Both the government and the rebels commit unspeakable deeds. Live bodies are stacked like cordwood in police vans and emerge hours later as corpses.
Schoolteachers and clerks are publicly beheaded. An imam was tortured to death over the course of days, displayed in a makeshift cage. A saffron-robed monk
was blown to pieces. An informer was crucified, hands and feet nailed into the street, and soldiers didn't even bother to cast lots for his clothing.
Most young men in the Deep South know someone who's been killed, crippled, or arrested. Nearly all have been humiliated by authorities, often on a daily
basis. What separates the 10,000 juwae -- the young fighters who form the backbone of the insurgency -- from the rest of their angry, alienated
peers? A soda bottle, perhaps, and a headband.
The soda-bottle contains a narcotic brew based on the kratom, a leaf that grows wild throughout the region. Traditionally, it is taken with tea to
mask its bitter taste. Today, the mixer is typically Coca-Cola, or sometimes, strawberry Fanta. The effect of kratom is similar to that of ya-ba or methamphetamine, and it has long been popular with construction workers, long-haul truckers, and anyone else with a professional need for
periods of hyper-alert insomnia.
The juwae do not need to be sleepless and paranoid, so they balance the stimulant of kratom with the depressant of codeine. The beverage
they favor was initially called "4 x 100," with the first numeral representing the number of ingredients (kratom, cough syrup, cola, and a fourth
element varying by the brewer's taste) and the second (like so much else in the insurgency) bearing no clear meaning at all. The number of additional
ingredients has spiraled, so the cocktail of rebellion is now known as "8 x 100." The foundation is still kratom, codeine and soda, but these are
supplemented by meth, crushed mosquito coil, tungsten from the inside of light bulbs, and dried bird excrement. Some of the hardest-core militants boast of
lacing their beverage with ash from a human corpse.
Why on earth would anyone drink this? Why would anyone get high on it every day until he has been drained of all capacity for rational thought? Some say it
is bravado, others claim sorcery. But perhaps, tautologically, the second question answers the first.
The headband, meanwhile, is inscribed with Quranic verses and blessed by any of several hundred charismatic clerics. It could just as easy be a slip of
cloth tied around a wrist, or an amulet worn around the neck. Some juwae favor a bath in holy water. Orthodox Muslims shun such displays as
superstition, but the line between folk practice and rank heresy is often hazy.
The Krue Se massacre merely softened, rather than utterly discredited, belief in the efficacy of talismans. Sunai Phasuk, a skeptical observer (and
resident expert on the South at the Thailand office of Human Rights Watch) says his militant friends have tried to prove the potency of their amulets by
live demonstrations: they've hacked at each other with machetes before his doubting eyes, yet -- protected by their spells -- they've remained unscathed.
He feels there must be some sort of trick but cannot explain what he says he's witnessed.