Hearing taxi-drivers in Bangkok hurl derogatory remarks at Arab tourists visiting their city, I often get the impression that they want me to join in. “Arabs are”, one taxi-driver told me, “easy people to have as enemies. They are not good people”.
It doesn’t help that in many Thai eyes, Arabs – and many Muslims and South Asians – are, accurately or not, almost universally classified as р╣Бр╕Вр╕Б (kaek). The word is Thai slang for “of Indian origin” and also a word for “visitor”. These “visitors” from the west have been around in Thailand for, at the very least, many hundreds of years. They are a familiar and, for some locals, unwelcome component of Thailand’s globalising smorgasbord.
To improve its image among Arabs and Muslims, the Thai government has recently established a handsome English and Arabic language website. This extensive site has a great deal of useful information that seeks to portray a better image of the role and status of Muslims in Thai society. It even flags Thailand’s “great potential to become a halal food production center”. There are extensive outlines of Thai foreign policy in the Middle East and links to Thai diplomatic missions in that region, including the one in Baghdad. The site also carries practical information for Muslim visitors to Thailand and Bangkok, with, among other things, lists of “Muslim restaurants” (with helpful directions) and Mosques.
The stated goal of this website is to “promote greater people-to-people contact”. It is a worthy goal. My main reservation regarding this site’s English-language material (I am in no position to comment on its Arabic content) is the sometimes awkward confaltion of “Arab” and “Muslim”. For a simple example, the site’s page of “Muslim Diplomatic Missions in Thailand” includes many of Thailand’s “Muslim” neighbours. They are obviously not “Arab” and, in fact, both Indonesia and Malaysia have fairly large “non-Muslim” populations. I understand why the site has been called www.thai2arab.com but, given its stated goal, it is, perhaps, not the smoothest of domain name choices.
Nonetheless, the site is off to an attractive start and, hopefully, it will grow to become a useful resource for vistors to Thailand – Arab and non-Arab, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.