11 July 2024

Professor Chaiwat Satha-Anand spent over four decades – almost his entire career as a political scientist at Thammasat University – advocating nonviolence and peacebuilding to settle conflicts.

Chaiwat, who died of cancer aged 69 last Thursday (June 27), was influenced by the political turbulence of the 1970s, when a student-led uprising brought the collapse of a military dictatorship in October 1973, only for young protesters to be massacred by state security forces at his alma mater three years later.

“I had been a lecturer for less than a month when the October 6 [1976] incident occurred,” the Muslim scholar once recalled.

“That incident had a lot of influence on me. I grew up with the student movement and was a sophomore at Thammasat during the October 14 [anti-government rally in 1973]. That was when my interest in studying violence began,” he said.

Violence is no solution’

For Chaiwat, violence never offers a sustainable solution to conflict.

“I believe that violence is a problem you can overcome. I have learned that conflict is normal and natural, so I don’t aim to eradicate it. But violence is not normal. And a solution to conflict does not need to involve violence. There should be another option, which is peaceful means.”

Among the courses he taught at Thammasat was “Violence and Non-violence in Politics”.

He also wrote several books on the subject, including “Non-violence: Peaceful Means and Path to Peace” (2016).

Considered a leading authority in peace education, Chaiwat’s research studies on the topic have been hailed in Thailand and abroad.

A luminary of peace’

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim described Chaiwat as “a luminary of peace and understanding” in his condolence message on Friday.

“Chaiwat dedicated his life to the cause of nonviolence and the resolution of conflicts through dialogue and compassion. His teachings, writings, and unwavering commitment to justice touched the lives of countless individuals, transcending borders and bridging divides,” the Malaysian leader posted on X.

“Even as I bid farewell to this remarkable soul, I find solace in the legacy he leaves behind. May his memory forever inspire us to walk the path of peace, seek understanding in the face of adversity, and build a world where harmony and respect reign supreme,” Anwar said.

Fellow peace advocates say Chaiwat’s death is a great loss to scholarship and the field of non-violence.

Assoc Prof Saowanee Jitmuad, a peace scholar and former member of the National Reconciliation Commission, likened Chaiwat to a “rare but important bookcase that stores knowledge for Thai society” about non-violence and peacebuilding.

“This bookcase is now gone. After this, Thai society will need to learn more and improve in this matter,” she said.

Career advocating nonviolent solutions

Born on January 25, 1955, Chaiwat received a bachelor’s degree with first-class honours in politics and government from Thammasat University and a doctorate in political science from the University of Hawaii in the US.

He began his academic career as a lecturer and researcher at Thammasat University’s Faculty of Political Science and went on to head its Politics and Government Department.

He was also founder and director of the university’s Thai Peace Information Centre, which focuses on research and activism relating to the Thai military and social issues.

Chaiwat, an international expert on nonviolence theory and activism, was an honorary senior research fellow at the Tokyo-based Toda Peace Institute, which describes itself as “an independent, nonpartisan institute committed to advancing a more just and peaceful world through policy-oriented peace research and practice”.

For several years, he directed the International Peace Research Association’s Commission on Nonviolence while also serving on the Scientific Committee of the International University for Peoples’ Initiative for Peace (IUPIP) in Italy.

He was the 2012 winner of the United States’ El-Hibri Peace Education Prize. At home, he was granted the Si Burapha for Peace Award the same year.

In 2003, he was appointed to lead peace efforts in Thailand’s insurgency-hit deep South as a member of the National Reconciliation Commission, co-authoring its final report to the Thai government.

Throughout the five decades of his academic career, Chaiwat published numerous articles and books at home and abroad on the military, alternative defense, religion and peace, Islam and nonviolence, and modern political philosophy.

Highlights include “The Promise of Reconciliation? Examining Violent and Nonviolent Effects on Asian Conflicts” (2016), “Nonkilling Security and the State” (2013), “Protecting the Sacred, Creating Peace in Asia-Pacific” (2013), “Essays on the Three Prophets: Nonviolence, Murder and Forgiveness” (2011), and “Imagined Land?:

The State and Southern Violence in Thailand” (2009). His books have been translated into Japanese, Korean, Italian, Arabic, and Bahasa Indonesia.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk