Muslim women and girls to reveal private parts about themselves, pay fines, or being expelled from school. The ban needs to be looked at less like a ban on a piece of religious clothing but rather a part of cultural identity. It could be claimed that women have been wearing the hijab for thousands of years before Islam was even part of the Middle-East and throughout Arabic countries. The wearing of a Hijab is rather part of not only many people’s religious ideals but also cultural values. Not only it is religiously inappropriate, but culturally it would be incredibly revealing and embarrassing to many people. It is true that the ‘cultural web’ changes and adapt but not when it is forced ” There are significant structural ‘strands’ in culture such as the social, religious, economic, and political dimensions of life. They shape and define the culture and its smaller strands. All of the strands of a culture are interconnected and influence and sustain each other.” [Introduction to anthropology and culture 2012, Kimmage development studies centre]. Europe is increasingly reaping the harvest of multicultural policies that have served to divide rather than unite.Religious Identity isn’t something you can take off in public.The European Court of Justice has, in fact, turned the headscarf into a symbol of resistance.