Tearing Apart the Land

Winner, Inaugural 2009 Bernard Schwartz Book Prize (value $20,000), Asia Society of New York

CHOICE Outstanding Academic Book 2009

Tearing Apart the Land is my most critically successful book. Based on a year’s fieldwork in Thailand’s insurgency-affected Deep South, it offers compelling analysis of the conflict, organised into just four core chapters: Politics, Islam, Security and Militants. Each chapter contains a number of sections, each headed with a single word.

See a video of the Bernard Schwartz  Book Prize event here.

Some quotes from reviews of the book:

In this introduction to a scandalously underreported conflict… McCargo rightly scorns the legions of post-9/11 armchair analysts who try to shoehorn every conflict with Islamic overtones into well-Googled theories of global jihad. No armchairs for this author: he researched the book by crisscrossing southern Thailand in a temperamental 1989 Mercedes, hastening back to the town of Pattani by nightfall to avoid militants’ booby traps. McCargo is the real McCoy…. For McCargo, the only long-term solution combines firm action against the perpetrators of violence and ‘substantive autonomy’ for Thailand’s three southernmost, predominantly Malay-speaking and Muslim provinces. (Time Magazine)
Original, fascinating, and important…. McCargo has sifted through the details of this tragic conflict with extraordinary diligence and insight. The result is a small masterpiece of investigative rigor and balance. It is an especially welcome corrective to those tempted to see the hand of al-Qaeda in all Muslim insurgencies.(Journal of Asian Studies)
Thailand, once known as one of the most stable democracies in Asia, is in political and economic crisis…. Southern Thailand now resembles a war zone…. McCargo gives a thorough explanation of why unrest began in southern Thailand, and why it has spread…. By the end of 2008, more than 3000 people had been killed in the south since the beginning of the decade. Bangkok still refuses to consider any form of real autonomy for the region and McCargo is pessimistic about the future. (London Review of Books)
The well-written and researched book provides a much-needed detailed analysis of the violent conflicts in three Malay-Muslim provinces of southern Thailand—Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat…. It is a ‘must-read’ book for anybody interested in Thai politics. The way McCargo situates the violent conflicts in the nature of the interaction between the center and the periphery is particularly illuminating. (Southeast Asian Studies)
Tearing Apart the Land is an engaging and well-crafted addition to the literature on Islam, politico-religious movements, southern Thailand, and Southeast Asia generally. Duncan McCargo’s extensive familiarity with the region and his many interviews with southern Thais from all walks of life give his account a great deal of authority. His book is a ‘must read’ for anyone seriously interested in understanding contemporary dynamics in Thailand’s southern provinces, how they came to be, and what might be done to establish a solution that is acceptable to the key players in the region, including, not least, the ordinary Muslims who make up the (oftentimes but not always) ‘silent majority.’ (Michael G. Peletz, Emory University)
If you read just one book on Thailand’s turbulent south, it must be Duncan McCargo’s Tearing Apart the Land. Built on months of potentially dangerous fieldwork, McCargo’s book will set the benchmark against which all future studies of the south will be measured. McCargo’s intelligent and informed analysis unravels a remarkably complex social, political, religious, and cultural environment to provide an account that does not diminish this complexity but which provides a series of prisms—Islam, politics, security, and militants—that allow us to better understand it. Tearing Apart the Land is an excellent book that tells us much about the separatist conflict in Southern Thailand and also provides invaluable insights into national politics in Thailand. This is essential reading. (Kevin Hewison, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
In Tearing Apart the Land, Duncan McCargo articulates a convincing explanation of the crisis in Thailand’s Malay Muslim region with conceptual and analytical clarity. He also boldly offers a direction to the solution and the reasons why it is very difficult for the Thai state to embrace this solution. The book may set a new basis for the discussion on this crisis and its solution for some time to come. (Thongchai Winichakul, University of Wisconsin–Madison)