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Bangkok TV Soap Opera Attracts Muslim Anger and Scrutiny

Bangkok TV Soap Opera Attracts Muslim Anger and Scrutiny

by Richard S. Ehrlich | Bangkok, Thailand
August 29, 2013

A TV station in Buddhist-majority Thailand has agreed to allow government-approved "Islamic experts" to revise a soap opera script after a small but vocal Muslim group complained that the show misrepresents their religion.

The soap opera "Fah Jarod Sai" or "Where the Sky Meets the Sand" stars Thai actors in a superficial melodrama portraying an imaginary Arab-style royal officer who falls in love with a girl who is half-Thai, half-French, in a fantasy kingdom named Hinfara.

On August 22, a small, outspoken Bangkok-based group, Muslims for Peace, demanded Channel 7 cancel the series.

On August 24, in response, Channel 7's executives met Thailand's moderate Muslim spiritual leader Aziz Phitakkumpon, who is the "Chularatchamontri" or State Counselor for Islamic Affairs, which is an advisory position approved by the prime minister and appointed by the king.

It was not announced whether or not the Chularatchamontri and his office's Muslim colleagues also objected to the soap opera.

The Muslims for Peace presented their complaint to Bangkok Broadcasting and Television which operates Channel 7, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Ministry, and the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC).

The soap opera misled viewers into thinking the Muslim religion allows its believers to be cruel to women and children, the group said, according to the Bangkok Post.

"We are afraid that the lakhorn [soap opera] could eventually have large-scale and unpredictable effects on Muslims if the ICT Ministry and the NBTC do not cancel Fah Jarod Sai," the Muslims for Peace's petition said.

The station already broadcasted four episodes on Monday and Tuesday nights, and has eight remaining episodes.

Before producing the soap opera, the TV station translated all 12 episodes into English and presented them to the Egyptian Embassy in Bangkok and Egypt's Culture Ministry to examine and discuss, the Bangkok Post reported without elaborating.

Thailand is concerned about domestic and international perception over its treatment of Muslims, partly because of alleged human rights abuses committed by Thai troops fighting in the south where Islamist separatists are waging a guerrilla war which has left more than 5,000 people dead on all sides since 2004.

Muslims for Peace "vehemently demonstrated in front of the U.S. Embassy against the anti-Prophet Muhammad clip 'Innocence of Muslims' last September," wrote Kong Rithdee, the Bangkok Post's hip, sophisticated columnist who focuses on culture and society.

"The group believes that the [soap opera] series is an insult to Islam, when in fact religion is not a point of the story," said Kong, a self-described "moderate" Muslim.

"Like a mirage or an opium dream, this is a romantic vision fuelled by risible, naive, dumb, Orientalist fantasy," Kong said.

*************

Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

His websites are:
http://asia-correspondent.tumblr.com
http://www.flickr.com/photos/animists/sets
https://gumroad.com/l/RHwa

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