ELIZABETH NAAI WRITES – Religious violence taints Thailand’s picturesque south shores.

Most Thais are Buddhist, but the south hosts a large Muslim Malay population near neighboring Malaysia. Both religions renounce violence, but attacks have claimed 5,700 lives since ethnic religious conflict began there in 2004.

Recently, eight minutes of raining bullets transformed the quaint district of Narathiwat into a war zone. On February 3, religious teacher Jaemu Maman and his family arrived home from the local mosque when black masked assailants attacked. Maman fled his home to lure the assailants away, but his children, 6-year-old Ilyas Maman, 9-year-old Bahari Maman and 11-year-old Muhayek Maman, were gunned down.

Find Them All, a poignant local documentary, recounts Maman’s nightmare and captures a community reeling from such senseless violence.

An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind, or in this case, a community trapped in a cycle of violence. Eleven days later, a Buddhist monk was slain during morning alms in the Mae Lan district. Three bystanders were also killed. Some local residents say the attack was a justified operation against the state of Thailand for its treatment of Muslim Malays.

In 2004, violent outbursts erupted into a game of tit for tat between Muslim Malays and the Thai military. Martial law was enforced after an insurgent attack against an army base. Seven members of an unarmed protest were fatally shot by the military.

Extremists exist in every faith, so it is vital that Thailand’s religious leaders set a precedent of tolerance within their communities. However, the government could help alleviate some of the religious tension by restoring Muslims’ second class citizenship to the full citizenship extended to its Buddhist citizens.