“Rao Rak Nay Luang”: Crafting Malay Muslims’ Subjectivity through the Sovereign Thai Monarch

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Anusorn Unno

Abstract

This article examines the ways in which Malay Muslims of southern Thailand engage with the Thai state amidst the recent unrest in the region. It argues that a group of Malay Muslims chose to participate in a state ceremony as the king’s subjects rather than as citizens of the Thai state by exploring the significance of the sentence “เรารักนายหลวง” (Rao Rak Nay Luang, or We love Mr. King) that appears on a ceremonial platter they made for the event. In terms of sovereignty with regard to the state of exception, the sentence suggests that these Malay Muslims have put the king, who can be conceived as the Thai state in a state of exception, into an exceptional state. This makes it possible for them to demystify the god-like monarch in a way that allows them to engage with him without compromising their religious principles. In terms of subjectivity and agency, the sentence illustrates that these Malay Muslims were able to craft their subjectivity as the king’s subjects, and to exercise agency through the king’s sovereignty. This is possible because of their perception of the king as a
protector of their ethnicity and religion. Whilst enabling Malay Muslims to engage state authorities with authority, this subjectification process however is self-contradictory, as subjectivity is crafted by stripping the king of his god-like features, whilst agency is enacted by treating the king as the sovereign. Moreover, the central feature of the king’s sovereignty, which resides in his ability to suspend the application of law, implies privilege, whereas Malay Muslims have been demanding equality and justice. Rather than the exceptional king in an exceptional state, it should be the Thai state with fragmented and flexible sovereignty that is a
means through which Malay Muslims of Southern Thailand can realize their ethno-religious concerns and political aspirations.

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